Thursday, 28 May 2009

On book issues in these tough economic times

I'm a curious soul. I like to find things out. I hope that's one of the things that makes me good at my job: I'm genuinely enthusiastic about finding information for people, whether that's the availability of the book they've come looking for or the British Standards relevant to tea*.

So being curious, I asked our LMS-wranglers to pull some stats on books classed at 322.024. This little number covers your personal financial advice books: Alvin Hall (remember him?), Martin Lewis, general hints and tips on making the most of your cash.

I had a hunch that these books might have been more popular since we entered the economic downturn/credit crunch/recession/moneygeddon. Logic - or a certain brand of logic - suggests that there ought to be significant interest, given the blanket news media coverage of the situation, and the fact that our books (and reservations) are free.

In Q1 2008, we issued 126 of these books; in Q1 this year, we lent 171. That's a 35.7% increase. Q2, Q3 and Q4 2008 showed pretty consistent business in this area, with around 120 issues per quarter followed by a dramatic upturn from the start of this year.

I'm aware how unscientific this is, and I'm not claiming it's representative of a new direction for public libraries: rather, I think it's probably indicative of how existing public library stock can meet new demands with little effort. It's also worth pointing out that I took it upon myself, one relatively quiet afternoon, to set up a credit crunch book display at the Central Library. It stayed there for a couple of months and had to be topped up regularly.

Nothing happens in isolation, but there are sometimes opportunities for us to rise to. What's your library doing to help people meet new challenges?

* This is not a genuine enquiry (or at least not one I've ever had), but BS 6325 is my absolute favourite standard ever.

Friday, 3 April 2009

On this Wirral business

DCMS is intervening: this is potentially very important, but I don't need to tell you that.

The process and the outcome will both be interesting to watch. The 1964 Act is an odd thing, trumpeting the importance of "comprehensive and efficient" library services without actually defining them. That's good and bad: it gives us scope to deliver a service beyond what our forebears in '64 could have thought up, but at the same time it means we don't have a very substantial stick for beating our paymasters when cuts are threatened.

So, two pieces of advice: watch what DCMS (or the department's representative on Earth) does; and watch the way the library community - in its broadest sense - reacts.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

On not having drunk the Kool-Aid

I've been a children's and young people's librarian for about six months now. It's been a heck of a difference: having done mostly online stuff for the five years I've been in the library biz thus far, the change has taken some getting used to.

The main difference as far as I can see is the sheer number of folk who appear to have some say - self-appointed or otherwise - in how children's library services are run. Doing online reference work means worrying about Enquire, the MLA online ref bundles, and whatever other e-goodies your management and funds allow you to buy and use. There's freedom in this role to think about what we're doing and how to do it better, and to investigate thoroughly the ways and means of using, publicising and encouraging your colleagues to become familiar with these products. My first "OMFG I want to be a librarian" moment came during an instructional session on online databases in my first week at university, so this is an area very close to my heart.

In my current job - a secondment while the real children's librarian is doing a Clore fellowship - I'm required to follow the law as laid down by third parties. There's a proliferation of folk whose companies, charitable organisations and what have you all claim ownership of the reader development space, which seems to have subsumed children's librarianship. We're actively discouraged from thinking stuff through, and instead we rush headlong from one organisation's big idea to the next.

There are advantages to this, of course. It's getting us closer to a single, universal approach to library service delivery (note the difference between this and a single national service, which I don't think is really likely or viable) and ought to ensure more consistency in service delivery across the sector.

But I don't buy it. It's stifling, and it's kind of insulting too. Are my ideas not good enough? Librarianship is supposed to be a profession, and I think that part of that is about individual professionals - used here in the most fuzzy, open and Guardian-reading sense, rather than the elitist, MA-only one - making decisions based on things like their own judgement and their interactions with the communities they work for.

So part of this groupthink I'm required to participate in is the statement that "young people" (a term I detest: was I a "young person" in my teens? No, I was the same Michael you know now, only short and skinny) will come to the library for stuff that's not books. We'll then put them next to the books, and they'll develop an interest in reading by osmosis.

This seems to me an explicit admission that we've failed: that teenagers won't ever be interested in what we actually do, and the only way to get them to come into the library is effectively to trick them.

Maybe I'm getting old - 30 is less than seven months away now - but I think we're wasting a lot of time, money and effort on chasing a demographic that keeps running. Maybe we should let them run? If we did that, couldn't we focus our resources with greater efficacy on providing a decent level of service and, erm, some more books? Couldn't we work with the people in
that age group who actually enjoy reading and help them enjoy it even more? Maybe if we manage this, we could highlight the readers, make them visible in the library through traditional things like book groups, and start to build interest in our core service that way?

You know I'm not some hidebound traditionalist. I love a gadget as much as the next Wired reader. But I can't help feeling that this focus on tangential shiny stuff is hurting us, inhibiting our ability to do what we're actually supposed to do. If we're going to attempt to engage with any specific target demographic, I think we need to do it by planning at a local level and tailoring services to meet the needs of our communities properly and meaningfully. Buying into a package dreamt up by someone else might do that job, but we as professionals need to exercise our skills, earn our keep, and create ideas of our own.

Oh my gosh. I suck.

My last post was in November. I am a terrible blogger.

But I need to get started again: blogging helps me clarify my thoughts on the stuff that's important to me. I've been reading some very good library blogs lately, and I want to get back into the fray.

So I shall. There will be more posts. They will be frequent. And they will be awesome.*

*Awesomeness is not guaranteed.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Trying to sneak back into the biblioblogosphere

In lieu of a proper post, here's my current to-do list. Names have been obscured to protect the innocent:

* Speak to [Schools Library Service]
* Neo sub?
* Speak to [Library Manager]
* Dig out Bookseller supplement? Check online archive?

[Well-known children's author, who is visiting us in January]:
* Copy for [Marketing person]
* Schools via [other YA librarian]/[Schools Library Service]
* Get very excited
* Float idea of working w [bookshop]?
* Mugshot from publisher for our publicity

[International organisation I'd love to work for] visit:
* Book the catering
* Firm up programme, email to [person organising visit]/[person employed by international organisation]
* Talk to [the community library which our visitors will be visiting] (but who?)

* Meeting date
* Manga stuff

* Talk to [reader development librarian] re teen group's lack of interest
* One-off adult group poss leading to regular genre fiction group?

Note the following:

  1. None of these is "post regularly to blog", although I'd really like to.
  2. Similarly, there's no "spent most of your time at the reference desk or being timetabled on counters at the library", which is what I find myself doing most days.

I'm writing something for the Public Library Journal on People's Network Enquire. One of my regular hobby horses is how online reference is just like face-to-face ref, only without the nonverbal cues you get from someone standing in front of you. The reference transaction is pretty much the same, regardless of the medium. Imagine that, but for a couple of thousand words (or however many Liz lets me have). Only better, and cleverer.

My TDL is a .txt document which lives on my desktop and is opened when I start my computer. It's supposed to spur me into action. It sometimes works.