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LIS-PUB-LIBS  October 2001

LIS-PUB-LIBS October 2001

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Subject:

Re: the future of the main library

From:

Mike Maguire <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Mike Maguire <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 31 Oct 2001 13:02:14 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (238 lines)

I too will happily sign up with Penny to accepting Bruce Myers' offer for
further debate ... and thanks to Steven for providing the "lemon" & the
stick in the first place! But I think we're already involved in lemon groves
and parts of the whole fruit juice industry debate.

This seems remarkably like the delicious philosophising that took place in
the 1960s, but then it's time we gave this another good airing ... what was
that title ... "The Library in Society" ... or something like that?.

Mike

Mike Maguire
Group Librarian S & E Devon
Devon Lifelong Learning
01392 384223
mailto:[log in to unmask]
http://www.devon.gov.uk/library/
Unless otherwise stated the views expressed are
personal and not necessarily those of Devon County Council

**************
PS

Started throwing some thoughts together and also soon realised this is
unending ... if you read on from here - NOT recommended! - these are just a
ragbag of thoughts & ramblings thrown together to sketch out a few
directions to tease out & pursue further. Must try to concentrate on the
more foreseeable future ... next 5-10 years or so, beyond that is almost
anybodies guess, depending what really happens, e.g., with ICT & with
funding!


Fascinating how the debate shifts backwards & forwards between the main
library, the community library (& why let anyone assume it's a case of
either very large or very small? ... we've all shapes & sizes on board), the
virtual library and so on. Very understandably, we're struggling with our
notion of what people want & expect from libraries ... or rather what
"others" with funds & influence might perceive.

What if we tried it from various types of users perspective, the wider
changes in society and then tracked meeting their needs against the likely
shifts in library service provision and other changes that are emerging?
We've come along way already in the last 25 years and can add a good deal of
ICT provision experience in the last 5 or so. There is also the inclination
to categorise "users" (like books maybe?) when really, the very same person
evolves through life (and we have roles to play in support of that) and
develops great strengths in some directions and weaknesses in others. For
example, currently, it's quite extraordinary how even very well educated
individuals can be so "illiterate" & helpless  & lost when it comes to
personal issues and navigating, for example access to information and advice
they deparately need. I guess we can't all know about everything etc., etc.
... and what about the service issues & roles attached to that?  Do we need
to have toolkits/frameworks to audit life stories to identify how people are
ennabled to meet their developing needs in their settings both in terms of
location and what they're about/what stage of life etc. and to identify gaps
in provision and overlaps etc. A sort of meeting needs analysis that helps
us to identify where & how we should be placed in support and what actions
to take.


The longer term wider questions might include ...

- Community Dynamics in rapidly changing times - do "people need people" at
community levels ... it might be worth a foray into Scandinavian thinking on
this ... some would say provided the library setting is reasonably
attractive in terms of physical & interpersonal characteristics (nice
place/nice staff etc.) and quality & breadth of service provision, it's
going to continue to be a very attractive community facility even if there
are shifts & variations in the type & range of use. Those who have read some
of the detail in user surveys cannot but be heartened by how warm a welcome
we provide for our users in a neutral setting available to all ... not just
either the less fortunate, or the better off (though quite where you live
affects the balance of this considerably) . Local Authority members usually
speak favourably of library service frontline staff based on the feedback
they themselves get from the communities they serve.  But the distaff
argument is indeed how far will virtual facilities meet individual needs and
so, for most/many, do away with the need for & relevance of our publibs. -
at least in the literal/physical sense.

-Change dynamics and change agents ...spot the "pull me-push you" dynamics
in all this. "External" (e.g. e-government ... for publibs very much as much
about emerging information service challenges (e-envoy), e-learning ...
quite tricky to get into & sustain & say mobile access developments - how
many publibs are already planning, or indeed have implemented WAP access to
their catalogues & request & renewal services? "Semi-internal/sectoral "
responses (e.g.People's Network & the emerging "Inspiring Learning" &
"Empowering the Learner").  While developments will vary from service to
service over time, are we going to be ennabled to & will we seize
opportunities to develope & innovate in service provision so as to meet
changing & emerging needs, or will others step in - thankyou! - and we fade
away.

- What sort of service mix is likely to be valued in the"future"? But first,
what shifts in service provision, not just in publibs but altogether is
already affecting choices?  So, e.g.INFORMATION SERVICES ... mmmm ... yes,
look at the drop in staff assisted "real" information enquiries in the
larger libraries - more & more people are finding their virtual feet
regarding information provision, not just via www sources, but through
interest groups & in some cases support groups populated by a wide range of
individuals with common interests. And we ourselves as a service area are
putting up on the www our virtual offerings to users (catalogues/web
guides/enquiry services etc., etc. You can get an increasing feel for new
novels through reviews/descriptions in e-seller virtual catalogues, not hard
to stitch this across into you local library services virtual request
service). And we're joining up in local & wider partnership with other
providers to provide services ... e.g. LIAG for careers & advice on learning
opportinities, and, e.g., UfI Learndirect on some structured learning
provision.  So, community outlet role to allow/facilitate/support/provide
local participation in service provision driven as national/regional
initiatives.

- Library services & resources ... as well as exploring future developments
and shifts, are we sure that we're not going to pursue a dangerously
service-centric perspective ... or even worse, a so-called
"efficiency-driven" perspective on what/which of our services are & will be
valued? Take for example the debate about stock ... If you take this to it's
illogical conclusion, just run a bunch of smallish-medium sized outlets, and
stuff the wider range of material into a warehouse somewhere. That
straightforward? a large/central library usually contains both popular
material and more specialised/unusual/less popular
items. The latter is available for immediate loan and feeds into the
service/request network. Provided the Large Library is fundamentally "sound"
(i.e. reasonable location/ambience/stock & services/staffing) then the less
popular & wider range of material gets far greater exposure & use if it were
to sit in a warehouse "out of town". Obviously, this doesn't do away with
the need for stack facilities, but provides a significantly different
balance. It also provides library staff with opportunity for interaction
with users within this wider & more specialised set of
resources/services/staffing and so with feedback and continuously evolving
knowledge & experience to meet a greater diversity of needs. It also
provides library users with direct access to a much wider range of resources
etc. There has been some work done on the role of Central Libraries ... LA
Record a year or two or three back ... worth re-identifying & assessing for
distinctiveness and etc.


- The skills that people as users bring with them - there are different
strands to this in that youngsters currently passing through education
stages should/willl "emerge" with a wider variety of ICT based skills that
at present, many older folk have. How long will we need to support
individuals ICT capability - currently a significant "fairly recent & still
emerging role - probably for quite a few years yet ... communities are
increasingly supported in these skills developments through an ever
increasing number of learning opportunities through community learning via
"evening/day classes" & drop-in facilities ... and publibs have their part
to play in this (UKonline etc.).

- The skills that we have as staff and are constantly developing/refining
that others will value & "benefit from" ... not to be dismissed lightly ...
so - supporting a wide variety of individuals at a point in time with
whatever they throw at you, information handling, stock knowledge,
networking to find information & access to other material & human resources
to meet user needs, learning support etc. At the same time, as external
quality standards move ever closer to us being required to adopt them, can
we really expect smaller service points' staff to take these board (e.g. IAG
& trutorial qualifications for learning provision) and will that limit role
& service development in itself?

- Library settings ... first of all location - "the library" - smaller ones
are found in so many different settings, and these alone influence the role
considerably, because to some degree they influence the user base ... e.g.
urban in contrast to more rural settings in terms of sheer distance &
community identity  & proximity ... next to shops/post offices/health
centres, part of dual use school/public arrangements, part of multi-service
centres etc. Then there's the scale of the library which inevitably
influences the diversity of service, resources to hand and more specialist
staff skills which are available both at the service point where the sataff
are located, and throughout the library network, and often to partnerships
and services we liaise with for mutual support in pursuit of meeting user
needs. Hmmnn ... we might have to think quite hard about the range of
characteristics/services a community library should aspire to ... and we
might find that there is a de-minimis argument where below a certain
threshold hard economics justifies challenging vfm for a fixed service point
(anyone brave enough to start a debate on when (very) small service point,
when mobile stop etc.?)

- Impact of services - "the library services" - often enormously influenced
by the proactive/reactive stance taken in service provision. The proactive
"library" is enormously intertwined with other activities in the community,
sharing other's multiple agendas ... and it doesn't have to be mutually
exclusive in user terms(the so-called "well off" not& not needing
participation, the "excluded" being chased by one & all to "ensure"
participation). For example SERVICES TO CHILDREN, making the assumption that
the printed book still has a shelf-life for some time to come, the
parent/child dynamic is an enormous engine for participation in
library-based children's activities/services & supporting one's child's
development and participation ... but you start very much with early years &
as part of a wider community early years strategy! And what are you doing
there as a library service? The answer isn't going to come from just us, but
clearly involves "children developing & learning, not only from the books
they come into contacxt with, but through the very act of going into the
library & using it & taking part in activities & getting used to asking
questions etc., etc. And the parents ... the support they get in parenting
skills from a very early stage (babies need books/bookstart etc.) Then
there's the whole issue of being empowered (& resourced!!!) to reach out
into the community and participate in shared developments and agendas early
years/sure start/literacy/parenting skills development/family learning etc.
So from that quick sample foray into early years provision

-"the library service" - as a network concept ... we need to explore this
vigorously to make it work & to get it understood. This means visiting what
it actually does, how effectively (not just efficiently) and exploring
potential for development & additionality. e.g. emergeance of ICT based
information facilities at smaller libraries has the potential to
transform/invigorate their information role ... but, staff in smaller
libraries have to cope with a wide range of duties & roles, will they be
inclined to seize this as an opportunity to go to the ends of the world
themselves to meet their users information needs, or will they use the
emerging ICT network to tap into knowledge and skills of staff in the
Large/Central Library? The impact on their capacity to keep up with overall
workload and deal with information enquiries effectively will vary
considerably depending on what line they take, what overall factors are
involved, any guidance they receive and indeed on whether or not the service
evolves its own internally networked equivalent of "Ask a Librarian"

- Under development! ... SERVICE MIX needs interpreting into SERVICE ROLES
and vice-versa and the contributions we make to shared & wider objectives &
meeting individual & community needs needs some sort of external perspective
& valuing. Almost every publibs Annual Library Plan is already full of a
variety of interpretations of roles and plans/developments/objectives well
beyond the simplistic but mass markets of borrowing books and providing
information on demand , either on the shelves/PC or via staff assistance.

Times up!

***********************

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Penny Garrod [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
> Sent: 31 October 2001 09:29
> To:   [log in to unmask]
> Subject:      the future of the main library
>
> Dear Colleagues
>
> I haven't enjoyed a mail list debate so much for a long time. I think this
> *lemon* is well worth poking with a fairly big stick.  .......
>

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