Guest post – response to Justin Tomlinson’s speech

Please welcome our first guest blogger Karen, a public librarian from Wales.

I write as a chartered public librarian with nearly 20 years of experience working in the sector in Wales and although not yet a “cocktail waitress in a bar” I am hearing the Human League in my head at the moment I was feeling particularly forlorn after reading Toni Franc’s article in the Gazette last week. Although there was some optimism in this article this was followed up by reading Justin Tomlinson’s speech to open the debate on the future of library provision at Westminster.

I was disappointed to read the approach that Justin Tomlinson seems to be taking in such an important speech. In his vision he seems to support the publishing sector model for public libraries and I fear that putting the management of public libraries in the hands of the individual site staff could leave libraries as vulnerable as community centres and small independent book shops which I see disappearing all around me.

The speech also over looks the huge amount of modernisation which has been taking place in libraries at least since I have been involved in it. Public Libraries are using EDI for stock acquisition, using consortium buying of stock, regionalisation and shared catalogues, standardisation of MARC Records, RFID self service, BIC categorisation. I have visited Sutton library to learn about its excellent Front page management of stock and space and Bristol’s collection management tools. Gloucester has an amazing branding and marketing approach and Westminster has taken RFID in libraries hugely forward. Gateshead has a fabulous online music service and the Enquire and Ask Cymru enquiry services show how we work collectively as a profession.

All of these developments require a management structure, which support local library site managers not “undermine” them. They require standardisation and library specific knowledge to provide the cost savings and efficiency Justin Tomlinson and others talk about. Libraries provide a whole range of services but because some are invisible to the casual observer they are often overlooked. How could individual libraries afford subscriptions to online newspapers and reference services, subscription services and licenses to BDS records? How do these aspects fit into the vision of the future library provision in UK? Where else can customers go to look up specialised information such as historic shares data, gather business information, investigate and research if libraries are not there to assist in a free and un-biased capacity? Is the Waterstone or Amazon or Tesco approach to managing library services really appropriate to the community centered library development that is proposed? How can tightly controlled stock processing really meet a communities need? There is so much more to learn about these ideas and they have not been fully researched and without huge investment I doubt if they now will.

All this will be familiar to most library customers and staff but how can we address the misconceptions about what libraries are about? We have so many important and valuable services which ones do we shout about first to be heard above all this mis-information?

Guest bloggers are not affiliated with VftL, and all views and opinions are their own.