Friday, 7 January 2011

The first ever #libnews Digest

One of my New Year's Resolutions is to blog more so I thought I'd try a weekly digest of library stories in the press that have caught my attention. Here goes for the first edition!


Sadly the bulk of the stories hitting the press are about library cuts. This piece in the Telegraph caught my eye, not because of library cuts specifically but because of Michael Gove's unfortunate reference to the Chinese cultural revolution. It seems bizzare as you wouldn't expect Michael Gove to aspire to Mau-like social policy. It got me wondering though - just exactly are we loosing and how will people look back on this period of, what seems to me, to amount to cultural barbarism.

In the local press there's a depressing number of articles on local library services every day. How are the decisions being made on which cuts to make? This article, disturbingly, makes the observation that libraries in more affluent areas seem to be doing better that those in poorer areas. I'd suggest this is counter-intuitive. Any socially-minded library service would surely fight hardest to keep libraries open in the areas where they're most needed wouldn't they? Would this not mean prioritising libraries in the poorest areas?

Public consultation seems to be very much in vogue at the moment for deciding what gets the chop. Surely asking the public is fair? I guess that depends on how the consultation is carried out. For example this unfortunately named article describes the "Somerset Library Closure Roadshow" where concerns are raised that four out of six consultation events are to be held in libraries that will stay open - in research terms this might somewhat "skew" the sample!

And what constitutes a "consultation". Barnet refuse to recognise a popular petition and will not allow it to be housed in their libraries. It seems councils are keen to consult but only through "official channels" (if I were cynically minded I'd also suggest only if the consultation gives them the answer they're looking for!).

Back in the West Country, there's nothing like a bit of notice for a public consultation - and this is nothing like a bit of notice! The ways these things are publicised to stakeholders is very important and a day's notice hardly cuts the mustard.

This article about community engagement with the 'Big Society' in The Guardian got me thinking of another problem with this type of consultation - basically that the areas that have the most social capital are likely to see the highest turn-outs, whereas the socially exculded won't necessarily be aware of consultations and may not have the social capital to have their voice heard. I'm afraid there is a real danger that libraries in middle class areas will survive while those in the areas where they're most needed will dissapear.

Perhaps an even more worrying approach is no consultation - or even recognition of what is happening. The formation of a friends of Peterborough libraries group seems like a lovely idea but if you read on, the purpose of the group is to "get involved with organising events such as author talks, raising funds, promoting the library and its events, and collecting and conveying local views on the library service and its future"... um, isn't that what librarians do. The word "cuts" is not mentioned in this article. A depressing angle to library news that I'm sure will rumble on and on...


In other news, a couple of stories on Ebooks caught my eye. The first was that Ebook loaning services seem to be gaining popularity in the public library sector. I wonder if there's a model here that could work in academic libraries for tailor made collections of downloadable ebooks - with the number of students that have smart phones, laptops or other mobile devices, the tech is certainly at critical mass...

I was quite amazed by this story about Amazon enabling loans between Kindle users. This has always seemed like a really proprietary platform (and right thinking people should avoid it!) but does this indicate that Amazon have recognised that people like to share books? Is there a role for libraries to loan Kindle books somewhere down the line?


I thought I'd finish on a funny. This fusion of sci-fi geekery and librarian pedantry made me chuckle.

Have a good weekend folks...

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