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.


Ian said...

Great post, and I don't think you are overstating it at all. Whilst conducting research on my dissertation on the digital divide I came across some interesting data about access to information and healthcare. For example, a study in the US revealed that half of Americans turned to the internet for healthcare information. Those unable to access online information were generally less educated and poorer. The same study demonstrated that those with access were generally in a better state of health. Furthermore, another study demonstrated that US veterans who made use of the internet were better educated and healthier than their non-connected peers.

Given that 9 million people are without internet in this country (and they are generally the most vulnerable) and there are clear benefits for those that have an internet connection and are educated, it would appear that trained professionals can make a real difference. By providing free internet and trained, professional support, who is to say that librarians can't improve the health and wellbeing of the poorest in society. Ok, not to the same extent as doctors and nurses obviously, but at a secondary level they can play an important role in supporting access to information.

Regardless, professionals should never be replaced with any walk of life.

NMac said...

An excellent article. It was Public Libraries which enabled me to educate myself to a reasonabole standard.

What our politicians are doing to our precious Public Libraries, and to many of the good people who work in them, angers, frustrates and saddens me.

Anonymous said...

What a great post, as one who works in Public Libraries, and sees the enormous benefits that they offer to those from often disadvantaged backgrounds, I look ahead with consternation at what are the inevitable closures of branches in the Borough in which I work. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of volunteers within the service, they should always be an addition, not a replacement for professional librarians. Although, one feels it is "untrendy" to be professional nowadays, when titles such as "Team Leader" are applied to those once proud to be called "librarian"

Everything Stops for Tea said...

Thanks All,

It's a scary thing to close access to information, learning and pleasure off for so many people. It makes my blood boil