It’s been a busy time recently and with so many things happening I haven’t managed to keep up with the number of posts I would like to write. So instead I’ll touch briefly on areas of interest and then follow through in greater depth at a later stage:
Trust me I’m a professional!
Cilip commissioned research by YouGov that revealed which professionals the public believe are most likely to provide trustworthy information. Librarians and library staff came in the top five. This is a real boost of confidence to the profession especially in an era where internet searches and over-reliance on Google by the public do not necessarily provide reliable and unbiased results.
Further details can be found at the dedicated area Trusted professional, which include infographics to share and links to a survey asking librarians what makes them a trusted professional. Those on Twitter can also use the hashtag #TrustedProfessional
The Arts Council Speaks
An interview with Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair of the Arts Council was revealing in how libraries should reinvent themselves and remain relevant in contemporary society including adopting a more entrepreneurial approach. There was also an appeal regarding conceptual change in the profession with the explanation:
“We need to use that breadth of experience to help in particular places, because breadth of experience is like oxygen, you need it in the room, and you need to be open to it and you need to be prepared to breathe it – even if it feels as if its got a different smell from the air that you normally breathe.”
Just so! On a positive note it’s clear that Sir Nicholas is very knowledgeable about the arts and museums sector.
Sir Nicholas joined the Arts Council after 28 years at the Tate gallery and it has to be said his tenure was not without controversy. This included accusations of bullying within the organisation, outsourcing of jobs, staff being paid below the London living wage, and the removal of a staff canteen discount. Perhaps this is what Sir Nicholas means by adopting a more entrepreneurial attitude?
It’s quite strange really that as the development agency for public libraries the Arts council very rarely attracts much criticism from campaigners. After all, this is the agency which is mandated to oversee libraries, direct funding to libraries, and advise the government on libraries. If any agency has the authority to highlight the difficult situation libraries face to the government, it’s the Art Council. The fact they appear to have failed to do so should come as no surprise. Like any publicly funded body they are perhaps wary of causing offence that might affect the rather substantial grant they receive from Central Government to bother with something as simple, and dangerous, as speaking truth to power.
That ACE treats libraries as a poorer cousin was highlighted with the recent appointment of a Director for libraries and the Birmingham area, effectively making the focus on libraries a part-time one. In contrast the Museums Director was appointed as a full-time post and at a higher grade. This despite the fact that libraries attract far higher visitor numbers than museums and feed into a wider range of local and national government agenda priorities.
Libraries and co-location
Co-location of libraries with other council or cultural services is a controversial issue. With both proponents and detractors willing to argue for or against but with little or mainly anecdotal evidence to draw upon to prove the point.
Certainly, there appears a sound financial argument in co-locating services under one roof in terms of consolidating the council estate and reducing expenses such as utility costs and rates (NNDR). Further savings can also been made by merging staff roles across the combined services. Proving an increase in footfall is also relatively straightforward as the public come in to use multiple services.
However, this is where the issue becomes complex as increased footfall does not necessarily equate to improving other library measures such as increased loans, PN usage, and membership.
There are also obvious disadvantages to co-location such as decreased space for activities and stock, the use of generic customer services roles and the loss of library specific knowledge, and the dilution of the library brand.
The other factor is co-location is often the result of a new build/refurbishment to re-site the services, which attracts greater interest. This is nothing new. Over the years many new stand-alone libraries have opened and attracted new members and usage.
For example Beeston Library, Nottingham re-opened in August 2017 following extensive refurbishment. In the first two months the library received 30,000 visits, an increase from 21,000 in the same period in 2016, and over 800 new members joined the library. I suspect an extended range of activities and 10,000 new books were a significant factor. It’s almost certain that other new stand-alone libraries such has the recently opened Colliers Wood will experience a similar upsurge.
In other words it is the ‘novelty’ and greater promotion of such new builds/refurbishments that attracts the interest. My own opinion is that applies to co-located services as well.
While not excluding the wider range of services within libraries, there are many in the sector who argue that it is the provision of good quality book stock, as part of a strong core offer, that attracts and retains library users. I count myself amongst them. But again, much more in-depth research is required to evidence this.
That is not to say that libraries cannot benefit from being part of a wider cultural centre. The Story House in Chester and the new Central Library in Halifax are examples of this approach.
However, what has not been independently researched and proven is that libraries benefit from increased/sustained usage either by co-location or as part of a multi-use building with several council (or other) services.
The Shining a Light report for England indicated that access to other council services might encourage greater use of library services. However, this view was highest amongst non-users and those that rarely or never read books. Conversely regular users and prolific readers wanted better information about services and improving the range and quality of books.
So, the evidence is limited and further research is required particularly to show that non-users and irregular readers, coming into a multi-use building, are actually encouraged to become library members and users, and that such data is captured.
Given the greater spread and convenient locations of libraries compared to other council services it might just be that what non-users actually want is ease of access to services rather than necessarily wishing to use the library itself.
This highlights the complexity of co-location and lack of data around libraries as multi-use buildings. Without such evidence the danger is to conflate correlation with causation.