What are the current issues in libraries? Speak Up For Libraries Workshop: 23rd November


Darren Smart: Essex Libraries and Mike Brook: West Berkshire Libraries. Both are from the CILIP Public Libraries and Mobiles Group (PLMG).

What are the current issues in libraries?

1. Cuts to budgets: not just in libraries. Looking at 40% cut over five years nationally.  Solution: Need to influence stakeholders. Examples of where huge political support eg. Kent. Lincolnshire: no one is really able to speak passionately in the councils but campaigners have the voices. Campaigns need to be positive and not negative language. Positives can help get message of what libraries actually are. Use threats as fee publicity. Always comment on news articles. But sometimes this comes across as a wave of negativity. It’s better to emphasise on the positive things libraries do that will be missed if cut.T

2. Politicians and the public don’t know what libraries are about.  Chief officers often don’t know. No central policy. Co-locating other services with libraries (or vice versa) has been really successful: in Kent, the registrars of births and deaths are now in libraries and library staff try to ensure they join. Early years membership and use is going up because of this. Bereavement work also now taking place.

3. Infrastructure: libraries may be in the wrong places now if they were built many years ago.  For instance, in Kent, some areas have lots of libraries and some relatively few.  There is a need to rebalance that as take the public with us.  Closures in Kent have only taken place where the public has stopped using them. One should not defend against every closure but should challenge if purely for saving funds.  One should campaign for library services, not just the buildings. Leeds is a good example where rationalisation took place.

4. Societal change. It’s a different world now than in 1940. We need to shape the offer libraries give to the new times,

“Society is moving to where things are coming to you not that go to the thing. To physically go to a place is an increasingly outmoded concept. Every library needs a Facebook and Twitter account. Libraries should do outreach in public markets and car boot sales and fairs. Canada library live on tour – van with computers and wifi. Go to where people are. Demonstrate libraries are not about printed books. Libraries go to the people.” Phil Bradley

Um, what about mobile libraries? That sounds a lot like them. No, that’s a fixed route. Pop up libraries are where librarians stood in train station. Pointed out that librarians already do this but budget cuts mean that they may do less in the future, What is the function of a static base to a local community? Functions are performed in the base so can be complementary.

5. No public library standards.  These were often “Not relevant”. In Essex 51% of people using libraries at least once a year but only a quarter are active members as book borrowing is not a key. Pointed out though that they were a useful defence against cuts, notably in Wales where they still have standards (although it is noted that these may be watered down soon due to budget cuts).

6. EBooks.  Change in reading habits is greatly reducing the number of printed books being taken out of libraries.  Lending out e-books is  reversing the trend. EBooks are the tool and are far more accessible. Physical loans decreasing but e-market going up. Promote the enjoyment of reading in all of its forms. We don’t teach people to read but we allow them to practice the skill. Reader development. Cambridgeshire … A lot interest from schools … Very interested in eBooks and on databases that will interest their students. Get membership of them. Widen offer outside of print. Becoming more obvious as we go out into secondary schools etc. e offer has to be there has to be somewhere. PLR to eBooks need to be extended. .

7. Lack of marketing. Libraries don’t market online and eBooks e.g. to reluctant readers. Problems with kindles and overdrive etc. mean many not aware of online resources. Some people don’t even know we do DVDs. No fines for eBooks is a big attractor. Young people are put off fines and of being chucked out. Many don’t ever know we’re free. In Swansea University, the library staff promote the public library and vice versa. Many international students …. Uni staff can market public and vice versa. Losing librarians and less staff … So outreach not so possible.  This can be down to priorities within a given authority … some branches are doing it because the staff understand it as a priority, some are not. Sometimes can be down to individual managers.

Marketing should be on top of the list. It can change perceptions and convince budget holders and then their money then can do all the rest. Lack of compelling narrative at the moment but if we get one (Universal Offers?) then that is the best way to change opinions. Use staff and others as advocates for our service. Volunteers can be very positive by the way … they can do well to advocate for the service and can deliver the summer reading challenge too.

What are the key points and who is best placed? Who do we want to speak to? Change the minds of those people who change minds. Independent friends offer extra house in Lincolnshire and can demo where we cannot. Give decision makers some off the peg models about how libraries can serve council needs.

Advocates … Best are not staff. Volunteers 1000 in Kent working through contract with CSV. Partner are best advocates . Alzheimer’s Society publishing something targeted to their authority. We go to citizenship ceremonies … Often rich and passionate library users. Value service as places they come from because they don’t have them back where they come from.

Talk to the people whose faces light up when you mention libraries. Staff used to being behind counters so walk the floors. Look for lost people. Hand out postcards to give them users to give to no users … Staff were uncomfortable about having the conversation.

Celebrities are advocates. Suffolk is working on celebrity patrons (e.g. a famous author or TV personality who lives nearby) to be spokespeople.  Harnessing celebrities mean you can megaphone your message as the media is interested in them.

8. Lack of leadership. Activity going on (ACE) but not transparent enough. SCL doing well with offers. Poor resources but some good practice, eg. automatic library membership may be shared. We need a positive narrative around libraries: the SCL common calendar of activities will hopefully provide this hook. A single centralised agency would not be able to do this as it would be too expensive and never get off the ground. Need to be more open about what is going on. ACE are exploring if it is worthwhile to conduct research to find economic benefit of libraries (but not an easy thing to capture … Secondary values e.g. social care … ensure work done elsewhere (say in Canada) can be tailored to UK experience. Someone needs to take leadership.

9. Training on IT. Training needs to be improved. CILIP working hard on continuing professional development. Phil works a lot on training librarians. Lots of librarians are really keen but there are others who don’t accept web. The big issue  Phil isees s council IT refuses to allow tools like Facebook … Councils are saying NO. Many think 1994 and not now. Profession needs to point out way internet has changed etc …. Not an exciting different thing, it’s the way we do stuff. It’s worth noting that 7 million in the UK have never used the internet but 14 million more use it but don’t have the skills.

We open the internet door way, usher them through and then wave them goodbye

Kent have invested in iPads … Housebound volunteers bring iPads with them to allow everyone to have access to the internet. One to one basis to give faster. Long term loan of iPads for three months for user. More affordable. Film clip soon on kent website. Staffordshire Libraries did not have Facebook or Twitter 2 years ago. This changed when councillors attended a LGA event were told how useful it is. Staffordshire now have both and wifi as well.  Socitm are not the ones to talk to, councillors are. This unlocks things. Orkney Twitter is brilliant. Make stuff in news relevant to users eg. Doctor Who, JFK.

Annie Mauger (CILIP) said there’s a summit on digital literacy and access. CILIP are talking to everyone about how libraries can contribute and be in forefront. Libraries as advocates … Individual contacts. Thinking people should know how we work is not going to work. CILIP will be introducing an obligatory form of membership next year to be able to prove that members are keeping up on continuing professional development. Working with employers to recruit for aptitude and train for skills.

The ACE report on innovation in libraries said libraries are very bad at it. Best practice is doing things you’re already doing better. Innovation is doing new things. Risk taking is not seen as a strength but the right way to see things is that there’s no right way: we should always experiment.

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