Tag Archives: knowledge

Community Knowledge Hub and Libraries

Thanks to team member Gary for this post, originally posted on his blog.

 

Whilst following “The Future of Library Services in the Big Society” conference via Twitter today (#libraries11) I came across a link to “Community Knowledge Hub“. This hub will

“support the exchange of ideas, knowledge and expertise between organisations with a common interest in realising the benefits of community enterprise.” To be launched in July 2011, “The first Community Knowledge Hub will focus on libraries, providing support to community organisations and local authorities exploring community management solutions as an alternative to closure” and “support the evolution of community managed library services.”

Of course I agree that library services should be saved, but I still believe that it is the responsibility of the local authority to provide public library services. Some reasons for this include:

  • Need for impartiality
  • Statutory duties
  • Economies of scale
  • Existing expertise
  • Social needs.

These are just a handful of reasons and many more can be found on the Voices For The Library site.

Even though many people see the library building and its books as “The library service” this isn’t true. A library service isn’t only defined by a building full of stock, it also depends upon the expertise of the people running the library service, whether they are staffing that building or running services that support front line staff.

With regard to the development of library services, most communities won’t be handed a library service, they will just be handed a building containing books and other stock. Depending on how much control local authorities give to the communities, the community may have to pay for other assets transferred eg. stock; and (if they want to maintain a library service of value) they will generally have to pay to be part of the existing computer network and/or consult with the local authority on running a library service.

It’s ironic that the handing over of library services to local communities is described as asset transfer. The word “asset” implies that the library service has a value. I totally agree with this idea… library services do have a value… In which case, why are local authorities deciding that some libraries are of such little value that they are happy to dump them in a way that implies they don’t care what happens? “Ah! But they are handing them over to local communities, so they are not dumping them,” I can hear people say. In which case, you may like to know that in most cases if local communities don’t volunteer to take over a library, the library will be forced to close. That sounds like ‘dumping them’ to me.

“Each network will provide specialist advice, guidance and resources to drive up the quality and transformative potential of public services that are transferred to then delivered by and for local communities.”

Handing over a service to any organisation (in this case, the community) that doesn’t contain the specialist skills, resources or knowledge to run that service just sounds crazy. It basically means building library services from scratch. Why? Why reinvent the wheel? Why get rid of all that specialist skill, resource and knowledge provided by those who had previously helped provide library services via the local authority and then rebuild it?

“We believe that library services play a vitally important role at the very heart of our communities, and that ‘doing nothing’ would come at a considerable cost. “

I agree, but doing something that fragments a library service, reduces the value of that library service and removes expert skills and knowledge that has been built up over years is also a step backwards, which would come with just as much of a “considerable cost” as “doing nothing”.

 

“Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Matthew’s story

“Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”

So said Dwight D. Eisenhower, scourge of Nazis and the 34th President of the United States. I’m quoting him because libraries suddenly seem to have become expendable in the eyes of many local councils, not only in the UK but also America and who knows where else. It feels like a crime that we’re even in this situation, but here we are.

I’m biased, of course, because I’m a reader. One of my very few regrets about learning to drive a few years ago is that I miss out on all the spare reading time presented to me by long bus journies stuck in traffic (that and I’m getting old and so my eroded attention span means that achieving the Fifty Book Challenge this year is looking less likely than it should). Nevertheless, I’m a reader and shall be until I die, probably of blunt force trauma caused by a collapsing To Read Pile taller than me. A lot of that is down to my local library.

See, we used to go there on Fridays after school when I was a kid, working my way through the Thomas the Tank Engine collection, then Asterix and Tintin. The library is also responsible for me getting into Doctor Who; I didn’t watch the TV series so much as read the hardback Target novelisations, I pieced together the history of the show by reading the books out of order and without having any clear idea of how all the different characters fitted together. It helped that I take after my mom, as her side of the family contains most of the readers, and so I guess it’s ironic that my grandmother always had issues with the monsters and aliens in the sort of geeky shows I watched; it was her genes and Doctor Who books that made me a reader. The library just empowered that.

And so I remember avidly reading about all these characters, running to the library to get new stories. I remember one of Thomas’s friends getting stuck in a tunnel, and I think one of the smaller trains had to pull him out…

Asterix and Tintin, on the other hand… Obelix and Captain Haddock were my favourite characters, and Tintin may well have ignited my interest in science fiction with the Destination Moon / Explorers on the Moon duology and the Chariots of the Gods-inspired Flight 714.

And the first book I remember reading obsessively? The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I remember getting through it in a matter of hours, which was a bit of a surprise to my family, who weren’t perhaps used to that sort of speed reading. Again, thank the library.

Libraries have a central place in human civilisation. The Library of Alexandria is almost legendary, although a significant part of that legend is due to the fact that people kept burning it down. Same goes for the House of Wisdom in Baghdad (destroyed by the Mongols in 1258) and the ‘Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars’ policy carried out by China’s Qin dynasty; throughout history, libraries have been considered dangerous by dangerous men. And while its probably unfair to compare that sort of thing to today’s allegedly civic-minded busybodies, the end result is the same – no libraries, reduced access to knowledge, no-one to point the way through a maze of data and information and facts.

Nowadays people don’t tend to be burning down libraries, at least not in Dudley, but they’re under threat. It’s easy to take them for granted, but in a world where we can access a mountain of information with next to no quality filter, librarians should rule. Somewhere along the line, that building full of books has seen the skillsets of the people who work there gain in currency.

An anonymous source once said that “Books are the carriers of civilisation. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science is crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books the development of civilisation would have been impossible. They are the engines of change.” You can argue that it’s the information and artistry contained in those books that matters, moreso than the actual medium, but regardless, libraries, books, information are important – especially when we know what to do with it. When the Dark Ages engulfed Europe, Irish monks saved the literature and learning of Rome and carried it forward, and now public libraries modestly attempt to try something similar, albeit in a world where there’s almost too much information and not enough discernment. In that world, we neglect libraries at our peril.

Matthew Hyde

‘Libraries set people free’ – Hari Kunzru

Award-winning author Hari Kunzru shares what libraries mean to him:

I remember my first library card. I remember the excitement of the trips to the library, of choosing the four books I’d take back home. The habit of exploration has stayed with me. It was founded on the confidence that all those books on all those shelves belonged to me, were mine for the taking. If I was interested enough in any object in this large room, the librarian would stamp it and I would carry it out. That sense of entitlement was the foundation of everything I’ve done since in my life. I felt knowledge belonged to me (at least potentially), and have carried on exploring libraries ever since. I’m now a professional writer, and have access to great research libraries and archives, as well as the money to buy books. It’s a long time since I’ve borrowed a book from a local library. But I know that a public library is not the same as a book shop. It’s also not the same as the internet. The child choosing a book that, for a short time, will belong to him, is learning that knowledge is his, if he wants it. He’s learning that it’s a right. Libraries set people free. They’re not a luxury. They’re not a relic. We must fight to save them.