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November 20, 2010


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Posted in response to The Good Library Blog post mentioned above:

"If you go down one route you close the buildings and throw away the books -- which is what is happening now. If you go down the other route you smarten up the buildings and add to the book collections, which is what I advocate."

This is a false dichotemy and a misrepresentation of Phil's position.

I believe Phil is arguing - and he may correct me - for the primacy of information in the library service: the container of that information is irrelevant. If it is in books, stock books. If it is on digital media, stock digital media.

The strict and absolute division of information into all-digital or all-print is a misrepresentation and it may be most sensible for libraries to provide the most appropriate information medium available whatever that may be.

"In simple terms one approach says that books in buildings are not important and the other says they are essential."

This kind of rigid division of positions is misrepresentative and unhelpful.

Alan Wylie

Do you base any of your arguments/opinions on public consultation or market research and therefor on the real needs and wants of library users? And are you talking about Public Reference Librarians or public libraries generally, because in my experience there is a huge difference when it comes to information provision and how it is delivered and prioritised? Also as someone who works in a public library, a reference library to be specific, I believe wholeheartedly that books are at the core of the service and of the ethos.

Phil Bradley

Alan - a library has to be much more than an entertainment centre. Books, while currently popular do not, in my opinion, have a long term healthy future, and it's foolish to assume that they do. The figures from Amazon are an interesting illustration of that. If it is perceived by the 'Powers that Be' that a library is about entertainment then they're going to do their best to cut them. A library has to be much MORE than that. So yes, to state the obvious, a library has to provide books in order to support its user community. I wouldn't attempt to deny that for a second - heck, I visit my public library regularly and borrow books.

However, although some communities will march and fight for their library, I believe that libraries need to do much MORE than 'just' provide books. We have to become an integral part of the community - the whole community. Mr Coates doesn't think that ebooks are a good use of a budget. I think differently, as they provide access to reading material to the ill, infirm, housebound, rural users, shift workers, carers and so on. They are ALSO part of the community, and deserve to be considered.

Libraries are increasingly going to be THE place that people who are unemployed come. They're going to want to find information to help them get a job. They're going to want to go online to search for jobs - they're going to want to try and increase their knowledge to get qualifications to help them get a job. Books, while valuable, are going to be of limited use to them. They will need access to computers, skilled information workers to assist them and so on.

The government want to put as many of their forms online as they can do in order to save money. They suggest that people who don't have access to computers go to Post Offices. I think a lot of them will come to the library. Books will not help them fill in online forms. Skilled, digitally literate librarians can however help.

Public libraries are under huge threats, we all know that. If 'the powers that be' thought they were essential services there would still be a threat, but perhaps not as large. As it is, they're prime for cutting. Continuing to do what they've always done WILL NOT HELP. What's the point in spending a budget on buildings when you don't have the books available, since you've spent the budget on the buildings? We need to do much more by outreach, providing facilities that communities want and need, but ALSO we need to be in a position to support them in the ways that I've previously described.

What of that do you disagree with please?

alan wylie

I don't necessarily disagree with any of it now you have put it in these terms, but when did i talk about a library as an entertainment centre? I work in a public reference library doing the things that you have mentioned and much much more on a day to day to basis but hardcopy is still by far the most preferred option of the majority of 'traditional' users. I can go on at length about online databases etc but most users i deal with want books etc, and who am i to deny them this?

Phil Bradley

Alan - my opening comment was an affirmative nod in your direction, agreeing with you that reference is extremely important. All too often these days people are equating a library with books they can read for pleasure, and we both know it's more than that.

If I employ a plumber, I don't expect to tell that plumber how to do his job. I expect him to use the most appropriate resources. I would however look rather askance at one that attempted to use lead piping, but other than that - they're the expert. They're trained, they do it all of the time and I would hope that they will consider my best interests at heart. I will also expect them to answer any queries that I did happen to have with an explanation of why they'd chosen those parts, or that particular approach.

I would expect a librarian to do the same for me. I do NOT expect a librarian to find resources based on what I think I want. I expect a librarian to use the best sources to obtain the data that I need. Now, sometimes I would agree that this will be in a printed form. I would however increasingly expect a librarian to use an appropriate online resource, if I need current information for example. If I was puzzled I'd expect the librarian to explain why they were using the resource that they were. It has nothing to do with 'denying' a user anything - it's to do with being as professional as possible, but if, as it seems, your default option is 'books' rather than 'best source' I'd be absolutely astonished, and I really do hope that I've completely misunderstood what you've said.

alan wylie

You have misunderstood what i have said, my default is to find the most relevant, authorative and up to date information possible but I still come across a large proportion of people who are not interested in online sources but want hardcopy. Take for example the other day i dealt with a business enquiry were the user wanted to find a list of companies that produced a certain product, I tried to sell to them the idea of using one of the online business databases that we have but no they wanted the hardcopy of Kompass, I bow to public pressure!

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