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Boston and Lofty Ambitions

26 Jun

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I was in Boston recently and took the opportunity to visit the Public Library. The library is actually in two buildings which are joined together back-to-back, the older McKim building and the modern Johnson building. As a tourist the main face of the library was the McKim building which faces Copley Square. Free architecture tours are available daily starting in the lobby.

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The library also has an unusual open courtyard in the middle where a couple were having wedding photographs!

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In the modern half of the library was the biggest flag I have ever seen.

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What I really loved was the inscriptions around the outside of the McKim building, which were too big to fit in a photo so I am relying on wikipedia here:

  • South: “Founded through the munificence and public spirit of citizens”
  • East: “The public library of the city of Boston • Built by the people and dedicated to the advancement of learning,”
  • North: “The commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty” (The ‘commonwealth’ refers to ‘The Commonwealth of Massacheusetts’, nothing to do with the Commonwealth of Nations).
  • Also above the main : “FREE TO ALL”

I would love to see more of this in the UK. When the inevitable question “why should my taxes be spent on this?” is asked, the answer is right there. Boom! In fact, I don’t know why we don’t do this already. What would you write over your public library? Something lofty and poetic or some statistics about the relationship between illiteracy and poverty? Or both? Or neither?

My librarian intuition is tingling…

26 Dec

Bright colours in no particular patternThis holiday I took a stash of magazines with me as Christmas reading – I think any other Ph.D. Students out there will appreciate a lighter read is welcome in the holidays!! – and one of my favourites is Psychologies. What I love about this magazine is it always lifts me up – compared to gossip or fashion magazines which I love to read but then typically make me feel fat/unfashionable/poor or whatever…yes I am an emotional reader! So I was reading Psychologies today and BOOM! There was a bit of librarian-bashing. Boo to librarian-bashing! And you know me, not one to put up with that quietly, being a Noisy Librarian and all…

Imagine someone described like this: ‘Steve is shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and a passion for detail.’ Now answer this- is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?

Daniel Kahneman, “How reliable is your intuition?”, Psychologies, January 2012, p.38 (travel edition)

I don’t really take issue with the example, people have this inaccurate stereotype idea of what kind of personality a librarian might have, and I guess some of the traits described may form part of that. I get the point, and it isn’t really about librarians at all, it is after all an article about intuition.

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…

For the moment, I want to tackle this perception that librarians are shy, retiring types “with little interest in people or in the world of reality.” My experience is the total opposite of this. As a librarian, I dealt with different people all day every day. You never know what someone is going to ask for help with, often people come in and are shy about asking for help, or sometimes they only have a vague idea what they do want, and it is the librarians job to tease this out. This is not the place for hard sales tactics, so maybe people get the impression that librarians are not outgoing. I don’t know how anyone could do this job and not be outgoing. Never knowing who is going to come through the door, and what they are going to ask for help with, requires quite a bit of people skills. If you go to see your doctor, for example, do you want someone who really stamps their personality on your consultation?? Or someone with good listening skills and tact?

On the tidiness and order thing, so, yes, librarians do attempt to organise collections in such a way that they are accessible. However, the reality of this is no collection is ever perfectly organised and librarian are more aware than most people of the issues involved and works to make things accessible. It is not about some ideal of perfect organisation, but about ‘where can I most usefully put this? Where is the best place to put this for the user to find it in?’ Compromise is constant, and most librarians I know are pragmatists. In school libraries, some teachers are forever apologising for kids leaving the place in a mess – I was forever assuring them it was fine, and that the books are there to be used, it is good to see them being used, and I would actively encourage browsing, having a look around, having a look at a book for a while to see if it suits…OK when someone hides *all* of the A-Z signs, that is annoying, but that only happened twice till I found out who the culprit was…! In fact, I was discussing with some other professionals just recently about being able to observe certain books being used by how often they turn up elsewhere in the library, and that I thought this was a good way of measuring resource use and wondered about how that could be measured – see, librarians actually like you to pick up and use the resources in the library, so something being ‘out of order’ is by no means an irritation! It is a positive sign of resource use. And it is also a never-ending job, resources in a library are always shifting and changing as stock comes in and out, is replaced, is used etc. So actually, librarians like managed disorder, not order.

Anyway, must go now and eat some more Christmas leftovers, I think having had a couple of days off I was having withdrawal symptoms from a lack of library chat…! (although according to the stereotype librarians couldn’t possibly be chatty either….)

More information on Psychologies magazine is available at: http://www.psychologies.co.uk/magazine/

School librarians must defend their jobs to a judge in Los Angeles

16 May

The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians
By Hector Tobar, May 13, 2011, Los Angeles Times

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0513-tobar-20110513,0,4862226,full.column

Excerpt from the middle of the article:
“…For LAUSD officials, it’s a means to an end: balancing the budget.

Some 85 credentialed teacher-librarians got layoff notices in March. If state education cuts end up being as bad as most think likely, their only chance to keep a paycheck is to prove that they’re qualified to be transferred into classroom teaching jobs.

Since all middle and high school librarians are required to have a state teaching credential in addition to a librarian credential, this should be an easy task — except for a school district rule that makes such transfers contingent on having taught students within the last five years.

To get the librarians off the payroll, the district’s attorneys need to prove to an administrative law judge that the librarians don’t have that recent teaching experience. To try to prove that they do teach, the librarians, in turn, come to their hearings with copies of lesson plans they’ve prepared and reading groups they’ve organized….”

A couple of news items

6 Feb

Yesterday, Feb 5, was Save Our Libraries Day.

This article details the response to proposed branch closures in England, including an overnight protest:

At New Cross Library, in south-east London, protesters taking part in an earlier “read-in” resolved to occupy the library overnight. Three security guards have been brought in to stay in the library with the group.

This article describes action in the town square in Bolton, including spontaneous singing.

Here’s an interactive map of the protests that were planned for Save Our Libraries Day. Notice that only one was in Scotland. Why is that? Also, it was organised by Scottish authors and illustrators, not librarians. Again, why? Scottish librarians are not immune to cuts; there is a plan in East Ayrshire to cut school librarian posts:

Budget cut plans identify a £60,000 saving next year through a “restructuring of the library support services across schools”.

This would mean nine qualified librarian posts across East Ayrshire being replaced by two chartered librarians and seven library assistants.

It is interesting that the biggest publicity for all this comes from authors. Surely we could cobble together at least 30 librarians to have a protest?

Library Book Care

29 Nov

Something to cheer us up on a wintery day!

Dear Pupils, when using library books, please try to stick to these simple rules:

1) Librarians like to know who has been using a book so be sure to write your name inside the cover. And all over the back cover. Add the names of your three best mates. And the boy you have a crush on.

2) Bookmarks are for wimps! Try cheese slices or perhaps some wafer-thin ham. Be sure to leave this in when you return the book fo the librarian can admire your ingenuity

3) The longer you keep your library book, the happier the librarian will be. Just imagine how popular you will be if you keep a book for 6 months or more!

4) Keep your books clean: give them a bath. Of Irn bru.

5) If you like a particular page, tear it out and keep it in a safe place for future reference.

6) Library books are free spirits! Return them to their natural wild habitat, such as playground puddles or gym changing rooms.

7) It is polite to leave a little snack for the librarian. A jaffa cake between pages 77 and 78, for example, would be most appreciated.

8 ) Librarians have a very juvenile sense of humour. Keep them entertained with some rude drawings.

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.