missrachelsmith

A LISNPN advocacy competition non-entry

with 7 comments

I’ve been trying to keep up with the current conversation about the role of libraries in society for a while now. I take note of what MPs, public sector leaders and members of the publishing and information communities are saying. The big library debate pops up on BBC Breakfast now and again while I’m munching my toast (although they seem to put forward a skewed sort of view on things, it must be said). And I read about librarians with amazing amounts of energy, trying to make a difference and get their voices heard.

Recently, LISNPN, the new professionals group for the library and information sector, announced a competition encouraging librarians to join the discussion. To enter, you need to create some advocacy resources that will ‘reach beyond the usual audience for library-related materials’ (for that, read: “promote libraries to non-library users”). I think that the LISNPN competition is jumping on the bandwagon in a good way – it will record what librarians were doing, in 2011, in terms of acting as advocates for their profession. It might even prompt people not already trying to push the boundaries of the echo chamber to join the growing numbers of librarians and information professionals who are shouting about the value of what they do, and the impact that losing information services would have on the communities they serve.

But I’m not sure I’ll be joining in with the LISNPN competition. It’s tricky, really, because although I try and keep up to date and get my head around who’s saying what, there’s a massive amount going on. I’m bombarded by blog posts, and pieces in the Guardian’s Comment is Free, and news articles, and twitter comments, and videos, with lots of different people saying lots of different things about libraries.

The thing is, you see, I work in a university library. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very pro-public libraries – I use them and see a huge value in the services they offer – and I’m intelligent and informed enough to realise that if library closures are as swift and severe as it looks like they could be, it may well impact upon those working within academic libraries. In the short term, with public libraries closing, more visitors might be prompted to use their local university library. If we had more customers coming in through the doors unconnected with the university, my institution would be forced to take a stance on visitor access to resources, and potentially use more of our resources catering to a non-university audience. This, in turn, would be difficult to justify if our students are paying fees up to £9000 per year for their university education, a percentage of which will go towards the library budget. Another upshot in the next few years might perceivably be increased competition for jobs within the academic library sector – which would make it more difficult for members of LISNPN to move up the career ladder. And in the long-term, reduced accessibility and availability to the services offered by public libraries could fundamentally affect how university libraries are used and perceived.

So I can see that I possibly should be acting as an advocate for library and information services, even if my own job is secure and if I’m not going to be immediately affected by public library closures. I also see that as a librarian, I’m one of the people best placed to articulate what libraries are about and for. But although I’m interested in how the government’s ‘Big Society’ idea is going to impact on my profession, it’s not necessarily my job to know about what’s going on in public libraries. Outside of work, I’m still doing library things on a personal/professional development level, and beyond that, well, I run a Brownies unit, and I spend time with my lovely boyfriend, and I like to watch films and knit and I HAVE A LIFE.

It’s not even the time thing: although I am pretty busy, I’m actually ready and willing to get involved and I’d like to support the various advocacy campaigns and projects that are going on. I would even go as far putting together the sort of advocacy materials that the LISNPN competition wants me to create if I felt I could. There’s a lot of advice out there on library campaigning (i.e. the CILIP website, Voices for the Library), and as marketing and advocacy is a big part of my role, I’d like to think I’d be able to add something (I make a mean poster).

But I’m the sort of person that unless I know the whole story, and all of the arguments and counter-arguments, it’s difficult for me to even begin to think about pitching in myself. Do I have enough time to research what’s going on in public libraries, to the extent that I could make a meaningful, significant contribution to all of the advocacy that’s already going on? Not really, is the honest answer.

To act as an advocate for libraries and enter the LISNPN competition, I would need to spend a good few hours/days/weeks researching and getting up to date with the ‘libraries in the era of public sector spending cuts’ conversation before I could even start to think about what I could add. I’m a librarian, so I know where to go when I want a tabloid view on libraries and how to find that, and I know where to find a pro-public library take on things, because I’m aware of the various campaigns that are going on (Save our Libraries day, Read-ins, etc). But what I don’t have is the time to trawl through all of these sites on a weekly or even monthly basis. So what I would like, and maybe this is a call to action, or maybe it’s just a comment in general, is some sort of round up of what’s going on. Maybe a website, internet gateway or a news blog/RSS, that brought together all the key things that were being said – links to all of the videos, and the newspaper articles, and the blog posts, and legislation, and the government line – and maybe some sort of summary which made clear to me, as a library supporter not directly involved in public libraries, exactly what was being said at the moment I wanted to know it at. Such a resource, one that might present not just angry library responses to Boris Johnson’s comments in the Telegraph, but actually told me about what Boris Johnson’s comments were in the first place, would be a really valuable tool for me.

This post is a response to the LISNPN competition, but it’s not a competition entry. I just don’t feel like I can put an entry together just yet, because I only catch snatches of what’s going on, in terms of the debate about libraries and in terms of the ongoing advocacy efforts. Perhaps such a source of information exists, and I just haven’t found it yet – if you could point me to it, you’d be helping me to help libraries out.

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Written by missrachelsmith

February 24, 2011 at 14:16

Posted in Librarianship

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7 Responses

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  1. Rachel, I know just what you mean about feeling unable to comment or participate in a discussion until you’ve got to grips with all the arguments and information. In terms of keeping informed, I think the Voices for the Library website and Twitter feed are good places to start (http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk, http://twitter.com/ukpling), as is the Public Libraries News blog (http://publiclibrariesnews.blogspot.com/).

    I’m often reluctant to get involved and do things because I feel like I don’t know enough about something. I try to combat that by talking about what I do know about – like you, I work in the academic sector, so it’s not easy to talk about modern public libraries (except from the position of a patron), but I do feel like I can talk about the ‘generic’ value of librarians as people who manage information. I’m not sure to what extent LISNPN entries have to be specifically targeted at saving the public libraries – I have a feeling that the idea is to encourage as much advocacy as possible for any and all kinds of libraries.

    Girl in the Moon

    February 24, 2011 at 14:39

    • Hello Katie, thanks for your comment – I’m aware of Voices for the Library, but I haven’t come across the Public Library News Blog, and that does look useful (I’ll be bookmarking that for future reference!).

      I take your point about the LISNPN competition being about libraries in general, rather than just about public libraries, but I do think that advocacy efforts should be focussed on public libraries right now, given the threat of closures. I’m not saying that university libraries won’t be hit at all by public sector organisations reigning back on spending, but I don’t think this will be quite as immediate as it might be for public libraries. And although I would feel quite comfortable promoting the benefits of using academic libraries, each university has its own students, which is sort of a captive audience. If I was to act as an advocate for libraries within my own sector, I would need to promote using one university library (because each university library has a more or less discrete user group, who will probably need to use the library for their studies) to potential library users who don’t currently use the library: i.e.: market our services to students and staff of the university, which is part of my job…

      Anyway – I think you’re right about sticking to what you know, and I do know about what librarians do, even if I can’t be too specific about exactly what goes on in public libraries. And that’s why I think I’m interested in exploring what I can do to support what’s going on in terms of advocating public libraries – because even though I don’t have the whole picture, I have more of an idea than a lot of people!

      missrachelsmith

      February 24, 2011 at 21:19

  2. It also depends how widely you want to draw ‘libraries’ – is the LISNPN competition aimed just at libarians with a collection to manage (public, academic, in an institute or society, etc), or also at ‘information professionals’ in a wider sense (eg including intranet content managers, or information scientsts, or knowledge managers… the list could go on for quite a while!)

    Another group who are feeling under threat at the moment are law librarians – several of the larger law firms have outsourced their services (eg to Integreon or Evalueserve) recently and another is due to relocate its entire business support department to Belfast (Allen & Overy).

    I believe that effective, broad, advocacy is needed even for base principals – the value of the skills librarians/information professionals can bring (finding the best available info to suit the user’s need, info /source validation, teaching info literacy skills, etc, etc) – before any particular ‘flavour’ of info pro can be advocated for successfully.

    Perhaps it is the lack of this kind of ‘basic principals’ education / advocacy / promotion over the years that has led to current fallacies such as ‘we don’t need librarians because they just stamp books/do shelving and volunteers can do that just as well’?

    Nicola Franklin

    February 25, 2011 at 09:58

    • Hello Nicola – I think your opening question would be one that Ned Potter (he’s commented below, and I know he’s involved in LISPNP) might be able to answer. Reading the rules of the LISNPN competition, it does say; ‘create some library advocacy materials and package them up in such a way that they reach beyond the usual audience for library-related materials… [the] criteria are that it should raise awareness about libraries or librarians, and try to reach new audiences’ (http://www.lisnpn.spruz.com/competition.htm). So I wonder whether the competition is more geared towards promoting libraries in the traditional sense, rather than information/knowledge management? This is probably something for the LISNPN competition administrators to answer (and it could get into a big philosophical debate about the nature of ‘libraries’ and ‘information’, so I’ll leave that one there for now…).

      I was interested to hear that some legal organisations are outsourcing there support services, including libraries/information services – I haven’t heard anything about that at all. Do you have any good links to further information on that?

      I’m also interested in your idea about the need to educate people about what being a librarian or information professional is all about, and what libraries and information services can offer. I’d be inclined to agree – some of the comments that are being made in the media show that some high profile commentators have very little idea about what goes on and what we do. Maybe the impact of this wave of public sector cuts will mean that in the future, we act as better advocates for our profession on a day-to-day basis, rather than just when libraries need saving?

      missrachelsmith

      February 28, 2011 at 17:01

  3. This made me a bit glum – the only purpose of the competition (apart from to give a New Prof a prize worth having) was to try and stimulate some little acts of advocacy, not put people off! I really hope people don’t over-think this competition – I was hoping people’d just do something and see what happens…

    Anything’ll do, it certainly doesn’t require in depth knowledge of current libraries. I don’t have that, but the little bits of advocacy I’ve tried to do about libraries in general have still reached a few people who would have otherwise remained in the dark about modern libraries – that’s enough for me for now, and enough for the competition, too. :)

    thewikiman

    February 25, 2011 at 19:06

    • Apologies for the delay in responding, Ned, and also for making you feel glum – I did mention right at the start of the post that I do think the LISNPN competition is a good idea, and I can see why you’ve decided to make advocacy the focus. I guess a lot of this post was about me expressing my own personal frustrations about acting as an advocate for the profession, and the pressure I’m feeling to get involved in this.

      I’m interested in this concept of ‘little bits of advocacy’ – particularly because at the moment I seem to hear a lot about at the moment is big, massive acts of advocacy (writing for the Guardian’s Comment is Free, talking to the BBC etc), which can seem very daunting. Are little acts of advocacy really going to do anything? I guess the answer is yes, IF there are enough of them going on. I think that I agree with Nicola that it’s because we haven’t been engaging in this sort of everyday advocacy about what libraries are for and what librarians do that people jump to the old conclusions and stereotypes. So in that respect I think the advocacy focus of the LISNPN competition is very worthwhile – and I’d particularly like it if LISNPN publicised some of the ‘smaller’ advocacy entries – the less groundbreaking, but more manageable things that Joe Bloggs here could maybe try to emulate?

      missrachelsmith

      March 4, 2011 at 16:25


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