Sunday, 27 November 2011

The privacy of the library patron, and mental illness

Warning: contains examples of deeply unpleasant comments and opinions by members of the public.

Little Black Dog in the Snow

Woke up this morning to the news that Gary Speed, the manager of the national football team of Wales, took his own life earlier today.

Gary had a successful career as a footballer, and was doing well as the manager of an international side; Wales had won three out of their last four matches. He was interviewed on TV yesterday. He was 42, married, with children. From outward appearances things looked good, leading to many online comments along the lines of:

But that's part of the problem, if it was one of the spectrum of depressions, or some of the other mental health conditions where a visibly "okay" person is not actually "okay".

And I say if as it isn't clear whether he had depression, or some other condition. Because it is what was going on in his head, nobody may ever know. But the "balance" of his mind at that point was such that he decided to take his own life. Sadly, inevitably, some of the newspapers are already looking around for, and speculating on, a convenient "reason", despite there possibly not being one.

A few days ago, Stan Collymore had tweeted about his battle with depression, in details. Most, but not all, of the reaction to what he said was positive or supportive. Some people, however, negated his depression with previous seriously bad things that Stan had done, in an odd kind of "one cancels out the other" perverse logic.

There's a problem that, in Britain especially, there is a significant stigma attached to mental illness issues. One of Stan's former managers didn't understand how someone on a high salary "could still be depressed". Many, especially amongst the older generations, do not believe in depression (or are afraid of it and therefore are in denial), and adhere to the cliches of "stiff upper lip" and "pull yourself together". Amongst some of the young, and the immature, mental illness is viewed as a "weakness", making a person somehow inferior. I don't speak to several relatives, ex-colleagues and ex-friends due to their (surprisingly similar) attitude to people who are non-white, or have had some form of mental illness.

The fear thing is based on a fact that many people refuse to believe. Mental illness can strike anyone, at any time. Including themselves. Word for word: "Impossible." "It can't happen to me; I'm happy." "Only weak people get depressed." "It's just a modern fad; people just got on with things in the war." And sufferers hear worse from people who do not understand. A look in the newspaper comment sections on articles about Gary Speed, does not make for pleasant reading, with many taking the line that because he "had it all" he could not have been depressed, or a frame of mind to take his own life. Whereas history shows this not to be the case. When people with mental health conditions see comments like this - uncensored and on the website of a broadsheet newspaper: it any wonder that many people just keep quiet and do not seek assistance of any kind?

It's a strange contradiction; no-one would mock someone for being randomly struck with cancer, but degenerating someone because they've been randomly struck with depression is still "fair game" to some people.

It's also not rare, but common. Very common.

So, hardly a surprise that many people bury or hide what is wrong, even when they are in the company of other people. There's many inhibitors to acknowledging, searching out and receiving treatment, two being:
  1. The person has a psychological condition. At that particular point, they are NOT thinking 'straight' or 'logically'. "Why doesn't he just go to the doctor?" Because there is stuff going on in his or her head, that you cannot empathise or associate with or understand with your experience, that is preventing him or her from going to a doctor, or taking their medication.
  2. The fear of being disadvantaged, made to feel inferior, or in these economic times, not getting a job if their condition becomes public.
This is where public libraries provide an invaluable and potentially life-saving service. These are places where a person can go and browse the books and other information literature, and borrow what they need, or looks relevant, without having to discuss why with anyone. Much easier, less fearful, than talking to your friends, family, employer, or even your doctor.

The only interaction comes with the borrowing of the book, or asking for what books or information is available. A professional, experienced librarian will know that this is to be kept absolutely private, how to be discrete, and put the patron at ease so they won't be inhibited or frightened at asking for, or borrowing, material that could help them and might possibly swing them onto a path where they can make further steps to managing their condition.

And this is one of the many reasons for keeping both public libraries, and professional librarians within them. Here, for example, is the online catalogue for public libraries in Birmingham. Searching on it for books on depression, or mental health or illness, turns up hundreds of results. And here, for example, are some of the books on the shelves of my current local branch library:

Branch library books

... which, from the date stamps of five of those pictured, have been well read by library patrons:


The good thing about a book? Unlike speaking to someone, such as a doctor, you can read it when you want, at your own pace, and stop and start or re-read when you need to. Compared to reading information online? Pros and cons, but one thing to remember is that most libraries also have Internet-enabled computers, if you want to look up sources (ask a professional librarian, in confidence, for help over verifying the quality and accuracy of such sources). Unlike using a shared computer at home, you'll have more privacy as you won't be leaving "online footprints" of where you've been, for others in your home to come across.

Of course, there is no guarantee that a person with a mental health situation will wander into the public library, find exactly the book they need, take it out, read it, and be improved. That would be simplistic, and naive; medical treatment, psychotherapy, medication, and other methods are needed, where appropriate, for different people. And as useful as a professional librarian is or can be, even with their own experiences of mental illness in friends and relatives, seeing a professional clinician in mental illness is still needed sooner rather than later.

But if getting a few steps in the right direction occurs from a visit to the library, then it's a good thing. Especially if it helps them not take a few steps in the wrong direction instead.

Mental illness and conditions affect 1 in 5 people. Some of your relatives will have, or have had, these conditions. As well as some of your friends, and work colleagues. If you do not believe that, then you are either extremely naive, or in denial; you should consider reading up on this.

And even if you have not suffered a mental illness or condition yourself; one day, randomly, you might too.

A few links:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Save all teh librarians lol

I was working on a post about the many things wrong with volunteer "libraries", and how they would hopefully spectacularly collapse into farce and ridicule (maybe some court cases, minor injuries to staff and patrons, the odd fire and explosion or two, TV news footage of shellshocked bewildered volunteers covered in dust, smoke and asbestos saying "We didn't really have a clue what we were doing"), and basically serves them right for buying into the ridiculousness that making skilled professionals redundant and trying to replace them with whichever unskilled volunteer decides to show up each day is somehow still providing a "quality" library service.

Yes, making skilled professionals redundant; those people who were not paid much when actually employed anyway. Never forget that. Hence, no sympathy from this quarter when these Keystone Kop volunteer manned libraries hopefully go badly wrong.

But that Ian Anstice has (not for the first time) done a much better piece on this than I ever could. The swine! I'll come back to that, and why you need to read it, in a bit.

Save NYC Libraries Postcard Campaign -- Postcard 3

Instead, DOPEY (Department Of Paintings, Etchings and Yodelling) (think it's really called Culture and Media at the moment, but no doubt this will change yet again soon) has decided to look into the whole public library closure shooshtie. Here's the piece on the CILIP website, from which the following is taken (I bought the CEO of CILIP an evening dinner and the best wine in the restaurant before she fled to "catch a train" so I'm morally entitled to steal all their teabags and anything I want from the CILIP website until dinner is reciprocated)(btw Anniebuns, I haven't yet eaten in the Savoy...):
The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee have launched a new inquiry into public library closures in England. Chaired by John Whittingdale MP, the Committee are inviting written submissions and views on:
  • What constitutes a comprehensive and efficient library service for the 21st century.
  • The extent to which planned library closures are compatible with the requirements of the Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964) and the Charteris Report.
  • The impact library closures have on local communities.
  • The effectiveness of the Secretary of State’s powers of intervention under the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964.


Save Michigan Libraries Rally

(Thinks a while) (Notes that two of the four points concern that 1964 act)

Is it just my over-fertile imagination, or could this end up in a number of ways, some very good and some very bad? Including the committee recommending that:
  • The Public Libraries & Museums Act (1964) should be updated and strengthened for today's world.
  • Libraries should provide services, both digital and print, that connect the local population with the information and knowledge they need to function and self-improve.
  • Libraries, and professional librarians, provide a range of unique services that are essential to individuals and communities, and therefore need to be enhanced e.g. longer opening hours, more branches, rather than reduced in size, scope and availability.
  • There needs to a moratorium on library closures until yet another committee has debated their usefulness [good] or consultants such as Perkins have evaluated their business models [uh-oh] or KPMG have evaluated how best they should be funded [libraries are doomed].
  • The Act should be scrapped as it hinders the freedom of councils to spend tax payers most efficiently and make full use of the potential of communities to participate in the Big Society and [insert rabid Conservative ideology of your choice here].

Save Our Library

In no way will I hint at which party I voted for at the last election. The committee has five Conservative, four Labour and one YOUR BACK STABBING TWO FACED LEADER SAID THERE WOULD BE NO TUITION FEES I mean Liberal Democrat MPs on it. It is chaired by a Conservative MP.

Okay; anyone can submit to the enquiry. Hurrah! Though the small print is vexing: "Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission ... Evidence submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee ... Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee ... Once submitted, no public use should be made of any submission prepared specifically for the Committee unless you have first obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee."

That's annoying. And also it's problematic for certain organisations who cannot, therefore, make public the information they submit. Also, the committee does not have to release every submission, and it's likely that individuals and organisations who want libraries to either close, or be taken over by commercial entities or volunteers (and, don't kid yourself, there are a lot of people with this mindset), will be more inclined to write in and request anonymity.

Save Your Library --Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library

So what to do? Yeah, submit to the committee. They want stuff by email, so even the armchair activists can have a go; no need to man the barricades or sit in a court room or throw buns at politicians for this one. And there's a point: If you have the time, and the facilities, to read this blog post, then you have all that is needed to submit a piece to the committee. Number of excuses legitimate reasons not to do so: zero.

This is your moment and opportunity.

There may not be another.

Don't leave it, deliberately or not, until it's too late:
"A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to and have ‘Library closures’ in the subject line. Submissions should be received by Thursday 12th January 2012."

A few points to consider:
  • They want evidence.
  • Evidence is not "Oh, libraries aren't what they used to be, when you could smell the loveliness of books and hold them, and now they are all noisy with young immigrants all updating their Facetool profiles on those dreadful computers..." (several more pages) " my day. Something must be done!"
  • Evidence is how it tangiably impacts you, residents, the community. If the library goes, what services, facilities, sources of knowledge and information, are removed.
  • Not everyone can afford, or use, the Internet or an e-reader. And the Internet and e-readers only allow access to fragments of the much larger mass of information out there. This point needs to be one rammed into the minds of the committee members, as it's the most frequent excuse, or lie, for "justifying" closing public libraries.

But, the committee is going to receive a massive amount of evidence, and there's no way in heck that all ten members will read all of it. Or any member will read all of it. Once the various MPs have finished their statutory duties and filled in their expense claim forms for having their moats refilled, stables extended or private jets repainted, how much time will they have left to read the evidence? Not much. Instead, they'll be flicking through the distilled version prepared by civil servants.

Save Our NJ Libraries Rally 30

So ... there may be mileage in approaching the ten members of the committee directly too, so the odd point or two sticks in their minds. Perhaps surprisingly, eight of the ten are on Twitter, linked in this list:

Having said that, Tweeting has probably a limited effect in this case. It's 140 characters maximum, and every politician, every celebrity, every reality TV star-of-today is deluged with requests for this, that, and every campaign. What you could consider doing is writing to some or all of the ten, as - even though MPs have a large post bag every day - that may have a greater chance of being put under his or her nose.

Save Our Libraries

And a letter can be longer than 140 characters. And you can recycle (keeping within the rules) stuff sent directly to the committee. And sending a letter to an MP is easier than voting for one of them, and probably not as eventually soul crushing, as they have a very short postal address:

(Name of MP) MP
House of Commons

Stuck for words? (that would be the first for a librarian) {/sarcasm} Here's 150 reasons by 150 people that you can draw on. And, there's two sources of material that come to mind. The first is Lauren's list on the many, many things that professional librarians do that volunteers cannot or will not. That's a list that every library advocate needs to have at the top of their bookmark list.

Save our Libraries - Vote August 7th

The second is the post by Ian Anstice that I mentioned at the start of this post, on volunteer and community run libraries. Actually, read his post on the committee as well for more ideas, but his one on the sham that is volunteer libraries makes the point well, while still being a balanced and comprehensive piece.

Also, his post on privatized libraries as well. Actually, you're better off just reading his whole blog, to be honest. It's probably the best in the UK for matters public library, and has more evidence, resources and links than you can shake a 23rd edition of the DCC at.

And lo, the next battle front in this war to retain public library services for the public opens...


Why do we advocate for libraries?

(Slightly misleading title perhaps. "We don't know the future" is perhaps better.)

September is Library Card Sign-up Month

advocacy n. The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.

Why do people advocate for libraries? Ask a bunch of advocates, or a bunch of library supporters, and you'll get a myriad of answers back. They usually include:

  • Information should be freely available to all.
  • People can't access everything online.
  • People are not good at finding the information they need; librarians are needed.
  • Libraries make us a better, more civilised society.
  • It feels personally wrong, offensive, to close this method of accessing knowledge.
  • Nowhere else offers all these things.

...and a heck of a lot of other, different reasons, because everyone has a different idea of what a library is, or should be, and everyone has had different experiences of library use. They may be similar reasons, but they aren't identical ones.

But not every advocate is an optimistic advocate. There are several conditions, such as #AdvocacyFatigue and #AdvocacyApathy, which seem to be in evidence at the moment. The result of these can be summarised:
"Why am I doing this? It's pointless. Libraries are all going to continue to close. Advocacy is just delaying the inevitable."

Variations on this have been uttered by library campaigners online, in the US and the UK, over the past few months, enabled in some cases by posts and articles on libraries. Two examples from this week alone; AaronTay has some thoughts and a good collection of links to some of the negative prophecies about the future of libraries, while this piece on libraries: where they went wrong is also of a negative vein.

And extrapolating the current uncertainties that affect libraries don't give a positive projection, for either the US or the UK. Funding is being cut. Politicians see libraries as a soft target. Library functionality, such as branches, hours, staff, collection, services, are being cut. More people are going online. eBook readers are becoming more popular. The trends point downwards.


Library Customer Success Award

There are four flaws with this "Inevitable demise" model of libraries.

First; it's an extrapolation, and assumes all the factors will stay the same to continue the trends. This is very unlikely. For example, broadband take-up at home as a percentage of the population is plateauing, not increasing at a relentless rate. Even if "everything" was online and intuitive to find (which of course it isn't), there's still roughly 30 to 40 percent of the population who can't access "everything". That's sometimes because they can't afford it, or don't have the skills or confidence, and sometimes - despite promises over many years - the infrastructure is not there. Read "Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide" by Jessamyn West (who's in the lead picture in this post) for more on this.

Second; not all the changes may turn out to be bad. Some may be good. eBooks in particular are turbulent, with the situation between libraries and publishers changing ridiculously quickly. For example, just while this post has been drafted, Penguin have changed their position on eBooks in US public libraries twice. Maybe more times, as I haven't checked in the last hour. Who knows how the whole eBook thing will turn out for libraries. Who knows what it will be like just next week.

Third; predictions, especially when it comes to information or technology, are often hopelessly wrong. And usually negative. "The book is dead"; how many years have speakers, journalists, academics et al been writing that one? I've been hearing it since 1996 in UK academia. The library is dead. Literature is dead. Reading is dead. Dead is dead. Whatever. People seem to get off, appear knowledgeable and guru-like, on trying to predict or declare something is "dead", but then they go very quiet, or move onto the next thing, when their prediction (usually) turns out to be wrong. Email. Online chat. Virtual Worlds. Virtual Learning Environments. Facebook. Twitter. Flickr. Cricket. Television. Radio. Even the desktop computer is still on most people's desktop, and how many times has that been written off, over many years? All of these, with a thousand other things, predicted to have died or be about to die, years ago. All still here.

(And where is your hover board and bubble jet car, by the way?) And as for the Gartner hype cycle; there isn't one.

Fourth; a black swan event. No idea what that could be; that's why it's a black swan. A major publishing house - or much of the industry - might rapidly fail. Or possibly the print-based newspaper industry. The Internet may become badly damaged. A massive disaster (natural or man-made) could leave libraries in a large area being invaluable information and communication hubs for a long time. Best of all, Godzilla may re-emerge. No idea.

CIA Library

So here's the point. No one knows how the remaining eight years of this decade will play out, with respect to libraries. Eight years ago, look what you were doing; buying your books from Borders, your music on CDs, and renting out films from a video store that you drove to, LOL. And what you weren't doing e.g. tweeting, updating your Facebook status, video chatting with your relatives and partner, and playing full colour detailed games on your phone. No-one predicted all those changes, or even most of them; predictions are the game of the confident talking to the gullible. Hello, political pundits from just five years ago, who predicted en masse that the current US president would be either Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani. How did that work out for you?

Things can also turn round quickly, in a negative or a positive way. If you watch the news or read the papers, then it appears that the country and world are teetering on the brink of ruin. Actually ... no. Ask anyone who remembers the winter of 1946-1947, when a war-ruined and broke Britain really was in deep trouble, and mass starvation became a possibility. And as for it being impossible to pull back the worlds largest economies from the brink; not true. Can be done, and possibly quickly.

So anyone who predicts what libraries will be like, and what information services they will offer, in 2020 is either insane, a hopeless optimist, a thin bloke with a fez, bow tie and a telephone box, or most likely getting a nice speakers fee for something with no evidence behind it. I call fake, and if you listen to such a speaker ask yourself "Just how do you know?".

And this uncertainty makes library advocacy tricky, a bit scary, unsettling. Many people, possibly most people, don't like uncertainty, especially as they age. But, no-one can say these times are dull. And sometimes, it can be quite thrilling to try and ride through this decade, steering as best you can, while those things that have held a long-term continuity fall and new things rise around you. Somewhat like Paul riding the Shai-Hulud in Dune, perhaps?

Maybe it'll all end in disappointment, and all the public libraries have been closed and converted into Cash Converter, charity shops or Poundstretchers. Or maybe not, and by 2020 libraries and librarians have shifted, somehow, into a better "fit" for that decade.

Alternately, everyone could give up, and watch Strictly Come Sell My Celebrity House, read the tabloids, go shopping every saturday, wash the car every sunday, and wonder one day when they are fifty and lying awake at 4am, whether they are content with what they did in their earlier years, especially during that second, turbulent, decade of the 21st century. Some people will only be able to honestly answer, to themselves, "watched a lot of reality tv" or "got drunk a lot". Others, such as Johanna Anderson, will have personally banked more profound memories.

Because you can only write what you did in your twenties, thirties, forties or fifties, once. There's no replay option.

So, if you're having a down time and think advocacy for libraries is pointless, and won't work; how do you know?

And will the whole library thing end in disappointment, with most or all public libraries closing? Or will they change more rapidly, metamorphasise into something different that address the information needs of the citizens of 2020 (whatever they will be)?

I haven't a clue.

And neither have you.

Friday, 11 November 2011

At the CILIP 2012 hustings

So I'm on the train, heading back to the cultural capital of Britain (Birmingham) after my day of fun in London (over-rated city on the River Thames, near to Heathrow airport). And as my wifi signal is up and down, I'm typing in a few offline notes about the CILIP hustings today.

This is the second year in the "Age of Annie" that CILIP has held election hustings. The first, last year and organised by CILIP West Midlands and the brilliant JoeyAnne, was an entertaining affair to attend. In that one, as well as CILIP councillors, the two candidates for 2011 Vice President of CILIP were also vying for people's votes. This year, it was just six candidates vying for four places on the board, as Lauren Smith stood unopposed for the position of CILIP vice.

CILIP is a bit of an odd organisation. It's the "official" body for librarians and information professionals, and has a Royal Charter and various olde history seals and legal stuff which it has on the walls. It's a tad misunderstood - not so much in what it can do, but what it can't e.g. man the barricades, and there's been some long term misconceptions about who it serves. For example, only a surprisingly small minority of the membership are public libraries and librarians. It would be nice to have a blunt something somewhere showing how CILIP and organisations and campaign groups such as Voices for the Library differ in what they can do.

First off, I got a much warmer welcome at CILIP than I did at the British Library. Went to the latter first. Approaching the main entrance of the BL, noticed that other people were being turned away. Got there; security. "We're closed." No smile, no politeness, no explanation. "Why, and when do you reopen?" (I had a few hours to kill). "The Queen is visiting. Come back tomorrow." A sign, or politeness, or even the merest flicker of humanity would have been nice. What a shit welcome, especially to overseas people, to one of the worlds great libraries.

After wandering around the streets for a while, looking and laughing at menu prices (Pub special: salad £10. Hahaha) I got a cheap spud and set off for CILIP HQ. This is in a slightly seedy part of London with some dodgy places nearby, and now I understand why [name redacted] turned up two hours late for his first trustee meeting as he mistook* "Exotic sauna, by the hour" in the next street for "Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals". Easy mistake to make, and good luck with the expense claim. And the rash.

I was escorted into the Ewart room, which reminds me of the dining hall from primary school (no, for once, seriously; it's the tables), where I changed, took photos, bought a 25p of coffee from the vending machine (despite the warning), noticed that CILIP have a padlock on their fridge, and looked at the boards of past presidents. Something odd; the Library Association board finishes as 2001 and then ... nothing. There's no CILIP "roll of honour" board, which was strange.

I met Rachel for the first time, who gave me tips on writing for CILIP Update, which was useful. Yes, everyone I've met in CILIP so far has been cool (unlike my previous ... more of that in a moment). More people were escorted in to what became a holding pen, as lowly members of the public were not allowed into the gladiatorial arena of death for the debate rally until the candidates were seated and the tech was working. I politely mentioned a few topics on the eHustings forum and immediately an argument started on one, the costs paid by overseas members. Will come back to this.

When six o'clock came round, we were escorted into the conference room upstairs, and the event began. Did the important thing - taking a photo of the panel, turning on the laptop, and most importantly, opening a browser tab to follow the Twitter stream for the evening.

It's quite a nice room, and I like it and the CILIP building. My last memories of the place were ... not pleasant, as they were from over a decade ago, when I was at a bad-tempered meeting regarding a library conference website. At the time, and from experience at UKOLN back further in the 1990s, the Library Association were not the most pro-Internet organisation (this is a massive understatement) and the meeting was not good (think I swore I'd never have anything to do with the LA again)(at several people)(with, literally, swearing).

Things have changed a lot - a heck of a lot - since. If, just a few years ago, someone would have suggested that CILIP would tweet about a forthcoming 'games in libraries' column in their monthly magazine, people would have laughed. Well, it happened this week. It may not quite be at the ALA levels of engagement in this particular field, but CILIP has come a long way in just the last few years. This gives grounds for (cautious) optimism.

Back to the event, which started a little late as one of the candidates was delayed. Another one was up on the screen, using Skype video to participate. This was Liz in the far north, so we got to see her speak from a heather-laden moor*, with herds of haggis roaming under snow-laden mountains in the distance, while her arrival was preceded by kilted bagpipers warbling "Flower of Scotland". Seriously; the use of technologies such as Skype is sensible. Cuts costs, saved a bit of CO2 pollution, makes people more accessible.

The event began. Mark Taylor was chairing it, and he did a great job that evening. He's quite positive, enthusiastic, but also sharp, as well as intellectual, a kind of young version of Bamber Gascoigne. Tweets started to flow, with several audience members sending them out. The candidates were each allowed to do an allocated time piece stating their case for being a candidate. Despite the late start, this actually finished a little bit ahead of schedule and no-one overran (that prediction of mine didn't happen). I can't remember much about this, apart from a slightly odd moment where candidate Mike was trying to remember how many libraries he had closed "10 ... no! 15!"

And then it's question time, the heat of battle, the crucible of fiery debate. What will be the first question? Will the candidates be made to sweat over some treacherous political or financial issue? Will it draw in new members, and bring back old, disgruntled, ones? Will the police be called to quell the scenes in Ridgmount Street?

"How should CILIP celebrate its tenth birthday, and the jubilee of the Queen, next year?"

For fucks sake, CILIP. This is your hustings, not the between-round chatter on Countdown :-(

Almost immediately, Twitter DMs came in along the lines of "FFS!" "Seriously?" and "Tell me this is a spoof."

The candidates gave some answers, stuff about a virtual cake or a tree of knowledge yadda yadda ydda but I lost interest and started to wonder if my evening would have been better spent at "Exotic sauna, by the hour" around the corner, rather than listening to how CILIP would be buttering up HRH. I have no clear idea of how people responded, and don't really care on this point.

The answers finished and there was time for another question before the first break, so I threw out, in exasperation:

"One quick, new, method for CILIP to raise income."

...from which the candidates flashed back looks of worry and resentment. Good; if you didn't like my question, then tough. CILIP needs more income. Quickly. Otherwise, in a few years time: no CILIP. It's that simple.

But all the candidates had a go at this one, and I liked some of the answers. Specialised training, distance training, more effective and targeted training that had been done in the past. An alumni for CILIP. There was some good stuff in there.

Then, the first break, and a short opportunity to goof around in front of the camera with the custom-made t-shirt (£14.99 from all good stores).

Even though the whole event was less than two hours long, two breaks had been put into the schedule. Unsure whether this was due to the somewhat um advanced age of many CILIP members (as [name redacted] pointed out, one cold harsh winter will solve both the CILIP pension fund problem and reduce the average membership age by 25 years), or the more exciting possibility that at the end of each session, the weakest candidate would be taken out and humanely put down as an "eliminator", leaving us with the elected four by the end of the evening.

It turned out that the breaks were for the more mundane reason that CILIP had a lot of old biscuits to palm off on people, and candidates and attendees mingled over a rubbery selection of tea time biscuits, on plates covered in cellophane and perhaps stored away since the merger of the Library Association and the IIS, back in the day.

The tea bag selection was excellent, however, and I now have enough to last me well into 2012. I chatted to Sue Cook, who had joined the LA, left in disgust over the meekness of the organisation in the face of Thatcherism and was making a second run at the organisation as Yorkshire folk don't walk away from an unsolved problem. A likable and cheerfully blunt person.

Round two started, and the questions improved, with submissions off email and twitter. We had:

"Is the library profession to blame for the current state of affairs in public libraries?"

Blimey. This produced some interesting responses - largely, "yes", which Ian Anstice has collated over on the Public Library News website. I'm not really one for doing the blame game, it being one of those negative British games, unless it means that history doesn't repeat itself. There's stuff to mull on, there. My small contribution is that renaming the organisation CILIP was a mistake, making it sound either elitist, irrelevant or possibly like something else. When advocating on the fly, you don't really have time to explain distracting acronyms, and "Library Assocation" was, well, like Ronseal, does what it says on the tin.

Other questions rolled in, such as "How can we make CILIP more visible as a promoter of reading and information?" and "How would you go about increasing membership? Which other sectors would you engage with?" If you want to know the responses to these, then the whole unedited, unrestricted or rated video is up online. You may need to turn the sound fully up, and listen through headphones; sound volume was really the only issue tonight, with the technology at the CILIP end otherwise running fine and being okay to watch for the majority of people. Kudos to Richard for doing the technical wizardry better than a lot of "webinars" (ugh), webcasts and virtual event thingies I've "been to" or endured recently.

Looking around, we peaked at 10 people in the physical audience, about the same number as last year. A disappointing number of physical bodies, especially - as was mentioned on the night - London and the South East has the highest concentration of CILIP members, and it was a free event, on a weekday evening, with as many biscuits as you could eat. I remembered the London-centric comment about London-based meetings made by the losing CILIP Vice President candidate last year, and the near-empty hustings audience tonight proved that conclusively wrong.

Well, if you don't try these things then you'll never know, but CILIP has tried it now and the feeling seems to be that the hustings should continue to "rove" a bit. Perhaps next year they should be held in a northern city.

The second break came and went swiftly, as did the final batch of questions. These included what appears to be the most controversial topic inside CILIP, namely the fees payable by overseas members and what representation they have. I admit to being baffled by this, as overseas members form only a tiny proportion of CILIPs not-huge membership role, and the organisation has larger fish to fry (such as financially surviving this decade). When I go to American Library Association events (many) and observe what they are doing, they aren't continually arguing over this. But this particular argument comes up at the CILIP AGM, and on the eHustings forum, and in any debate which a certain faction of CILIP members and non-members are involved.

I've lost the thread of it, and occasionally the will to live trying to follow it, especially as it seems clouded in (unhelpful) emotion. Maybe I'm missing something but it also seems kind of obvious. The bottom membership cost, home or abroad, has to always be "cost neutral" as an absolute minimum; there is no way at all that CILIP has the resource to subsidise any members in any way. And by cost, it's not just the printing and posting, but the proportion of staff time, dealing with membership enquiries, the extra administration, and other elements that add up to a true cost. Over that, richer members - again, home or abroad - should pay more, thus generating some extra income. And people who pays their monies gets the same representation. Um, that seems like the basic principles to me, without the need for an epic, several year handbag fight.

Anyway, it came up again during the hustings; already bored by this particular "rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic" argument, I used the CILIP wifi to torrent some Asian movies unavailable or restricted here, while people argued on about what kind of fee banding Mr Smith-Jones of Papua New Guinea should pay, and whether it was cheapest to send his copy of CILIP update by plane, steam ship, or hand-delivered on a silver platter by the CILIP president dressed in a white Del Monte man suit. Or something.

And then it was 8 o'clock, with one candidate dashing off to get a train, and some of the others heading off in various alcohol-searching directions. To win a small bet, I took a picture of the CILIP rug...

...then headed off for several gin and tonics in one of the post-husting groups.

Despite the low numbers in physical attendance, the hustings are worth it. Looking now, the morning after, the video has been watched by 150 people, and forms a permanent record of their answers. It's also notable that the number of people commenting on twitter on the night was higher than the number of bodies in the room, with twitter fulfilling its role as the easy-to-use backchannel for attendees, and just people who wanted to follow without being there or watching the streaming video.

Holding annual hustings are sensible for several more reasons. Candidates can be questioned by the membership (and currently non-members such as me). They have to be used to using tech, and CILIP gets more practice in doing this kind of thing - and the effective use of tech in many ways (especially income generation, dissemination and cost saving) is going to be an integral part of CILIPs survival this decade. It worked well with Liz being up on Skype, and perhaps next year when it's hopefully held in a Northern city, several of the candidates will use video conferencing. Distributed candidature, and a distributed audience. Seems sensible, especially with the time, ridiculous costs, and the unreliability of transport. Adding the hustings to the online ehustings provides several mechanisms for candidates to be probed, and unlike a few years ago, there's no real "I can't find out what the candidates really stand for on the issues I'm interested in" excuse now for the voting masses.

As for which candidates I hope will be elected. Three I have faith in, two I have significant doubts about, and one I hope is never allowed anywhere near the CILIP budget. Not saying any more, as unhelpful rows will just start, and I'll be hiding from Auntie Annie and Uncle Phil for weeks. But in private correspondence with a few people on twitter, discovered that they were coming to similar conclusions, so am hopeful.

Anyway, as the only (physical) attendee at both the CILIP hustings, am wondering if I'll make it for next years with the wife (if she goes through with this whole crazy wedding thing) to make it a hat-trick and be allegedly awarded the "freedom of CILIP". This may be a hard sell; "Shall we fly across the Atlantic to explore the countries and geography of Europe, or sit in a room with some librarians one November evening?" Hmmm. See you there, maybe :)

* - may not be entirely accurate.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Public library e-petition: 10,000 signatures strong

The petition in support of public libraries, on the UK government e-petition website, has reached 10,000 signatures. Out of the 7,672 petitions accepted for publication (many thousands were rejected) on the site, it is only the 18th to do so. You can read it, and if a UK resident sign it, here:

Is this petition a good thing overall? Yes, with qualifiers. It isn’t going to suddenly change the public library threat situation but it will raise awareness. It’s positive, and has cost nothing except a small amount of time and taxpayers money to set up and for people to sign. And a lot of people signing other e-petitions will have come across it, just by flicking through the website.

And should the number of signatories accelerate between now and the 5th of February 2012, then the petition gets discussed by the committee in charge of discussing these things, and then possibly debated in parliament.

How do we get from 10,000 to 100,000 by then? Only by a big acceleration, averaging 720 new signatures per day. Unfortunately, looking at the few petitions that have made it to that mark, it’s not going to be easy. It seems that a petition needs:
  1. The support of a national, high circulation, newspaper.
  2. The support of celebrities such as footballers.
  3. To capture a contemporary reactionary vengeance feeling.

...or preferably all three. That last one is borne out by looking at by far the most popular petition, and flicking through the titles of accepted and declined petitions. Even though duplicates are supposed to be removed from the service, they often aren’t, and many of the submitted petitions boil down to one of:
  • People on benefits are lazy.
  • Rioters should loose (sic) their benefits - the most popular one. Simply think this through, quarter of a million signers. A rioter and looter without employment would then have no income. What then? Better hope you’ve got good security at your house...
  • The EU is bad / corrupt and Britain should pull out of it immediately.
  • Bad people should be hung. No other form of punishment, just hung. That seems to be some British peoples solution to everything.

Remove that quartet of causes and the e-petitions system would be a lot quieter. Are liberals averse to online campaigns? Are e-petitions the new “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” penning a letter to his local neo-conservative paper? Is it more satisfying to deprive people of something, rather than want them to have it? Is this a symptom of a jealous, paranoid, perhaps easily led and definitely active segment of the population?

Don’t know. Or the likely answers are uncomfortable. So could the three criteria to get a petition to the 100,000 signature mark be applied to the library e-petition?

1. The support of a national, high circulation, newspaper. Unfortunately, and looking at the most successful e-petitions not surprisingly, apart from the Mirror the high circulation ones are pro-cut, pro-conservative in nature. Not sure much can be done here, unless the cost effectiveness of public libraries can be proven in a simplistic soundbite that tabloids can use e.g. a million pounds invested in a public library network saves several million pounds of taxpayers money elsewhere. Though there is a lot of evidence that the media and campaigners can use in support of public libraries in the UK, as collected by Voices for the Library on their page Reasons for Public Libraries.

2. The support of celebrities. Lobbying celebrities is difficult; the more famous they are, the more barriers they put up - have to put up - to stop themselves being deluged by requests for this, that and the other. It's an interesting experience, trying to bring library issues to the attention of people with major dissemination influence.

Yes, the public library network has the support of some celebrities, especially writers. Though it needs more with a substantial UK following (as only UK people can sign the petition). Just one blog post and tweet from a few people like e.g. Stephen Fry, with over 3.1 million followers on Twitter alone, could make a significant difference. Though, like probably all celebrities, many people are probably asking Stephen to support their cause or campaign or e-petition.

Stephen; if you should read this, then please consider cutting and pasting this and tweeting it. This may give an acceleration in the number of signatories while there is still time:

Please consider supporting public libraries by signing retweeting this and using your local library. #savelibraries

Or, here it is, tweeted already, so just retweet that. Whichever works for you.

Heck, not just Stephen - anyone can send that, celebrity with a large following or not. But, yes, any celebrities with large followings out there who are pro-literacy, pro-education and pro-access to knowledge - all it takes is your time to send that one tweet.

3. Nope. Going to leave the vengeful, lust-for-blood feelings to others.

Will the e-petition get to 100,000 signatures before the deadline? Don’t know - but it needs that big acceleration to stand a chance. Anyway - looking at many of the other popular petitions, surely we can do better as a country than just wanting people to be hung, deprived of benefits, or punished for simply not being as well-off as us?

University of Birmingham - Bristol Road, Selly Oak - Selly Oak Colleges Library - Department of Drama and Theatre Arts - sign - Please not this building is no longer a public library