Panlibus Blog

What makes a good library service? New guidelines issued by CILIP

CILIP logoAt the PLA 2009 conference last week, Bob McKee, Chief Executive of CILIP, proudly presented a new set of guidelines as to what makes a good library service. In comparison to the traditional bulky, text heavy and complex use of language presented in traditional library guidelines, this A5 pamphlet could easily be overlooked as an advert or flyer rather than library guidelines. However, this is not to be perceived as a bad thing. The concise manner in which it is presented leaves no room for hot air and leaves it do exactly what it says on the tin: guide.

The guidelines urge the library service to be:

“Continually refreshed and improved to respond to the adapting needs of local communities”

And

“Library buildings, equipment and ICT facilities should be well-designed and kept up-to-date.”

The ten questions to ‘test’ whether your library service is up to standard, highlight many benchmarks which could only ensure a good service is being achieved. The one which caught my eye in particular, was point four.

“Does your library service provide what local people expect in terms of location, accessibility, materials, resources, staffing and activities?”

There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to turning around the current perception of the library service; each should not be a clone of another. Whilst sharing best practise has a valuable role to play, we must engage with those around us ensure the local library service is engaging, and as odd as it may seem, local.

Download the guidelines here.

PLA 2009 – Day 2

Grand hotel

Today, my day didn’t begin in the most ideal way. As I’m staying in a hotel a few minutes away from the conference, a complementary shuttle bus has kindly been provided to escort delegates back and forth. This morning, a combination of a late dash for breakfast and the shuttle bus being reliably late, led me to be a little more flustered than usual, only just managing to make the start of the conference. However, I didn’t let this dampen my outlook for the day as, of course, today was the day the DCMS publish their long awaited Modernisation Review; at least it was supposed to be. But more on that later.

Andrew Cozens, Strategic Advisor at the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) kicked off the day with his interactive workshop, introducing the approach – outcomes based accountability. He explains that currently there are too many terms defining performance measures, and not enough discipline in using them. By using three key particular definitions, ‘outcomes’, ‘indicators’ and ‘performance measures’, a real outcomes based accountability approach can be achieved. The term outcome would be used only to describe the high level goal, for example, ‘improve the well being of children and adults’. The term indicator would then go a step further, by highlighting the measure which helps to quantify the achievement of an outcome, and finally performance measure would then measure how well the programme is performing. Overall, this was an interesting session which challenged delegates to re-think their current thought processes, as all too often, it’s easy to focus on the measuring performance elements and lose sight of whether the outcome is improving.

Then the session many were waiting for began, as the Rt. Hon Margaret Hodge, Minister for Culture and Tourism took to the stage. She began by acknowledging that public libraries are very precious, but from time-to-time, we must question whether things could be done differently to ensure a comprehensive and efficient service fit for purpose in the 21st century is being delivered. She then went to on to provide some ‘interesting’ statistics which appeared to paint a sad and downward spiralling trend in library usage. However, these statistics were later questioned, to which Margaret was only able to respond “I don’t know where they [the statistics] came from, they are just given to me”.

She believes engaging with young people requires radical innovation, as they require something new and something stimulating. Her acknowledgment of the technological revolution being at the heart of future of libraries hinted at what the (once again delayed) Modernisation Review would focus on, looking to models such as LoveFilm and Amazon. Some ‘innovate’ suggestions for libraries included a loyalty card that rewards every ten book loans with a free DVD hire and a library card for every new born baby, bringing frustration to many delegates sitting at my table, as they squealed “We’ve done that for years”. They felt such suggestions demonstrated Margaret’s lack of understanding of the library profession and felt patronised. However other ideas to provide an internet lending service to have books delivered to your home; selling books as well as lending in conjunction with companies like Amazon, led to more positive reactions.

The Modernisation ReMargview itself is to be published in a much faster paced climate than previously published reports, she explained, and therefore, the DCMS do not intend for it to be the last word in the conversation. Margaret would like the time to input her thoughts on the paper before release, and publish as a consultation document. The cynic may read this as a lack of ideas or direction on the DCMS’ part, yet others may believe wider consultation is a genuine attempt to engage with those experienced in the field. In her closing statements, she encouraged librarians to get in touch, as she would like to produce a comprehensive and controversial report. She promised that the Government remains committed to strong and modern public library services and will continue to value and champion them.

The third session was lead by Liz Forgan, the Chair of the Arts Council, highlighting the importance of reading. From the conference programme, I got the impression that this would be a bad case of preaching to the converted, however, I was proved wrong. She explained, for a library to support reading is instinctive, but today, everything must be evidence based, therefore the difference that reading makes must be highlighted. “Libraries are central to reading, and reading is your jewel” she explained.  Miranda McKearney, Director of the Reading Agency explained how they can work closer with libraries to do this. Firstly, national reading programmes can be worked harder. Secondly, stronger partnerships can be established with publishers, broadcasters and media to publicise reading further. By setting up a digital taskforce to take up reading developments online can help showcase achievements as well as build stronger networks. Thirdly, a 21st century library workforce created via strategic training could also contribute significantly to wider reading. And finally new thinking would be essential to develop clear messages and creative new projects. The session finished on thoughts of cross authority reading strategies, where a show of hands indicated a mere two local authorities were actively adopting them. A second show of hands highlighted how many would like to adopt such strategies in their libraries and this time there were significantly more than just two.

For the afternoon session, we were given the opportunity to visit local libraries providing unique and innovative services. I chose to visit the Hartcliffe Library and the Knowle West Media Centre in the South of Bristol. The Hartcliffe Library was built in 1974 in what was once a vibrant part of the area. Following the closure of a nearby factories and banks, the library began to suffer. It wasn’t until the adjacent Morrisons supermarket was built that the area became revitalised and the close nit community was reformed. In 2003 the refurbishment of the library began, in which the local community remained faithful to the service, bringing flasks of hot drinks through times of power cuts. With strong support from youth in what is described to be a ‘challenging area’ the library acts as a social environment engaging with all, simply by opening up.

The Knowle West Media Centre is a stunning building; the walls of which are made of straw bales and a rubber roof which harvests rain water. As we were shown around the building, we were told about the activities that take place within the centre including photography, music and film maker projects. But what was really interesting was how the local youth had been engaged in the development of the building. And we’re not just talking minor consultation. Real decisions such as choosing designers, architects and creating the design brief were all done in close conjunction with the local youth. This way, not only is the passion ignited within the youth straight away, but they are presented with a building that they are a part of and something which is made to their requirements. The Media Centre staff believe they learn just as much from those who use the centre as they do from them. They believe the jobs of the future require a solid understanding of digital skills and therefore the centre has a massive role to play.

Today I have enjoyed speaking to delegates from all sorts of backgrounds and the coach trip around Bristol. Though my highlight has to be Margaret Hodge’s presentation, simply because of the debate she stimulated. Tomorrow promises more interesting sessions as the conference draws to an end. Watch out for PLA Day 3 tomorrow…

Images published by _satunine and ourcreativetalent on Flickr

Making libraries accessible to all

mountain_of_booksYesterday, the Society of Chief Librarians made national news with their new initiative attempting to make libraries accessible to all. The collections of more than 4,000 libraries across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be open to any member of the public by showing their existing library card, or proof of address, to join or access any library they are visiting.

Tony Durcan, formerly president of the Society of Chief Librarians explains:

“If you’ve joined one library service, why do you have to go through the bureaucratic process of filling in forms to join another?”

The Society’s Chief, Fiona Williams supports this further by saying:

“Libraries are a public service for everybody. We want people to know that all libraries are open to them, not only the libraries where they live. This is an important step towards making libraries even more accessible to all.”

Though items borrowed must be returned to the library from where they came, so far the initiative has generated positive feedback and appears to be welcomed across the board. However, questions are now emerging including those raised by Mick Fortune of Library RFID Ltd.:

“Should I now be lobbying Oxfordshire to cancel their subscription to online information services because I, and everyone else in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, can now access them by joining say, Manchester online? How will the companies providing these services stay in business if only one authority pays a sub? Will Manchester council tax payers be prepared to pick up the tab for the whole country?”

This begs the question whether this initiative really is the significant move forwards that it has been painted to be? Have the consequences highlighted by Mick Fortune been taken into serious consideration? Watch this space as the debate continues.

Image published by framework_zend on Flickr

The [Conservative] Future of Libraries – Ed Vaizey Talks with Talis

Ed Vaizey

The next UK general election is probably only a couple of years away and there is a serious possibility that we could see a change of governing party. Against this background Ed Vaizey, Conservative MP for Wantage & Didcot and Shadow Minister for Culture is beginning to shape his thoughts and future policy with respect to libraries.

This podcast conversation, recorded in Ed Vaizey’s office in the Houses of Parliament, explores Ed’s thinking as to the way Government should influence library services provided by local authorities; is the MLA as an organisation the appropriate way to promote libraries at a national level; and even is the Department of Culture the right place for libraries to be represented.

With a guest appearance of Big Ben, chiming the hour, this is an interesting insight into the thoughts of a senior opposition politician on the future of libraries.

This conversation was recorded on Wednesday 10th July and edited on a Mac with Garageband.