A LISNPN advocacy competition non-entry
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.