December 28, 2012
What are public libraries for ?
If you argue - as many people do- that public libraries are needed as a key resource to combat the so-called 'digital divide' ; or that they are vital for 'life long learning' or even that they are essential at 'improving standards of literacy', I believe you are on dangerous ground
If those matters were regarded as serious enough for public money to be spent to address them then in each case there is probably a much better way that directs money to where it is really needed and expertise to where it can be successful .
In Dan Jarvis' recent paper for the Labour party he quoted that – "23 per cent of households still do not have internet access. Libraries helped get 1 million people online last year.". Yet 1 millon people represents about 2.5% percent of households. It is almost a reason for not using libraries to make the internet avaiable to people; there must be better ways than that and - if we are serious about digital access- there certainly are.
We even hear the argument that public libraries make a contriubution to health care. And whenever I hear that I wish that my own doctors' surgery had the money to stay open a bit longer - because they know much more about health care than a library does. For illness it is better to go to a doctor than to a librarian, honestly.
What we don't value enough is the role that libraries can play -both efficiently and effectively. That is for people who can read and can access data digitally.. for these people it gives them access to the whole of world thought and literature. For a child who has discovered authors beyond those they are told about in school, a library is a direct line to civilisation... and from childhood onwards that abundance is what makes the intelligent world so wonderful.
I believe we have been making the wrong case for libraries for years - and now, because we are so confused about what libraries are for - we are going to make a blunder out of the possibilities of the new digital and ebook technologies - because they really can make a universe of writing available, but only if we know that is what we want and we use it all properly .
Posted by Perkins at December 28, 2012 4:04 PM
I agree with you on one thing Tim, the overdiversification and positioning of libraries within leisure/culture/arts and about anything else other than reading, learning and education has diluted their core ethos and subsequently we as a profession have taken our collective eye off the ball. The vast majority of library users want books, in what ever format, and access to good quality information provided by professional, experienced, knowledgeable paid staff, to claim otherwise is at best naive and at worst a lie!
Posted by: Alan Wylie at December 29, 2012 9:02 AM
Whilst admitting that you are correct at to the primary purpose of libraries, to present a case for DCMS intervention based purely on that purpose would be suicidal.
Posted by: Geoffrey Dron at January 1, 2013 1:57 PM
Geoffrey - I think making a case for DCMS intervention is a waste of time and effort... suicide is something else.
The officials of the DCMS are not worthy of your argument and thought
The other point I would make is that the very reasonable purpose of the 1964 Act was to try to create a management structure that could have sensible input from local people and local councils. It wasn't either so that each council could decide what a library is, or that the council should use libraries for other good causes. It was simply to run libraries better than if they were run by some national body.
Moreover I am only makking the exact same point that Gerald Kaufman made in the Select Committee report of 2005 - there are certain core actitivities that must be done properly - and he referred repeatedly to improvements in the book stock and also to providing internet access. Only then, he said, should the service do other things.
That report remains the key to improvement. It should still be implemented in my view.
And Alan, I agree with you. I think you and James Christie are the two library professionals who have bravely and sincerely argued the proper case for years- I really wish more of your colleagues would follow your lead. I am sure that many members of the public, and authors and campaigners, would endorse my view about you both if it was made plain to them.
Posted by: perkins at January 2, 2013 7:17 PM
I don't anticipate that the request to the DCMS for intervention will receive a positive response. However, the form of the request will be the background for judicial review.
Agreed that the 2005 CMS SelCom ought to be implemented, and the failure to do so is further evidence of an illegal policy of non-intervention to add to Tessa Jowell's effective admission thereto to the CMS SelCom in December 2003.
Posted by: Geoffrey Dron at January 2, 2013 9:58 PM
I appreciate your comments Tim but i do know other colleagues who agree with me, that's why i'm involved with VFTL and Speak up for Libraries!
Posted by: Alan Wylie at January 3, 2013 8:38 AM
I appreciate your comments very much as well, Tim, and it's interesting to get confirmation that Alan and myself are about the only librarians who've spoken up (under our own names). I'd have to admit I'm not even really a librarian any more - I still have the qualification but I gave up my Chartership because I simply didn't want to pay that bunch of [add colourful description here] at CILIP Head Office money any more. That's not to say I couldn't still do the job, but I don't see why I should give away whatever skills I've got left for free when the public library service couldn't find it in their cold, hard, spineless souls to pay me a part-time library assistant's wage even once in twenty years. And we wonder why people are demoralized about work!
I'm holding off writing an article for the Huffington Post (UK) as I do not particularly want to denigrate librarians per se, but do I feel that more of my former colleagues should follow my lead instead of acting like a lumpen, whiny bunch of overgrown children without one ounce of red blood in their veins!
That may sound a bit unreconstructed, but really! All I ever hear is careful arguments why they (in particular the SCL) Cannot Possibly Say Anything. For the record, when I first wrote The Gordian Knot I WAS chartered, terribly aware how few job opportunities I had and exactly how badly my stance would damage them. I wrote it anyway and stood by my words.
All Britain seems to want today is yes-men, and it makes me sick...
Posted by: James Christie at January 3, 2013 12:57 PM