Tuesday, 4 March 2008

James Brown 'vs the Good Library Guide

...what the f*ck is going on with the good library guide? More importantly why does it bug me so much? Is it the advertising? Is it the commercial bias? Is it the warped view of what libraries are supposed to do or the strange world view in general that really bugs the hell out of me?

I think this kind of opinion actually damages the public libraries. They've got enough to deal with without bookseller's sticking their oar in. As far as I can make out (and I must admit I've not spent a great deal of time thinking this one through) the concept or model of public libraries that the web site is trying to promote is the same as in Tim Coates' report. Basically, one of libraries primarily as places of reading hardcopy books. The idea is that there hasn't actually been a decline in book reading (despite the fact that people now spend more time on the phone, computers, watching tv, shopping etc, etc.) - the only reason (again as far as I can make out) that people borrow less books from libraries now is that they aren't run like bookshops. The prescribed course of action is to stop major capital projects and spend the money on books (which libraries get from, um, bookshops...er!). The latest post that I saw was having a bash at Brighton library because of a perceived lack of stock after the new building (financed by pfi) opened. What I find damaging is that this viewpoint is blinkered to the fact that people find information in different ways now. Books still have a place in all of our hearts but we have to get over this book fetishism and accept that the world has moved on and libraries, if they are to survive, must move with it.

The Brighton connection is how I got onto this. This post was supposed to be a bit about a recent day out and some pics of street art - with a bit about the library thrown in. My perception of the stock was that it was very good. I guess it's hard for me to qualify this as I never went in the old Brighton Library BUT any library that can pull off putting traditional resources (like a complete set of DNB and a complete set of County Histories) alongside dedicated computing suites, conference rooms, cafe, and art installations is pretty cool in my book. The place was buzzing when we visited. Downstairs was full of people just chilling, browsing, etc. (it was kind of cool that the artist who installed the current exhibition was being interviewed by a student over a cuppa inside the installation itself - a life sized Carribean chattel house). Upstairs was chock full of people studying. Ok, so I don't agree with what is effectively selling a publicly owned building to private finance and then renting it back from them but this is the harsh reality in which public libraries exist. And really, to be honest the stock was ok. It's a big space to fill but I was impressed at how they'd kept old music stock (and the way the music was presented). I think it's easy to bash newly re-opened libraries for having no books but really it's inevitable. Over time libraries accumulate detritus. A big project (like Brighton) is an excuse to weed out all the dead wood so, yes, compaired to the old library I'm sure there are less books but I'm also willing to bet that the quality of the remaining stock is better. Libraries do need to spend more money on new books but they also have many other priorities and what Coates fails to acknowledge is the brilliant job that libraries do in making the best of what they have got.

I'd like to see just one positive story posted on the good library guide without some kind of political points scoring or "we told you so" spin attached. Prime example - why not mention the brilliant visitor and new borrower figures that Winchester has got since it reopened? Because it's easier to slag-off libraries for spending money on buildings rather than books. Interestingly there is a story about Hampshire libraries on the good library guide - about £350,000 being spent on bookstock. Even this is tinged with negativity. I find this weird and illogical. It was acknowledged that Hampshire's bookfund could not be cut any further during the recent culling of librarians. At the end of the day (for right or wrong) Hampshire chose bookfund over professional librarians - which is exactly what Coates recommended when he published his doorstop report. I'd have thought he'd be happy that he got his way but it seems that even this is not a cause for celebration.

Anyway, to take a dose of my own medicine, I'll end on a positive note. Thank-you, good library guide, for turning what was meant to be a nice post about a James Brown mural into a library rant. Here for your viewing pleasure is the godfather of soul. Get up, get on up.

Note to self: I really must get out more =)

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