Tag Archives: community

Work, Play and Family Time at the Library

The following article was submitted by Helen Ball.

As a child I used to love Saturday afternoons when my mother would take me to the library for an hour or two. As she perused Virginia Andrews novels or chatted with the librarians I would curl up the same purple, threadbare armchair and get lost in the works of Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. The thrill of sifting through those books, the painful deliberation of deciding which ones would come home with me and the pride I felt upon receiving my first library card all stay with me today. But never could I have imagined how important this building would become to me as I grew up and became a mother myself. This is my story.

Work

I became disillusioned with my old job as an administration office manager within weeks of returning from maternity leave. I halved my hours but still found myself desperately missing my 9 month old son. The childcare fees were extortionate and I felt that working part time meant that I wasn’t able to fully commit to either my working role or my role as a mother. After my second child was born my mind was firmly made up and I decided to work for myself from home. I’d done a little freelance copywriting, blogging and content providing in the past so I found it easy to pick up work and by the time my kids had started school I had regular clients and was earning good money from my freelance writing.

The only problem was that I found it hard working from home. I was constantly distracted by the housework (or TV) and was used to the routine of going out to work so staying at home somehow made it harder for me to manage my time and schedules. Now my kids were in school I had no reason to stay in the house – I could go somewhere to work. But where? I remembered the library and that mysterious second floor that I’d had no interest in as a child because it was full of reference books and serious looking people tapping on computers. And it was on that second floor, in the same snug corner behind the geography textbooks that I set up a makeshift office for myself. Of course I had to pack it up every day but the routine of going out to work in a quiet place with no distractions made me so much more productive. This year I am in the drafting stages of my first novel and I just know that most of it will be written within the walls of the library.

Social

Working at the library during weekdays meant I often saw the same faces. Like me, some people would come to study or work. Others would come in the morning to read the papers. One man from a homeless shelter came every day to read in the warmth because he had nowhere else to go. As time progressed I formed friendships with some of the people I regularly saw there and we spoke about our work, our families and our lives. Writing can be a very sedentary, lonely job that can become isolating quickly so for me, those brief, hushed conversations between the bookshelves or in the cafe at lunch were invaluable. By spending so much time at the library I also got to learn about the variety of groups and workshops they host there during the week. On more than one occasion I abandoned my work and joined in the the book club and the knitting class and once again got to meet like minded people and learn new skills.

For the kids

There are also a lot of activities on for babies, toddlers and children in my library. My youngest child adores story and rhymetime and my eldest was over the moon when he got to meet his favourite author, Nick Sharratt, when he visited on a tour. During the school holidays we always try to take part in at least one organised event at the library and visit regularly so they can pick out their books just as I did as a child – the other day I even spotted my daughter reading in the same purple chair that I used to curl up in. With studies indicating that reading more books improves life chances for children I am eager to encourage my kids to spend as much time as possible in the library and luckily they seem more than happy to oblige.

The figures that indicate over 10% of our libraries are at risk of cutback and closure from local councils don’t just concern me, they terrify me. I rely on my library as do countless others, each for various reasons. People argue that with the rise of technology and e-books libraries are outdated and simply not needed anymore but this couldn’t be further from the truth. They are about so much more than books – they are a place of comfort, refuge, interaction and an integral part of the community.

An exciting announcement for the #LibraryAtoZ

Last year we wrote about the Library A to Z, which was a crowdsourced A to Z list of positive activities and services libraries provide – those that go beyond the idea that libraries are solely about books. We encouraged people to make use of and build on the A to Z to promote their library service and a few did, especially around National Libraries Day in February.
Recently I shared the idea with Andy Walsh from Huddersfield University and we talked about developing the idea into a book that could be used as a powerful advocacy tool for libraries – something that could be sent to politicians, local councillors and those with some control over the future of libraries. Andy suggested the idea of a Kickstarter/crowd funded project to raise money for the funding of the production of the book.

I’m really pleased and excited to say that the crowd-funding project is now live and will run for 30 days. In that time we need to raise £2,000 to turn this idea into reality and actually produce the book. This money will allow us to cover the costs of the illustrator, legal deposit copies of the book, and the initial rewards including postage and packing. Andy has arranged for a great illustrator (Josh Filhol) to be involved, and the aim is to produce a book contain a visual alphabet of the Library A to Z along with content that backs it up and highlights the importance of libraries. You can see Josh at work in the project video below.

There are a range of rewards for people and organisations who back the project, all increasing depending upon how much money you give to the campaign.

It would be fantastic if we could get this funded and turned into reality and we ask that if you can contribute please do (as the video says, it doesn’t matter how little you give). Please also share this in as many places as you can – all around the social networks, in libraries, anywhere! If we don’t make the target of £2,000 the project won’t happen.
We are also still looking for more words for the A to Z. So please take a look at the original list and if you have anything to add leave a comment.

For more details about the project and how the Kickstarter funding process works take a look at the Library A to Z Kickstarter page.

All the resources that are produced as part of this Kickstarter project including the images will be released under a creative commons licence, meaning that everyone is free to use the results of the project.
Gary

Get involved in the Library A to Z

At the recent Library Camp East event one of the Voices For The Library team proposed a session to crowd source an A to Z of words that reflected the positive activities and values of libraries, as well as positive representations in books, songs, films and other media. The aim was to highlight that even though books are a core feature of library services, libraries are so much more than this – whether this “so much more” is as a result of the benefits of reading, or beyond this focus. The intention was also to use the A to Z as a way to promote library services. The group was attended by about 20 people from a range of library backgrounds, which was great, because it meant that the full breadth of library services could be covered and it showed common and uncommon activities between, say for example, public and academic libraries. We covered all of the alphabet (with a bit of artistic licence in places), but there is still scope for more words to be added into the Library A to Z. Please feel free to add any as a comment and we’ll then include them in the blog post.

Here’s a list of what the group at Library Camp East came up with on the day, along with some additional contributions. Thanks to all who got involved.

Questions (c) elycefeliz / Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence)

A
archives
access
answers
Alphabetical Order (Alan Ayckbourn play)
advice
art
astronomy
audio books
author events

 

B
Batgirl (is a librarian)
breakout space
breast feeding (space for mothers with babies)
books
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Giles is a librarian)
borrowing
book club
baby bounce and rhyme
Britannica (encyclopedia)
business information
biographies

C
community
collaboration
childminders
careers
choices
crafts
creation
comics
competitive advantage (for businesses)
coffee (relax with one)
colouring (fun sessions for children)
council services (access to)
carers services
classics
community cohesion
ommunity memory
Council Information
CVs

 

D
Deskset (film)
Elaine Dundy – The Dud Avacado
Day after tomorrow (scene in library)
databases
democracy
discovery
dry (inside, away from foul weather)
dads
diversity
dvds
Dewey
dance
digital literacy

E
entertainment
escape
ebooks
employability
equality
everyone (is welcome)
education
excitement
events
exhibitions
enquiry service
email

 

F
fun
free (to join and free books)
family history
families
films
Facebook (you can access it via our PCs)
fax services
fiction

G
guidance
gallery
Ghostbusters (library scene in the film)
green (eco-friendly book recycling)
graphic novels
Go online
games

H
heritage
history
health
Hermione (always in the library in Harry Potter)
holiday reading
Hollywood librarians film
homework help
hate crime reporting
help
history

I
information
inclusion
internet
inspiration
imagination
information services
information literacy
information commons

J
job searching
journeys (discover new places with a book)

judgement-free

K
knowledge

Kindness

Kinship (finding like-minded people)

key-stage (supporting the curriculum)

L
librarians / library staff
lending
local
local studies
literacy
learning
leisure
languages
literature

M
Margaret Mahy
The mummy (main character is a librarian)
meeting (community)
mums
music
managing directors (build businesses/business support)
mood boosting
make a noise in libraries
mobile libraries
Manic street preachers – “libraries gave us power”
mailing lists
magazines
maps
market research

 

N
networking
noise (discussion/communication/activity)
National Libraries Day
Name of the Rose
newspapers
Neil Gaiman – a great advocate for libraries
non-judgemental
novels
not for profit

O
Octonauts (CBeebies – “To the library!”)
opportunity
outreach
online
open to all
old (and young)

P
partnerships
power
photocopying
printers
paper
photographs

Q
questions
quiet

R
reading
research
resources
relaxing
rhymetime
recommendations
reference books
retirement
reminiscence
romance

 

S
Sshh! (a quiet place to work/study)
silver surfers
students
scanners
space (to think and work)
skills
sharing
safe (place)
summer reading challenge
social media
serendipity
storytime
study
school visits
science
science fiction
spelling
sport
statistics

T
Time travellers wife (works in a library)
trusted
teens
Time machine (original film female character worked in library)
toys
treasure hunts

U
understanding
uplifting
universal
unemployment
unlimited
universal credit (support)
unexpected

V
visually impaired users
values

W
wifi (free)
well-being
wisdom
werewolves (Twilight / teen readers)
warmth

X
xml (web of information; organisation of info online)
x-rated (50 shades of grey etc)
exciting
expression

Y
youth
young adult

Z
‘zines (magazines)
zzzzz (child sleeping after being read bedtime story)

Force of Poetry (c) Artiom Ponkratenko / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 licence)

So, now we have a list and what would be great is if we could get more people involved in doing something creative with this list or a part of it – maybe just a letter, or a single word will inspire you to create something in response. So for example, some of the ideas people have suggested already include:

  • Turn some of this into a visual alphabet that we could share as downloadable posters.
  • Create a library A to Z video.
  • Pull together positive library user stories that cover the full A to Z related to your library, whether that’s public, academic, business, specialist library etc and produce a book of them to be sent to the people in your organisation who aren’t aware of the value of your library service.
  • Create an online photo montage alphabet.
  • Get artists (visual, musical, performance) involved to interpret this Library A to Z in their own unique way.
It would be fantastic if we could encourage libraries and their supporters to take up the challenge, focus on a single letter each and produce something we could pull together in time for National Libraries Day – a day all about celebrating the value of libraries and all the things that make libraries so great and important.
And if you do put something together (which we hope you will) please let us know and share it with us, so we can share it with everyone else too.

Hosting at Archway Library

Thanks to artist Lucy Harrison for this guest post about the creative project she was recently involved in at Archway Library.

 

Between September 2012 and January 2013 I was ‘hosted’ by Archway Library in north London. I’m an artist and often work on projects in specific locations, usually involving people who live or work there, and producing various outcomes like books, events, audio and video. This was a project organised by Islington Council and managed by an arts organisation called Air Studio, for which 5 artists, poets and dancers were placed with different organisations: a charity shop, a carers’ centre, a mothers’ group and a mental health charity. The arrangement was that we would regularly spend time in our host organisation and have a public outcome at the end. We also met as a group every few weeks to discuss how our projects were going.

I’ve always been interested in libraries and have worked on a few other projects involving them. In 2003 I collected all the notes made in margins of books in an art college library, and made them into a new book. I also worked on a project in Sunderland where I re-categorised a section of the library according to emotions, events and characteristics mentioned in the blurb on the back. And I used to have a studio above Stoke Newington library, next door to the head librarian.

The library manager at Archway was helpful and enthusiastic from the first time we met. He is very focussed on the local community and always willing to try out new ideas. So I started going there on Wednesdays and began by observing what happened around me. One of the first things I noticed was how many people went in for things other than books- people were booking time on the computers to use the internet or type essays, they were coming in for children’s activities, or to read newspapers. There is a large Irish community in Archway and the Irish newspapers are kept behind the desk for people to request, which they do every day. Some people seemed to spend long periods of time there, perhaps to keep warm or to have some company. The staff were usually very busy, often too busy for me to find time to talk to them properly.

I decided to install a post box in the library, and started to leave notes and questions around the place for people to fill in and leave for me. It was a way of having a presence in the library during the rest of the week when I wasn’t in the building. The most popular question I left was simply ‘What is a Library?’ to which I had handfuls of answers every time I went back to check.

Archway Library launch event (c) Seb Lynch

Archway Library launch event (c) Seb Lynch

The answers ranged from “a community centre that’s open to all” “Somewhere warm and free” to “a galaxy of things we can learn from. It’s an encyclopaedia with different branches, different leaves, different topics” and “Any place where you can forget your daily problems and feel the pleasure of letters flying around you”.

In my first week I also went to the Islington Local History Centre at Finsbury Library, and looked at the material they had related to Archway Library. They had a whole box of leaflets, photographs and press cuttings, dating back many years but mostly from the last few decades. I discovered that the original library had been in a different building across the road, and had opened in 1946 to the delight of the local people who had been ‘starved of books’ during the war.

I found out that the building the library is now in opened in 1980, and found a large number of highly saturated old colour photographs which were taken as the library was being moved into the new building. It was strange to see the same wood and orange metal shelves that I had become familiar with, but brand new and empty with boxes of books strewn around the floor. The photos showed library staff unpacking the boxes and stacking the books, while others showed the old building being emptied. I also found out that the children’s library, which is through a partition from the main library, opened in January 1983, meaning that the 30th anniversary would be during my project.

I ordered some scans of the photos and when I received them I brought them into Archway library to show the manager. He hadn’t worked there then but was also fascinated by them, and started to give me contact details for some of the library staff who worked there in 1980. I was surprised that he was able to put me in contact with 4 or 5 people who still worked for Islington Libraries after all this time. They all worked at different branches now, apart from one member of staff at Archway who I suddenly realised was in one of the photographs, as a teenage girl.

I started to arrange to meet them, and recorded interviews with them while showing them the photographs. Certain things cropped up in all the interviews: how excited they were to move in to the building, the feeling of hope for what they could do there, how much they all loved working there and how well they all got on. It seemed that the thought of leaving the library service had never occurred to any of them. They all still met up with each other and with a few others who had retired. There were some really funny parts to some of the interviews too- remembering being made to carry out make-up demonstrations in the teenage library, a person who left glittery shoes on the shelves, carrying all the books across the underpass from the old building.

The interviews made me see the building in a new light, and I transcribed them all and edited them into one narrative, which went around the building from the entrance. I asked one of the librarians if she would mind being recorded reading it out as an audio tour, which she said yes to straight away. Some people have said that they would have liked to have heard the different voices, but I wanted it to be read out more formally, and liked the idea that it was all of the librarians speaking with one voice, as if they had become one person.

As well as the audio tour, I designed two newspapers and had 100 copies of each one printed; I liked the format of the newspaper as it is so well used in this building. The first was using the librarians’ text telling the story of moving into the new building, along with the old photographs, so that people could see them while looking at the library as it is now. The other one used the texts that people had left in the post box, along with photographs that I’d taken of some of the things library users had been reading. We had a launch evening and a lot of the librarians came along. I gave a short introduction and was surprised to find I had a lump in my throat when I said how important the library was for Archway.

The project was fairly short and I had so many other ideas I would have liked to have carried out, but I finished the project with very good memories of Archway Library, and I am glad that I had the insight into the story of how it opened.

Lucy Harrison was hosted by Archway Library as part of A Million Minutes, an Islington Council project supported by Arts Council England. It was produced by AIR, a project studio at Central Saint Martins College of Art.

 

The audio tour is available on MP3 players at Archway Library, and free copies of the newspaper are available until they run out.

PDFs of the newspapers can be downloaded from the following links and paper copies can be ordered for £2.

http://www.airstudio.org/research/Publications/A-People%27s-Library-in-Archway/

 

http://www.airstudio.org/research/Publications/What-is-a-Library/

 

http://www.lucy-harrison.co.uk

http://www.amillionminutes.org

http://www.amillionminutes.org/projects/Lucy-Harrison/

http://www.islington.gov.uk/services/libraries/local/Pages/archway_library.aspx

 

Celebrate Your Library project

This guest blog post from Hilary Chittenden explains why she and Victoria started their “Celebrate your library” project.

My mum has worked in public libraries for nearly a decade now, and I have always loved hearing about the huge variety of people that she interacts with on a daily basis. In one single day she can act as a teacher, friend, children’s entertainer, information point – all depending on what the public want to use the library for. It dawned on me that libraries are so much more than books but are molded by the people that use them. They mean something different to every person that walks through their doors and the library users are what make libraries so great. Yes, we all know that books are brill, that libraries play an important role in children’s educational development and allow people of all ages and backgrounds access to books and information, but what about the social importance of libraries? I asked people the simple question “Why do you love your library?”:

“The library feels like the hub of the community. We recently moved to the area and going to the library has not only provided fantastic reading material for the whole family but also it has made us feel part of the community.”

“The library has been a lifeline since I had a baby… It enables parents to socialise when they may be isolated”

 Celebrate My Library Comments Cards

“I enjoy coming in to read the papers and borrow the books. It gives me something to do during the day.”

“Since moving here two years ago I have met many mums who have similar aged children. I especially like my library because the staff are soooo welcoming and hands on with the children!”

“The ladies in the library, I’ve known them for a long long time. They know me and I know them and they are so helpful. If I ever need any information they go on the computer and they print it off for me.”

“We’ve been coming to the library since we came to the country. It was great when we had just moved and didn’t have the internet.”

“I’m out of work at the moment, and the library provides me with a work place environment and office style facilities so I can concentrate better on finding work.”

“When I’m home from uni in the holidays I come here to do my revision. It’s a focused space, nice and quiet and I can’t work well at home. I use it for the desk space – I come in and get my head down.”

“I’m learning English. My sister teaches me and I come in and read to get better. I bring my children to read the picture books and stories. I love the library.”

“We get a lot of people coming in to the library that I worry about – where can they go, who they can talk to, when we’re closed for Christmas.”

“It became more important when my husband died… It allows me to escape.”

This small selection is just a handful of the overwhelming feedback I received from speaking to library users up and down the country. There were so many touching and varied reasons that people loved and relied on their libraries. This inspired me to start ‘Celebrate my Library’ to do just that – to share all the reasons beyond the books that libraries are so important to peoples lives. Our ultimate aim is to help people who don’t yet use libraries to see how much they can better your life (but it’s early days yet.)

For now we are concentrating on speaking to as many people as we can about why they love their libraries. We have been working with 8 different councils around the country, and are planning some events that will collect and circulate people’s love for libraries. Our next endeavor is going to be a children’s poetry/story writing competition along the “I love my library” theme with successful applications being teamed up with illustrators to create a beautiful book and exhibition. We then plan to use the funds raised to publish a newspaper of all the different reasons that people love their libraries and circulate it… (phew!) but like I said, it’s early days yet!

Our main aim right now is to spread the word – Celebrate your library! And not just for the books.

If you want to know more about our project, get involved or tell us why YOU celebrate your library, please get in touch at celebratemylibrary@gmail.com or visit our blog at www. celebratemylibrary.tumblr.com/.

We’d love to hear from you.

Hilary and Victoria

@hilarychitty

@v_m_foster

The London Libraries Change Programme (LLCP)

The London Libraries Change Programme came into being in 2008 and finished in 2011. It was part of a wider initiative, the London Cultural Improvement Programme, and included the 32 boroughs and the City of London, the regional cultural agencies (Arts Council England, MLA Council, English Heritage and Sport England), London Councils and Capital Ambition and had a remit to improve cultural services in London.

In October 2008, the LLCP Board (1), Chaired by Andrew Holden, Director of Engagement at the MLA and made up of members of the ALCL and other MLA officers, commissioned the consultants RSE to prepare a feasibility study, funded by Capital Ambition, outlining the scope of the programme and the key areas for potential ‘improvement’;

 

  • Leading the sector both externally and internally.
  • Supporting the development of a strong and well utilised workforce.
  • Improving procurement and stock management processes.
  • Modernising service delivery through the use of new technology.
  • Combining skills and resources to undertake marketing and communication.

Four options were given with estimated savings over a five year period;

Option 1: Sharing best practice which is anticipated to yield savings of £1.9 million.

Option 2: Integration of library services with local authority customer services, which is anticipated to yield savings of £3.8 million.

Option 3: Joint management posts are anticipated to yield savings of £5 million.

Option 4: Sub regional library services are anticipated to yield savings of £13 million.

“Overall the potential options combined could save an estimated £2.3 across London in the first year and £19.8 million over five years. “

RSE also made some recommendations, let’s look at some of these in more detail;

2.1.1. The sector needs strong leadership

“There is a perception within the sector that the role and contribution of libraries is widely misunderstood and undervalued. The Association of Chief Librarians and Museums, Libraries and Archives Association (in London and nationally) provide leadership within the sector, but there is a clear view that this role could be strengthened and enhanced”

That the SCL and the MLA ever provided leadership in the sector is highly debateable, SCL members have been accused of pushing through policies that have resulted in cutting the sector and recently were criticised for not fully supporting National Libraries Day and the MLA were seen by many to be ineffectual and instrumental in developing the neo-liberal agenda now prevalent amongst SCL members!

2.1.3. The programme needs to tackle workforce costs and skill development

Staff accounts for 58% of all costs within Libraries……”

“It is recommended that the programme:

f. Benchmark workforce levels and productivity across London…..”

In July 2009 the LLCP Board and the London Cultural Improvement Group commissioned CFE to undertake workforce benchmarking research; the final report was published in October of that year.

“The objective of this was to provide greater understanding of how the London library workforce is utilised and to highlight areas for efficiencies that might arise from joint authority working and the development of shared services.

This report draws together findings from primary research with the library sector and wider stakeholders, and aims to:

  • Benchmark workforce structures across London libraries using a range of input, output and outcome measures to identify drivers of variation in staffing levels and effective working practices.
  • Highlight examples of best practice in staff deployment and document options for shared services, i.e. ways in which local authorities can work together to utilise library staff more effectively.
  • Identify areas where efficiencies can be realised through improvements in workforce utilisation and shared services and provide assumptions about the level of estimated savings achievable. “

The research also highlights potential cuts to the London Library workforce of anything between 1-10%.

It’s very difficult to assess the impact of the programme on subsequent cuts to library services and jobs acrossLondondue to the cuts imposed on Local Authorities by the present Government but all that can be said is that all the authorities involved in the programme have cut staff and services!

Inconclusive I know,  but until a full impact analysis of the programme is made public we will never know!

(1) “The Board comprises of Andrew Holden (Programme Sponsor and Chair) Interim Director MLA London; David Ruse Director of Libraries, London Borough Westminster; Rosemary Doyle Head of Library and Cultural Services, London Borough Islington; Sue McKenzie Head of Libraries London Borough of Brent and President of London Libraries; Cllr G. Reardon, London Borough Waltham Forest; Cllr F. Rea, London Borough Camden; plus Local Authority representatives including HR, resources and library and cultural services tbc and Ken Cole, Advisor, Capital Ambition Ex officio.”

London Library Change Programme Board; Workforce Benchmarking Project; Project Initiation Document Feb 2009

All the reports relating to the Programme can be found at;

http://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/policylobbying/culturetourismand2012/lcip/londonlibrarychangeprogramme.htm

On the other side of the counter at Winsford Library

We received the following blog post from Hannah Bailey (UNISON Assistant National Officer) about her recent visit to Winsford Library.

Like many people, some of my earliest memories are of visiting the library with my parents and siblings (Bawtry library in Doncaster, now sadly facing the axe, was our local). From these visits I harboured a childhood ambition to be a librarian – I think it was the satisfying clunk of the stamp that did it. So my work at UNISON on the libraries campaign has been the next best thing, but despite spending large chunks of my work days thinking and writing about libraries, it occurred to me that I had only ever been on the ‘other side’ of the counter. Shouldn’t I really get out there and see what working in the library service is really all about? Ian Anstice kindly stepped in and agreed to let me shadow him and his staff for a day at Winsford library in Cheshire. Emailing to make arrangements beforehand, Ian politely laughed at request to see what a ‘typical day’ in a library was like – no such thing as a typical day he assured me…..

An early train journey and bus ride meant I arrived at the library just after opening time on a sunny Thursday morning, the last week of the school summer holidays. Ian and I are in regular email contact, but have never met in person; however I clocked him straightaway putting out posters to advertise the library’s coffee and cake morning that day. Getting inside the library there were already a steady stream of people coming in, many to take advantage of the cakes on offer (I duly sampled a raspberry crumble muffin) whilst returning items and using the PCs.

The coffee morning is run regularly by friends of the library, who all volunteer their time to take part in fundraising activities and events. The positive relationship between staff and volunteers was clear, and it was also clear that they were providing a supplementary service that staff would be unable to undertake alongside their daily duties. Complementing staff and playing a role, but not replacing them. This has always been UNISON’s view and it was good to see it working in practice. Later that day, Ian discussed with the treasurer of the friends group how the funds were looking and the possibility of buying some new furniture for the children’s library – clearly their effort is having an impact.

First activity of the day was story time for the under fives, with a (mostly!) captive audience of twenty or so youngsters and a selection of parents and grandparents. Not for the last time that day I was reminded of the pleasure of being read to, something which seems to stop as soon as you leave school, but I will always love. Rounding off with a selection of nursery rhymes (including requests from the floor) story time was a reminder not only of how pleasurable reading is, but also the importance of starting young with literacy – it really is never too early and libraries play a huge part in getting families and kids into reading, which stays with them for life.

Meanwhile on the counter, a constant stream of people were coming in and out, putting paid to the rumour that nobody uses libraries anymore. Remember earlier this year when John Redwood MP made some startlingly ill-informed comments about libraries after a brief visit to one? Anyone deeming themselves worthy of comment needs to spend at least a day in a library before drawing any conclusions. After all, a visit to an uncharacteristically quiet supermarket at 10pm wouldn’t lead one to conclude that modern retail as we know it is dead would it?

Mid-morning behind the counter was of the highlights of the day for me – a young man aged no more than about 12 came in on his own to return a stack of books he’d read during his recent holiday. Checking the books back in, Ian reminded him he had a few more out and did he want to renew them while he was here? He agreed, telling Ian that he was halfway through one of them, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’. Settling his small fine, he then left. This is the kind of kid we’re supposed to believe aren’t interested in reading anymore, too busy playing computer games or hanging round the streets making a nuisance of themselves. I was truly heartened by this – and you can bet if it’s happening in Winsford, it’s happening at libraries all over the UK.

Ecological Consequences by J. Star

Ecological Consequences (c) J. Star / Flickr

Books returned over the course of the morning soon started to stack up behind the counter, so any spare time was spent by staff re-shelving items ready to be borrowed again. All the while the eight or so PC’s in the library were constantly occupied by a range of different people, from teenagers checking the latest updates on Facebook to people printing off e-tickets for impending holidays. While the volunteers packed the cakes and coffee away, members of the Mid-Cheshire Camera Club were busy mounting a small exhibition of their work near the entrance. The works are for sale, and as of one the members filled out the council’s insurance form, he explained to me that the library is the last open exhibition space available in the town centre to groups such as theirs.

An open building – it sounds obvious but it’s what libraries are all about. Still it was one of the points that struck me on several occasions as the day went by. Whilst downstairs the children’s library was buzzing and noisy, upstairs in the reference area there was an altogether quieter and calmer feel. I was told there is one man comes in every day without fail to read the newspaper for an hour at lunchtime. Then there were the groups of teenagers, in town and looking for something to do, drifting in and out. One man spent most of the day in the library, helping out the volunteers in the morning and staying for the afternoon. The library for him is a safe space, a place where he is welcomed and not judged.

After lunch I was invited along to join the RELISH group – read, listen, share – which is a reading group for people with mental health issues. There are seven regular attendees to this group, which staff told me was a real achievement. People who are ill and may already have chaotic lives drift in and out of groups like this. But here you have seven people who attend week in, week out, to read together and discuss the books. Everyone who feels comfortable takes a turn to read aloud, and after a few pages a member of staff poses questions to get the conversation going. It sounds simple enough, but seeing it in practice and the impact it has is powerful stuff.

Later in the afternoon there was some respite for staff on the counter to undertake other tasks. This was when I was introduced to the mysterious ‘back office’. Many critics argue that too much is spent on the ‘back office’ and that this should be cut in favour of the frontline. This obviously varies from area to area, however what was clear is that a varied selection of books don’t magically appear on the shelves, nor do titles which are seldom borrowed grow legs and walk off, making room for more popular titles. It all happens in the mysterious ‘back office’. And contrary to what some people believe, new books appear on the shelves every week in your average library. So for those who bemoan that the latest titles aren’t available, perhaps you should get down to your local library or hop online and find out. I’m guessing you’ll be surprised.

Winsford library is open until 7.30pm on Thursday evenings, the day I was there. Ian told me how later on in the day is when there is most potential for trouble, with the town centre emptying of shoppers and bored teenagers hanging around. Again the library is open to all – staff work on the presumption that people know how to behave, and only if someone is causing offence or disturbance to someone else will they intervene. But it does happen, and staff are often at the receiving end of anti-social behaviour. Not exactly the picture of a sleepy library in a leafy suburb that some would paint, but the reality nonetheless. It’s bad enough that paid staff have to endure such incidents, but would you volunteer to put yourself in this position?

So if I had to sum up my day in the library in a few points, what would I say? After spending the day working alongside a friendly and committed staff team, it was clear to me that:

  1. Libraries are busy, vibrant community spaces open to people from all walks of life
  2. Reading for pleasure is alive and kicking – you’re never too young or too old
  3. Libraries are about books, and the knowledge, comfort and power words give you

It all sounds fairly obvious, but the impact of savage cuts on local authorities seems to mean that many people want to trivialise the importance of libraries and library staff in order to justify their decisions. Anyone who disagrees with the three points above really should go and spend an hour or two at their local library and see if it changes their mind.

 

The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of  Voices for the Library

Decentralised Power Via The Localism Bill

The Localism Bill was introduced to Parliament via the House of Commons in December 2010. Its aim is to decentralise power “back into the hands of individuals, communities and councils.”

Here are a few things to consider about the Bill in relation to the provision of local services, including public libraries.

1.) The plain English version states that central government currently imposes too much bureaucracy in the form of centralised decisions, targets and inspections, which “leaves people feeling ‘done to’ and imposed upon.”

It’s true that the removal of Central government bureaucracy would allow development of services at a local level, but at the same time Central government bureaucracy also serves to ensure that local councils/authorities continue to provide essential services they are expected to.

2.) It also states that Central Government should be there to help people and their locally elected representatives to achieve their own ambitions.”

This would be beneficial, as long as the local people and representatives who get their voices heard are (1) representative of all local people and (2) that their wishes ensure this does not affect the lives of those whose voices aren’t heard – commonly people in society who are in most need of public services.

3.) The Bill indicates that “Local authorities can do their job best when they have genuine freedom to respond to what local people want, not what they are told to do by central government.

In an ideal world this would be a great opportunity for councils to work with local communities and I’m sure some will, but as we have seen in some library campaigns, local councils do not always listen to what people want. Campaigners throughout the country have raised petitions containing over 15,000 names asking councils to stop closure of libraries, but councils still appear to do what they want, rather than what the communities ask them to do.

4.) The General power of competence in the Bill states local authorities should be free to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.” and that this power “does not remove any duties from localauthorities.” Alongside this, the Secretary of State will have the authority toremove unnecessary restrictions and limitations where there is a good case to do so, subject to safeguards designed to protect vital services.”

It is important that local authorities are free to be innovative, as long as they don’t break the law and their duties are not removed. However, if the Secretary of State can over-rule restrictions, how will this affect councils actions and duties? Could this over-ruling have a negative effect on services that are provided to communities, as well as a positive effect?

5.) “the Government will abolish the Standards Board regime. Instead, it will become a criminal offence for councillors to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints, while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions.”

Even though some complaints may be seen as trivial by Central Government, often it is the only way for an individual citizen to address concerns they may have about a councillor.

6.) Even though a councillor is there to represent his/her local community some are warned off doing such things as campaigning, talking with constituents, or publicly expressing views on local issues, for fear of being accused of bias or facing legal challenge. The Localism Bill will make it clear that it is proper for councillors to play an active part in local discussions.”

It’s important that in the future councillors will be given the opportunity to get involved, rather than shying away from involvement and discussion and saying “I can’t do anything. I’m not allowed to.”

7.) ”The Localism Bill will give more cities the opportunity to decide whether they want a mayor.”

Having an elected mayor could work either way. A mayor who has not been elected by his/her political peers would have more freedom to go against party lines, but at the same time the elected mayor does not necessarily need any experience of local politics to become mayor, which in itself could lead to problems via a lack of understanding.

8.) “We want to pass significant new rights direct to communities and individuals, making it easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live.”

Hopefully this will give campaigners fighting council decisions a stronger voice than many of them have at present.

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference

Eric Pickles at Conservative Party Conference (c) conservativeparty / Flickr

9.) The Bill will allow groups, parish councils and local authority employees the right to express an interest in taking over the running of a local authority service.” Local councils must respond to this interest and where it accepts it, run a procurement exercise for the service in which the challenging organisation can bid”

This will obviously give local communities an opportunity to be involved in the provision of services they receive, but wouldn’t this increase bureaucracy and expenditure by local authorities who have to run a procurement exercise and assess any bids? Will it also mean that co-ordinated groups of small numbers in the community may have a louder voice than a larger local population who are happy with the services as they are?

10.) ”When listed assets come up for sale or change of ownership, community groups will have time to develop a bid and raise the money to buy the asset when it comes on the open market.”

It is important that assets are kept in the community they belong, but at the same time this may also give some local authorities the notion that selling off its assets is a good idea.

11.) ”The Localism Bill will give local people the power to initiate local referendums on local issues that are important to them. Local authorities and other public bodies will be required to take the outcome of referendums into account and consider what steps, if any, they will take to give effect to the result.”

Where we have seen local library campaigners wishes ignored, even with overwhelming support from the community, the ability to raise a local referendum may be more effective in highlighting support for an initiative.

12.) ”Right to approve or veto excessive council tax rises”

The current situation in this country has seen council taxes capped by Central Government, even though a minimal rise may allow vital services to be developed in a local area. The ability to vote on council tax rises may ensure vital services are kept in the future.

13.) “Reform to make the planning system clearer, more democratic and more effective.” Currently “planning does not give members of the public enough influence over decisions that make a big difference to their lives. Too often, power is exercised by people who are not directly affected by the decisions they are taking.”

This will allow communities to have a greater say over planning in their area. This could mean that communities put together a local development plan that includes the services/facilities they want, such as a local library.

14.) Finally, the Localism Bill enables the removal of duties for local authorities to inform citizens about how local democracy works. If this happens it would mean local communities are at a disadvantage in ensuring that their voice will be heard.

So, in summary, the Bill will enable local communities (people, councillors and local authorities/councils) to have a greater impact on the development of services in their own area, but at the same time the Bill proposes the removal of restrictions that are currently in place to ensure local councils continue to provide essential local services.

The next stage for the Localism Bill is the report stage in the House of Lords (September 2011), which gives members of the House of Lords the opportunity to consider changes to the Bill.

Mobile Libraries: Past Successes; Future Directions?

Thanks to Richard, a former mobile librarian in the Scottish highlands, who sent us this post highlighting the importance of mobile library services.

 

Coincidences can be serendipitous. The other day, a chance encounter in town found me chatting to Marie; one time head of a primary school on my old mobile itinerary, and now like me retired. We caught up on the intervening years, and recalled the many happy and productive days of our previous association. Later the same day, while visiting my centenarian mother in her care home, I was delighted to see a new resident, Annie; a partially disabled lady for whom I had undertaken regular home visits with books. Now ninety three, her mind remained sharp and clear; a reminder that a fondness for light romance need not dull the brain!

These two meetings brought home to me, not just the personal joys of my life as a mobile librarian in the Scottish highlands, but also a very real sense of the good my colleagues and I were able to achieve in our work. Today, when the speed and uncertainty of change threatens the very existence of mobiles, past achievements may hold pointers to a continuing future. Once, our remit was to supply the widest possible range of library services to rural communities; a situation we recognize to be no longer sustainable as a whole. But, exemplified here in the stories of Annie and Marie, there exist areas within which I believe a mobile library service offers a positive, cost-effective way forward.

Marie was the best kind of primary teacher; an enthusiastic polymath who drew no false distinctions between art and science, inspiring her pupils to learn through the shared joys of the spoken word: in debate, song, drama and reading aloud. She always encouraged me to play a proactive part in school life, and thus I became in addition to my normal library duties a storyteller, a shennachie in the local scots; a role I was able to develop to include all the dozen or so schools on my regular round. Issues soared. Beginning with simple stories for nursery classes and pre-school groups, I expanded my scope to include all ages up to twelve; giving readings of classics old and new, poetry, even some of the more dramatic exerts from Shakespeare. I have a particular abiding memory of holding one class spellbound by a recitation of Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Writers like Kipling may be anathema to modernists, but the themes of courage and resourcefulness displayed in tales such as Rikki bear comparison with those seen in, say, The Gruffalo; and can be equally enjoyable, both to read and to hear. The key to that enjoyment is the human voice and its use to convey all the excitement, colour and meaning which a given text may contain. Once you establish the links between the written word and the endlessly vivid world of a child’s imagination then the act of their learning to read becomes a pleasure, and, once achieved, a lifelong joy. Those manning mobile libraries with school clients are uniquely placed to provide such inspiration, having all the necessary resources to hand. Where a suitable bond of trust has been created, teaching staff are only too delighted to accept our assistance.

Mobile library comes to Beckford (Jonathan Billinger)

Mobile library comes to Beckford (Jonathan Billinger)

Trust, and the human voice, is just as important at the other end of life’s spectrum. Annie, recently widowed and with her family far away, lived in relative isolation in an anonymous housing scheme. As the years passed and her health deteriorated visits to the mobile became more and more difficult; a situation mirrored in the experiences of many of our older customers. Whereas a dedicated housebound mobile served the needs of the city of Inverness no such facility existed for the country areas. I began to adjust our timetables accordingly, in order to accommodate home visits. These were well received, and, as word spread, we began to receive requests to visit from folk who had never previously been able to access library services. Once again our issues climbed. More than that, we found these visits to be doubly rewarding; not only were our clients able to enjoy their books, but they also gained from regularly seeing a friendly face and a few minutes of craic – not to mention the odd cuppa. And, for our part, many lasting friendships were forged; together with the occasional sadness as time took its inevitable toll.

Dear gentle Annie passed away only a short time after her admission to the home; despite crippling disabilities she had managed on her own for nearly twenty years beforehand. Did our home visits play any part in helping her stay independent, happy and content; and perhaps less of a burden to the exchequer? Accountants, necessary though they are, cannot quantify such factors, any more than they can supply a monetary value for improved reading performance in schools; but my answer would be a resounding yes, just one factor amongst several, no doubt, but a vital one nevertheless. Marie has no doubts either, yes she saw the mobile primarily as another tool in her workshop; but that is surely a good thing, a good place to be. What seems too often overlooked is just what a powerful tool that can be.

There has always been a tendency, in Britain at least, to view mobile libraries as slightly eccentric, a bit of an anachronism, certainly expendable once the financial chips are down. But, give them the opportunity to show what they can do, how much they can achieve, and a very different picture emerges. I do not doubt that I was fortunate; I had the advantage of an enlightened management, willing to indulge my hunches, allowing me space and time to experiment; nor was I alone, with other colleagues from within our fleet of twelve also happy to respond to changing circumstances. But the bottom line rests with the individual; you have got to want to do it, to be prepared to move the boundaries and to make the time.

That time has passed for me, but I am happy to report that, despite some inevitable cut-backs, mobile usage here remains healthy. Suzi, my successor, continues to make improvements and adaptations of her own. New faces at Marie’s old school make her as welcome as ever, and utilize her skills to the full. The numbers of older and disadvantaged folk following in Annie’s footsteps will carry on growing. Mobiles are not only uniquely valued; more to the point they are needed. But, if you are going to make that point, and make it stick, you are going to have to demonstrate its inherent value.

And there is only one way to do that; get out on the road and prove it. Get the results in loans; printed, pictorial, digital; get the backing of public and professionals alike; use the media, local papers love positive stories; don’t wait to be asked, volunteer where you see a need you can fill; above all, be prepared to give of yourself. Mobiles can have a real future; and ensuring that future is a task that can be immensely rewarding – to all concerned.

What is a library?

VftL are delighted to present a guest post by C. Horne.

What is a library?  Do you see a municipal red brick building, slightly tatty, maybe a bit unloved, possibly could do with a bit of attention?  When you walk in is the inside rimmed round with shelves all of which are crammed full of battered plastic covered books?  A few computers on some slightly dingy desks in the reference area, looking slightly out of place.  Behind the counter, a member of staff is dealing with a query about an overdue book.

All this is superficial – you aren’t seeing the real library.  Look deeper.

Over in the children’s library are some pushchairs crammed against the wall, their occupants balancing on their parents’ laps – slightly precariously in some cases – ready for the library’s ‘Bounce and Rhyme’ session.  The library assistant is perched in front of them, leading a group sing along to ‘Wind the Bobbin up’.  She has probably done this every week for months, but loves watching the look on the babies faces.  Recently they have been incorporating baby sign language with the bounce and rhyme which has proved to be very successful.

In the reference section a middle aged gentleman is seated at a computer.  He has headphones on and the fingers on his left hand trace over an embossed piece of paper.  The keyboard that his right hand is typing on has brightly coloured plastic keys and he hunts and pecks for the right letters.  It takes a little while, and he often pauses in between periods of typing.  Getting closer a faint voice is audible from the headphones.  It isn’t an audiobook that he is listening to with such concentration, but a screenreader which is enabling him to use the computer.  Under the desk his guide dog shifts position slightly.

A poster on the wall of the library advertises the Young Adult Reading Group which meets on the first Monday of the month.  This month’s book is a title about the different influences on a group of fourteen year old’s lives and how they deal with them – school, family, gangs, friends, drugs, bullies, church..  The author of the book has been invited to come to the library and discuss her book and the poster now bears a large red banner headline – FULL!  The library is planning to start a second YA group.  When the group meets, there will be an assortment of teenagers of all shapes and sizes eager to discuss their interpretation of the hero – or maybe the antihero – of the book, and his influence on the other characters, with the author, to see what she had in mind when she created him.

Another poster with a large image of a book, advertises a reading group with a different theme.  This reading group reads texts with a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender theme and meets every fourth Friday of the month.  It is a very popular group and they have a list of titles on their reading list that they plan to read over the next year.  The library is introducing two more books groups from next month due to popular demand – a biography group (which has already had special requests not to read any that are ghost written or by people under thirty – which may limit the market) and a science fiction group.

Of course the library also has the standard book group – which is – as they oddly tend to be – female dominated, reading books that vary from Barbara Kingsolver to Lionel Shriver, Herman Melville to Haruki Murakami.  They sit in a circle, discussing their latest read, what they thought of it, who their favourite characters were, whether the ending was good, bad or indifferent, too abrupt or too drawn out.  Everyone has their own opinion and they aren’t afraid to voice them.  Every year the members of this library’s book group will read a title from the Orange Prize List.  They will discuss their title with other library book groups who have done the same and vote on who should win the Orange Prize.  Sadly their votes have no power over the Orange Prize judges but occasionally – very occasionally – they are right.

The faint murmur coming from the other end of the library shows that it is storytime.  The bounce and rhyme session has ended but the children have settled in to hear the story.  More children join them as it is the school holidays and there is nothing better to do.  It is dry in the library and raining outside, despite the fact that it is meant to be summer.

On the walls of the children’s library are clowns, trapeze artists, elephants, lions –  all types of characters advertising the Circus Stars summer reading challenge.  Children only need to read six or more books and get rewards and incentives if they do so.  Drawings by children and comments about the challenge cover the walls.

In the corner of the children’s library is an area designated ‘Homework’.  This is where the Homework Group meets one evening a week.  As it is the summer holidays, the area is deserted, the PC is unused and the books are neatly displayed on the shelves.  It won’t look like this nearer the end of the holiday when the children start panicking and want assistance to get that essay done for tomorrow…

A lone PC has a banner headline stating that it is only for the use of people looking for community information or the library catalogue.  An elderly woman wanders over to it and sits down, looking rather unsure.  The library assistant nearby walks over and asks if she needs help.  Five minutes later the woman leaves with a page of evening classes for internet use for beginners – helping silver surfers to get online.  A student sits down almost immediately and starts looking for a reference book for their coursework.

Back by the door of the library are more posters advertising community events, dances, homework groups, author visits, book groups…

This is your library

All human life is here.