save libraries

One step forward, two steps back in library-land

There was a couple of really nice things I read yesterday. Firstly, Katie Birkwood got out of the Echo Chamber and presented at Ignite London 4, a non-library event, and talked about libraries. This is absolutely brilliant - a central tenant of the echolib philosophy is to go where librarians aren't, and preach to the unconverted. By the sounds of things she succeeded in converting some of them, too - you can read about it on her blog, here.

I wanted to embed her slides here because I think they are absolutely fantastic:

View more presentations from Katie Birkwood.

Another positive thing (for me) was seeing Emma Davidson's blog post about the LISNPN competition - she contrasted the energies being directed at down-playing the positivity around the SaveLibraries campagin, on the LIS-Profession mailing list, with the energies being directed at trying to improve things a tiny bit, via our competition. That was a nice way of looking at it. Emma said:

"I think it’s extremely interesting that one cohort is choosing to spend their energies deploring the current situation, whilst the other is doing their best to get people to do something about it.

Of course, some of the points made on the discussion list are extremely valid, and equally one might argue that a bunch of random acts of advocacy won’t necessarily make much difference to the overall picture, but I know which general approach makes me proud to be part of this profession, and which route fills me with gloom."

Generally speaking I think those JISC-mail lists seem to bring out the worst in people a lot of the time, I don't know why. Lots of gloom mixed in with the odd flash of anger. They can be very productive at times, though, so I stay subscribed and look for diamonds in the rough.

My own views on SaveLibrariesDay, both the positive and the cautioning, are encapsulated better than I could say it myself by this excellent piece on Use Libraries and Learn Stuff.

Anyhow, these nice things were offset by a pronouncement from David Cameron in the Commons. He's on a bit of a roll for making idiotic public statements of late, and this one was really depressing from an information professional's point of view.

"We all know a truth about libraries, which is that those which will succeed are those that wake up to the world of new technology, the internet and everything else, and investment goes in."

How utterly depressing. Needless to say in the echo chamber of this blog, we all know that we have of course woken up to the world of new technology (and THE INTERNET - thanks Dave, public libraries have offered internet access since the nineties for God's sake) a long time ago, and it is ignorant for him to pronounce otherwise. Has he been to a library recently, or is he just making it up? Has he been to his own library in the House of Commons which, despite being closer to the Victorian ideal of a library (the one that everyone thinks all libraries are like) than the vast majority of libraries in the world, still contains computers? I like the idea that if we DO 'wake up' to this stuff that we've been awake to for two decades, 'investment goes in' - well that's settled then, invest in us you fool.

Everyone tells you that living under a Tory Government will be rubbish, of course, but you really have to experience it for yourself to get the full forlorn, listless, faith-in-humanity eroding, fear-mongering, banker-pandering, xenophobic, misogynist, racist, homophobic, equality-ignoring hatefulness of it all. Good times.

Anyway, hearing David Cameron talk about libraries reminded me of an email exchange I'd had with Chris Rhodes, and he gave me permission to quote something he said which is very important, and very true, about the whole Save Libraries thing:

“The problem with the save libraries campaign [is] even highly educated people have no idea what libraries do.

‘Save the local bus route’ is an easier campaign, prima facie, because public perception of what the local bus route does and what it actually does are not that different. With ‘save the local library’ there is a massive disparity between what the library does and what people think it does.

The campaign has to both explain the role of libraries and explain why they should not be cut.”

I think he's absolutely right, and it does make the whole thing massively, massively harder.

*bangs head against desk*

Sorry, normal cheerier service will be resumed with the next blog post. :)

- thewikiman

Where are all the crazy ideas for libraries?

Picture of some stairs with 'insane' written on I really like listening to Freakonomics Radio - it's basically discussion of interesting ideas and how they apply to concepts. It's quite seductive, because they're generally left-field or crazy ideas, executed successfully by visionary people with a lot of capital behind them. I like to imagine how some of them might apply to libraries, and what I might do with limitless time and money to help the library cause...

A recent episode in particular really caught my ear. It's worth listening to the whole thing, but here's the bit that struck me. Peter Diamandis, of the X Prize Foundation, said: "If you want to cause a true break-through - the day before something is really a break-through, it's a crazy idea. If it weren't a crazy idea it wouldn't be a break-through; it'd be an incremental improvement."

So where are the crazy ideas for how to rescue libraries from their current plight? If you know of any, leave me a link in the comments. Or even better, if you HAVE a crazy idea you'd be happy sharing, tell us all about it here.

He goes on to say that at a really high level you can't try crazy ideas because you end up being subject to a Congressional review or whatever, so it's up to the small businesses and entrepreneurs to supply the real creativity because they're the only ones who can. There are parallels with libraries here too - we can't really expect the ALA, CILIP or the British Library to do something completely nuts just to try and 'save' libraries, they have too much responsibility. So maybe the ideas have to come from the little people, like us. Maybe if we have crazy ideas now, we'll have the guts to try and implement some of them when we finally get our grubby mitts on some serious responsibility... who knows?

The host of the show, Stephen Dubner, goes on to say:

In the real world, there are real risks. You want winners? There'll be losers too. You want a new solution, a new technology, a new education system? There's going to be a whole lot of people - noisy, well-funded, entrenched people - whose only goal is to defend the status quo. So bring on the crazy ideas!

Makes you think, I reckon.

- thewikiman

p.s If you're reading this in Google Reader or otherwise not on the original blog, click through and view the original! There are absolutely FABULOUS crazy ideas for libraries in the comments section, and that's where the real value of this post lies.