UK Libraries, visited more than cinemas? Yes!

I often get asked when I tell people what I do something along the lines of, “Do we still need libraries? Isn’t it all online nowadays?” I have yet to come up with a correspondingly short answer to that (it’s normally something along the lines of what about lack of access / skills / literacy / money?!) but I read today some compelling evidence that public libraries in the UK, despite declining visitor numbers year on year, get vastly more visits than other places that at first glance you’d think would run away with the figures. And this is all in the context of city council budget cuts and lay-offs of staff. So here is a “re-blog” of that information from the ever-informative Ned Potter’s blog.

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If libraries aren’t relevant in the digital age anymore, than neither are cinemas, museums, galleries, theaters, churches or professional football matches because libraries were visited much more than any of those last year. Was that what you expected?

Check out the slideshows Ned has put together with all of this information and the sources:

Sway: https://sway.com/zs95B67Qe9I30cS4

Slideshare: http://t.co/yXlEhrNrnZ

Library Advocacy Unshushed MOOC wrap up

I recently completed another MOOC (massive, open online course) entitled ‘Library Advocacy: Unshushed’. It was run by the University of Toronto Faculty of Information on the EdX platform. While targeted at information professionals it really addressed basic principles of successful advocacy that would be applicable in other sectors. The quality of the material was good and was supported by research. Numerous experts from library world and beyond also had slots where they weighed in and gave practical advice.

The course ran over five weeks but I think it took me about twice as long to complete all the material. Content covered included defining advocacy, perceptions and reality of libraries today, and planning and implementing an advocacy plan.

Here are some of the main points I’ve taken away from the Mooc and that I actually remembered several weeks after finishing without looking at my notes.

  • Tell stories – people resonate with and remember stories much more than data and statistics. Libraries have so many great stories to tell so we need to share them in our advocacy and use stats to support when needed.
  • Craft your message – what are you trying to get across to decision makers? It needs to be concise, memorable and relevant to your audience. Think elevator speech.
  • Link your advocacy to wider institutional goals – The course repeatedly underlined the fact that your message and advocacy goals need to be explicitly linked to your wider institution’s goals, objectives and/or strategy. This makes sense because why would leaders pay attention or allocate funds if what you want to do doesn’t align with their goals? This approach also gets away from simplistic “save the library” type appeals which, let’s face it, probably translate to “save our jobs”.
  • Plan who to target with your advocacy – the course distinguished between decision makers (those who actually make the decisions), influencers (people who have influence with the decision makers) and stakeholders (people who have an interest in the outcome but not necessarily a decision maker). Successful advocates need to build relationships of trust and credibility with all three.
  • Advocacy is a responsibility for everyone, not just the chief librarian or head of department.

Some other points taken from my notes:

  • Defining advocacy – it is rooted in relationships of credibility, understanding and trust. It’s a long term commitment and requires communication, passion and courage.
  • Avoid jargon in your message, speak in terms your audience will be familiar with, and link back to wider institutional goals.
  • Essential concepts to tell decision makers in your communications- 1) What libraries and librarians do that’s valuable, 2) Why it matters in terms of their values and priorities, 3) Why it’s urgent.
  • Position your library as a ‘value add’ by thinking about how you can solve the problems of your community/institution.

For more information on this Mooc, here’s a link to the EdX page.

The Twitter hashtag for the ‘live’ portion of the course was #la101x

IFLA WLIC – Part 2

This is part 2 of my conference experience at IFLA WLIC last August. For Part 1 click here.* Again, it’s a long one but I blame that on their being too many fantastic sessions!

In addition to school library related sessions, the second thread I followed was the IFLA Trend Report. The Report was released at the 2013 WLIC and consists of five high-level, societal trends affecting the information environment. Information professionals devoted last year to discussion of the Report. This year’s Trend Report sessions were focussed on receiving feedback from the discussions across the world and thinking about how librarians and library associations will move forward into action and adapt to a changing information environment.

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The Cultural Evening was great fun. It was held in a former sugar warehouse, very ‘industrial chic’. Highlights were trying oysters for the first time and attempting group dances that were directed by an animated Medieval chicken/creature/thing on the big screen!

IFLA by its nature brings together globally prominent, intelligent people and I felt quite privileged to hear their ideas, especially on the Trends. The President’s Session included a Trend Report component focusing on e-participation for strong information societies. Speakers addressed the Trends as a whole from the perspective of their sector, including digital and information literacy, publishing, parliaments, policy advocates, think tanks and the EU justice system. Interesting points raised included that libraries are well-positioned to build capacity in digital and information literacy (Trend 1), a hyper-connected society means more voices but also more ‘noise’ (Trend 4) and that there is a pressing need for data protection reforms to address the alarming possibilities of Big Data (Trend 3).

Another session I attended on the Trends was entitled ‘What’s next? Moving on from the IFLA Trend Report’ and was sponsored by the Management of Library Associations Section and FAIFE Committee. Each speaker addressed one Trend in order and I took eight pages of notes! David Souter (ICT Development Associates) highlighted the growing ‘dataification’ of government and business and asked, where does information power reside? Access to this data is an important issue as it depends on factors such as access to analytical resources, computer processing capabilities, etc. He saw the role of libraries in this area as institutions who can increase diversity in information and access. Pierre Dillenbourg (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) spoke about online education and quipped that it will ‘democratise, maybe; disrupt, yes’. He saw potential in using MOOCs for teacher training and for training purposes in businesses. He proposed several theories on what the future holds:  that small universities could disappear, universities will lose the monopoly on higher education, and the future for open access is not looking rosy. He saw the role of librarians as resource managers in online education. David Greene (Electronic Frontiers Foundation) asserted that data protection was a human rights issue and described the alarming realities of digital life such as direct surveillance and the mass collection of data. He proposed that librarians should be advocates for privacy and data protection and libraries themselves should provide secure internet connections and use user data responsibly. Anniette Esterhuysen (Association for Progressive Communications) gave a fascinating talk on hyper-connected societies. Individuals have a voice now, but is there more noise online and who gets heard? She saw librarians as the ‘worriers’ for the public interest, agents for inclusion, facilitators of access and as challengers of power structures. In short librarians she said, echoing Souter’s talk, are human rights advocates. Finally Loida Gracia-Febo (IFLA Governing Board) talked about librarians facilitating knowledge exchange through new technologies. She saw librarians adapting to this trend by becoming experts on new technologies, connecting people, helping creators and contributing to sustainable development.

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Rose garden in the massive park next to the conference centre.

The final Trend Report session I attended was held by the IFLA President-Elect, Donna Scheeder. There were a series of lightening talks from speakers representing the regions of the world and then we had round-table discussions. It was interesting to hear varying responses and priorities from the different regions such as infrastructure and internet access being a big issue in Asia and Oceania, Dutch libraries exploring reconciling the physical and digital, the USA pushing for policy change and in Africa, prioritising inclusive digital literacy, access, and IP ownership and indigenous knowledge. For the round table, the discussion was all about action. We discussed the need for library design and infrastructure to cater to an increasingly tech-saturated culture, e.g. having lots of plug sockets, sufficient bandwidth and also considering the environment and sustainability in design. Accountability was another theme:  we need to show the ‘value add’ that libraries provide, and not just in terms of money; senior managers need to release talented staff to do great and creative work; we need a clear, simple message and/or metrics for effective advocacy. Change was a buzzword on the table. Librarians need to change their mind-set and we need more variety of qualifications within libraries to address the changing information environment. We also need to understand our users’ needs and everyone agreed this entails getting out from behind the desk and talking to people! New definitions of ‘library’ were batted around including intermediary to knowledge and information, facilitator of learning and helping people understand their ability to build capacity. We then talked about what problems and opportunities faced IFLA, our national association and our local region. My main personal takeaway from this was that I need to embed myself in my school by getting out of the library and talking to teachers about what they need and how the library can help meet that need, e.g. information and digital literacy skills.

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Collége La Tourrette, Lyon – this was their quad area.

On my final day I visited two libraries and several museums. I went on a tour of a local secondary school library at Collége La Tourrette. The school opened a year ago after an extensive refurbishment of the historic building. The library was spread across four rooms, which prompted a lot of questions about security of stock and staffing. The rooms were a mix of classrooms, IT rooms and the main library proper. I was interested in their set of tablets since we were looking into e-readers at my school at the time. The system they use is students have an ID which corresponds to a barcode on each tablet, but they cannot be taken out of school. I also visited the Bibliothéque Part Dieu, the main public library in the city. It was a busy place on a Saturday morning and I enjoyed their exhibition of ‘Trésors!’, showcasing treasures of the Lyon Municipal Library. I also got to visit the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Centre d’Histoire de la Résistance et de la Déportation.

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French Harry Potter books at Collége La Tourrette library.

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Tablet storage trolley at Collége La Tourrette library.

I found this conference experience incredibly rewarding and want to thank the John Campbell Trust again for supporting my attendance.

*An adapted (and shorter!) version of these two posts appeared in CILIP Update October 2014.

IFLA WLIC – Part 1

Last August I attended the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Congress (WLIC) in Lyon, France. My sincere thanks to the John Campbell Trust for awarding me their conference grant which enabled my attendance. It was by far the largest conference I’ve attended with some 4,000 delegates from all around the globe. Indeed the international perspective offered by IFLA was one of the most valuable benefits I gained. It was often difficult to choose from amongst a packed and very interesting programme, but the two main tracks I followed were sessions on school libraries (sector I was working in at the time) and the IFLA Trend Report. This post will cover the school library related sessions – apologies for the length!

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Huge exhibition hall for poster sessions.

I attended the School Library Section standing committee meeting (chair, Barbara Schultz Jones, University of North Texas) which was a great opportunity to meet school librarians from around the world and hear about the activities of the Section. They are working on a set of international guidelines for school libraries with UNESCO (more on this later) and want to work on broadening access to their publication Global Perspectives on School Libraries (DeGruyter Saur, 2011) which is currently only available in print at steep academic prices. This sounds like an absolutely fascinating book but lack of digital access and the high price point is a barrier for many (including me!).

Another session I attended was entitled ‘Libraries creating content for/with children and young adults’ and was co-sponsored by the Libraries for Children and Young Adults Section and Literacy and Reading Section. The most fascinating paper was delivered by Michael Kevane (Santa Clara University) on creating picture books in Burkina Faso. Over the course of the presentation, my impressions went from negative to completely enthralled! He started by describing the lack of books, especially African books, in rural Burkina Faso and how his charity Friends of African Village Libraries wanted to provide books. I thought this was a narrow approach – why do libraries only have to be about books? The group began producing simple photo books using volunteers on the ground who took pictures and wrote about local people’s stories and issues in French, the language of education. These books quickly became the most popular items in the libraries. Kevane described how the books improved literacy by introducing specialised language (e.g. stories about trucks or gardening) and were actually incredibly practical and educational, for example one book was about a man building a latrine. They are now holding training sessions for local authors and illustrators and have established a multimedia centre. This brilliant project is supporting literacy and sustainable development and serves as a useful model for others.

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Michael Kevane’s Burkina Faso picture book presentation

I also attended a School Libraries Section session reviewing their IFLA/UNESCO School Library Guidelines, which are currently being drafted. Each round table had a chapter to read and review. I was on the Evaluation and Advocacy chapter table. During the lively discussion, participants remarked that whilst we felt we were being highly critical of the existing draft, this was actually a very helpful process for the authors as it provided feedback and perspectives from an international audience and saved them a lot of work. This session demonstrated the unique value and impact of IFLA. I was asking another school librarian based in Dubai why we needed another set of guidelines as I knew several that already existed in the UK, clearly this was duplicating effort, right? He said, yes, but in developing areas they may not have a strong national association or any guidance at all, so the publication of the IFLA/UNESCO guidelines addressing school libraries internationally would be an invaluable resource for these places, and only IFLA with its international membership could produce such a document.

One final school library session to highlight was ‘School Libraries on the Agenda: Advocacy Initiatives from Around the World’. Three interesting points from this session:  first Mette Hendriksen Aas (Fagforbundet) who talked about how a trade union is advocating for school libraries in Norway because they help produce educated, literate citizens. Second, we heard of some victories in South Africa from Genevieve Hart (University of the Western Cape). Two organisations there, the National Council for Library and Information Services and an NGO, Equal Education, have successfully lobbied the government over the past few years to take action for school libraries on a platform of equal access to information. This has resulted in the Education Department publishing school library guidelines and a 10-year plan. Third, Ross Todd (Rutgers University) sounded a novel clarion call proposing that school libraries should base their advocacy on evidence and social justice.

The social justice note was a thread throughout the conference actually. For example the Burkina Faso picture book project mentioned above, and also in a project in Cambodia called Open Development Cambodia. There was a need for a central portal to access information, data and news in the public domain because development was being stymied by this information vacuum. ODC focuses on economics, environmental and social development and they employ a team of Cambodians to facilitate open access to information and transparency in the public and private sectors in the country. Clearly libraries across all sectors have a role to play in issues of social justice such as providing open access to information.

Next week I will look at the IFLA Trend Report sessions in part 2 of my conference round up.

The Acquisitions Department

Since I don’t manage my own library budget, I’m in a rather interesting situation with regards to buying new books and replacing stock. I started advocating for some new book stock in about March. I had made a list of reasons based on student feedback and my own observations about our collection:

  • Students were consistently requesting more non-fiction titles, particularly boys but also some girls.
  • Our selection of higher level books (within the AR collection) was very, very sparse. Considering some Year 7s were already reading at level 6.0 and higher, and they still had two years to go on the scheme, there was a real need to increase choice in that area or else these students would literally run out of things to read.
  • Keeping the collection current: I wanted to get new, recently published books in series or from popular authors.

So I presented these reasons to management and was told to go for it. Once I knew I had some money to spend, I also started specifically asking students for recommendations, especially the reluctant readers. This turned out to be great move because by asking reluctant readers what they want, the library will then better reflect their interests (and so hopefully they’ll be more interested in reading) and it will give them a sense of ownership in the library since books they’ve suggested will be on the shelves. If only the turn around was quicker!!! So I’ve been putting together and submitting various book orders and they’ve all started arriving in the past few weeks. I enjoyed to a large degree pointing to the library store cupboard and saying to students ‘there are loads of new books in there so next year will be awesome…’ I also spent time before term finished adding shelves into the bookcases to make more room for all these shiny new books. Now I’ve just got to catalogue them all!

Postscript: we are going to be starting some reading intervention with Key Stage 4 (Year 10-11) next year. This is aimed at students whose reading ages are two years or more below their chronological age. I’ve raised the issue that we’ll need to get some more books in for them as well, particularly high interest/low ability and non-fiction books. So the ordering continues…