Tag Archives: social value

Julie, Katie, Shona, Kim & Yong’s stories

Julie remembers going to the library before she got the internet at home as a teenager – she used the public library for quick internet access. She had four siblings so it was often easier to go to the public library there.

Shona’s friend had a brand new baby and she was surprised to find she could join the library as a newborn and borrow pictures books for long periods of time.

Kim’s Mum borrowed a computer book from the library and took it home and fixed her own computer.

Katie used the public library to practice her driving theory tests – you could log in with your library number and practice for free at home. It saved her buying the DVDs and the tests changed every time you went on. She passed and it didn’t cost her a penny!

Yong  – A library for relaxed social place. I learned how to use computers from my local library and also enjoyed meeting friends in the libraries for ideas and still do.

Arts Council England publish Evidence review of the economic contribution of libraries

Yesterday, Arts Council England published a report focused on the economic contribution of libraries. As well as economic contribution the report also commented on the value libraries played in the following key areas:

  • Children and young people’s education and personal development
  • Adult education, skills and employability
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Community support and cohesion
  • Digital inclusion

With regard to economic benefits the report highlights:

…whilst libraries may not ‘turn a profit’ they provide us with many 

things that support local economies, from information for businesses, to

access to essential text books. Libraries have a local presence and may

contribute to a sense of place. Then there are the beneficial effects of services

accessed in a library whether that be a social reading club, support to quit

smoking, or help looking for jobs online. These are the services that ensure

effective and financially efficient public spending and enable us to lead

healthy and fulfilling lives.

Further to this the report comments:

…evidence is already sufficient to conclude that public libraries provide positive outcomes for people and communities in many areas – far exceeding the traditional perception of libraries as just places from which to borrow books. What the available evidence shows is that public libraries, first and foremost, contribute to long term processes of human capital formation, the maintenance of mental and physical wellbeing, social inclusivity and the cohesion of communities. This is the real economic contribution that public libraries make to the UK. The fact that these processes are long term, that the financial benefits arise downstream from libraries’ activities, that libraries make only a contribution to what are multi-dimensional, complex processes of human and social development, suggests that attempting to derive a realistic and accurate overall monetary valuation for this is akin to the search for the holy grail. What it does show is that measuring libraries’ short term economic impact provides only a very thin, diminished account of their true value.

The complete 60 page report can be read at Arts Council England’s site.

 

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The Library A to Z Kickstarter is 90% funded

As you will know from the last blog post, a crowd-funding initiative has been set up by Andy Walsh to raise money to produce a full-colour visual A to Z around positive activities and services libraries provide. To make this happen £2,000 needs to be raised by 28th May. The great news is that thanks to the generosity of so many people it has over £1,800 pledges in the first 2 weeks – over 90% funded. In fact it was 25% funded after the first day and 75% after the first week, which is fantastic and thanks to all who have pledged money to support it. However, it does mean that we still need to raise almost £200 in pledges to meet the minimum target and for it to happen. There’s no limit to the maximum amount we can raise, so we hope it will keep going past the £2,000 level.

As well as raising the extra funds we would like further contributions for the A to Z. Some letters, such as K, Q, X, Y, and Z don’t have many words associated with them, so it would be helpful if people could suggest more to fill the gaps. The original list is here.

Andy has also created flyers about the crowd-funding initiative to share with people, so if you are attending any library (or non-library) events over the next 2 weeks and are able to spread the word by passing on some leaflets that would be great.

Thank you once again for all your support and pledges for this project.

Gary

Edit: We are now up to 95% funded!

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

 

Evidence sessions for Parliamentary Inquiry into library closures

The second evidence session for The Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry into library closures will take place on Tuesday 21 February (Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster).

The Committee will hear evidence from representatives of Arts Council England, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), Isle of Wight Council, Leicestershire Library Services and the Local Government Association.

Further details of the session can be found here.

The session will be screened on the internet via Parliament.tv

The first session saw Abby Barker (Voices for The Library),  Sue Charteris (author of the report on Wirral library closures), Andrew Coburn (The Library Campaign) and Miranda McKearney (The Reading Agency) give evidence.

Below are some of the comments and points raised during that session (paraphrased).

  • Miranda McKearney: The passionate work of campaigners over the past 18 months has started to shift the debate about what libraries mean to us all.
  • Abby Barker: A lot of people making these cuts don’t understand what a library is, or what it does, or what librarians can offer.
  • Andrew Coburn: In local areas libraries offer a social place to build communities, based around services they provide.
  • Abby Barker: Local libraries are important. Not all people can get to the central library branch. There is room for both large ‘destination’ libraries and small libraries to provide services. They complement each other.
  •  Abby Barker: The cuts are focused on books & buildings. Librarians aren’t just there to stamp books. Librarians are there to enhance your experience of the library.
  • Andrew Coburn: A lot of what library staff do is about direction, mediation & assistance. The fewer library staff there are in the system the more difficult it is to get an answer from anywhere in that system.
  •  Miranda McKearney: Even though ‘you clearly have access to the things you need to live your life. Lots of people don’t’. (Response to MP about why libraries are needed)
  • Abby Barker: If comprehensive & efficient could be more clearly defined, local authorities may be able to make better decisions.
  • Abby Barker: Library consultations are being run from the top down and local authorities are not listening to or taking into account users needs.
  • Andrew Coburn: What’s the point of the Secretary of State having powers of intervention if they aren’t used? He needs to “grasp the nettle.”
  • Andrew Coburn: How will volunteer run libraries affect the statutory duties?
  • Abby Barker: Volunteers can add value to a library service, but they shouldn’t be seen as a replacement service.
  • Miranda McKearney: Partnership working on a national level with librarians is difficult because there aren’t enough of them.
  • Miranda McKearney: There are some things you can only do nationally to improve library services – we need a national strategy!
  • Sue Charteris: Local authorities need to look at equalities assessment of local needs.
  • Sue Charteris: Isn’t keen on having more regulations, but feels local authorities need guidance from Secretary of State & Arts Council England.
  • Sue Charteris: Library services need proper communications teams to sell their benefits.
  • Sue Charteris: There has to be a prominent role for librarians in providing public library services. They are key.
  • Sue Charteris: Volunteers are well-placed to do certain things in libraries, but a sound policy on volunteering by local authorities is key.
  • Sue Charteris: The Secretary of State role needs to be more pro-active nationally.
  • Sue Charteris: Current public library legislation needs to be looked at, because it is “cumbersome” and out-of-date.
  • Sue Charteris: Believes that some kind of peer review would be useful to ensure library services are heading in the right direction.

Libraries are not free market choice

Writing Public Libraries News, I come across lots of good, and not so good quotes from people.  Recently, I was going to call one blog posting “free market choice” after an unfortunate comment from a Bexley councillor but another quote, that called libraries “weapon of mass instruction“, so beautifully summed up what a library is that it won the game hands down.
The whole point about public libraries, of course, is that they offer the complete opposite of the free market by doing such a wonderful job of “mass instruction”.
When I do junior school class visits – and I do a lot – there is a little bit of fun that sums this up.  I get two children to come up.  One play-acts taking a book from Asda (my town has no bookshops) without paying for it.  As they almost leave, I shout “beep beep beep” and “stop thief!” to general hilarity.  The other play-acts taking a book from the public library without paying for it.  I shout “thank you” and “come back again”.  This is the difference.  One does not pay to take out a book.  One can take out twenty books retailing at perhaps £8 per book for free, as many times as one likes.  The High Street or Amazon alternative is simply not an option for many of the people I deal with.  £160 every three weeks on books?  I think not.
Libraries are not a “free market choice”.  There’d be no free access to books if it was left to the free market.  In a pure market driven economy, one would not be able to read a book without having the means to pay for it.  Believe me, there’s a lot of families who would never buy a book.  A lot of children denied the greatest chance of all life chances: that of a love of books, of a love for literacy and all the advantages that that gives.  Ladies, Gentleman and Councillors from Bexley, it’s the public library or nothing for a lot of the kids when it comes to reading.  The free market would just leave them with nothing.
Ian Anstice

DCMS Taking Part survey: Imagine what could be achieved if we invested in our public libraries

This month the DCMS released their annual Taking Part survey.  The report covers the 12 month period from April 2010 to March 2011 and includes participation in culture and sport, volunteering, digital participation, and cycling and swimming proficiency.  Included in this is usage of public libraries by both adults and children.  As you would expect, it highlights some interesting data about the state of library usage in this country which should certainly be of interest to library campaigners across the country.

One of the most interesting statistics to come out of this report reflects the usage of libraries by people in both the most and least deprived areas.  Whilst The Bookseller chose to headline their coverage of the findings ‘Better off more likely to use libraries’, the reality is much less clear-cut.  The report found that 43.5% of people from the least deprived parts of England used a library last year, compared to 39.5% of those from the most deprived.  Whilst there is clearly a difference, 4% is not sufficient to conclusively argue that the ‘better off’ are more likely to use a library than the most disadvantaged.  In fact, what is most stark about these figures is that social background appears to have no bearing on library usage.  This rather contradicts the belief expressed by some that ‘libraries cater for the middle classes, not the deprived’.  The figures very much demonstrate that they cater for both.

The report also demonstrated the importance of public libraries for children, not least considering the increasing cull of school libraries.  It revealed that 76.4% of 5-10 year olds had visited their local library in the past year, up from 72.2% in 2008/9.  The impact library closures would have on literacy levels is clear and unambiguous.  With an increasing demand from the 5-10 age group and the closure of school libraries across the country, the public library has never been more important for the social and economic wellbeing of future generations.

Rhymetime Across Ediburgh

Rhymetime Across Ediburgh (c) Scottish Libraries / Flickr

The report also reveals that against a backdrop of supposed decline in library usage, adult library usage has in fact remained static.  For each of the past three years the percentage of adults using the library has remained at approximately the same level.  In fact, the proportion of adults using the public library has increased by 0.3% on last year to 39.7%.  The fact that this figure has remained constant for three years, in spite of already significant cuts to library services, also rather suggests that those arguing that libraries are ‘irrelevant’ are out of touch with both what libraries are offering and the needs of library users across the country.  If authorities are threatening to close up to 50% of libraries when usage has remained stable, will similar cuts be applied to other council services?

Overall, the Taking Part survey clearly demonstrates that reports of the rapid decline of public libraries has been greatly exaggerated.  They are not an institution solely catering for the middle-classes as some politicians and commentators have argued. They are as much used by people in the most deprived areas as those from the least, and draw users from across the whole of our society – the quintessential universal service.  Children are drawn to the library in increasing numbers, alone, with school groups and friends, and with parents, who rely on them to support their child’s literacy and development.  Despite the growth of the internet and the availability of popular ‘books in supermarkets’, people still make significant use of their free access to a wide range of books and other resources. Despite suggestions to the contrary, adult library usage is not in terminal decline.   If usage has remained stable while budgets have been slashed, imagine what could be achieved if we invested in our public libraries.  Councillors and politicians may be keen to argue that libraries are becoming irrelevant, in order to justify closing them or staffing them with volunteers. The facts suggests otherwise.

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.