A network for new and aspiring library professionals
Gary Green is a public librarian with a focus on online services and supporting physical library services with technology. He is also a founder member of Voices for the Library and more recently one of the creators of the Library A to Z project.
Voices for the Library is a national advocacy campaign for public libraries, which was formed in 2010. It is dedicated to highlighting the value of UK public libraries and the staff who work in them. To find out more about VftL follow them on Twitter or visit their website.
In this interview we asked Gary to provide an insight into the work of VftL and to share his view on how recent publications, such as the Sieghart report, have the potential to affect the public library service.
What do you consider to be the challenges for Voices for the Library as more councils apply additional cuts to library services?
Many of the challenges remain the same as when Voices for the Library first formed in 2010 – reminding people of the importance of libraries and debunking the myth that they are irrelevant. It is often those people who don’t understand the role and purpose of libraries or who haven’t used them recently that claim they are no longer important. The 230 million visits to libraries, 95 million visits to library websites, people who made 34 million enquiries and those who borrowed 200 million books and other items from libraries in England in 2013-2014 illustrate that they continue to remain relevant. Even though the cuts are being applied by local councils, if there was a better understanding of (or good will towards) libraries and a recognition of their importance from central government it would help secure more funding nationally for libraries.
Since Voices for the Library began we have seen so many changes to the delivery of library services. The challenge is trying to pre-empt where these changes will lead and attempting to make people aware of changes that may not be in the best interests of library users and the general public more widely. For example, a slight change to the governance model used by a library service could seem inconsequential enough and be motivated by the view that anything that ‘saves’ the library is for the best. That change however may lead to the removal of the library service from local government control and therefore leave it outside the scope of the 1964 Act and statutory provision, or result in the public library no longer meeting the ethical and professional standards that libraries (and all public services) should meet. Anyone who values public libraries needs to question what is going on in their local area, and question whether a council’s actions around the provision of library services are for the best, and what the impact of those cuts or changes to governance really mean in terms of service provision, staffing and the future.
How can information professionals, particularly students and new professionals, become involved in the network?
We see ourselves as an informal network. We aim to share good news stories about the value and importance of public libraries and the staff who work in them, as well as supporting local library campaigns. This support might be as Voices for the Library as a group, or as individuals and as part of the broader network of library campaigns including our involvement with the Speak Up For Libraries coalition.
We welcome the input of information professionals into the public libraries discussion. It helps build the network of individuals who are able and willing to take on the advocacy role in their local area. The development of that network provides us with two-way communication. Advocates are able to share information with us about what is happening in their local area and have an input into the future of those libraries and we are able to share information with them about related/similar activities and campaigns elsewhere in the country. Part of this information sharing includes good news stories about public library services and we are always happy to receive blog posts about the value of public libraries with a local perspective.
The Sieghart report has been released, do you agree with the recommendations in the report? Also, how do you think the report will have an impact on the provision of public library services in the UK?
Library supporters have waited a long time for this report to be released and we feel it is likely to have more impact on public libraries in England than any of the other reports produced by leadership organisations in recent years.
The report did provide a positive outlook in some regards, including:
However it still leaves unresolved issues. The report itself had a heavy focus on digital access. Digital access (including wi-fi) is not a bad thing in itself, but it neglected other important aspects of libraries that should not be forgotten, including the role libraries have in supporting literacy. Is there enough focus on the real purpose and ethos of libraries, or has this been side-lined by the desire to turn them into retailers? We question if the proposed leadership task force with a limited life span of 4 years will fill the leadership void long term? We wonder how the ambition of a cohesive national strategy recommended on one hand will work with the localism focused recommendations on the other, including those local authorities who feel it is appropriate to make library users run their library services. Where will the funding come from to realise the ambitions of the national library service? We also believe there was a missed opportunity to reintroduce library standards, revisit the 1964 Act, and to ask the minister for libraries to undertake his responsibilities properly.
How do you hope professional bodies in the Library and Information sector will react to this report?
We hope they won’t just assume that this is all that public libraries need to secure their future. As we have highlighted, there are positive aspects to the report, but the recommendations only serve to address some of the issues facing public libraries. We hope that the professional bodies will play a part in developing the recommendations that have been presented. Many of the professional bodies in the sector will have a role to play in the Task force that is to be set up, so they will be in a position to make a positive difference.
In your blog post “A stark warning about the future for public libraries” you say “it is up to all of us…to keep the pressure up on our elected officials.” Do you have a template available/ could you provide one which people could use to lobby local MPs?
We don’t have a template for lobbying local MPs, but we do have a manifesto that was put together with library supporters from around the country defining what we believe a library service should provide. It can be used as a focus for advocating for libraries.
As part of the Speak Up For Libraries coalition we also signed up to the election manifesto that was released in 2014. It simply asks councillors and elected officials to pledge their support for libraries.
It is a general election year and this provides a great opportunity for all public library supporters to make use of these manifestos to lobby their local candidates in the lead up to the elections and also their elected member once the elections are over.
Can you tell us more about what Voices for the Library have planned for 2015? Have you/or do you plan to get in touch with Paul Blantern (head of The Government’s emergency task force “Leadership for libraries”)?
We will continue to advocate for libraries online, in the media and press, through library consultations, at library events and in the libraries themselves, or anywhere else we can re-emphasise the value of libraries. As I mentioned earlier it is a general election year and library advocacy and lobbying around the election will be a key focus for us. We have not contacted Paul Blantern, but as we were involved in discussions with the Sieghart panel prior to the report’s publication we hope we will be able to play a role in supporting the development of public libraries.