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Posts Tagged ‘Libraries’

Recently published:

Shenton AK, Marshman G. The school library of today: Guises and “universal” roles. School Libraries Worldwide 2012; 18 (2): 73–81.

In recent years, the disappearance of traditional libraries from Britain’s schools has attracted strong criticism. This paper explores how the computer-oriented information environments that have replaced them do, however, share similarities with old-style book areas. Specifically, each: (a) connects users with information, (b) offers resources that are available to everyone, (c) incorporates structures that demonstrate how large collections of information may be organized, (d) forms a space for developing and practicing information skills, (e) provides a welcoming environment for all, (f) unites pupils of different ages, and (g) may afford access to staff who support the learning process. The paper concludes by suggesting that, irrespective of the nature of the “library”, the existence of an intermediary who can discharge a range of teaching and learning functions is crucial.

See the School Libraries Worldwide website for more information.

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Recently published:

Marshman G. Book review: Ally M, Needham G, eds. M-libraries 3: transforming libraries with mobile technology. CILIP Health Libraries Group Newsletter 2012; 29 (2): 25.

This book offers a practical overview of some of the issues/changes taking place in the mobile information environment, and presents some real-life examples of projects that you can take away to explore in your own setting. Read the full review by clicking on the link above.

The Health Libraries Group (HLG) is a special interest group of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals). HLG is a UK-based network of individuals working in or professionally interested in health and social care information.

See the main CILIP website, or the HLG website, for more information.

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It’s been an interesting day for tweets and blog posts about libraries, mostly sparked by Seth Godin’s post on ‘The future of the library‘. I found it really interesting as, for me, it encapsulated the whole problem with why libraries and librarians have such a hard time getting their message and mission out there.

You see, I think the issue is entirely to do with whether people see the library as (in Godin’s words) a ‘warehouse for books’ or a ‘house for the librarian’.

There are those, mostly in the public library arena (which, to be fair, is the arena Godin focuses on in this post), who want to promote the library as community space, bringing the joy of reading to the masses, providing beautiful, tactile, ink-n-dust-n-paper-smelling actual physical books to its users, an antidote to the quick-as-you-like dotcom world of hyperlinks, URLs and (gasp!) tweets.

And this is a really valuable point. I remember going to library school in the early ’90s and attending a lecture entitled ‘Is the book dead?’ Really – it’s not, and looks not to be for some time, and yes we do need to remind people that not everything is available at the touch of a button. There are joys to browsing a physical copy of, say, the complete works of Shakespeare that simply can’t be matched by clicking on a link and searching for that elusive, misquoted quote.

However, there is another side to libraries – and that’s the focus on ‘information’ as opposed to ‘books’. This argument runs: it’s not the medium, it’s the message! And, in my view, this has to be the key.

Not everyone values the look, feel and smell of a leather-bound folio or a Penguin paperback. Many people these days are overwhelmed by the absolute mire of information that engulfs them on a daily basis, and need help negotiating a route through the swamp. And that’s where the ultimate point of Godin’s blog post comes in.

Librarians’ unique value comes not from ‘guarding dead paper’ but from encouraging, guiding and helping people to see what’s contained within those pages. Whether it’s a first edition of The Canterbury Tales or the latest news feed from the Department of Health about the prospects for your granny’s social care, librarians are the ones who can help you find what is meaningful in this. They can help you filter what’s relevant to you personally and teach you the skills to locate, evaluate and absorb it yourself in future without help. They can advise you on what other choices are out there (Harry Potter fan? Try Tolkien! Setting up your own business? Try Companies House!) and lead you towards self-sufficiency, whether that’s in the realm of traditional print fiction, or the latest social web technologies, or something that hasn’t even been imagined yet.

The problem that librarians have is that defending the public library often means focusing on books – which are, absolutely and without doubt, one of the essential parts of a librarian’s remit. However, when the battle moves from public libraries to corporate libraries / academic libraries / hospital libraries / etc, where the emphasis is on accessing information in whatever format it’s currently available – and these days, more and more, that means electronically – how well are we serving our library comrades if the only message we’ve given out is that it’s all about books? What about electronic subscriptions to vital databases? Providing remote current awareness services over the web to people who work off-site? Accessing that vital up-to-the-minute medical research to treat that unusual patient? A five-year-old textbook isn’t always going to cut it.

I’m not knocking the role of libraries as physical book warehouses – I love books and would happily fill my home with them to the exclusion of many other things. But please, for the sake of our colleagues in less traditional settings, let’s at least acknowledge that there’s more to libraries than print, and that the primary role of librarians is to guide people to the information they need to manage their lives as well as their loves.

Godin describes the librarian as “a data hound, a guide, a sherpa and a teacher” – and that’s a description I’m happy to identify with.

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I’ve recently added a page about the Constant Librarian, so you can find out a little more about who I am and why I’m here. I’m remaining anonymous for the moment (although those who know me will be able to identify me!), but this may change in the future when I become a little more confident about my voice.

I’m unlikely to get going on blogging much before the end of February, due to being involved in an ‘am dram’ production. However, I’m pleased to report that this production has a fabulous line about the value of public libraries!

The play is ‘The Day After The Fair’ by Frank Harvey, after Thomas Hardy’s short story ‘On The Western Circuit’. I play Edith, who, when asked to explain how she knows so much about the options available to single mothers for securing child maintenance from absent fathers, says:

“I should do. I spent a whole hour in the public library reading it up!”

Public libraries – supporting single mothers back in the Victorian era. Individuals’ rights may have changed over the years (to a lesser or greater degree), but libraries are no less needed and valued.

If you’re on Twitter, look out for the hashtag #savelibraries for posts about protecting libraries from the current round of cuts.

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