jenny peachey

Fit for the future: five things to take away from IFLA Birmingham

I was unable to get to the satellite IFLA conference in Birmingham but I heard many good things about it. I was therefore delighted when Dr Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust agree to write something for Public Libraries News on the main points she took away from it.  Have a read of it below, it’s worth it.

Fit for the Future: five things to take away from IFLA Birmingham

jenny peachey

Dr Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Written by Jenny Peachey, Policy Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

The IFLA 2014 satellite conference sparkled: from high-tech mobile libraries that serve as spaces where senior citizens reminisce and teens receive sex ed, to displays and book clubs that bridge the physical and digital divide, to the first all-digital library. It bubbled with examples of how to engage communities, fizzed with ideas of how to support learning, literacy, social relationships and access to information – but most of all, it effervesced with a passion for public libraries and with positivity. Here are five things I took away from the conference.

1. Innovation is only fresh for a moment 

Providing a contrast to an overarching concern with digital and high-tech, Corinne Hill from Chattanooga Public Library informed us that 3D printers have been moved from the ‘test zone’ to the ‘regular’ section of Chattanooga library. Meanwhile, gigantic hand operated weaving looms have been brought in. When asked how she made innovative ideas come to fruition, Corinne’s (paraphrased) response was: ‘be proactive, build a network, be comfortable with losing control, and keep moving – innovation has a shelf-life!’

2. How to integrate digital and physical 

A presentation on ZLB Topic rooms in Berlin revealed how to blend librarianship with ‘creative civic engagement.’ These rooms combine elaborate book displays with films and online resources (twitter and the news) displayed on screen. These curated displays bring together in-depth and up-to-speed information around themes – Israel after the election, poor and rich, the Eurozone. Meanwhile, book clubs can bring people together physically and, via skype, across a country or an international border. These online book clubs can help the socially excluded and rurally isolated feel part of a community.

3. People and a sense of ownership are key to successful change

Time and time again, presenters emphasised the value of ‘their amazing staff’. Staff define the culture of the library, transform a service into an experience and imbue a building with spirit and heart. The message to individuals having to change the nature of their library service was to engage their staff in this journey as far as possible and not forget ‘the hearts and minds’. Equally, conference attendees were reminded not to relegate their communities to mere guests, but treat them as key stakeholders with whom libraries should work with rather than for. Ownership, we were reminded, is a process.

4. Skills

Some presentations and conversations touched upon the skills and qualities required to deliver the public library of the future. Skills identified included working in partnership, business management, and digital knowledge and literacy. The opposing abilities of collaborating versus competing, and controlling versus creating, were also lauded as important capacities to be identified and nurtured in (different!) members of staff.

5. General trends but specific solutions

An Independent Senior Adviser and Consultant from Denmark observed that though it is possible to identify general trends in how public libraries are developing, the solution for each library must always be specific: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Just as assets, needs, wants and communities differ, so too must the specificities or form of libraries’ offers.

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City of Philistines, Ditching Dewey and Grumpy Librarians.

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The main news story over the last few days have been the cuts to Liverpool’s libraries.  Alan Gibbons calls it changing Liverpool from the City of Culture to the City of Philistines.  Other news includes several novel ideas, with the one that first caught my eye being Google Street View – something which has been bubbling around for a little while now. The other idea is forgetting Dewey (how dare I! The blasphemy of turning one’s back on an American from a century ago!) and modelling the bookshelves around the user not the stock.  This has been credited with a doubling of usage in the Netherlands but that will have little push with librarians elsewhere – after all, this is inertia we’re talking about.  Heck, we’d have to relabel the spines of our books.  The danger is that on this subject we’re like the grumpy librarians in this article who blame the users for messing up the stock, when the whole purpose of the stock is the user.

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Librarians of the Year

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It’s great to see public librarians being recognised for their exceptional service.  Well done to those who received the awards and for all those others who were nominated.  This is the first year that the awards have taken place and I hope that this becomes a firm tradition, with benefits including improving the standing of the winners in their communities and also for the profession as a whole.

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Carnegie UK Trust says: Get Your Innovation On

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Carnegie UK Trust have been having a good month or two.  They recently produced the excellent “Speaking Volumes” advocacy tool and now they have announced more details of a £200,000 library innovation fund that intends to “future-proof public libraries”, develop innovative ideas and, by the by, encourage innovation and leadership skills amongst library staff. In these days of traditional funding cuts, a mass (often forced) emigration from the profession and an increased questioning of the library role by those who hold the purse strings, this is to be strongly welcomed.  The challenge for those applying – and for the Trust itself – is not be distracted by glamorous but irrelevant ideas but ones which may make a real difference to the UK public library service.  Don’t get distracted by the shiny, people.  Think about things which have potential for the long term.  We, literally, can’t afford not to.

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Liverpool sinking, stock floating … and a request for information

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The big news is that the Liverpool Mayor’s recommendation to the Council is that the city loses more than of its libraries. People are not impressed and, to be fair, neither is the mayor – he says that due to Austerity programme, he had no choice and that “We’ve tried to come up with a proposal that obviously everyone’s going to hate.  It’s not something that we feel, you know, people are going to welcome”.  Well, no one has welcomed it yet and no one is likely to.  It may also be that not all of the problem is down to the Government spending programmes, although a lot of it undoubtedly is. The cut may also have at least something to do with the £50 million spent on refurbishing Liverpool Central Library, notably the high interest rates inevitably attached to such a PFI scheme.  It’s a beautiful Central Library alright.  However, only 40% of those consulted say that they will use it if their local branch closes so it’s beauty may be lost on the local people of Liverpool.

In these times of tighter budgets, we should be looking at all ways of reducing spending.  One of the ideas I’ve seen raised from time to time is the idea of dynamic or floating stock, where stock has no “home” branch as such.  Such a system can save on transport and staff time but I’ve seen no real research done on the system in practice.  I’ve put together a brief description, pros and cons and a case study on a new page here if you’re interested.

I have been asked if I know of any requests for interventions in library cuts made to the DCMS/Secretary of State. We already know about the requests in Brent, Isle of Wight, Lewisham, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Doncaster and Bolton but would be very interested to hear of any more.  Thank you.

Please email ianlibrarian@live.co.uk with news, comments, ideas or queries. Thank you.

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Access to Research: 20% of libraries fail to take up free resource. Why?

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I was surprised to hear that after a full six months, the free online “Access to Research” resource has not yet been taken up by one in five of library services.  Why? It’s free, after all. At the time of the launch, I had reservations about the scheme but concluded that a starving man should take any crumb: well, it seems that a significant minority of libraries won’t.  On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer: it offers ten million academic articles at minimum hassle (you sign up – that’s it) and it’s free.  Mind you, it’s only be used by a pitiful 14,500 individual users in its first six months so it’s obviously not that good despite the positive spin being put to it.  14,500?  Many individual town libraries see more users than that in a month.  So, what’s going on? Well, it’s not been heavily publicised. Don’t get me wrong – it’s been given as much publicity as anything else but there’s just not enough money in public libraries for it to make an impact.  Also, it’s only available, weirdly, by physically visiting a branch rather than via a computer at home.  Some even think it’s a ploy by publishers in order to deny further access.

Other reasons for what appears to be a low take-up rate may be that it is, by the nature of the beast, not a popular tool but one for academics only.  It’s also just a pilot and, times being as they are, many authorities may be concentrating on more pressing things (like keeping the doors open) than an online academic resource.  I understand the Society of Chief Librarians will be reminding the last fifth of what they’re missing as well so that will partly make up for the low-level (because it’s a free service, there is no money) publicity behind the launch in the first place.  In addition, the Publisher’s Licensing Society (PLS), the organisation behind Access, does have some resources (posters, FAQ booklets, desktop icons, microsite etc) to further  things along.

Well, whatever the reason for the (what to me at least) appears to be low take-up so far, public libraries are going to lose the resource after two years if it is not a success.  As Joanna Waters from the PLS has told me: “A final point to note is that this is a pilot, and if after two years the service is deemed as not fulfilling its criteria by stakeholders it will be reviewed as to whether we should continue to offer the service. It would be a shame obviously, as it could be a useful way to extend access to academic materials, for free, to those who would otherwise find it difficult to get hold of them, and of course it is currently another free service to add to the library offering.”.  So, does your library service offer Access? If not, make enquiries as to why not.  It may be they simply missed it.  If they do offer it then make sure that it is being promoted.  If the library services has taken it up, promoted it but it’s not working so well, is it because the service is not good enough – and, if so, how can it be improved? Let’s tell them. Because heaven knows public libraries need all the help they can get, and it’d be a shame if we fail to take the free opportunity up with both hands.

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Downwardly mobile?

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Mobile libraries are not having a good time of it at the moment: my records show Bromley’s decision to close it’s sole vehicle is the eighth mobile library gone since April: while only two static libraries have gone the same way.  One of the reasons of course is that it’s one thing to get volunteers to run a static library but a whole other thing for them to maintain a vehicle, find drivers and pay the insurances.  Mind you, of course, perhaps Bromley is missing a trick as there may be money in mobiles: Cambridgeshire certainly hope so as they have started offering advertising on them. That advertising idea is just one of seven I’ve spotted for this post: the large number due to a SCL report on digital skills that includes some interesting case studies.

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Things to do in Kilmarnock, and in your library, before you die

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Last week I was mostly in Scotland doing geocaching - including a nice one in the grounds of the Dick Institute library in Kilmarnock by the way – so you’re getting a whole week’s news in one (well, not quite all – there’ll be more catch-up at the next post). There’s the usual depressing news from England (sorry, don’t blame me, blame the Austerity) but also some interesting news from other places, including from a very successful Dutch library that shows doing things differently (and having some investment) can make a huge difference. By the way, do please nominate your favourite library for the “1001 libraries to see before you die” project at IFLA.  My favourite has to be Liverpool Central Library for the reasons I explore here, what’s yours?

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