Tag Archives: library staff

Will Lewisham bidders focus on library services?

Lewisham Council recently ran an event (12th April 2011) to showcase organisations who were proposing to take over the running of four of their library buildings at Crofton Park, Grove Park, New Cross and Sydenham. The event was advertised with the following statement on Lewisham Council’s website.

Lewisham Council is currently inviting bids from enterprising organisations that are interested in taking on the management of one or more of four library buildings earmarked for closure.

…before a decision on which organisation should be recommended to take on a lease for each building, the Council will assess the proposed use of the building and associated community benefits including plans for community library services.

(See “Lewisham Libraries – Community Interest Event” for full details)

The emphasis of the wording in both of these extracts is worrying, as it implies the building itself (the bricks and mortar) and community use of the building is the most important aspect, rather than the library services provided within it. Library services appear to have been tagged on as an afterthought.

In an earlier statement, released some time before 11th March 2011, Lewisham indicated that they intended to run library services within the premises.

Lewisham Council is looking to grant leases for four library premises in order to secure their continued community use. Anyone submitting a proposal for a lease will need to grant appropriate rights to the Council so that part of the premises can by used to provide community library services.

Anyone interested in submitting a proposal would need to address whether they intend to offer any community use in addition to the community library provision to be facilitated by the Council.

(See “Council seeks bids on library leases” for full details)

The two articles covering this issue seem to contradict each other. In the initial statement, the Council is suggesting that they will run the library service at these libraries and in the subsequent statement they imply it will be the organisations making proposals for the building who will be running the library service. Is the Council intending to run the library service or not? Is it a case of, “Let’s wait and see”?

Moving on from this point, the event happened and an article, “Lewisham’s library bidders meet the public” was published in “News Shopper” providing details of the organisations bidding to run the local libraries, along with their proposals. We have summarised key points from the article below.

We Think : a Community Sports not-for-profit group, whose ideas include

  • Having at least three full-time staff along with volunteers. 
  • Libraries will be called “literary learning centres”
  • Book stock will be halved initially.
  • Representative quote: “It’s about redefining what a library’s role in society is going to be.”

Eco Computer Systems: Computer recycling firm, whose ideas include

  • Staffing will include a library manager plus volunteers.
  • Book stock could be cut by 5,000
  • Funding from computer recycling, book recycling, sponsorship from housing associations. 
  • Representative quote: “This is just about giving people somewhere to sit, relax and read a book.”

Omega: Part of the New Testament Church of God, whose ideas include

  • No plan in place for staffing.
  • Omega promises no overt religious aspect to the library
  • Book stock stays same
  • Increased opening hours

 Family Services UK: Charity, whose ideas include

  • Staffing will include a council-paid qualified librarian plus volunteers.
  • Looking at funds from Lottery and Capital Community Foundation alongside other funding.
  • Library would become a new base for the charity, which offers therapy to poorer communities
  • Book stock would remain the same
  • Representative quote: “The library is like a missing piece of the puzzle for us. Staff will work in partnership with our services.”

It’s admirable that so many organisations are willing to play a part in providing library services, as Lewisham no longer wish to take responsibility for them. However, it is worrying that none of these proposals are coming from organisations that have an emphasis or background in providing library services. Have they involved experts in their discussions? There is a sports group, a computer recycling company, a religious organisation and a charity proposing to run libraries. Their main focus is not about providing a library service. The library service is an add on to their core business. Just by reading some of their quotes above it seems there is no common consensus about what a library service should be. Are these organisations basing their ideas on their own personal experiences about what they and their peers believe a library service should be, but with it coloured by their core business focus?

Surely organisations whose core focus is not libraries are not the best people to run the service. Organisations need to be impartial if they are to provide services that address the needs of the entire community: how can they provide a comprehensive and efficient, legally compliant service if they don’t have an expert understanding of methods that have been tried and failed? How can they be innovative if they don’t know what services a library should provide its users with?

Read and Shout: part 1

Today’s guest blog comes from Matthew Stead

Organising Read and Shout 2011 was one of the best and worst experiences of my life! Bringing together 10 bands and 300 people in one space to celebrate libraries and protest against the government’s singeing cuts seemed like a relatively simple thing to do when I first had the idea.

So how did it all start? Well, I’ve been a librarian in various forms all my adult life. At 31, that’s not that long an adult life, but it seems it. I love what libraries stand for. That’s the reason I do what I do (no librarian in their right mind would do it for the pay – it’s just not there.) Libraries are magical places. I remember the first time my Mum took me into Tewkesbury Library in Gloucestershire, when I was 6. The smell of the books and wooden shelving was intoxicating, but what really got me was that there were all these amazing books filled with stories and dinosaurs and fairy tales and knights and castles that we could borrow for free. Now I’m older I can see that the magic doesn’t end there – there are the free computers so people can communicate with their distant relatives, there is lifelong learning, courses on citizenship, storytimes and bounce and rhymes, there are evening classes, book groups, places to sit in the warm, friendly faces when the world is all too much, there is community.

And now it seems that this government are intent on destroying this amazing free public library service that has built up over 150 years. I don’t understand it and it makes me angry. Sure, we’ve got to make cuts in this age, but there are some things too precious to destroy. Not only that, but the library service costs relatively little to run compared to other government expenditure. In fact, as a Nation we spend more on chocolate than the cost of running the entire UK library service. There are currently over 500 planned closures across the country and this may rise to thousands over the next three years. Not just that, but the government are hoping to abolish the Act of Parliament that ensures that they provide a comprehensive library service. Library professionals, who offer expert advice, reader development, stock buying and who run sessions such as storytimes and job hunting classes, are being made redundant up and down the country. In Lambeth, the Council’s planned restructure involved the deletion of nearly every Librarian post in the Borough. For a complete picture have a look at Voices for the Library’s closure map: http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?page_id=765

So there you have it – pretty bleak reading I know. But people are starting to fight back. Save Our Services campaigns have already forced some Councils to rethink library closures. Public anger is building all the time, but we need to spread the message further and wider. That’s how the whole Read and Shout idea came about. I was sat in work at my library wondering how I could use my own skills to start to spread the word about fighting these cuts. I’m in an indiepop band called A Fine Day for Sailing. Most of my friends are musicians in various indiepop bands. People into indiepop music quite often like reading, quite often care about libraries. Indiepop + library campaign = fun way to get publicity. Well, I’m sure it was more complicated than that, but that was the basic thought process I had. We have this lovely hall above our library with a stage and lighting and the idea of an indiepop festival hit me. I knew that if we got enough great bands who really supported the cause, we could drum up a load of publicity for a Save Libraries Campaign. Furthermore, if the 300 people attending learned about what’s happening to the library service up and down the country, they might start campaigning themselves. I know it sounds a bit contrived – indie kids and specs and cardigans, but it worked in my head.

So that was the premise. Next I had to find the bands. I had the dilemma of going for a wide mix of different types of music, or go for a cohesive indiepop line-up. I went for the latter, as I thought it would work better as a concert that way, and because I knew people from that background and needed to get this thing going as soon as possible (most of these library closures are scheduled within this year.) I approached loads of bands (the one’s I loved and the one’s I knew were good and would support us for selfless reasons.) Most were really excited by the opportunity to play and I was inundated by requests. I had the problem of well known bands completely ignoring my every approach and a couple of well known bands (I mention no names – you know who you are!) that were only interested in making money out of the whole thing and doing it on their own terms. This was quite frustrating! Then, one of the artists I approached got back to me to say, yes, he’d like to get involved. This was Jens Lekman. My jaw dropped a bit as I confirmed details with himself and his tour manager. I’m in love with Jens’ music and I know that he has turned down some really great offers to put him on, by some major promoters. What’s more Jens has completely waved his fee for playing Read and Shout. He is a true gentleman and I am so grateful.

Once I’d confirmed the line-up, I got the website up and running and interest amongst fans, musicians and the press started to build immediately. It was all quite overwhelming, but exciting at the same time. I decided to advertise in advance a specific time when tickets would go on sale online, so everyone would have a chance to get them. I had no idea that they would sell out quite so quickly – 40 seconds!! I even had people turning up at the library. Thankfully, I’d kept a small amount of physical tickets aside for them and the local community, so the intrepid fans didn’t go away disappointed. My only regret is that we couldn’t fit more people in. Our returns list was longer than the M25.

After that it was all go; non-stop press, promotion and organising. Thankfully I managed to recruit a team of volunteers to help out on the day. The couple of weeks leading up to the event were stressful to say the least. I had reams of red tape to work through, equipment hire pulling out at the last minute, logistical plans that would give rocket scientists a headache.

Read the rest of this post in part 2

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

Roger Taylor – Somerset

This post comes from Roger Taylor, a librarian in Somerset who has just been made redundant.

I work currently as Performing Arts Librarian for Somerset Libraries. This involves management of the sectoral department responsible for all library matters (loans, information, research) relating to music and drama. In April 2009 I voluntarily reduced my working hours from full- to part-time (37 to 24 hours weekly). I have worked as a professional music librarian since December 1974, since March 1976 for Somerset. My post has recently been identified as no longer necessary, its deletion contributing to a general target saving of £330,000 from “senior professional and backroom” staff ostensibly without frontline duties. [For myself this is wrong: I regularly work frontline direct with the public. My loss is immediately causing timetable difficulties staffing my sectoral department.] Threatened with compulsory redundancy sometime after 1st April 2011, when redundancy terms are due to be halved, I have elected to take voluntary redundancy with effect from 31st March 2011 at terms that are slightly more advantageous. Somerset offers minimum terms of 60 weeks of final salary: I will be 63 in June, two years away from entitlement to State Pension, therefore facing financial survival with a lump sum half the salary I would have earned by my 65 birthday. I had in any case signalled my intention, health permitting, to work beyond 65.] My last day of employment will be Thursday 24th March.

I am sad that my post (albeit part-time) is being deleted, so that I will not be replaced. There will therefore be no professional sectoral input within Somerset Libraries. The knowledge I have accrued over many years of specialist work will be lost, and no-one with be recruited to replace this. Sectoral users will therefore loose my expertise. My staff team will continue without my specialist knowledge, supervision and management. It is in this respect that I submit that the economies imposed, which have resulted in the deletion of my post, are incompatible with the provision of a “comprehensive and efficient library service”.

Embracing modern technology – Roger

Roger Goult sent us this letter he wrote to local papers last year (‘Loughborough Echo’, ‘Leicester Mercury’) when the ‘Leicester Mercury’ ran an article talking about self service points in libraries and did it mean the end of professional librarians and library staff?

 Dear sir,

It was with some amusement that I read the article entitled ‘Self service will lead to job cuts in Leicestershire libraries’, ‘Leicester Mercury’ article referring to Leicestershire County Council libraries introducing self service machines, (28/09/09).

As a professional librarian with forty years experience I have often heard the prediction that libraries, books are dead in favour of electronic media, the internet etc. etc.  

This is far from the truth as our profession has progressed along with the changes in technology. ‘Self service’ in Libraries is the library version of the self service ‘checkouts’ in your local supermarket enabling you to issue/ return books without recourse to waiting at an issue desk to be served by a library assistant. Whilst it is true that some library assistant’s posts might be under threat because they will not be needed to issue/return books they will still perform a vital role in libraries as the ‘frontline people’ that customers normally see in the ‘public areas’. 

Professional librarians are still needed to manage and to organise libraries and their staffs and as such are usually members of the  ‘Chartered Institute of Library & information Professionals’, (CILIP, formerly the Library Association) See: http://www.cilip.org.uk/default.cilip) and are expected these days to qualify for their Library & Information degree course at ‘Library School’ with ‘A  levels’. I find it unhelpful in this day and age that Librarians are still regarded as ‘book stampers’, that female librarians are still categorised as wearing their hair in a bun, dress in tweed skirts and woolly jumpers and that all libraries still have ‘SILENCE’ notices.

I encourage your readers to visit their local library to see how much they have changed over the last 40 years since I qualified as a professional librarian. They take a very active part in their local communities not only providing books, DVD’s, CD’s and other materials but also promoting reading, information provision, education and a great deal of cultural activities both nationally and locally. Public libraries have not shied away from embracing modern technology (Free internet access, computerised library catalogues etc etc) so please do not think that they are still in the dark ages! I also encourage your readers to make use of their local library- use the internet, find out about that local community event, borrow a book (Free!- the principle of free public libraries was established in this country) DVD, CD etc. As someone once said in another context- use it or lose it! Even having ‘self service’ points in a library will not make any difference if there are no customers to use it and it has to close!!

Yours faithfully,

Roger Goult MCLIP

‘Communities deserve and have the right to the best information services possible’ – guest blog

Today’s guest blog comes from Sally Hughes

When applying for any Librarianship or Information/Knowledge Management postgraduate course, it is generally required that the applicant possesses at least one years experience in the profession. When applying for my MA Librarianship at The University of Sheffield I had very little, all I managed to achieve was around 4 months in total by volunteering at three different libraries, two public and one hospital staff library. However, I was accepted onto the course and still think it was the best thing I have ever done.

Throughout my postgraduate course I applied for a few librarian posts but with no success yet remained optimistic that upon completing the course I would find a job relatively soon after. After two months of what seemed like endless job searching when the course came to an end I felt extremely disheartened, not to mention worried that I would not be able to find a librarian job in the coming months, I was seriously considering my options. I received an email at the end of October from the Social Sciences Dept. at Sheffield University asking if anyone would be interested in volunteering in the library at The National Coal Mining Museum for England, I immediately took up the offer and starting working there at the beginning of November last year. The Coal Mining Museum’s library is small and very specialist (given the nature of the museum) but there is still a lot to be done, and I have been given some excellent and invaluable advice from the experienced librarians employed there. I have been taught how to properly catalogue specialist stock and have been given my own mini project weeding and cataloging the small staff library stock. However, I would not be learning any of these valuable practical skills without the qualified librarians to guide and mentor me.

I am a volunteer because I need the experience, pure and simple. It is most likely that I am struggling to get a job because of my lack of on the job experience and large volumes of people applying for posts along with the recession and other depressing factors. Therefore to save me from pulling my hair out with boredom and to combat frustration over numerous applications I’m attempting to expand on my knowledge and skills practically for me, for my professional future. But, I need those professional, paid librarians to help me out with this. I am lucky that in my volunteer job I am allowed to do a lot of interesting tasks that most library volunteers wouldn’t get to try out such as detailed cataloguing, I have been told that my employers trust me to do this over other volunteers (of whom there are several, I am the only one with a library qualification) however they still check and correct any mistakes I make, everything I do is looked over and I’m given feedback on my work. There is such a large volume of back room work to be done in a specialist library and I really feel valued, it’s clear that my help is appreciated, I think some volunteers feel they are being exploited or their work goes unappreciated. I recently asked the librarians at the museum along with the head of volunteer recruitment how they felt about volunteers in libraries, along with their opinions on the prospect of volunteers running public libraries. It was stated that volunteers at the museum were recruited to encourage community participation (from both the mining and local community) and to help the librarians out with the huge amount of work they have in their ever growing collection. The librarian’s opinions on volunteers running public libraries however was not positive, one calling the closing of public libraries ‘wicked.’ The employees I spoke to at the museum library all agreed that whilst volunteers are sometimes a necessity, it is an unrealistic idea that libraries can be run by volunteers because of the knowledge, skills and specialist training required for such a job which is being blatantly overlooked by the government and local councils.

It is proposed in the government’s ‘big society’ plans that public libraries, small, branch and rural in particular, be run by their communities voluntarily. Personally I know very few (if any) people who have the free time and would be willing to do this, certainly not forever, not even for the foreseeable future. How exactly can volunteers with no library experience or continual training and guidance be expected to manage and make financial decisions for a library, let alone offer the huge range of support that qualified and trained librarians can? This is not an attack against people willing to volunteer for their public library, absolutely not, it is an expression of hurt and concern for the users of public libraries and the excellent librarians that run them. I am a volunteer, albeit an appropriately qualified one, but if the librarians left, I wouldn’t know where to start they are paid for a reason they know what they are doing. Librarians are so important to our libraries not only because they can catalogue, select appropriate stock and give advice on books, they can offer help using the internet, finding reliable health, employment and local government information, they organise reading groups, even bibliotherapy and reminiscence sessions and support life long learning and literacy skills all in a non-judgmental and neutral environment. Imagine going to the library to quietly look up the symptoms of depression only to find that the lady from a few doors down is there to check out your books, for most this would be off putting.

Whenever anyone I know has asked why exactly libraries can’t be run by volunteers because ‘it’s an easy job’, ‘it’s just stamping books’ I simply say, can you imagine if you lost your job and were replaced by a volunteer, a volunteer floor manager, a volunteer chef, a volunteer banker (imagine that!), of course there are wonderful success stories of volunteer run companies, charities and libraries but one can see the point I’m driving at; we all train hard, get well educated and put a lot of time and money into our careers and librarianship is certainly no exception. Communities deserve and have the right to the best information services possible and this should without a doubt be provided by local councils employing experienced, skilled and qualified library staff. This is not all about money, it’s also about principle and loyalty to the profession which hopefully is coming through with the masses of library campaigns, read-ins and the media coverage libraries have been receiving of late. Librarians, authors and community members would not be creating such an impact if losing library staff was deemed okay, it’s not okay; it’s insulting to librarians and will be ultimately detrimental to communities.

Volunteering is good for me; it’s helping me to progress into something better, hopefully into a job that will be rewarding and I can utilize the skills and knowledge I’ve gained. However, if my local library were to close I don’t think I would be the first person at the doors to be a new unpaid employee because without the guidance of the professionals it wouldn’t be half of what it was.

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

Library day in the life

If you’re interested in what goes on behind the scenes in libraries, or would like to learn more about the range of things that librarians do, then this week offers you that chance!

Library day in the life started in 2008, as a way for librarians and information professionals to ‘share and learn about the joys and challenges of working in a library’. It’s now on round 6, and over 100 people have signed up to blog and tweet about their professional activity this week.

You can see the list of participants on the library day in the life wiki. You can follow #libday6 tweets, or look out for blog tagged with ‘librarydayinthelife’. The updates are always interesting, and often surprising, uplifting, amusing, and illuminating too!

If you work in a library yourself, how about signing up, and sharing what you do?

‘Giving communities more power does not mean dumping a problem on them…’ A letter from Carolyn

The following letter was sent by Mrs. Carolyn Carter, a Somerset library user, to her local Councillor in response to the Library Service consultation. Mrs Carter has kindly given us permission to publish this letter.

“8th January 2011

Dear Ms. Lawrence,

SCC Libraries’ Consultation

I am writing to voice my views and great disquiet about the proposed decimation of the Somerset Library Service.  Please note:  I neither work for Somerset Libraries or SCC nor have any family or friends who do; my comments are those of a library user and someone who values their worth to all in society.

I have completed the questionnaire but, like so many, it does not ask the right questions and frequently skews many of the answers.  For example,

Q.2: Which library do you use the most? (select one only)

To this question I answered ‘Yeovil’ and hence nicely bolstered the Consultation Document’s statistic, that Yeovil is one of the libraries “currently account[ing] for about 80% of all library visits, 78% of issues and 78% of active members.”

However, had I been asked why I use Yeovil, my answer would have been illuminating, viz:  ‘because I and my family have long, long ago exhausted our local library service and stock at Castle Cary and, more recently, especially since the cuts in staffing, at Wincanton too’- a very different slant on the former question, I’m sure you will agree?  Consequently, since we cannot possibly be alone in this behaviour, using the 80%/78% statistic as a basis for cuts is both misplaced and actually disingenuous.  Furthermore, just because we have experienced a poor local library service in the past does not mean we now deserve to have it even more curtailed in the future!  This is particularly important for all those users and potential users who do not have the funds, physical mobility or the transport to travel to a library much further away: I have all three, which enables me to undertake the far longer journey to Yeovil library, many do not.  Travel – and its costs – is a genuine concern in such a rural county and, where buses exist, cuts to routes and their frequency have already been announced.

The library service is always a very easy target for cuts and, no doubt, appears attractive as a candidate for ‘giving communities more powers’ etc., as wished for in the government’s Big Society.  However, reneging on statutory duties to provide: “a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof,” does not mean removing funding from a considerable proportion of Somerset residents – residents, I reiterate, who would  have made more use of the service had it not been drastically cut in the past.  Giving communities more power, does not mean dumping a problem on them.

Already, Somerset Library Service has far too few qualified librarians:  getting professional help is already difficult in the larger libraries and virtually or actually impossible in the smaller branches.  Since professional input is also needed for tasks such as stock selection and indexing, the lack of relevant and updated stock in the proposed community libraries can only drastically worsen.

Consequently, the assertion that:  “Savings arising from the reduction in numbers of fully-funded libraries would be matched by significant savings in support, management and professional staffing costs,” simply beggars belief and at a time when more professional help and expertise in the acquisition, indexing, finding, dissemination and utilisation of information will be needed, as unemployment increases and young people drop out of FE from a lack of EMA.

I think it highly likely you will get willing volunteers to run the proposed community libraries, but these will become little more than aging fiction book-swap clubs, being run and used mainly by middle-class, middle-aged, white women (just like me).  These unqualified volunteers will not be able to offer any outreach services, to encourage and cater for young people, offer expertise with information finding and use, keep-up indexes and catalogues to aid searching, assist with ICT and other media (if they still exist!), know what and how to buy new materials – and buy them, etc. etc. etc.

Furthermore, once the Council goes down this road and loses its staff’s expertise and skill base, the service will decline further (which will, no doubt, lead to a reduction in people using the services and the Council saying there isn’t a need for the services because no-one is using them – and so the self-fulfilling downward spiral will continue).  Such dumbed-down, out of date book clubs, with probably very restricted opening hours, will not only be an affront in a civilized society but also will not actually cater for, nor engender, the Big Society: a great many potential users (particularly the young and ethnic minorities) will be put off entering such parochial places, thereby negating one of the most important roles of public libraries, that of being socially inclusive by providing a non-threatening, non judgemental space, with a range of resources freely available to all.

These proposals are a backward step per se, would appear to contravene the Council’s statutory duties and their timing is both retrograde and a wasted opportunity in the current climate:  more people will have less money and increased (albeit enforced) free time and hence will actually need greater access to local services and the skilled help necessary to find and utilise up to date information and leisure resources.  Having a mere 14 funded libraries in a county the size of Somerset is nothing less than a shaming scandal.

Yours sincerely,

Carolyn Carter (Mrs)”

Following on from this letter, Mrs. Carter also posted an email to a discussion list, with another key point about her local library.

“Castle Cary library  is not small, it is tiny and hence the stock and lack of/access to qualified staff means it cannot offer a full service (NB. this is not a criticism of the CC staff). Ever since living in the area we have been promised a new libary but this has not happened (in fairness, latterly due to local councillors’ location concerns).  It is well documented that improved library services raise use and hence increase the all-important usage statistics.  Consequently, had CC had a new library before these cuts there is every likelihood that it would have entered the ranks of being worthy of continued funding.”

Guest blog – Liz Chapman: professional librarians

Today’s guest blog post comes from Liz Chapman. Liz worked as a library assistant in Cambridgeshire prior to undertaking her MA in Librarianship, and subsequently as an adult, young adult and children’s librarian in the London Borough of Enfield.  She is now working on a PhD at the University of Sheffield.

Back in 2006, when I told people I was studying for an MA in Librarianship at the University of Sheffield, I would nearly always get one of two reactions.  Some people just looked bewildered.  “But isn’t it all stamping books and going shush?” they would ask.  Others would put on a knowing look.  “Ah,” they would say conspiratorially, “I expect there’s more to it than just stamping books and going shush.”  But nobody seemed to know what that might be.

It can be difficult to sum up what librarians do, because they do such a variety of things.  This includes finding information using a variety of specialist sources; organising events such as reading groups, school visits or full-scale literature festivals; teaching people how to use computers; creating websites or online portals to provide access to information; cataloguing; stock selection; and of course the full range of management activities required for any large organisation to run smoothly.  (See here and here for more information on what librarians do.)

So, do you a degree in librarianship in order to perform these jobs?  Not necessarily.   There are many dedicated professionals without a qualification in the field who have gained their knowledge through years of library experience and on-the-job training.  However, many more opt for a Master’s or Diploma in Librarianship.  The common ground in all cases is that librarians put a great deal of time and effort into learning how best to provide and facilitate access to information, knowledge, literature, culture and learning of all kinds.

While recognising professional skills, it is important that we do not devalue the work done by library assistants and other paraprofessionals.  Many paraprofessionals have years of experience, and carry out, or contribute to, many of the activities listed above (see Gareth’s Story).  But – and this is a big but – this is not to say that librarians could be replaced by library assistants.

I started my library career by working as a library assistant for three years, and in this role I carried out a number of ‘librarian-type’ tasks, particularly once it had become apparent that I wanted to go on to a professional career.  I was very lucky to have excellent managers who allowed me to do this, increasing my job satisfaction and allowing me to contribute more to the service.  However – after completing my MA in Librarianship and working as a librarian in London – I now realise how well the MA equipped me for a professional post.

While the MA provided me with skills and knowledge in a number of disparate areas – from finding and assessing high-quality information resources to basic web design – its key advantage for professional practice was that it provided a wider and more strategic overview of librarianship than it would have been possible to gain from working in an individual library service.  This gave me the ability to consider the relative merits of various competing demands, and awareness of the different ways in which things are done in different library services.  I learned about the laws and professional ethics governing librarianship and information provision, and gained a greater awareness of the socio-cultural value of libraries and their contribution to other agendas, such as education, employment and quality of life.  While the course included more abstract and philosophical elements, it was – like much librarianship research – primarily geared towards professional practice.

To give just one example: stock selection.  As a library assistant, I knew about the reading preferences and information needs of those people who were already coming through the door – and this helped me when I was given the opportunity to purchase new stock for my branch library, under the guidance of a mentor.  But, unlike the professional librarians who usually did the job, I didn’t have a strategic overview.  Following the MA, I now know that public libraries have a legal obligation to provide a comprehensive service to meet the general requirements and any special requirements of anyone who wishes to use them: a vast remit.  I learned about the need to consider the profile of the community as a whole, and to address the requirements of less visible communities.   I learned that it might be necessary to look beyond the selection provided on approval by the supplier, in order to acquire less mainstream materials.  I learned what a stock management strategy was, why it is important, and how I might go about drawing one up.  I learned about the need to monitor issue figures once the library has the stock – and, conversely, about the many ways in which issue figures fall short of even beginning to represent what a library really does.

In my library assistant days I would probably not have done too badly at choosing the mainstream stock: the family sagas, the Orange prize winners, the books recommended by Richard and Judy, whose book club was in its heyday at the time.  But what about the less obvious books?  The books which (still) often don’t appear on mainstream suppliers’ lists: the LGBT books, the books in community languages, the graphic novels and manga, the materials for adult learners?  In a time when many authorities are moving towards supplier selection, librarians’ knowledge about collection development and management is far from redundant: indeed, it is essential to ensuring that libraries continue to provide high-quality collections.  And so far I have talked only about books: what about music and DVDs?  What about ebooks?  What about negotiating provision of such materials in a downloadable form?  The internet provides huge opportunities in the realm of information provision, but also raises huge challenges; here again, the expertise of librarians is more valuable than ever in guiding information seekers through the maze of content.

In the current environment of economic hardship, libraries potentially face harsh cuts.  Elsewhere on this website, and beyond it, many people have argued eloquently for the value of libraries: for their contributions to knowledge, culture, quality of life, a cohesive society and, yes, to the economy – research has shown that libraries provide economic returns of many times the capital invested.  I would like to argue in addition for the value of professional librarians, of all those people who put their learning and their commitment to work in order to meet the information, knowledge and cultural requirements of every member of the public.  Cutting professional posts will inevitably lead to a fall in service quality, and will make it more difficult for libraries to reach out to those communities who need them most.

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

Guest blog: ebooks – the Luton experience.

Today’s guest blog post comes from Fiona Marriott, Principal Librarian at Luton Cultural Services Trust.

Being one of the first to launch a new service is always a challenge and it means that you have few people to compare with or ask advice. It can be more expensive than “waiting and seeing” and it’s easy to make mistakes.

It is almost two years since we launched our ebook project in Luton, and we are still learning – about new formats, downloading problems, Ereaders, staff training and marketing the service. The only thing that we knew from the start was that usage would grow and the technology would change, constantly!

In Luton we have a culture of using new technology, to improve customer services and make best use of our resources. We offer remote online access to newspapers, the driving theory test and the UK Citizenship Test, as well as a new language-learning package. Luton is a commuter town, and there are many people who do not have time to visit the library, so our online services help us to reach an audience who might not otherwise use libraries.

We had previous experience of running a downloadable service in 2006, when we were involved in a project providing downloadable audiobooks to approximately 50 customers.  The project proved that downloading could be popular and relatively easy for customers to do. When we were approached in Summer 2008 by Overdrive, an American company, we were planning for the closure of the central library for a complete refurbishment. We saw the introduction of ebooks/ e-audiobooks as a way of helping our customers cope with the closure period.

Having seen the online demonstration, we were convinced that Overdrive had the audiobook service we had been looking for. We knew that they offered ebooks, but we were concerned that the market was not sufficiently developed, so we agreed to only stock downloadable audiobooks and began work to create our audiobook website. In October 2008 I attended a conference run by Overdrive and saw the Sony Ereader for the first time. Once I had the chance to handle it, see the quality of the text and the ease of use, I became convinced that we should launch our service with both audiobooks and ebooks. I discussed with colleagues what ebooks we thought we might stock, then created a selection for the website which was ready to launch by January 2009.

So how does it work? On the website http://lutonlibraries.lib.overdrive.com – there is a tutorial that shows how to download. Customers can search for books, but to download they need to log on using their library card number and PIN number. The first time they use the service, they need to download some software, the Overdrive Media Console for audiobooks, and Adobe Digital Editions for ebooks. Once this is done the customer can download up to 10 books at a time and can choose their loan period, from 7, 14 or 21 days. The book is downloaded with a licence, which expires at the end of this period and “returns” the book to the library, so that they are available for other customers.

We only have one copy of most books, but customers can join a waiting list and are notified when the book is returned. They can also keep a “wish list” of books they would like to borrow in the future. Customers can rate books they have borrowed (up to 5 stars) and can use Twitter, Facebook or email to share their book choices with their friends.

Promoting such a new and innovative service is difficult, as you don’t have a physical “object” to display in libraries. We are unable to download from the website in libraries, as the firewall prevents any downloading by customers. To get round this, we now have a laptop with wi-fi Internet access and can do “taster sessions” for customers.

One of the strangest aspects of this service is that you don’t really get to know your customers, as they are downloading from home, and the borrower details are scrambled to protect their identity online. In choosing new books, we have to look at what customers are downloading, what is most popular. We have a good balance of books for children, teenagers and adults, but we are still trying to understand how the website will develop in the future.

Offering ebooks is not a cheap service, but it has some benefits:

  • The books are always returned on time
  • The books are never damaged, or lost
  • The books don’t wear out and need replacing.

So, almost two years in, what have we learned? Customers are willing to try a wide range of books, especially as the service is free. Customers are downloading ebooks and e-audiobooks in one session, so they are keen to experiment. They are also more likely to download medical and self-help books, which they might be too embarrassed to borrow from a library. Most importantly, just like a “real library” there is no single ebook customer, they could be young, old, a student or a housewife.

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

Emma’s story

Robert Jeyes Library, Chadwell Heath

I would like to voice my concerns about this library being on the list for possible closure. Firstly, the staff are so helpful and knowledgeable and work hard for not very much.

Secondly, this lovely library has been a vital community resource for me in my time of living in Chadwell Heath.  As a tax payer including (council tax!) I have used this resource a lot when I had my baby and took him in the early years to the Toy Library and mother/toddler groups.  My son now six adores getting books to read and we have read
hundreds which I know has provided a foundation for his love of learning and discovery.  I have also been able to read books invaluable to me with all aspects of busy life in the twentieth century which is full of change and often uncertainty.

I also used this resource when I had employment dilemmas after having my child and was so grateful for internet access when I could not afford it in my home in the past.  As I mentioned about being a tax payer – working full time makes it difficult to find time to do many other things and I do not use many other community resources so I would be very disappointed if it closes as I pay my taxes for this!!

Lastly, I think it is unacceptable to expect residents to travel to the Heathway to access a library.  Chadwell Heath residents do not have hardly any of the council resources in our vicinity and I wish to protest against any closure.