June 16, 2012
Libraries are for the people who want to use them
We watch with amusement the meanderings of Liz Forgan at the Arts Council, Ed Vaizey and the nunkies in the DCMS, the LGA, endless local govt officials, and library professionals even their brainless honourables and worshipfuls in the House of Lords as I saw last week and so many others
The most important phrase in the 1964 Libraries Act is the one that says that Libraries are to be run efficiently for the benefit of those who wish to make use thereof
They are not for the benefit of local government, national government, the people who work in them, the library profession, political parties, government agendas of inclusion, crossing the digital divide, trade unions, ... or anything else- including people who don't want to use libraries.. libraries are not for people who don't want to use them
Their purpose is to provide a library service to 'those who wish to make use of them as libraries'
So the most obvious starting point in any review of the library service is to ask those people what they want and provide them with it. How many more decades and reviews will it takes before someone does this?
Actually we already know the answers, because those kinds of questions have often been asked and, much as government officials, strangely, hide away what the answers have been, we know what people say. Simply they want - more books (newspaprers etc), longer opening hours, cleaner more attractive, more dignified buildings, silent space to work in, helpful, friendly, staff and equipment, like computers and printers, that work. It's easy. If you go through the needs of different age groups, it quite readily provides a list of what the library service and councils ought to do ........ no need for more reviews!
The 1964 libraries Act was a very good and well written Act - and such a shame that no one does what it says, It would work perfectly well in this century and probably the next
Posted by Perkins at June 16, 2012 11:03 AM
Not perhaps exactly in response to this post, but another personal observation of double standards in librarianship and their endless inability to honour promises or act like grown-ups. I recently applied for a library assistant post at the University of Glasgow library. I meet and exceed the minimum qualifications, I have Asperger Syndrome. I ticked the box for the Guaranteed Interview Scheme. I have not had an interview and my application "will not be progressed further."
Meandering all right. These nunkties or numpties are beyond pathetic and obviously cannot understand plain English. After nearly thirty years fighting to stay in employment with a learning disability, all I want to do now is tell those people in the Arts Council, government, DCMS, LGA and House of Lords what a bunch of pathetic, gutless, spineless cowards they are. I'd very much like to do so to their faces.
At the end of thirteen years fighting to stay in his job with the late, unlamented Strathclyde Region (who didn't like him because he had a Degree and spoke with an English accent) my father bitterly told me that "all they care about is their jobs and perks and pensions." Nothing has changed and I can find very few arguments or reasons to try to work - other than simply to keep the clothes on one's back. Certainly not in librarianship, which has categorically failed to make use of me for twenty years.
You could divide it up roughly between drones who just keep on saying "we all have to obey orders," and egotists who will do anything to stay in their nice safe jobs (see Frank Daniels' comments on the Society of Chief Librarians).
I hope Perkins can post this, the University of Glasgow's HR department should be ashamed of themselves and I am certainly sick to death of them. Sick to death of every witless drone right up to Liz Forgan and Ed Vaizey.
Posted by: James Christie at June 16, 2012 1:30 PM
I don't agree that you can pull out this single phrase and say that it's the most important aspect of the Act. The whole Act is important in attempting to ensure that comprehensive and efficient library services are provided for users and potential users, and this is why the Act goes into so much detail regarding library provision.
Posted by: Gary Green at June 16, 2012 6:37 PM
I don't agree with your comment - I think this is the key phrase in the Act - which is indeed very well written in its entirety.
I think the greatest failure of public library management (whether that be the 'profession' or the civil servants and officials who operate it) is they have always defined their audience to widely. Too often there has been an attempt to be 'all things to all people' - too often has the service wasted its energy and resources trying to be inclusive and diversify from its core.
The result of that is that the audience who would naturally use it are dissatisfied and feel they are misunderstood- and in turn the offical line has been deliberately not to do what core customers want. So we have seen book stocks reduced, opening hours reduced, and now we see closures of community libraries. None of these were forced by shortage of money - there has always been plenty of money . Instead the preference has always been to try to provide a service for those who are not instinctively interested in libraries and deny a library service to those who want one. It couldn't get more crazy.
People never believe me - but I say, go and look at Hillingdon, which is the only council in which I was allowed to show how it can all work properly. And it does. It's very simple.
Posted by: perkins at June 16, 2012 8:19 PM
Sir Humphrey calls it "creative inertia" it keeps them all in a job. The library service would be better off without them.
Posted by: Trevor Craig at June 16, 2012 9:46 PM
I learnt from a former president of CILIP that (in her words, not mine) every time the library schools get a trendy new idea they stuff it down the sheeplike throats of their students, who come out saying "it's all about IT" or "it's all about people" or "it's all about clump press minders." Admittedly, I made that last one up, but it'll probably happen sooner or later.
Indeed, in attempting to be inclusive, to diversify and to be all things to all people, the library schools produce trendy theory after trendy theory, and while I'm seriously unimpressed that graduate or postgraduate students seem not to be able to think for themselves (er, isn't that what they go into higher education to learn how to do? Apparently not.) the end result is that they mean nothing to anyone. Anyone with any common sense should indeed know you can't keep everybody happy all the time. The problem is there isn't anyone with any common sense left in librarianship, or with the guts to just go ahead and create the kind of library referred to in the penultimate paragraph of Perkins' first post.
You're graduates (most of you, anyway), start thinking for yourselves and go down the butchers and get yourself a pound or two of grade A guts, because that is what you are lacking!
Posted by: James Christie at June 17, 2012 12:56 AM
Certainly in Hampshire, where I live, the Top Neddies have made it clear that they will only regard a library as successful if the users of that library are an accurate reflection of the 'demographic mix' of the whole town. Hence in a town like Gosport (which contains some of the most deprived areas in the whole country), they bend over backwards to attract people who don't read and don't want to read: books are whittled down because they might put non-readers off; DVDs are moved to the most prominent position in the library; and there is a plethora of activities from hip-hop classes to ukulele lessons. All this might be OK if some effort was made to turn these non-readers into readers, or if the library hierarchy did not show quite such open contempt for those who DO want books and quiet spaces for study.
Posted by: Amanda Field at June 17, 2012 9:13 AM
If you thought it was bad under Liz Forgan, what do you think will happen when the man who gave the world Big Brother is running ACE? http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2012/jun/16/peter-bazalgette-arts-council
That said, the idea that public libraries do more than serve their existing users is not going away. If we were to stick to that, we would be signing their death warrant. Public libraries were described as 'arsenals of a democratic culture,' by Sidney Ditzion. I think that's as true now as when he wrote it, in that brief period after the war when progress seemed possible. The problem now is that we need to rediscover a democratic culture.
Posted by: Tom Roper at June 17, 2012 10:42 AM
Hi Tom, very good to hear from you.
We don't say 'serve their existing users' we say 'serve those people who want to use them' ... that is very different.
It implies making them good enough that people who want to use them, but don't, are persuaded that they are ok to use. That's the trick.
Mind you, it isn't always a good idea to be dismissive of one's customers -- without 'existing users' the public library service really would be in trouble. So it probably is a good idea to be nice to them and about them
Not sure what 'democratic culture' is -- would you like to explain? Sounds to me like the kind of thing James Christie means when he talk about jargon made up in library departments of universities - but I'm sure I'm wrong!
Posted by: perkins at June 17, 2012 11:59 AM
the 1964 Act might have been very useful in 1964, but it is not a well drafted act in 2012. "Comprehensive and efficient" is borderline meaningless without clear definition by the Secretary of State, and the courts will not compel the Secretary of State to define it. Thus the Act contains a central obfuscation that stands in the way of it being a defence of libraries. It compels a local authority to run a library service, but does not define what that service should look like. Thus, so long as an authority complies with equalities legislation it can pretty much do what it wants. This ongoing defence of the act is naive. It is not saving libraries, and it won't save libraries.
Posted by: Telly Tubby at June 19, 2012 7:55 AM
Ah- Telly Tubby. That sounds exactly like the argument made by the LGA -- do you have any connection with them?
To my mind only a complete brainless idiot can't understand the meaning of the words 'comprehensive' and 'efficient'. If they were plain English in 1964, I don't see why they shouldn't be now - unless the general standard of education of council officials has declined so badly that they can't even understand thst level of English- in which case the problem doesn't lie with the Act but with the recruitment process
Posted by: perkins at June 24, 2012 4:06 AM