Tag Archives: research

The younger generation will miss out – Smita’s Story

I feel very sad to learn that our local library, Enfield’s Ridge Avenue Library is to be run by volunteers. I have been going to the library since my daughter was born 25 years ago. We used to attend story time and during the summer holidays both my children would do the readathon challenge. We knew the librarians and one of them who knew my daughter from a very young age still keeps in contact with her on Facebook.

The librarians had so much knowledge and would direct you to the right place to find the book you wanted whether it be for a school project or for leisure. In the Borough of Enfield, I was told only very few are still being run by Librarians and slowly they too will be run by volunteers.

I regularly attended the Library in Enfield Town during my student days and remember how helpful all the staff were in helping you find the book or reference.

I am preparing for a presentation and have recently joined the British Library, the second largest library in the world. I have been amazed with all the help that the Librarians have given to me and reminds me of the same help I received from my local library during my school days. It is a shame that the young generation will be missing out on all the knowledge that Librarians have to impart.

If you have a story to share about your local public library, or about how your local librarians have helped you, please contact us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk and we’ll be happy to share your perspectives on our library service.

What is the value of the Imperial War Museum’s Library?

The Imperial War Museum (image c/o on Flickr).

Are libraries an important resource in large national museums? The recent news that the Imperial War Museum (IWM) plans to close their Library and dispose of the Library collection, suggests that libraries are no longer perceived to be of value to museums. Historically libraries were considered an essential part of the Victorian museum. But do shrinking budgets and resulting cuts spell the end for the museum library? With huge advances in technology widening access to information do museums believe the misconception that all information can now be found on Wikipedia? Are the days of the National Art Library, Caird Library and Natural History Museum Library also numbered? What is the value of a Museum Library in the 21st Century?

The core role of the museum library has remained fairly constant since the 19th century. Its primary purpose can be seen as providing information about the objects held in the Museum. An object is of little value unless something is known about its context, its relevance, its story. But the items held in the library also have a further value as objects in their own right. When you visit IWM, you will see items from the Library collection on display in exhibitions across the Museum’s sites. The IWM Library collection is not discreet from the Museum’s wider collections. The Library’s printed holdings form part of the Museum’s core collection, with printed material collected alongside the objects, art, film, photographs, documents and oral history recordings held by the Museum’s six other collecting departments.

The IWM was established in 1917 out of a desire to record and remember the Great War, which at that date was, of course, still being fought. The intention was never to create a military museum.  The address to the King from the Committee of the IWM at the opening of the Museum declared it was, “not a monument of military glory, but a record of toil and sacrifice”*.

To this end the Committee set about actively collecting material that illustrated the toil and sacrifice of the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. War literature was preserved; regimental magazines, maps, music, letters, stamps, posters, propaganda leaflets and souvenirs. As the war continued, material produced by the Government printers, including war books, Army lists, proclamations, orders and regulations, were added to the collection too. The original collections of the Museum were not therefore iconic objects, not the Spitfire or V-1 flying bomb which visitors will find dramatically suspended above them in the atrium upon entering IWM London today. Much of the original collection consisted of war literature, printed material and ephemera – collections now held by the Library.

The Library gives ordinary people access to research materials on all aspects of British and Commonwealth involvement in conflict since 1914. The collection includes regimental and unit histories, technical manuals, newspapers, trench journals, biographies, autobiographies, Army, Navy and Air Force lists, propaganda leaflets, ephemera, pamphlets and publications on the military, economic, social and cultural aspects of war.

The collection today results from the active collecting of printed material related to conflict and its impact over a period of almost 100 years – 97 years and 8 months to be exact! The Library acquired its first printed item in April 1917, a programme of the pantomime ‘Dick Whittington’, staged by the 85th Field Ambulance in Salonika. The Museum’s first annual report shows the Library acquired in excess of 7000 items in 1917 alone, of which 5000 were donations. Contemporary material published during subsequent conflicts, including the Falklands War, Gulf War and Afghanistan, has been added to the collection at the time of these conflicts. A clearly defined remit and collecting policy ensure a comprehensive collection of printed material is acquired. The holdings of the Library are estimated to be in excess of 320,000 items and part of the Library’s value stems from the depth of its coverage and from the completeness of the collections, for example in the holdings of published regimental and unit histories.

Some of the holdings of the IWM Library are rare, some are unique, some are valuable. But much of the Library collection is not – overall the value of the Library stems from the collection as a whole, and from the information these printed sources provide. An idea of the Library collection is provided by the online catalogue: http://bit.do/LibCat and you can explore some printed items on this IWM website, which was created for the First World War 90th Anniversary in 2008:

http://archive.iwm.org.uk/upload/package/95/collections/printed-books/printed-books.html.

The Library at IWM is a resource for museum staff, used for example when researching a new acquisition or when preparing an exhibition. A reference library, it offers borrowing right to Museum staff only (so long as material remains on site) as access to printed sources is essential to maintain the standard of information presented in the Museum. A library enables curators to gain a better understanding of a museum’s collection and a deeper knowledge of their subject.

The Library is also indisputably the most public-facing collecting department at IWM, used extensively by the Museum’s visitors. Library staff assist visitors in the ‘Explore History’ Centre and the Research Room, respond to written enquiries via the Collections Enquiry Service and manage the telephone enquiry service. Explore History opened in May 2010 with the intention of revolutionising access to the Museum’s collections, much of which – as is the case in most museums – is held in storage rather than on display. In the press release the Imperial War Museum proclaimed it was, “An innovative project which will see visitors get up close and personal with the past thanks to improved access to our Collections”. Explore History is accessed directly and freely from the museum, and here, with assistance from Library staff if necessary, visitors have the opportunity to delve further into the Museum’s collections, accessing digitised sound, film, photo and art collections.

Explore History is an extension of the Museum’s galleries with professional, qualified Library staff able to respond to queries, which may have been raised by a particular topic or item on display, using a printed reference collection. An individual who lived through the blitz of the Second World War may have memories jogged by items on display in the museum. Perhaps a gas mask. Perhaps a recollection of how she hated wearing her mask because of the smell, or the way the strap chaffed her ears. And then a memory of a particular experience – of a night when she had stayed in the cinema after the air raid siren sounded, of how her worried father had been out searching the streets, of the devastation that night’s bombing had brought. With her appetite whetted, Explore History, Library staff and the printed collections can provide more detailed information about the bombing raid which she remembers. She might be shown the, Blitz then and now volumes,which provide a day-by-day account of the Blitz. This publication is not rare, or valuable. It isn’t a primary source. But it’s a source of information, and it is the location of the book – available to be consulted in the Museum – which is key to its value to this individual. The museum visitor may then listen to an interview with someone who also experienced the bombing from the Museum’s oral history collections, or look at the details of those who died in that raid on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, or in the printed memorial volumes, which are also held in Explore History.

While collections held at the British Library, or at an academic Library, may be ‘accessible to all’, they are only truly accessible to ‘all researchers’. All individuals with a clear idea of what they wish to research, what material they wish to see, and a reader’s ticket to enable them to consult this. Collections at IWM are accessible to a wider audience; the museum visitor, the casual enquirer. The individual who may well go on to become a researcher or family historian but who is not yet at the stage of knowing what they are looking for.

Library staff direct visitors to other sources of information, including Museum collections, further published Library material and/or records held by other organisations, and Explore History acts as the first step into research for many Museum visitors. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common enquiry is how to start tracing a relative’s war service. In assisting individuals’ with research into their own relatives’ experiences of conflict, the Library staff help honour an original aim of IWM: remembering the sacrifice of everyone who took part in the First World War. And the Library services and collections are well used; in 2013/4 55,000 individuals visited ‘Explore History’ and the enquiry service handled over 22,000 remote enquiries.

A further 3,600 individuals undertook in-depth research in the adjacent Research Room, where the Library’s collection can be accessed along with the unpublished diaries, letters and memoirs held by the Documents department. The Library collection gains value from being housed and consulted alongside museum collections. Indeed the printed collection is essential for the context it adds to other collections within the Museum. An excellent example of this can be seen when consulting postcards sent home from the trenches by a soldier during the First World War. A fantastic and moving source, sometimes made all the more moving by their upbeat tone. The soldier cannot provide details of the action in which he is involved in mail sent home, and would often also wish to shield his mother, wife or children from the horror he was experiencing. Therefore in order to discover in which action the individual served, and to gain a true picture of their experience, this item needs to be examined alongside printed material, including campaign and unit histories.

The IWM propose closing ‘Explore History’, closing IWM Library, disposing of printed collections and cutting experienced, professional Library staff. This would severely reduce public access to museum collections and to sources of information, knowledge and learning. This would lead to the loss of a unique national reference library on twentieth and twenty-first-century conflict. It would leave a Research Room with no printed collection. The Imperial War Museum is an international centre for study and research, but without a Library would it continue to be so…?

Individuals can help save this unique and valuable collection and ensure it remains accessible and held at the Imperial War Museum. Please sign the petition: bit.ly/save_IWM  and read the ‘Petition Update’ of 27 November 2014 for further ways to support the campaign to save the IWM Library.

Article by Librarian and Imperial War Museum supporter

* As reported in The Times, 10th June 1920, Page 11, Column D

More than just fiction? It’s unbelievable!

Thank you to John Dolan for sending us the following guest post.

 

I recoil when people say libraries are “more than just books” but let’s paraphrase that; libraries are also more than just fiction. Around a third of books borrowed are non-fiction. Many meet familiar needs in gardening or cookery; even more on all conceivable themes, history – local and everything else – politics, philosophy, science, travel, arts, health, life, the world ………

Children’s reading shifts as they grow. Little ones love stories; that’s a given. Later there is more of a mix. Research by Birmingham Libraries showed that children reached the tipping point around 8-9 years when hobbies and homework drew them closer to non-fiction. Young people urgently need info’- not just study but for their diverse and pressured personal and social lives.

Libraries are where you read newspapers – today’s local, back copies, foreign papers, national dailies, e-papers. Why should people only read one paper? They’re all political; only in a good library can you test one view against another … and in several languages and from different countries.

Free internet drew new audiences; not passive, watching “audiences” but people finding out, fascinated by facts, ideas and opinion; people wanting to disagree. Teachers would be less worried about Wikipedia if we were raised as critical readers – learners – not taught that someone else is always right, so “just cut and paste”.

The library is often cited as a community (village, city centre, whatever) meeting place. Activities in libraries bring alive the knowledge and ideas that are on the pages of the non-fiction book or the internet screen; from health to local history; from childcare to costume. At Birmingham some of our best events were with authors like Robert Winston, Betty Boothroyd, Tony Benn, Kate Adie, Ranulph Fiennes, Melvyn Bragg, Brian Keenan and, of course, Terry Deary ….

Marx and Engels studied and, surely, shared their thinking in the (open to the public) library of Manchester’s Chethams Music School http://tgr.ph/kfshR. In Birmingham, George Dawson, opening the 1879 Central Library, said the “a great library contains the diary of the human race” (Long live biography!).

The web, online reference works and e-books anticipate reflect the library of today. Now amazing stuff can be had virtually as well as in every walk-in library. As ever, the library seeks and provides. E-resources are too unaffordable for most; a library’s info service is without compare; knowledge collections critical and free computers crucial. There’s nowhere else!

So what do we need now? Four thoughts to begin:

  • More promotion of the information and learning roles of all libraries
  • Accreditation mechanism for learning in libraries
  • Acknowledgement of the librarian’s skills in information research
  • Advocate-leaders in learning, education, health, science, arts, politics, business

 

John Dolan OBE

10 November 2011

I am here for the learning revolution

I am here for the learning revolution (c) Bill Moseley

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

Shush no more

 

Last week, I began a writing residency at Huddersfield Library, which ends this Saturday (9th July). But the title of ‘writer-in-residence’ is misleading; I’m not running writing workshops in schools or community centres. Instead, I’m listening to people’s stories about why they use the various library services, watching their routines and, in a sense, writing about what happens in a library. I confess that when I approached the library about doing a residency, I had very few expectations. I just wanted to sit there, listen to people and write about their lives, which is why I have approached the research as a personal project. Now, after only four days of moving between the various sections – lending, local history, knowledge transcription service, reference, sound and vision, childrens, art gallery – my head is spinning somewhat.

When Voices for the Library asked me to write a short piece about my research, I became paralysed with indecision. How can I possibly convey the value of the library as sharply as the librarians, bloggers and researchers who are encouraging the groundswell of public support against library closures? Do I write about how, on my first day, I waited outside the library steps at 9.20am for the doors to open, and watched a small crowd form, eager to get to the computers, get that job application sent, pay their bills online, or return that book. Or maybe I could write about how, last week when I sat in the reference library, 32 people entered in an hour to either locate someone using the professional directories and the internet, apply for jobs online, use the computers or fax, or the free scanner, ask for reference material, and read the newspapers and specialist magazines for free. Or maybe should write about what happens in the Light Reading Room and the success of the coffee mornings and the PALS (Practice Activity and Leisure Scheme) Art Group for stroke survivors.

‘Where else could you hold these sessions?’ I asked one of the organisers today.

‘We couldn’t,’ was his answer.

Maybe I could mention the children’s library, where pre-nursery sessions last week brought in new members, and where a registered child-minder with 16 years experience brings the children she cares for every single day. She plans their reading according to what is happening in their lives, such as having a new baby brother, or going to school for the first time.

‘I sell this place to everyone,’ she explains, ‘the parents see a difference in their children after they’ve been coming here a while.’

Then there’s the transcription service, and the team of four women who should be given medals for the work they do for the visually impaired. You name it, they Braille it, then record it as a podcast. Their volume of work is staggering. I should add my own example of how, as a researcher and writer with just an idea in my head and no money to support it, got a unanimous ‘you are welcome here,’ when I approached them. ‘We want you to succeed in your project,’ one staff member said, ‘we like to help writers.’

So, as a researcher, I already have a lot of rich data, and as a writer, I can make something of this data. Researchers often aim the findings of their work at policy makers, hoping to change policy. But who will listen to these voices? Will it be the mid-level policy adviser, fast-tracked through the civil service graduate scheme, who now finds himself in the midst of the library storm with his hands clapped firmly over his ears? I hope someone’s listening. I also hope there is a rich patron out there – I make no apologies for this shameless ‘wanted’ ad – who can help me extend this research throughout Yorkshire for a while longer.

In the meantime, some stories will appear on my blog this week, and the manuscript for a non-fiction book will be written over the coming months. If you would like me to visit your library, then please get in touch.

Nilam Ashra-McGrath is a writer and researcher for the non-profit sector. She is blogging about her residency at http://nilamsnet.wordpress.com/

 

Day or Night, UK Public Libraries Have Answers – guest blog from the Enquire service

Vftl are pleased to share some great information about the Enquire service.

Day or Night, UK Public Libraries Have Answers

… and you can get them now!

Want to know about something exceptional?

 

Day or night, public libraries have the answers.  Enquire is a cooperative public library service providing information and reference to all via the web or smartphone 24 hours a day 365 days a year, and it is free to any user. This is what collaboration across public service departments can offer citizens – libraries have been doing it for decades.   Trying to find out which game in medieval Scotland consisted of tobogganing on an ox skull? Or looking for a special childhood read but can’t remember the author? You’ll get the answers to these and countless other questions through Enquire. Enquire puts people in touch with real librarians who give tailored answers with the personal attention that a standard internet search engine just can’t always match. Effectively, participating libraries are open, even when they are closed, and people really appreciate interaction with a human being on the other end of the line far more than a voice recording.

 

Enquire is the global public library

 

Enquire is an evolution of the UK-wide Ask A Librarian email service started in the mid-90’s when libraries were pioneering digital engagement in local authorities. The Enquire virtual reference chat service started in 2005 and over 70 public library authorities participate. There is no central government funding for a national service of this kind.  Enquire is the longest running full time, open-to-all web service of its kind, coming long before the current commercial services – and all from your Public Library!  This demonstrates the pivotal role public libraries continue to play in information delivery, bibliographic search and learning across all ages.  The service is run by librarians for libraries.  OCLC has played a central role in this evolution, as an organisation adept in cooperative service and information delivery across the world, and in the continued development of the QuestionPoint software that enables Enquire to happen .

 

Everyone is Welcome – no-one is turned away

The Enquire service is socially inclusive; it is available to anyone with a web browser (or web-enabled mobile device) and Internet access.   On this basis Enquire users include any individual with an information query from regular library users to those that have never used the library service before.  Although the service is valuable to all, it has specific resonance with:

  • Disengaged and socially excluded communities who find visiting the library difficult; e.g.  housebound users
  • Disabled individuals, notably people with hearing impairment.
  • People for whom English is a second language
  • People in education; i.e. school children, students, adult learners, teachers, academics.

 

It isn’t just a service for people who know nothing about searching on the web; many customers are adept surfers, but librarians know how to locate credible and trustworthy information.

 

Enquire also participates in the Yahoo!Answers community – Enquire is a Knowledge Partner in Yahoo!Answers and so responsible for researching some of the answers. Thus Enquire helps people who may never use a public library. In their December blog Yahoo! said this about Enquire:

 

“Enquire are an umbrella organisation for librarians and are one of UK & Ireland Answers’ most committed and diligent Knowledge Partners.”

http://www.yanswersbloguk.com/b4/2010/12/10/slam-the-boards/

With over 100,000 answers sent since 2005; the Enquire service helps people change their lives – daily and 24/7.

 

No question goes unanswered

 

Through an exceptional collaboration, good customer service and a quality ethos, Enquire is able to answer a diverse range of questions from local and national government information, to science, the arts and general knowledge all day every day.  The information and signposts to relevant information and organisations that the service provides helps people make informed, often life-changing decisions.  Recent examples of enquiries include:

 

  • a young person wishing “to go Vegan” – October 2010: “I want to go vegan but my mum is worried it wouldn’t be good for me health-wise. Can you help me find information about how healthy it is to go vegan please? Thanks.”
  • Person wishing to understand cigarette addiction – December 2010: “Can you give me 4 mechanisms that are believed to underlie cigarette addiction?”
  • Person preparing for an interview – December 2010: “I’m going for an interview tomorrow with Microsoft, can you give me any information i.e. company information/recent developments to help me?”  The questioner was clearly pleased with the response “Oh wow thanks, this is really useful!”
  • Person investigating affordable housing – November 2010: “I want to know what help is available for people that are looking for affordable housing. I believe you can help, I want registered social landlords”

 

Enquire can be adapted as a tool for democracy

 

Along with these expansive question examples is the ability to offer a national service but also add local value. Local authorities, and their partners can work with librarians using the Enquire back-up to create their own local services allowing direct interactive access to elected members, local figures and key community leaders information from many different points.  Some of the diverse services being provided locally by Enquire libraries include:

 

–          Live Homework help and study support

–          live Q & A sessions with councillors regarding budget cuts

–          genealogy fact finds for family history

–          reading advice

–          assisting older people to find information

–          educating children and parents on staying safe online.

Enquire takes questions and finds answers for academics, researchers, students, children and lifelong learner alike. The diversity is one of the delights for the participating librarians – you never know what you’ll be asked or who will ask you.

 

… and those mystery answers?

 

Those curious about the Ox Skull question will be glad to know that the name of the game was ‘lashing the fannocks.’ This involved finding a suitably snowy hillside, inserting one’s buttocks tightly into an ox’s skull, and then tobogganing down the slope yelling ‘pesh’, or some other suitable insult.  According to Enquire much pleasure was derived from this in the Middle Ages!

 

Enquire, is available online all day every day at: www.peoplesnetwork.gov.uk or at www.askalibrarian.org.uk

 

Enquire was commissioned nationally by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) and managed by OCLC, but originated from the Ask-A-Librarian email service formed by E@RL in the mid-1990’s then managed by Co-East.  OCLC is a non-profit organisation.

 

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

 

 

 

‘The learning engines of our society’: guest blog from Rónán O’Beirne

Today’s guest blog comes from Rónán O’Beirne, Director of Libraries, Learning and Research at Bradford College. His book From Lending to Learning- the development and extension of public libraries (November 2010) makes the case for public libraries to extend their remit beyond  lending books to embrace informal learning, information literacy and digital citizenship.

My local library, Keighley in West Yorkshire, was, in 1904, the first Carnegie library to be built in England; imagine the excitement! A local champion of adult education, Swire Smith, received the offer from Carnegie and immediately put pen to paper to urge his Mayor to accept the offer. This is what he wrote, on 8th August 1899:

Dear Mayor,
I cannot express to you the delight which I feel in handing you the enclosed letter from my friend Mr Andrew Carnegie, which he has authorised me to submit to you.
No nobler gift has ever been offered to Keighley; for a Free Library is the one great thing needed, and so long desired, to complete the educational equipment of our growing town. And when we consider that this magnificent offer has come unsolicited, and that we have no claims on Mr Carnegie’s generosity, I am sure that you and the Town Council, as representing the people of Keighley, will accept it with unbounded enthusiasm, and with gratitude only equalled by the kindness of heart that has prompted Mr Carnegie to confer such a blessing upon our town.
Believe me, Dear Mr Mayor,
yours sincerely
Swire Smith1

When a country’s public libraries are threatened with closure in order to pay for the excesses of the moneylenders a fundamental shift in the values of that society are exposed for all to see. The motives of greed and profit have eclipsed the principles of education, access to information and social justice upon which the public library was founded.

The urgent debate about public libraries should not just concern itself with the cost-effectiveness of lending books or of keeping dilapidated buildings open. No, it is of far greater importance. It cuts to the core choice for the people of this democracy; whether they want a society based on individuals as consumers or whether the social glue of community and culture, supported by a network of libraries, offers a brighter future.

Much of this debate so far has centred on book lending. I believe that public libraries have a more fundamental role to play, and that is to support informal learning. The twenty years I spent working in public libraries, in different departments and at all levels, provided me with valuable insight. As a library assistant I shared young people’s thirst for knowledge, and witnessed new families joining their local library, full of excitement. I saw children sitting still, enthralled by a storyteller. I saw at first hand the light in the eyes of the old or lonely whose trip to the library was a social lifeline; the unemployed embarking on learning new skills and finding direction; redundant workers rebuilding their lives; the retired making new beginnings, embarking on a new hobby, and of course all of those learners, so many, chasing their goals, immersing themselves in the vast body of knowledge represented by the public library.

At a senior leadership level I witnessed the pettiness of local politics, of bureaucrats unable to take decisions, the utter lack of direction given locally by elected members and the frustrating paucity of ideas in national policy.

On reflection, I have come to the conclusion that public libraries fulfil the role of learning support agencies by providing space, materials and dedicated staff for the individual to explore and to learn. In particular, libraries’ support and advocacy for informal learning, which can be deeply personal, goes far beyond what is acknowledged by funding regimes.

One of my favourite quotations, and one I have used many times in presentations to library staff, illustrates the essence of informal learning that takes place in libraries up and down the country on a daily basis:

“I can sit there and it’s like a wonderful bag of goodies. I’m trying to read all the old Derbyshire newspapers from 1785, and it’s superb – I know things the experts don’t! When you’re studying for qualifications you go in straight lines – now I wander.”
(Chesterfield library user) 2
This ‘learning’ dimension of the public library is too often understated by campaigners, and yet when the case against closures of libraries on the Wirral was made successfully, just over a year ago, the main thrust of the argument did not rest on book lending statistics but rather on the support those eleven threatened libraries provided for learners; schoolchildren, workers and the unemployed.

Part of the tragedy for the public library lies in the almost obsessive ‘managerialism’ which has in recent decades sought to reduce the complexities of a highly-valued community service to the miserly economics of a market stall. Despite the sheen of marketing, or the apparently highly innovative introduction of coffee shops, the point about libraries is that they are the focus within their communities. For those who have ‘measured out their libraries in coffee spoons’, all of their so called ‘knowledge has just brought us closer to ignorance’.

Recently I wrote that libraries should not be in decline but should in fact be the learning engines of our society; fuelled by the information explosion, tended by the information professional and stoked by an aggressive agenda of social inclusion and citizenship to bridge the digital divide.

To this agenda I would also add information literacy. Speaking in 2009, President Barak Obama said:

“In addition to the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, it is equally important that our students are given the tools required to take advantage of the information available to them. The ability to seek, find, and decipher information can be applied to countless life decisions, whether financial, medical, educational, or technical.”3
The abilities to which President Obama refers form the basis of information literacy. There is a job here for public libraries, to embrace the challenge of empowering all citizens to become information literate and to provide them with the tools and skills through which we can ensure a more equitable society.

The battles fought in every neighbourhood to save libraries are clearly not simply about saving books or subsidising the reading habits of the middle classes. They represent the heart-felt cries of ordinary people fighting for their right to information, learning and culture. Nor can the closure of public libraries just be seen as a threat to reading, for it represents ultimately a threat to one of the few remaining assets of a neighbourhood, part of the ripping asunder of the fragile fabric of so many communities. Ultimately, and more ominously, it symbolises an attack on the freedom of individuals.

1.      Letter from Swire Smith from the Keighley Library archive available from the K100 website http://www.bradlibs.com/k100/about/index.htm accessed 14 Jan 2011

2.      Proctor, R. and Bartle, C. (2002) ‘Low achievers: lifelong learners: an investigation into the impact of the public library on educational disadvantage’, Library and Information Commission Research Report 117, CEPLIS, Sheffield.

3.      Obama, B. (2009) ‘National Information Literacy Awareness Month – a proclamation’, The    White House; available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-proclamation-national-information-literacy-awareness-month accessed 14 Jan 2011

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

Celebrating ‘Your Stories’: British Library’s new web pages are launched (guest blog)

Voices for the Library know the power and value of stories, and we are proud that so many library users from across the country have shared their stories with us. The British Library also recognises the value of user stories – Fiona McCarthy from the British Library tells us a bit more about their new ‘Your Stories’ webpages.

What sorts of secrets are held within the British Library’s Reading Rooms? Did you know that readers have used the British Library to support their first-hand account of the opium problems in Afghanistan, to research their storylines for ‘Foyle’s War’, and to create easy-to-understand information for patients with complex medical conditions?

We know that famous figures such as Karl Marx, Virginia Woolf and Oscar Wilde are noted Library-users from the past, but there are plenty of great researchers currently visiting our St Pancras site. And we were keen to discover the successes that we are helping people achieve, and persuade them not to be shy!

So, to uncover and celebrate the many achievements we’ve helped readers reach, we’ve just launched the new, eye-catching ‘Your Stories’ web pages at www.bl.uk/yourstories.  This is a chance for researchers to submit their own success story electronically, including videos and pictures. It’s a great opportunity for people to show how the British Library has helped them reach their goal.

You can be inspired by videos from Sandi Toksvig, Margaret Drabble and Anthony Horowitz, and see the personal tales from people whose achievements range from directing a highly acclaimed film, to forecasting volcanic eruptions and launching innovative pet products. As well as dipping into a host of fascinating examples on the site, you can add your own comments to them too. And all these impressive successes promoted here have been possible thanks to the collections and services we offer!

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

Mark’s story

An example of how a public reference library can make a contribution to national historical scholarship.

A man came into the reference library where I work a while ago.  I already knew him as an enquirer, and we got on well.  Not particularly computer-literate on his own admission, he was, it emerged, seeking help in identifying information on a First World War German prisoner-of-war camp where his father had been incarcerated.  His father, the owner of a
Leicestershire textiles firm, was in Germany as a civilian in 1914 but was automatically arrested on the outbreak of the war.  He went on to keep elaborate diaries during his period of imprisonment, also filing away pretty much every ephemeral document which came into his hands as well as writing the diaries themselves.  These diaries, which my
enquirer let me borrow overnight, were clearly of literary as well as historical interest.

I was able to identify information about the camp (Ruhleben) fairly easily, but the enquirer also wanted to be put in touch with anyone working on this period of history with a view to offering them access to the content of the diaries.  I identified someone at Sheffield Hallam
University who had a book in progress on civilian internees in Germany during World War I.  This academic’s own grandfather had been an internee in the same camp as my enquirer’s father and was (by amazing coincidence really) known to my enquirer as he was also in the textiles industry and from Leicestershire.

My enquirer was quite easily put in touch with the author, and the diaries were duly incorporated into the book, which was published by Manchester University Press in 2008.  Publication Details:  Stibbe, Matthew, British Civilian Internees in Germany: the Ruhleben Camp 1914-18,   Manchester University Press 2008, ISBN 9780719070853.

Jan’s story

Libraries have always been important to me. As a young child, a visit to the library was a real treat. When I was growing up, the books they provided fed my hungry mind and led me on fascinating voyages of discovery both satisfying and stimulating what was to become a life-long love of literature. Later, my local library was an invaluable means of research for various writing projects.

Most recently, a reading group (Carnegie Readers meeting regularly at Loughborough Library, Leics – one of ten such groups in the area) has put me in touch with lively, like-minded folk. Being able to discuss our book choices greatly enriches our reading experiences (whether or not we agree!). The group also provides a much-appreciated social link, which grows more significant for those of us troubled by increasing health problems. Now that my small grandson is growing to love story hour at his local library, the threat to such services for generations to come takes on a disturbing longer-term aspect. Libraries and library services are far too precious to lose!