July 2, 2007
Appears to be the new Minister for libraries
Good luck to her. I have no knowledge of her previous achievements other than what the press say. But I do know she has occupied sufficiently senior positions to be able to take a brief from her civil servants without being completely fooled by what they say.
It seems to me that in the case of the previous three ministers, the DCMS were so anxious to persuade the new incumbent that the library service is wonderful, that an opportunity was missed to set about solving some of the problems.
I hope she shows leadership and places due emphasis on the traditional role of libraries as repositories of that which has been thought and written - and also as places of dignified private reading and books. No more juice bar and community centre mentality.
I wish her well- there is a tremendous need to put the public library service back on track and that seems to me to be an honourable ambition for a minister
Posted by Perkins at July 2, 2007 6:42 PM
I'm amazed at the comment 'No more juice bar and community centre mentality' particularly as an advert box on the left of the screen actually says 'Heart of the Community: The Libraries We Love'. Libraries have always been community centres, hence have attracted many people who were there for the warmth rather than the reading. 'Juice-bar' being used as a pejorative displays a prejudiced viewpoint. Presumably the many bookshops that also provided coffee shop have also sullied the purity of the world of books?
Posted by: Gary Marks at July 7, 2007 3:22 PM
Sorry to have been slow to post your message- technical problems which should resolve in the next few days.
My point about juice bars (and coffee shops) is that while they may well be very pleasant and agreeable to a library or a bookshop they don't turn a poor library into a good one. They aren't the answer to the problems and are often used to wall paper over the horrors of damp.
Also I say that libraries are useful in the community only if they are good libraries.
There is a very prevalent mood which turns library spaces into "community centres" with a very incomplete collection of books. Vide Hampshire. It is that to which I object.
The "Juice Bar" and "community centre" view was one expressed by Tessa Jowell and I think it showed a poor understanding of what was needed to be done in libraries when she was responsible for them. Tim
Posted by: tim at July 8, 2007 7:21 PM
A coffee bar doesn't turn a good library into a bad one. What do you mean by an 'incomplete collection of books'? What is a complete collection? And what eveidence is there that libraries, and Hampshire in particular don't have completeness?
Posted by: Gary Marks at July 10, 2007 8:17 AM
If Gary Marks wants to look at an example of 'incompleteness' in Hampshire libraries, he should pay a visit to Gosport Discovery Centre, where the gaps in bookstock are now dreadfully apparent. In fiction, many major classics are missing, as are key titles from important authors (the Centre, for example, does not own a copy of Huckleberry Finn, Kidnapped, Animal Farm or Lord of the Flies); and in nearly all non-fiction subject areas, the collection is very patchy and unbalanced. (I wouldn't term myself as a particularly avid poetry reader, for instance, but I've got more poetry books on my own shelves than the Centre has. Staff did not even know, when asked, who Alexander Pope was!). One of the problems that I think Tim Coates has highlighted is that, in the attempt to carve out space for activities that are not literacy-related, the space for books has shrunk and the result is that readers are walking away. No, there's nothing wrong with a 'juice bar' but if it is taking space and money away from the library's central purpose - to promote literacy - then it shows a lack of focus by the Council.
Posted by: Amanda Field at July 10, 2007 6:29 PM
I think there is plenty of evidence that the book collections in Hampshire are pretty awful. The decline in book lending of over 40% in 5 years is one. I imagine the Public Library User surveys show large numbers of people unable to find what they are looking for.
A retailer would expect to meet a substantial part of national demand (ie a positive response to the question "did you find what you needed?")
In my days there WH Smith would expect to receive about 80-85% positive response. Waterstone's would be aiming for 90-93%. Amazon must expect 99%, I imagine
By and large libraries achieve less than 65% score - and if someone would look up the Hampshire score I suspect it is nearer 50%
That's what I meant
Posted by: Tim Coates at July 11, 2007 8:36 AM
I think these comments cut to the heart of the problems with this argument. What is a 'complete collection'? Should every library hold a list of books deemed classics by some literary committee? What are 'classics'? Are they books that sit unused on shelves for years and years without being issued, then when they are removed outcry ensues from those who never used them? Or are they the books that people take out again and again, the crime books, the sci-fi books, the (whisper the name) romance books?
Posted by: Paul Wells at July 11, 2007 10:28 AM
There's always plenty of unused spaces in the libraries into which I go. A bit of experience answers all these questions. It seems an imponderable problem until one considers actual titles but Huckleberry Finn, Kidnapped, Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm are all pretty basic.
If in doubt about classics, it's not a bad idea for a start by looking on publishers' lists to see the titles of which they have editions.
I'm nervous to say it, but any experienced bookseller could help you, Paul; it's what they do all the time- and what public librarians should do, too.
Posted by: Tim Coates at July 11, 2007 11:23 AM
The argument from Tim appears to be that there are certain titles without which a library is a bad library. I don't feel comfortable with this concept. Any published book is, in theory, available at any library. It may not be picked straight off the shelf but can quickly be brought in. I think Tim's statistics are misleading and probably out of date. Amazon my have a near 100% fulfilment rate but then you have to wait weeks sometimes to get the book. I don't know how long it would take in Hampshire to get a book from another branch , but why should a library be any different from the commercial world?
Posted by: Gary Marks at July 11, 2007 4:16 PM
Paul asks 'Should every library hold a list of books deemed classics by some literary committee?" Well the Select Committee on Public Libraries thought so: "All libraries, however, whatever their location, should be set core minimum standards of provision focused on a core purpose to provide access to the written word, inlcuding high quality and relevant books -both modern titles as well as the classics, and otherwise, of the past..." the point about classics is that there is a continuing level of demand for them across a long period - they may have lower level of immediate demand than current best-sellers, but they can be in demand for a much longer period. Many people attribue Amazon's success to its ability to cater for this "long tail" of demand.
Gary's point about inter-library loans is valid, and supply times for inter-library loans have improved in many libraries over recent years. The problem is, however, that large numbers of books are just not being purchased within the inter-library loan areas (usually County-wide) or at back-up libraries. The British Lending Library has been doing a great job plugging the gaps in stock in Public Libraries, but reliance on the B L is effectively creating a two-tier service, for which people have to pay extra, and wait longer to borrow the books they need.
One often overlooked aspect of the current situation is that public libraries have failed to get to grips with the long supply times for obtaining new books through the Library Suppliers. i agree with Gary, why should a Library be any different from the Commercial world. A bookshop can order a new book from Bertrams and it will be in stock within two or three days.
Posted by: Martyn at July 12, 2007 12:29 AM
Yes, I do believe there are certain core titles without which a library is a bad one. And I believe that the library should hold sufficient copies in order to ensure there is a reasonable chance of one being found on the shelf. Peoples' expectations these days mean that they want most books to be available straight away- unless something is understandably difficult to hold.
These are not just fiction titles but also important works of non fiction which are authoritative and part of our culture.
Martyn and the Select Committee are right to emphasise this. But it is also true that many "classics" are just as much in demand as "best sellers" -- a survey last year showed that if one added together the different editions of works of Jane Austen she would certainly be in the best seller lists all the time.
Posted by: Tim Coates at July 12, 2007 9:05 AM
I am not trying to deny that Libraries should hold "high quality and relevant books". Your quotation, Martyn, doesn't seem to advocate a 'set text', just quality provision. No-one can argue with that. However, space and money are ALWAYS issues. If my library doesn't hold a copy of Huck Finn, I don't automatically dismiss it as a useful resource, especially if I don't actually want to read it. I don't expect my Public Library to compete with Amazon, not even close. That's not (in my opinion) what it's for. In the most recent entries there is one arguing that Libraries should be recognised as more than "just about books" (attitudes to libraries). I understand (for all it's faults) that the new Gosport Discovery Center has increased the number of people using it. Isn't this at least part of what is meant by 'Heart of the community - Libraries we love'? I also understand the counter-argument, that the Libraries should do everything that is asked of them, and excel at it...
Incidently, part of the reason I come here is that you are an experienced bookseller, Tim ;)
Posted by: Paul Wells at July 12, 2007 10:18 AM
Thanks again. I don't think "libraries should do everything that is asked of them" - I think that libraries should excel at making available written and published work and information.
There's a big distinction. It is, in my experience no good at all trying to be "all things to all people" -- you end up being not very good at anything.
And, for me- and many many others, the Discovery Centre is not a success at all. Its qualities as a public library fall well short of what is needed.
Anyone can get visitors- you could put up film screens and sell ice cream- but that is not what a library is. Hampshire County council don't have a statutory obligation to provide community centres, but they do have one to provide public libraries- which is quite different.
You should read Philip Pettifor's report "From University to Village Hall" -in which he discusses this. Click on his name on the left hand tram line.
Posted by: Tim Coates at July 12, 2007 11:23 AM
Sorry to prolong this thread but Martyn's last post reminded me of what Mark Twain said 'Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book'.
Posted by: Gary Marks at July 13, 2007 5:52 AM
Libraries must be the only 'product based' organisation which has, in the main, stuck to the physical parameters in existance 40 years ago. Cinemas turn into Multi-plex...supermarkets have expanded incredibly, physical space + range of products.. number of tv channels available ...IKEA..Computer World...HMV... etc etc All this to connect and provide the diverse wants of an increasingly sophisticated audience. Many library buildings still operating with same basic model...but with the addition of new services and features which squeeze the scope out of every aspect of the overall service. Small is not beautiful!!! If we had more libraries like Brighton with good space, lots of varied stock (of all categories and genres), excellent design, well staffed, good shop ..and so on, more libraries could enter the 21st century confident that they can meet the demands of all our potential customers...dumbing down..'wising up'..encouraging experimentation and exploration.
Last thought, is dumbing down becoming popular because we do it so easy to do and we already do it so very very well!!
Posted by: garry at March 12, 2008 10:15 AM