Friday, 21 October 2011

A response to Mr McTernan

My reaction to this article was inevitable. For a good half hour I was speechless. I could not even begin to contemplate how someone could think, let alone believe the drivel within this piece of poorly researched piffle.

Apparently “John McTernan has an MA in librarianship from Sheffield University and worked in libraries from 1984 to 1994” really? He worked in Libraries up until 16 years ago. In that case he must be up to date then. We don’t trust medical evidence from 1994 unless it has been re-investigated since then, so why on earth should we listen to a non-practicing librarian who unless he can produce proof he’s kept up to date? A non-practicing Librarian who clearly HATES Libraries and other Librarians.

I’d like to address some of his points
“This is a fight by middle-class liberals to keep libraries open not for themselves, but for the less fortunate. This is partly out of condescension, and partly guilt – because the protesters don’t use libraries either, and feel they may have precipitated the closures by their neglect.”

Really, and you know this how? It is ridiculous as an argument. So anyone who hasn’t been tortured should not protest against violent regimes then? We should stop giving money to Charity because we, our mother/sister/wife/daughter hasn’t had breast cancer etc? Yeah, that argument works...

“Yes, public libraries have been of huge benefit in helping us educate ourselves over the past 150 years. It’s an honourable tradition – but it’s over. Their defence depends on a deficit model, the argument that they fill a unique gap. But that’s simply no longer true.”

Ahh... WRONG, now who’s patronising eh? Libraries have been in existence for that long for a reason. That reason being to provide open access to information FOR ALL regardless of whether they can afford it or not. I do believe that people cannot hope to afford to have access to every piece of information they need in the course of their lives. They do fill a unique gap. ALL Libraries have access to information you could not find anywhere else. What we do have now thanks to computers and let’s face it, culture in general is an expectation that you can get what you want IMMEDIATELY. That’s the issue we are getting at here, people won’t wait for an Inter Library Loan, crikey! some people don’t want to click more than twice to get an article online, let alone wait for a book to arrive from another library! This is not something to blame Libraries for. Libraries have been a driving force for increasing access to information. Libraries are a service, not just a location.

“Access to information has been transformed by the internet. Google a subject and you can become ridiculously well-informed ridiculously quickly.”

Right, here we have another problem. I, on a daily basis repeat this phrase to my students “Just because it’s on the internet, it doesn’t make it true!” Any loony can and does publish on the internet. The fact that I have to remind MSc and doctoral students of this doesn’t bode well for people, who haven’t had the experience with the internet that most of my students have. Oh Google will give you an answer alright, but is it the right one? Is the question right? I’m reminded of the quote by Mark Twain (yes he who opened one of the threatened Libraries) “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

If Google did have all the answers, why would academic Libraries spend so much on scientific bibliographic databases? Why would we spend huge swathes of our budgets on full text journal access? not forgetting the print stuff, some of which is not available online, certainly not for free, the publishers would never allow it, despite all the advances of the open access movement. Why would I spend so much time teaching people about search strategies? Why would public librarians provide and demonstrate their users different resources they select especially to support EVERYONE.

“Fast, cheap computing had spread to most homes, and to our whizzy new mobile phones. Where on earth is the gap that libraries are meant to plug?”

Do I really need to answer this again? apparently so!
1: Not everyone has access, some due to location, some due to income. This is more than you would think
2: Not everyone has the necessary skills to access correct information.
Libraries help with this. We might not always have up to the minute technology. But something is better than nothing.

Onto the next point!
“Virtually every kid has a desk at home – even if it often has a games console on it. And libraries at secondary schools are, in my experience, uniformly good and open places for young people.”

Do they? Government reports show that child poverty is increasing. Too many children are not fed or clothed properly. Do not sleep in a bed. Are not encouraged at home or where literacy or time with parents is restricted. Go to schools without Libraries or Librarians to staff them. What good is a games console when you need to study? Close Libraries and you condemn a generation.

“The crisis in our libraries is not because of the “cuts” – it’s because they are needed less.”

I don’t think so. Do you? Libraries are needed more than ever. EMA’s are gone. Community centres closed, youth groups gone and with them all associated help and programmes. Even the BBC held up by Mr McTernan as an example of good practice is having to scale back its online service as it has had it’s funding frozen.

Libraries might not be used by every person everyday, but they are free at point of access, like the NHS. Lets see if Mr McTernan wants to help close that next?

I’m a Librarian, I will I suspect according to be a biased liberal, so, thank goodness John McTernan has shown me the error of my ways. Close Libraries indeed... *Rolls eyes and goes back to cataloguing*

Oh and if you don't want to listen to me? Listen to Lauren

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

What Libraries mean to me.

This blog has developed a bit of a theme of late. It may seem like I’m on my soapbox, but I passionately believe that Libraries are of huge value to society. Of course I’m going to say that, I’m a Librarian, I have a vested interest. BUT, imagine a world with no Libraries! No access to free information. No reading for pleasure unless I can afford to buy books. No access to literature for researchers or students beyond what they manage to buy or collect. How long would it be before someone came up with the idea of a central place where the collected information was held where everyone could access it and even borrow it? I suspect not long, it’s how libraries came about in the first place. If I was suddenly to lose my job (touching wood as we speak) the first place I would go after the job centre, would be the Library. I don’t have access to the internet or a computer at home so I HAVE to use Libraries. Take that away from me and I have NO ACCESS TO INFORMATION. I along with 9 million other people in this country am condemned, most because they cannot afford to get access. The government wants to get these people online. They already have, they've got Libraries.

I'm lucky to Live in Liverpool as Libraries are important to Liverpool. It is thanks to, amongst others, a Liverpool Politician, that Parliament passed the first Public Libraries Act in 1845. Stand and be counted William Ewart! The first Public Library was opened in Duke Street on 18th October 1852. 159 years ago yesterday. The second city in the UK to do so after Manchester. What might be most interesting, given why so many libraries are closing at the moment is that our main city library on William Brown Street, was donated by a Banker. I’ll leave you to consider the irony of that. I still visit the library I first remember from childhood on a regular basis. It is and always will be a welcoming place for me. Until very recently, and due to retirement, I recognised the staff in there. I know it’s smell and the feel of the steps leading up to it beneath my feet. It has been a part of my everyday life since I was 5. It has been a part of many people’s everyday life for a long time. Libraries helped me confirm the dates in this post. So I will write about Libraries here, on my everyday blog, because for me, Libraries are about the everyday. They are about work and fun and study and entertainment and life. Libraries are integrated in the lives of people living in my beautiful city, up and down my wonderful country and all across this amazing world in which we live. When we close a Library, we close access to ourselves. We close our minds. We close our children’s minds and mute the voices of our ancestors.

Glasgow, Eric (1997) The origins of the Liverpool public libraries. Library Review 46 (4) 262-267

Friday, 14 October 2011

To all the ones that went before

As a proud Librarian, after the events of the last few days, I’m veering between wanting to pack it all in and wanting to chain myself to Kensal Rise with the rest of the protesters. I’ve seen my three year degree and eleven subsequent years of experience dismissed with a soundbite. I’ve watched children stand in front of a Library founded by Mark Twain to stop it being boarded up. I’ve felt despair for the countless number of people who could have the ability to learn despite not being able to afford to go to university, or read for pleasure even though they can’t afford to buy the books they want. I’ve always been an advocate of Libraries, never a hugely vocal one, not a brave stand in front of a courtroom one or become VP of CILIP one, I can’t claim to have been, but an advocate yes. So today, I would like to pay tribute to all Library campaigners past and present. All those who are fighting for all of us to have access to free information, and for those who give us access to it. Thank you. To Librarians up and down this nation who introduced us to our favourite authors. Thank you. To authors who go to Libraries and read to us and take part in events and shout how brilliant, important and valuable Libraries and Librarians are. Thank you. I don’t care if it sounds like a bidding prayer, I make no apologies. You’d get upset if your bin collection was cancelled and you’d have to pay to take stuff to the tip. You’d get angry if you had to investigate who burgled your house yourself, well they are taking another one of your rights away people! Get angry!! Anyone out there reading this, consider this a call to arms. Go to your Library! Take your children and your granddad! Take your neighbour and your workmate! Defend your rights to have it with all your might! Borrow a book, read the paper, ask the Library staff for help, stand and be counted as a proud user of one of your rights, otherwise what will be next? Sometimes saying thank you is not enough. Sometimes we have to stand shoulder to shoulder. See you at the Library.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

I am Librarian, hear me ROAR!!!

It seems a theme is emerging. After yesterdays post about the value of libraries, everywhere I went I thought about it more. Thought of more interesting and varied arguments. Got more and more exasperated everytime the subject of libraries and their closure entered my addled mind. It may seem like the highest form of self congratulatory guff to tell you how brilliant libraries and librarians are, but I hereby REFUSE to apologise for it. We have spent so long being the ultimate in support professional that we perhaps have literally done ourselves a disservice. I have discussions everyday with my colleagues regarding how Libraries are seen as a place rather than a service. I overheard a conversation the other day whilst trying to drink a lovely cup of tea between two people who believed they didn’t “really” use the library as they only went there to go on the internet and never borrowed books. I’ve even get lecturers telling me that they never use the library as everything they need is right there at their desktop. WRONG!!!! Who precisely do they think has done the organising to get “everything they need right there at their desktop” ? errmmm.... LIBRARIANS! Who do they think helps their students out when they put a resource on a reading list? Errrmmm.... LIBRARIANS. Who organises the Institutional repository so that their research is gathered together for when REF finally kicks in... hellooo?.... guess who?..... all together now, 1...2...3... LIBRARIANS!!!!!!!!! So no longer will we sit quietly in the shadows with our knowledge and willingness to make your life easier! We’ll still do it. We like doing it. It makes our job worthwhile and we are bloody good at it. BUT we will shout about it. We will advocate. We are Librarians. We staff Libraries in your Schools, Hospitals, Law Firms, Public Libraries, Organisations, Academic Institutions, Charities and more. We will not sit quietly with our fingers to our lips, we will shout! We are Librarians hear us SHHHHHHHH!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

What price do you put on Libraries?

Today we hear of more Library closures. This depresses me for a manifold range of reasons. Not only am I concerned for my fellow Library staff that have lost their jobs, and will no doubt be shamed into volunteering for the very services that once valued their professionalism enough to employ them. I feel sorry for the users, not just the ones that come en masse every week to borrow their books, read the paper... WHATEVER reason, it’s their library, let ‘em just sit in the corner, but the ones like my 11 week old niece that will have to, if we aren’t careful, read in history books (if the school or her parents can afford to buy one) about the public libraries that once “littered” our countries street corners giving free information to all, welcoming those who perhaps might not have seen anyone else that week, may have lost their job and need help retraining, might have parents that can’t help them with their homework or God forbid, might not actually want to go home, or find it’s safe to be there.

I made the following point on Twitter earlier “I am a Librarian. I am a professional. You wouldn't expect a volunteer to teach your child or give you medical treatment” I understand that some, indeed many people believe I’m overstating the point, but let me phrase it this way. Librarians and Libraries are just as important as a public health campaign. If a public health campaign saves the life of just one person, I don’t believe that many people would argue that it is was a waste of time, expensive yes, but that life is saved. If a library can get one person interested in reading and learning, help an old lady realise that she is not alone, help an unemployed person decipher an application form and get a job, provide a safe haven for a child to read or do their homework, is that not just as valuable? I bet educating people is the best form of public health campaigning! We don't all need health services everyday, but it is FREE AT POINT OF ACCESS, just like libraries! When did our physical health and our wellbeing get polarised? Why is our intellect to be ignored?

I’m not a public librarian; I work in a very specialist academic library and let me tell you, the questions I’m asked on a daily basis are very varied. In the course of my job I am librarian, shelver, teacher, book buyer, electronic resource organiser, manager, archive wrangler, confidante, grief counsellor, friend and a hundred other things besides. My colleagues and I are rightly very proud of what we do. I, as their manager am very proud of them and their experience and get a little teary when I get letters, emails, phone calls and on occasion visits to my office of thanks for what they see as a very small service, but has meant a huge amount to the recipient. I’ll never regret the extra time I stayed to calm someone down who had just managed to wipe all the imaged from their masters dissertation. I’ll never forget the time I saw one student manage to download an electronic article for the first time. I’ll never stop being a Librarian. A very bloody proud one. If I, and my brilliant colleagues, in my very small academic library can make such a difference, imagine what a Public Librarian can do. Tell me now that they aren’t as important. Tell me now that we can shut public libraries and let our children’s learning stop when they leave school, because not many of them will be going to university. Chris Smith, once our Culture Secretary stated that “Libraries are our street corner universities” Sorry Lads, it looks like they might all be closed for business.