Robogals, Mini Makerspaces and Coding for Girls: Manchester shows a way

Editorial

Sue Lawson, Service Development Co-ordinator at Manchester Libraries, gained my attention recently with her involvement in the Public Libraries Festival crowdfunder and through LinkedIn.  She kindly agreed to describe to Public Libraries News some of the amazing stuff that she is helping to do in her libraries and without.  So, over to her (and, remember, if you don’t understand some of the words – it’s fine to check out what they are, I won’t tell) … and I hope it inspires you.  I’d be happy to hear more than anyone else involved in this or other interesting initiatives via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk.

“All the projects in this post are the result of leaving the library building and getting involved in different communities in Manchester. In this case the digital, techy, maker/hacker culture in Manchester. I also attend Manchester WordPress User Group and the Manchester Social Media Cafe and teach at Social Media Surgeries. In this way, I have formed mutually useful connections and expanded the libraries network resulting in all the collaborative projects I’m writing to you about now. NONE of these would have happened if I hadn’t left the library.

That’s also one of the principles behind LibraryCamp. It most definitely isn’t an event exclusively for librarians. It’s for anyone interested in libraries so we can collaborate across sectors and bring much needed digital and technical skills into public libraries) I believe that’s true at work too and I can’t emphasise enough the importance of leaving the library and going to other organisations events and just talking to people about libraries and potential projects. That’s my presentation topic at the IFLA satellite conference in August.

Current Manchester Libraries Workshops

  • Internet Radio Production – a free 12 week course taught by FC United community workers resulting in a full radio broadcast on FCUM Radio. This is third time I’ve run the course. It’s always oversubscribed. Here are some of the finished programmes.
  • Video games development for 9 – 16s. Taught by Matt George of Driveby.co.uk. Matt has created a platform computer game set in Manchester and the children, on the course are creating characters for scenes set in the library. They don’t need to know how to code – they can draw the characters with a paper and pencil and Matt imports them into the game.
  • Digital Creativity is a 5 week pre-employment course. Starting with mobile phone photos of Manchester the students learn about computers and the internet while turning their photos into banners that are sewn and made up. This course is again taught by FC United in conjunction with The Manchester College. Both the Internet Radio Production and Digital Creativity courses lead to qualifications from the Manchester College. Participants who complete the Digital Creativity course enrol on a Te​xtile and Industrial Sewing course where there is currently a skills shortage.
  • Robogals are fab! Every public library should make connections with their local chapter. ​ From their website: “Robogals is an international, student-run organisation that aims to increase female participation in Engineering, Science and Technology through fun and educational initiatives aimed at girls in primary and secondary school”. ​They have run 6 sessions at our libraries. The last one was in May in the Media Lounge in Manchester Central Library. The sessions involve building and programming robots using Lego Mindstorm kits. Super good fun!​
  • ​​Coding for Girls. I’ve been working with different groups at Manchester’s MadLab since its inception in 2009. I met the directors at the Manchester WordPress User Group in 2008 which I’d attended as I’d been given the job of doing a National Year of Reading blog. Initially I set up a sci-fi reading group at MadLab with director Hwa Young Jung. It was pretty innovative as the group crowd sourced the books for the year using an openly editable Google doc and then the library bought 20 copies. After the meet, the books went into circulation in Manchester libraries so we have a crowd sourced science fiction collection. Through the book club I met members of Manchester Girl Geeks. They run STEAM events for women and girls. At the same time I went to my first Librarycamp and was given a copy of Programme or Be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff. My eureka moment and Coding for Girls grew from that! Workshops at Longsight and Wythenshawe Libraries for girls aged 12 -18 and their mums. We part​nered with Manchester Gi​rl Geeks whose members (all volunteers) taught the course. ​The aim was to get more girls involved in the summer Young Rewired State hack camps that run at MadLab. ​​Also local community leaders had told us there weren’t enough activities for teenage girls in their wards. ​Manchester Libraries provided the computers and a space and promotion. The sessions started with an inspiring talk from Sam Bail, one of the Manchester Girl Geek organisers and then we got into coding using lessons from CodeAcademy.com.
  • Mini Makerspaces. Coding for Girls led led to further partnerships and a series of electronic and arduino workshops we dubbed Mini-Makerspaces.
  • Curry and Coding at Longsight Library again
  • Digital Skills for Women – again in partnership with MadLab and Manchester Girl Geeks again and also received ESF funding​to pay for professional tutors from DigiEnable and Mozilla and Tandot.​ There were 4 different strands (3 sessions each) – Basic IT, Social Media, Web Development and Programming.

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Southend sends library cut plans back to the drawing board: more on Staffordshire

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Staffordshire goes volunteer, the Rhondda Revolts and Reasons to be Welsh

Editorial

More details of the consultation on library changes in Staffordshire have emerged, with 24 out of 43 branches being listed as possible for being run by volunteers.  The county joins a list of others (Lincolnshire – 32 out of 45, Leicestershire – 36 out of 52) going down this route.  It’ll be interesting if the changes go by without significant popular protest (as they have done apparently in Leicestershire) or reap the wrath of the whirlwind (as they’re currently doing in Lincolnshire).  Why some areas protest and others do not is a bit of a mystery: as is so often the case in public libraries, the research simply has not been done.

The people of Rhydyfelin in the Rhondda were definitely of the not taking it lying down category when the council decided at the last moment to close their library instead of another.  They won the right to take the council to judicial review over the absence of a public consultation, at which point the council reversed its decision.  You have to do those consultations, people.

Finally Wales continues its national approach to public libraries by announcing that it is introducing automatic provision of public library cards to all primary school children.  This follows on from their national reference and e-book websites and from their continued use of public library standards.  Makes me proud to come from West of Chepstow.

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  • Yoga storytimesYoga stretches and movement will be woven into the story for a fun, interactive experience blending early literacy and health.

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Shadow minister Helen Goodman MP shows an interest

Editorial

The last post reported on Ed Vaizey’s appearance and talk about public libraries at a Society of Chief Librarians’ event.  The main news from this post is that his opposite number, Helen Goodman MP, is starting to take an interest as well. The Labour shadow minister’s statements are hardly showing revolutionary fervour - she’s OK with volunteers, for instance, running small branches as long as there’s paid qualified staff elsewhere – but they do show an awareness by someone on her team of what is going on.  I suspect if you parse carefully what she says then there’s not that much difference between her and Ed, who has always been careful not to disparage paid staff, but there’s a difference in emphasis – she’s coming across as more keen on standards (to avoid a “postcode lottery”) for instance.  Helen has started a brief enquiry into public libraries (there’s lots of those going on at the moment isn’t there?) and it will be interesting to see what the results are.  I hope that whatever they are, they’re far more different to her opposite number than what we’ve seen so far.  The general election is next year by the way.

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The Vaizey Network: 120 discuss the future of public libraries

Editorial

The minister in charge of libraries Ed Vaizey spoke to the Society of Chief Librarians today as well as other 120 other Great and Good.  This was for a seminar called “Reimagining the Public Library”. At the moment one can only go on tweets from the meeting but they are tantalising:

  • being asked if like the rest of the UK, England should have library standards? Ed responds ‘never say never’.
  • Ed says he wouldn’t replace Pub Lib Act, but statutory duty must remain.
  • I find it utterly bizarre to walk into a library today & not find wireless Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture, Communications
  • I would like to see more library authorities working together
  • My dream is still to have a libraries development agency.
  • “Openings and refurbs don’t get the headlines.” () Let’s change that!

“Will there be funding to action Seighart recs? Yes.

All of this looks very interesting.  Certainly an updated People’s Network is long long overdue, as is a libraries development agency.  Some of the ideas being reported on have been featured in Public Libraries News for months or years because they’re working well abroad (with special props to the USA in this regard) and it is great to see them having an airing here.  On the other hand, the suspicion on Twitter amongst those who noticed the event going on but were not invited to it was that election year is coming and the Government needs to be at least promising something on a subject that may well gain or lose votes.  In this vein, my colleagues at Voices for the Library have put together a post that is worth reading even if bitter experience makes it naturally more suspicious than welcoming.

Regardless of views, one can say well done to SCL for organising the event and getting the minister involved and so many people, clearly decision-makers, together to look at the future.  On the other hand, I (albeit from the biased position of one keen to report news) would have liked some more publicity and information about what was going on.  The technology now exists for there to be live streams of the event but there does not appear to have been any and, indeed, at time of writing  the home page of the SCL website makes no mention of the event  at all other than in its twitter feed.

On a finishing but unrelated note that would doubtless annoy Ed Vaizey immensely, I was phoned up by Radio Four to fact check some things for their “Point of View” segment going out on their network tonight (if you’re reading this on Friday).  So I know that the writer A L Kennedy will be talking about cuts to libraries and the importance of books at 8.50pm..

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Arts Council England release review on economic contribution of libraries

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When technology makes things worse, it’s probably because we’re doing it wrong

Editorial

Another couple of thoughts from the revelation of a book found in a public library that had not been out since 1997 is the change in stock management brought about by the introduction of self-service machines.  Back in the old days, weeding shelves were a simple matter for the librarian – one simply sat down and opened every book in turn, counting the number and frequency of date stamps on the date label. There were a load of other factors of course but the key one of how much the book was used was really easy to work out.  However, self-service changes that because, quite simply, there’s no date stamps any more.  The alternative is instead to use printouts based on whatever criteria one wishes (e.g. books that have not been out in six months in the thrillers).  This sounds simple but there’s two problems: the first is that it is surprisingly time consuming looking individually for every book and the second is that these printouts use proprietary technology that the library management system companies charge a hefty sum for.  So, if one does not pay or cannot afford to pay, one may have to use other ways (the state of the book, local knowledge, the Force) to weed instead.  Not ideal.

Another related matter to this is from a letter listed in this post about issuing films in a self-service library.  Now, ideally, the whole process should be done by the public (hence the term “self-service”) but in reality in many areas, this is not (literally) the case … and the reason is, simply, box security is not sufficient.  It’s easy to vandalise a DVD or game case and steal the item from it.  So, libraries have to go back to putting high value titles in locked drawers again, meaning that the member of the public has to both go to the machine and a member of staff. Oh dear, that’ll make the process twice as long then.  If they’re really unlucky, some self-service machines will then (completely unnecessarily in my view and that several authorities I know about it) demand their library card number and PIN number when they return it. This is not to say that I am against self-service: I’m not and I think that, realistically, there’s going to be a whole lot more of it as budgets decline. But we should not pretend that it does not come with its own problems because if we ignore them, they simply will not go away. After all, when technology makes things worse, it’s probably because we’re doing it wrong and the first step to correcting it is to admit there’s a problem in the first place.

For more on self service, see this page.

Please send any comments or news to me at ianlibrarian@live.co.uk or via the comments option.  Thank you for reading.

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  • Fun runs to raise funds for libraries.
  • STEAM events - same as STEM (Science Technology Engineering Maths) but also includes Arts.

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What does it mean if your library has a book in it unloaned since 1997?

Editorial

A newspaper reports that a book in Sheffield has not been loaned since 1997 and is still on the shelf: other books noted have been similarly friendless since 2000 and 2001.  Other reports I’ve seen from there suggest that this isn’t due to poor stock management in the city but rather lack of new books over the last few years.  After all, it’s easy to weed books – quite apart from going through each shelf by hand, you can just get a printout of all the books that haven’t been taken out for x number of years and remove them from the shelves and then automatically delete off the computer any you can’t find.  Generally, if a book has been on the shelf since 1997 and not been taken out, it means there’s not enough money and books have been left on the shelves to make them look full … or there simply has not been enough staff to take them off.  There’s also a small chance that the book has been left on the shelf because it fills a vital stock gap of course but that does not appear to be the case here.  For more information on this, see the PLN page Stock management – A complete beginners guide.

Please send any news or comments to ianlibrarian@live.co.uk

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Lincolnshire and Canada

Editorial

You’ll notice a new advertising banner if you visit PLN for the next couple of months: I’m advertising the Save Lincolnshire Libraries campaign bid to raise funds for their judicial review.  I don’t live anywhere near Lincolnshire but I’m supporting this as one of the grounds they are challenging on is that the reduced service will not meet the provisions of the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act.  If they win on that point then there may be national implications for other councils.  It may also stop all those media reports who call libraries “non-statutory”.

Meanwhile, a Canadian union campaign against part-time paid workers caught my eye.  Yes, over in the UK unions are concerned about paid staff losing their jobs entirely and/or being replaced by volunteers while over in Canada, the situation is so different they’re concerned about workers not working full-time.  I have difficulty in seeing how a standard public library can survive without casuals and part-time staff myself but I envy the Canadians their funding.

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Get out and meet people

Editorial

So public librarians know that, far from being the quiet shy people stereotyped in popular culture, we’re actually dealing with people all the time.  Being an extrovert is a positive advantage in this profession.  Library staff deal with the public every day but probably not enough with other library staff outside of their own organisations, especially in these days of limited and sometimes non-existent training budgets. But it is worth the effort to get out there and meet people with different experiences and views.  I think this is one of the reasons why the Librarycamp movement is doing so well as is #uklibchat.  I recommend both even though I’m not involved enough in either.  More traditionally, there’s a pile of events listed below, from the biggest like CILIP 2015 to webcasts.  I’d also recommend for your perusal the Library Campaign AGM because these are people who give up their time to fight for libraries and your jobs.  They work really hard and they care and, I think, they’d really appreciate a few librarians along to give them support and some inside (and totally confidential) views on what is really going on.

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