Amazon linking revisited … and … Ed Vaizey says it’s all OK

Editorial

I’m always pleased, and a niggling part of me is surprised too, when I get feedback on something in an editorial.  My thanks to Jon Scown of Somerset Libraries who responded to my recent post on the linking to Amazon on the Libraries West catalogue:

“We noticed with interest the editorial in last week’s Public Libraries News about LibrariesWest linking to Amazon from our website, not least because we’ve been doing this since 2005 so it’s nothing new! I guess the profile of this has been raised since we launched our new website following our recent migration to the Symphony LMS.

I thought it might help to explain why we make the link and the benefits to the service and to customers. We’ve used the income to support a number of successful promotional campaigns over the years which we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford. For example, we ran a Join a Friend campaign to encourage library members to recommend the library to friends and family, and a marketing campaign when we launched our e book and e audio book services. The income from Amazon allowed us to produce high quality publicity materials and to buy prizes to support the campaigns. Alongside these campaigns we’ve also run a number of consortium wide promotions to support the Summer Reading Challenge and National Libraries Day.

I’m sure this will be of interest to the readers of Public Libraries News and demonstrate that there is value in making the link to Amazon.”

Jon then went on to say that “over the eleven years we’ve been doing it we’ve made several thousand pounds. So, there’s an idea, especially as it is balanced out by a link to a “buy it on the local high street” webpage as well, which I think is an excellent idea.

On the other hand, I’ve also heard from someone else that their authority tried it, “earned pennies” and then stopped. And it’s worth noting that a few thousand pounds would be worth possibly at tops one tenth of one percent of library income over the period described, although it’s clearly put to good use and ringfenced (always a good idea to do that if you can).

Ultimately, I think faced with an ever-shrinking budget individual library authorities (and others definitely in that boat –  Milton Keynes, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, for instance – have done the same) it’s an offer many will find too tempting to refuse.  Strategically and nationally, one still fears that it’s allying with an enemy who basically wants you closed down, while alienating potential supporters such as many booksellers and authors. But, faced with the needs we face, many library services will be willing to make that deal. And, by the look of it, Ed Vaizey will congratulate them for modernising at the same time.

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Humanity First

Editorial

A murder of an MP as she was leaving a library. Not many people think of violence when they think of libraries but it’s there. I’ve personally called the police numerous times, broken up fights before they started, called the ambulance after they ended, seen a few knives, dowsed the flames of an arson attack. But (and I’m aware there are one or two US readers of this who would disagree, sadly)  I would before last week never think that anyone would ever be shot in one, least of all an MP. Words cannot express. My best wishes to the staff and volunteers who were there on the day and to all the library staff, everywhere, who know that violence may be part of the job. May it not be the part in any MP’s job again any time soon.

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Catalogue takes you directly to Amazon or the Hive

Selling on to Amazon: thinking about linking

Editorial

I’m squeezing in a post this evening as I’m unlikely to find the time tomorrow. So, I’ll include something that has been sent to me about LibrariesWest, a consortium of several library authorities in the South West. The image below is a screen capture from the catalogue. Most of it will be familiar to everyone but the “Find on Amazon” and “Hive.co.uk” options may not be.  Linking to Amazon has obvious attractions – they’re fast, cheap, well known and doubtless (one sincerely hopes) paying commission.  On the other hand, Amazon are also well-known for their negative side (low wages, wiping out competition, something about taxation) which may not play well with library friends in publishing and bookselling. Indeed, the email to me pointing out the Amazon link goes on to ask “what is this about? Have our libraries sold themselves to Amazon? I can’t believe something like this is acceptable in [name of city], where there’s such a strong support for the local shops and where quite a few local bookstores had to close in the last year.”. The Hive link may be an attempt to balance this out as it takes directly to a link to buying the book on the high street, again something I’ve not seen before.  However, the Amazon link has clear pride of place (directly below the place reservation button) and one has click on the Hive logo to actually see what it was. I wonder how many people never try.

This example represents the dilemma that library authorities face. The link represents extra helpfulness for the customer and an alternative if the person wants a book quickly and the library cannot supply. It also, I really hope, provides income, which is something we all know is vital these days. On the other hand, it’s going to really annoy some core supporters of libraries and ally ourselves with a private company that, in the final analysis, wants us – and all other competition – gone. So, risk assess the options before one does initiatives like this and prepare to be challenged. by people a little less even handed than me, when they find out about it.

Catalogue takes you directly to Amazon or the Hive

Catalogue takes you directly to Amazon or the Hive

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How I learned to stop worrying and love Wikipedia

Editorial

I remember when Wikipedia was first heard of in public libraries. It was dismissed as something irrelevant or misleading: after all, anyone could add anything to it so how trustworthy, or useful, could it be? I even occasionally hear librarians today questioning its usefulness.  Well, it’s probably the main source of information and answers in the Western World now, having displaced the Encyclopaedia Britannica (and, whisper it, libraries) with many people years ago, so perhaps its time to go with it a little. I know from personal experience how quickly fake information is deleted (my “Great Chocolate Teapot Massacre of 1826″ lasted barely two seconds when I tried) and how carefully new information was checked. When I added details of a little-known Cheshire prophet to the site, I got contacted to prove my sources: thankfully, I could, but the article still has warnings all over it.  After that, I had no doubt as to Wikipedia’s utility and I’m as likely to use it as any other information source, although – as with any other source, printed material included – my falsehood detectors are always on. I am a librarian after all.

Nowadays, public librarians need to learn how best to use Wikipedia, not how to discredit it. I’m therefore delighted to have a guest post below from Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales.  He’s got a lot of useful points to make and there’s a few things there – like the thousands of free images and texts and the ability to use it for local purposes  – that will be directly handy and not universally known about.  So, it’s time to embrace Wikipedia. Because it’s a  good resource and public libraries should, like millions of people, learn how best to use it for our purposes. And, if you don’t believe me, it’s always worth trying to add that entry on the chocolate teapots.

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Wikipedia – Benefits to Public Libraries – By Jason Evans, Wikipedian in Residence, National Library of Wales

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Labouring the Point, Honours and Autism

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Open Minds Open Libraries … but what’s on the #SCLHorizons?

Editorial

It’s been a busy week. The conference of Unison stewards on public libraries was illuminating, with a brilliant presentation from Neath Port Talbot (coming here soon) on a step by step guide to campaign. Other key messages from the event was a disillusionment with Labour’s record on public libraries and a strong desire for Unison itself to involve itself more strongly.  By the way, if you want Labour or Unison to up its game, talk to them. There’s a lot going on and libraries will be missed if we do not make ourselves heard.  Speaking of which, we got to talking about good slogans.  “Open Minds Open Libraries, Closed Libraries Closed Minds” was popular, although there were others.  I even did a quick poll on Twitter:

I know “Libraries Change Lives” is a CILIP slogan but I can’t see them protesting if it’s on every billboard.  Then on Thursday, I visited the Idea Store in Whitechapel. I’ll be doing a separate review on that but the messages are clear from that: invest in good libraries in popular locations, promote reading and don’t get distracted. Simples. Then, speaking to the CILIP ILIG group in the evening gave me lots more to think about, not least about the long term future of this blog. More on that, again, another time.

A conference I’m not attending, but would have loved to, is the annual SCL gathering. This meeting of a large proportion of the chief librarians has often been shrouded in mystery in the past but it’s becoming more and more open, with many tweeting from it and a full programme of talks being available. Check #SCLHorizons on Twitter to see what the bosses are (publicly at least) thinking.

Elsewhere, the ruling Labour group in Brighton and Hove have been beaten by a combined Green/Tory vote over libraries. There’s going to be strike in Barnet over the deep cuts to libraries planned there…. and there’s the general new background of councils steamrollering cuts despite public protest UK wide. Over in South Korea, on the other hand, they’ve just announced further major investment in libraries. Odd that.

Right, now I’m off to meet a coachload of Ghanaians who are visiting us, including one very excited eleven year who will be staying in our house. So, if my next post is late, you’ll know why.  Have a good weekend everyone.
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Waiting for things to happen

Editorial

I’m doing a talk on the challenges facing UK public libraries to a Unison library seminar on Monday (6th) and the presentation is below if you want an idea of what I think are (some) of the main points. The day is looking at how we should campaign for libraries and my talk is an introductory scene setter, giving the challenges but carefully not giving any ideas on solutions. This is just as well because there’s an awful lot of confusion about what a “solution” to the current crisis in public libraries may be. The Taskforce is emphasising pragmatism and strategic development and are being strongly criticised for taking too long about it and not being ambitious enough by campaigners. Many councils are deciding on budgets that force library chiefs to looks at hollowing out, volunteers or commercial support to meet the cuts and are, again, strongly criticised for doing so by campaigners. On the other foot, many people in senior library positions, I am sure, would criticise campaigners for wanting a minimum of change and special pleading for the libraries sector or solutions that it is unlikely the current Government would ever agree to. Observers take all sorts of positions, from thinking libraries are no longer needed to being passionately in favour of libraries.

I’m not sure where I am in this – after all, I’m an observer, library manager and campaigner all in one – but I do know that the more we do not move forward, the more the real creators of all this mess are smiling or, more accurately, carrying on blissfully unaware. As long as the politicians (sadly, still, of both main parties, although notable far less so under Corbyn)  in London believe in austerity and fail to understand the central importance of libraries to communities, to education, welfare, equality and, ultimately, the success of the nation then little arguments don’t matter. We need clear big strong arguments, memorable statements and images and unified campaigns to get this done. Or perhaps that’s just me going for special pleading. But something needs doing, together, by all of us. And I’m waiting, as an observer, manager and campaigner, for this to happen.

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Nearly 9 people visit a UK library every single second. I knew I was busy ...

It’s not enough to just be aware of what is going on in UK libraries

Editorial

There’s some great things going on in public libraries abroad: the drone that flies above a children’s library in Norway scanning RFID tags is getting a lot of publicity for example, but there’s a lot more besides. This post includes: the fantastic First 5 Forever campaign in Queensland which has really raised the profile and funding for libraries there; a superb library Instagram account (which itself includes lots of good ideas); getting fathers into libraries; a hilarious library promotional video and an example of a US library (why is it always US libraries? Don’t they have emergency services?) helping out in a crisis. I started off this blog six years ago to get an idea of what is going on nationally, and I think that has succeeded, but it’s equally as important to look at what is going on internationally, and to learn from it.  I hope you do too.

Not least because UK news is often somewhat depressing, of course – and we have consultations on library cuts announced in no less than three different councils this time – but we also have other trends. The pressure on parish and town councils to take over public libraries appears to be gathering apace.  In addition, it’s notable that the two library-led trusts – Suffolk and York – tend  to be reporting only good news. That may mean they’re brilliant or it may mean that they have excellent public relations, or both.

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Wales, Standards and Library Drones

Editorial

I’ve never come away from a conference without learning anything and my couple of days at the CILIP Wales conference in Swansea was no exception.  Kathy Settle of the Taskforce made very clear that library standards had absolutely no chance of adoption in England, Nick Poole talked about strategy and disagreed with Kathy as diplomatically as possible. I also up a lot about what was happening in Wales: some pretty unsettling stuff but a lot of co-operation as well and good people who cared for libraries. The talks concluded by a very entertaining talk on cycling around Scandinavian libraries which made very clear that they spend way more than the UK on the service: a fact borne out today by a post describing a new children’s library which looks utterly fantastic and, apparently (I’m not sure I still entirely believe this), even has drones flying around scanning RFID tags.

My big thanks to CILIP Wales, not least for the surprise presentation of the inaugural Welsh Library Champion of the Year Award. Knew I should have worn a tie. It was a pleasure to hear how useful PLN was in Wales and, interestingly, how many followed on Twitter. My best wishes and thanks to you all.

Ideas

  • RFID drone – Drone scans library to locate all books.

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Stephen Fry stands up for public libraries

New “Library Fund” and Stephen Fry poster

Editorial

CILIP have started a new fund for libraries and information services, with £10,000 of their own money and a fundraising campaign to increase the figure. It’s important to note that this fund is not solely for public libraries and is not intended for campaigning, which has caused some disappointment and confusion in the reactions I have seen. Rather, it is ” to support a range of projects and activities that improve access to information and knowledge, literacy, health, digital inclusion and life chances”. Something else CILIP has done this week is to get Stephen Fry to endorse a library campaigning poster: it’s freely available to download, share and print and I suspect we’ll be seeing it in  a lot of libraries very soon. Get your copy from their site today.

In the real world, there’s a big new refurb in Enfield and it looks like more than half the libraries will close/leave council control in Moray.

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