Welcome to Noisy Librarians

1 Sep

I was hoping to start this blog of with something Grand, some sort of Mission Statement or rallying cry. In the end it was a small feature on the Today programme one morning which got me thinking. The radio news feature was about the decline in usage of public libraries (I only realised afterwards it was only about England, of course, as many ‘national’ news features are! I live in Scotland, please do not get me started about geographical bias in the media…). Obviously, neither of the interviewees were librarians, that would be a ridiculous idea! The participants were pro-libraries but I felt that the case made for libraries was weak. They focused on The Book being key to libraries, on reading being good for us as a nation, on a notion that reading makes for a more ‘reflective’ nation. Oh and crucially, that public libraries should ‘have a nice café’! I don’t want to sound ungrateful. Libraries need allies like authors and publishers. I love Library cafés, don’t get me wrong. But I would like to suggest there are more profound reasons why libraries are important for everyone.

For me, libraries are a part of human achievement that truly should be celebrated. Here are some of the reasons why…

A library is a place where anyone, of any background, income, age etc, can access any information for free. The Today feature crucially omitted this point. Libraries do not discriminate and they are for everyone. Through our public libraries everyone has free access to the media (newspapers, magazines, internet). This means that anyone in this country can make themselves an informed citizen. Perhaps we do not value this enough in the UK, there are parts of the world where this freedom is truly revolutionary. Free unfettered access to public information is essential to make democracy meaningful. If we value our freedom, our democracy, we should value our libraries.

Libraries are a great social equaliser. They have long been referred to as the ‘street corner universities’ and this role is more important than ever. Through public libraries, a person can educate themselves, access any human knowledge that has been published (remember inter-library loans! Not free but still cheap). Of course this is only useful if people have the skills to access that material, that is, that they are literate. And promoting literacy for all has long been something libraries have worked on in partnership with education professionals. In the last 2 decades ICT skills have become almost as vital as literacy, and library services also recognise this. In public libraries there are often free classes where you can gain ICT skills, so anyone in this country can empower themselves to use computers and the internet. They also provide free internet access. To get the internet in your home is not free. Internet connection costs money, computers cost money, electricity costs money. Many people are still not able to afford the internet in their home – but we have a great thing in this country, that is a public library network. Libraries are not all about The Book. I doubt they have ever been just about The Book. Its about connecting people to information, and empowering them with the skills they need to access that information.

Many of the most frequent users of public libraries are those groups who are least likely to be heard in the media. Children, older people, unemployed people, the housebound and remote communities are all examples of groups which benefit from a free library service. To illustrate this point, let us take the example of children. One of the Today interviewees mentioned the great way library loans allow you to experiment, to try new thing, new authors, new genres (did I mention, by the way, these loans are free?). This is true, but it is more than this. Parents can start taking their child to the library from any age, there are bounce and rhyme sessions, story time, bookstart. Parents and children themselves can then borrow and read any childrens’ books. Any child in this country has access to just as many childrens’ books as any other child in this country, regardless of how much their parents earn! How radical is that?! You can’t even buy a premium version, we are all equal in public libraries.

The real work is to make sure everyone knows about what we do. Whether people are ‘reflective’ or not is their own business, as libraries what we really want to do is provide everyone, without discrimination, with the information they want, to become informed citizens, to be able to educate themselves, to be able to engage in furthering human knowledge and understanding, to be able to read freely, to be able to share reading and books with their family, to access the media (online or otherwise) freely. This is radical. This is extraordinary. This is something we should truly be proud of.

What I am saying is this is about a bit more than putting a ‘nice cafe’ in there. Libraries are there already, certainly most of the librarians I come across are on board and are looking forward to the future. We want libraries that are welcoming modern spaces, that are open when people want to use them, that provide what people need with a friendly and helpful service.

The Today feature certainly started me thinking, and sure, the participants weren’t quite as well-informed about libraries as I would have liked, and I think a better defence of public libraries can and should be made. Who I really want to appeal to are my fellow professionals. We don’t hear enough in the media about what librarians are doing all around the country. Free unfettered access to information is a radical thing, but it has always been done quite quietly. Public libraries have had a presence, but have they had a voice? Library users come in all shapes and sizes, all incomes, all backgrounds, but those with the most need are also the least likely to be heard in society. In a time of budget cuts in almost every public service, there is an atmosphere of fear in the sector. I feel it in my own job, with service ‘restructuring’, I hear from friends and colleagues about job insecurity, job cuts causing greater strain on those of us who remain, graduates from library courses unable to get jobs. There is a great temptation to cower away, afraid that if attention is drawn to what we do that it will only make us a target for cuts. Maybe (people say) in a few years time, funding will come back for X project or Y job. I hope it does, but I don’t feel like waiting quietly to find out. Its too important. We need to tell people about what we do and why Libraries are essential. Libraries are really important and great work is being done out there but we don’t make enough noise about it.

I think we should start.

I was hoping to start this blog of with something Grand, some sort of Mission Statement or rallying cry. In the end it was a small feature on the Today programme one morning which got me thinking. The radio news feature was about the decline in usage of public libraries (I only realised afterwards it was only about England, of course, as many ‘national’ news features are! I live in Scotland, please do not get me started about geographical bias in the media…). Obviously, neither of the interviewees were librarians, that would be a ridiculous idea! The participants were pro-libraries but I felt that the case made for libraries was weak. They focused on The Book being key to libraries, on reading being good for us as a nation, on a notion that reading makes for a more ‘reflective’ nation. Oh and crucially, that public libraries should ‘have a nice café’! I don’t want to sound ungrateful. Libraries need allies like authors and publishers. I love Library cafés, don’t get me wrong. But I would like to suggest there are more profound reasons why libraries are important for everyone.

For me, libraries are a part of human achievement that truly should be celebrated. Here are some of the reasons why…

A library is a place where anyone, of any background, income, age etc, can access any information for free. The Today feature crucially omitted this point. Libraries do not discriminate and they are for everyone. Through our public libraries everyone has free access to the media (newspapers, magazines, internet). This means that anyone in this country can make themselves an informed citizen. Perhaps we do not value this enough in the UK, there are parts of the world where this freedom is truly revolutionary. Free unfettered access to public information is essential to make democracy meaningful. If we value our freedom, our democracy, we should value our libraries.

Libraries are a great social equaliser. They have long been referred to as the ‘street corner universities’ and this role is more important than ever. Through public libraries, a person can educate themselves, access any human knowledge that has been published (remember inter-library loans! Not free but still cheap). Of course this is only useful if people have the skills to access that material, that is, that they are literate. And promoting literacy for all has long been something libraries have worked on in partnership with education professionals. In the last 2 decades ICT skills have become almost as vital as literacy, and library services also recognise this. In public libraries there are often free classes where you can gain ICT skills, so anyone in this country can empower themselves to use computers and the internet. They also provide free internet access. To get the internet in your home is not free. Internet connection costs money, computers cost money, electricity costs money. Many people are still not able to afford the internet in their home – but we have a great thing in this country, that is a public library network. Libraries are not all about The Book. I doubt they have ever been just about The Book. Its about connecting people to information, and empowering them with the skills they need to access that information.

Many of the most frequent users of public libraries are those groups who are least likely to be heard in the media. Children, older people, unemployed people, the housebound and remote communities are all examples of groups which benefit from a free library service. To illustrate this point, let us take the example of children. One of the Today interviewees mentioned the great way library loans allow you to experiment, to try new thing, new authors, new genres (did I mention, by the way, these loans are free?). This is true, but it is more than this. Parents can start taking their child to the library from any age, there are bounce and rhyme sessions, story time, bookstart. Parents and children themselves can then borrow and read any childrens’ books. Any child in this country has access to just as many childrens’ books as any other child in this country, regardless of how much their parents earn! How radical is that?! You can’t even buy a premium version, we are all equal in public libraries.

The real work is to make sure everyone knows about what we do. Whether people are ‘reflective’ or not is their own business, as libraries what we really want to do is provide everyone, without discrimination, with the information they want, to become informed citizens, to be able to educate themselves, to be able to engage in furthering human knowledge and understanding, to be able to read freely, to be able to share reading and books with their family, to access the media (online or otherwise) freely. This is radical. This is extraordinary. This is something we should truly be proud of.

What I am saying is this is about a bit more than putting a ‘nice cafe’ in there. Libraries are there already, certainly most of the librarians I come across are on board and are looking forward to the future. We want libraries that are welcoming modern spaces, that are open when people want to use them, that provide what people need with a friendly and helpful service.

The Today feature certainly started me thinking, and sure, the participants weren’t quite as well-informed about libraries as I would have liked, and I think a better defence of public libraries can and should be made. Who I really want to appeal to are my fellow professionals. We don’t hear enough in the media about what librarians are doing all around the country. Free unfettered access to information is a radical thing, but it has always been done quite quietly. Public libraries have had a presence, but have they had a voice? Library users come in all shapes and sizes, all incomes, all backgrounds, but those with the most need are also the least likely to be heard in society. In a time of budget cuts in almost every public service, there is an atmosphere of fear in the sector. I feel it in my own job, with service ‘restructuring’, I hear from friends and colleagues about job insecurity, job cuts causing greater strain on those of us who remain, graduates from library courses unable to get jobs. There is a great temptation to cower away, afraid that if attention is drawn to what we do that it will only make us a target for cuts. Maybe (people say) in a few years time, funding will come back for X project or Y job. I hope it does, but I don’t feel like waiting quietly to find out. Its too important. We need to tell people about what we do and why Libraries are essential. Libraries are really important and great work is being done out there but we don’t make enough noise about it.

I think we should start.

Advertisements

One Response to “Welcome to Noisy Librarians”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My librarian intuition is tingling… « Noisy Librarians - December 26, 2011

    […] It has reaffirmed for me why bother with this blog, because everywhere I look there are stereotypes of librarians and a) I think they are wrong b) I think we should kick up a fuss about it, all the time, every day, until people have a more accurate picture of what we do, because c) I think libraries are brilliant, important and useful, and should be celebrated. If society at large doesn’t know what librarians do, we need to be making more noise and telling everyone…but I have blogged about this before… […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: