Saturday, 8 October 2011

Thing 16: Advocacy and speaking up for the profession

Here are two statements about libraries and librarianship:

1. "Most libraries are infrequently used and have become superfluous with the advent of the internet."

[Comment by tonners72 to blogpost 'If you tolerate this...': Nicky Wire on library closures at; retrieved 8 October 2011].

2. "What's the training required to hand a book out and stamp it and take it back in the following week?... A good volunteer can run a library, it's as simple as that."

[Peter Davies, Mayor of Doncaster, in an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield, Tuesday 4 October 2011; audio clip of comment here].

I sincerely hope that statement 1 is just some weapons-grade messageboard trolling (has to be, right? I mean, the commenter can't really believe that all the material anybody could possibly want is freely available on the internet). I can't even begin to address the arrogance and stupidity inherent in statement 2 so instead I'll direct you to Lauren Smith's post OY, Mayor Davies: there's more to working in a library than stamping out books, which rebuts his "point" very effectively by providing an extremely long list of things library staff actually do in addition to issuing books.

What these comments illustrate to me is that, while I might think that libraries are so self-evidently a Good Thing that it barely needs saying, other people disagree and have no problems publicly stating as much, no matter how fatuous they make themselves sound. So maybe I should be making more of an effort to articulate what I believe about the value of libraries, on whatever platforms are available to me.

I've used public libraries all my life and would hate to think of living in a society without them. Ways in which I have advocated for the public library service are:

Use it or lose it
I regularly visit and borrow items from my local library. I don't often use my full allowance of 20 books, mainly because I would struggle to carry them all home (but even so, just stop and think about how brilliant that is for a moment: anyone can join their library and then leave with hundreds of pounds worth of books at a time, completely free at the point of the use), but I usually take out 7 or 8 books. Often I do this even though I know I won't really have the time (or sometimes the inclination) to read all of them, in the vague belief that I'm helping by boosting that library's borrowing figures.
In fact, when doing some background reading for this post, I was looking at my council's budget figures and supporting documents for this year and I noticed that the yearly issue figures for the county's library service are included. I know that shouldn't be a surprise - as anyone who has ever worked in a library will be aware, every time somebody farts it has to be recorded using a five-bar gate and the monthly totals transferred into a spreadsheet - but it does ram home the point that every book issue is counted and noted for the record and, presumably, the higher the number the more valuable the service is perceived to be. 
Sign on the dotted line
I've signed the Women's Institute's e-petition in support of public libraries - it's available here: I do sometimes wonder what practical benefits or changes can result from these petitions. The government has stated that petitions that gather 100,000 plus signatures "could be debated in the House of Commons" - note the use of "could" and also note that "holding a debate" is not necessarily the same as "changing government policy in accordance with the demands of the petition". Nevertheless, the higher the number of signatures, the stronger the indication that public libraries are an important and valuable service, so I would encourage anybody who agrees to sign the petition.
Have your say
Last year I completed a consultation survey created by my council, Gateshead, on its draft spending plans for 2011/2012, in which residents were asked to give their views on the value and priority of various services, including libraries, leisure and culture services. Other ways to have your say: most (all?) councils hold consultation events on various issues which you can attend - there's one for Newcastle Libraries later this month; and there's lots of information on the WI's Love Your Libraries campaign page about how you can contact your local councillor to express support for libraries.
Looking at the points above it occurs to me that all of my advocacy so far has been on an individual level, and that statements and gestures in support of public libraries have more power and visibility when done in combination with others. I'm going to spend some more time looking at a number of resources - the WI's website mentioned above, the Voices for the Library site, Public Libraries News - to get some ideas, advice and contacts. 
So my to-do list following this Thing is short but punchy:

1. Be more shouty
2. Consider joining up with others and being more shouty together 

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