Library as Laboratory – How can Libraries exist in the future?

The following guest post has been received from Bedford Creative Arts. The post highlights how libraries and arts can collaborate successfully and provide a powerful and positive experience for users.

Library as Laboratory – How can Libraries exist in the future?

selfie-slot-car-credit-andy-willsher

Bedford Creative Arts has been exploring new ways that libraries can evolve for the future by bringing together artists and libraries. The result is five pioneering projects created by eight artists, ranging from festivals and performances to slot car championships.

The project is funded by Arts Council England Libraries fund and sits in the context of the government spending review which has brought about cuts to spending on libraries by local councils. Libraries are now looking at what services and community offers they can provide in order to stay open and working with other local organisations like BCA is a way to deliver this.handbag-credit-andy-willsher

Library as Laboratory is a brand new, open and collaborative way of working for the Library Services which usually follow a more planned, traditional approach. This project promotes non-traditional activities and ways of working with artists to devise projects and workshops that collaborate with communities and library staff. High quality new work has been created as a response to people and place through collaborating with the local community and brings innovative projects into the library setting.

The artists selected to develop projects are Ania Bas, David Littler, Rosalie Schweiker, DashnDem, Roshi Nasehi, Chris Dobrowolski and Gerry Pilgrim. The projects created:

Flitwick Future Library Festival – a three day multi-activity festival exploring the concept of business not as usual in the library, from cocktails and comedy to yoga, skater films and musical bingo.

Biggleswade B-Fest – a one day multi-activity festival with activities related to the local history of the bike and the brussel sprout from a bike smoothie, brussel sprout supper and a new mobile bike library.

Dump It On Parliament Revisited – a multi-layered collaborative project involving local bands, youth drama groups, a wellbeing group and musicians to create a new compilation of music that explores the alternative local post-punk music history of the 1980’s meshed with today. Created and performed in the libraries.

Selfie Slot Car Championship – a digitally-based making project that invited families to create a personalised slot car and race it in a special one day event, all taking place at the library.

Handbag – a performance work involving female participants dancing around their handbag on an alternative open stage space to ‘Billie-Jean’ by Michael Jackson.

flitwick-furure-library-credit-andy-willsher

About the projects

The project enabled and empowered library staff to gain experience and skills in working with artists, programming and organising events while demonstrating opportunities that encourage long term use of library services. Houghton Regis Library held their first ever live gig in a library and Flitwick their first ever comedy event in a library.

The projects achieved significant increases in the footfall of the libraries of up to 20% with 3802 people joining in with the activities. The long term effects of these projects mean that the libraries are now looking at creating film clubs, recruiting a theatre development officer and hosting workshops.

Three of the artists focused on the idea of the local library as the custodian of local histories, in particular alternative local histories of the late 20th century and communities now. One project in particular Dump it on Parliament Revisited focused on what the role of the library could be, exploring the potential of libraries being a sound archive for recent local history as told by local communities from their perspectives.

Tessa Jackson OBE comments on the Dump it On Parliament project “The phrase ‘socially engaged art practice’ is much over used but Dump it On Parliament genuinely enabled a wide range of people to be creative on their own terms, b-festival-credit-andy-willsherparticipating in the truest sense of the word. Artists DasnDem and Roshi Nasehi, by collaborating with some of the original musicians and activists, were able to incorporate song writing, theatre making, printmaking, fanzine creation, fashion and make-up into their project; new forms of expression inspired new skills.”

Artists DashnDem said: ‘Libraries are one of the last free social spaces, which we don’t want to disappear, but that means they have to move with the times while retaining what is unique about them. This project looks at how we can better emphasise their place as repositories for local history, making it more accessible and relevant today and to future generations.

The outcomes of the project demonstrated to Central Bedfordshire and the Library Service that potential programming ideas from artist run activities to film and comedy nights could bring new library users in by using their Library spaces in new ways. CBC is now recruiting a new service team including Marketing and Engagement Officers who will develop new activities for the libraries and the theatre auditorium.

dump-it-on-parliament-credit-andy-willsherPartnerships have also developed out of the project; The Library Service has been awarded funding from Royal Opera House Bridge for an exciting project linking Leisure, Libraries and Countryside with Children’s Services and Public Health. The project will provide vulnerable learners in the Dunstable and Houghton Regis area with an opportunity to experience arts and cultural activities including music, theatre arts, digital arts and natural art in an outdoor environment. It will also look to engage families and carers and feed into the design and use of the new Dunstable Library Leisure Centre ensuring it is accessible to young people and provides appropriate space, resources and activities.

Cllr Brian Spurr, Central Bedfordshire Council Executive Member for Community Services, said: ‘We are very proud of our libraries, but as times change so must they. That is why we embarked on a refurbishment and modernisation programme across all our libraries, in which we consulted extensively with our residents to understand their needs, expectations and aspirations.

The three arts commissions that form the Library as Laboratory project are an intriguing next step as we seek to discover what our service can offer, now and in the future. They will always be places of learning and discovery and now through different forms of art projects, this innovative initiative also enables libraries to become places of culture and creativity.

In partnership with Bedford Creative Arts, the artists commissioned have all developed three inclusive projects that have tapped into the area, its rich history and its people. I would urge residents to get involved, as they have done before, with these experiments in shaping their library for the future.’

PR Contact:
Binita Walia, PR for Bedford Creative Arts binita@thespaceinbetween.co.uk 07734 507 799
Images available on request credit Andy Willsher.

Links to the Library as Laboratory projects:

Dump It On Parliament
Selfie Slot Car Championship
Future Library Festivals
Handbag

Changing Times, Changing Roles

My latest post can be found on the Libraries Taskforce blog: Changing Times, Changing Roles

45ea7abe81a766e78aed8ed432fd280eIn the post I reflect on the skills needed to successfully manage a public library service in the current environment. Whether we agree with it or not, we face a new reality for libraries and operating in such a landscape requires a high degree of adaptation and flexibility from all library staff.

Equally, the importance of strong strategic leadership is paramount to provide vision and aspiration. Library leaders will need the mental flexibility and managerial adaptability to bring distributed elements into a coherent whole to ensure the continuing success of libraries into the future.

 

Following the Leader…

libraryFor anyone who hasn’t yet read it I would highly recommend the excellent post by Nick Poole ‘Giving public libraries strong leadership and commitment.’ In it he lays out a coherent vision and set of principles for public library provision , averring that:

“A strong public library service is the foundation of a literate and inclusive society and a competitive knowledge economy. Great local libraries are an investment in communities, providing a cost effective way to improve health, support business start-ups, improve literacy and skills, and do all of this in a way that is open to all.”

The 10 key principles outline a clear stance on developing public libraries in England to hopefully curtail the massive reductions taking place nationally. This includes calling for emergency relief funding and intervention from government bodies where local authorities are being shown to fail their statutory provision.

It’s certainly a vision that many within the profession and campaigners should be able to support. If there’s a drawback it’s the reliance on the proposals being adopted by the same bodies who have so far failed to provide national leadership or a framework of protection for libraries.

However, due credit to Cilip for taking the lead in articulating what the sector needs to firstly survive and then hopefully develop.

Libraries Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England

In marked contrast we are still awaiting the publication of the Libraries Taskforce Libraries Deliver: Ambition. Although, originally due for publication by the end of July this year, the report was held up due to the appointment of a new libraries minister, Rob Wilson.

A further update was provided by the Taskforce in September but with no firm deadline in sight. It’s concerning that a report that was on the verge of being ready for publication over 3 months ago is still languishing in the DCMS, while the sector remains rudderless, libraries closures announced almost daily, and hundreds more staff lost to the profession.

But never mind at least it allows the new minister time to get his feet under the table!

Obviously, we have no way of knowing if or how far the report has been amended, or if any changes will be for the better or worse. Certainly Ed Vaizey was no friend to libraries so perhaps Rob Wilson’s view will be more positive. That said, how long does it take to amend an almost complete document. Then again perhaps the new minister’s view is so different to his predecessor that it requires a major revamp?

It will be interesting if the final product will be recognisable to everyone who attended the consultation workshops and if it fits with the work done and expectations raised at them.

What Next?

Perhaps Cilip has chosen to deliberately steal a march on the Ambition report. Certainly, it has challenged fellow members of the Libraries Taskforce to support the Principles for the Leadership and Development of Public Library Services in England as outlined in the blog post. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.

Partly, Cilip’s reaction could be borne out of the frustration with the long delay in publication of the Ambition document. Equally, there might be a perception that the report will fail to provide the guidance that’s needed for the sector and Cilip is setting out its stall in advance. This remains to be seen and comparing the two side-by-side will no doubt be highly informative and perhaps not a little contentious.

The one thing that is clear however is that only Cilip is currently offering a strategic framework and the leadership that the sector needs, while the others lag behind.

The test to how successful Cilip will be is how closely aligned its vision is to the Taskforce’s and what the fall-out will be if there is a wide discrepancy between the two.

 

 

Cilip VP Election – Rita Marcella

This post is written by Rita Marcella, one of the two candidates for Cilip Vice-President. I asked each candidate the same five questions with the opportunity for an opening and closing statement. The questions reflect my own interests as a public librarian but are hopefully also relevant for the wider profession as well as campaigners. 

The successful candidate will be elected Vice-President and “…will become CILIP President in 2018. The Vice-President and President are honorary roles and their duties include being an ambassador and spokesperson for CILIP.” 

Many thanks to Rita for sharing her views.  

Details on how to vote can be found at: Elections for the CILIP Board and for Vice-President 

rita-marcellaAbout me

I have been a librarian since my early twenties when I first went to work in a university library after graduating with my Diploma in Information and Library Studies. After having my first child I became an academic teaching cataloguing and classification, user studies and bibliographic and reference work. My research and teaching interests have varied far and wide over the years and I honestly believe that there is not an aspect of library and information service that I have not reflected upon over that time.

However, despite varied interests and work with public library services, advisory services and special libraries in government and business, my chief personal research interest has always remained that of supporting the library and information user to access the information they need to help them in every aspect of their everyday lives. I like to look at the issue from both sides: from that of the information service provider and of the information service user, understanding the motivations, context and challenges of both.

Over the last 15 years as Dean of a business faculty my focus has been on interaction with industry and management of resources, both of which have given me keen insights into the challenges facing organisations in both the public and private sectors. I have also been involved in numerous charities and non-exec boards, in particular in work to enhance equity and diversity.

1. What is the core message of your manifesto?

I feel passionate about the value of library and information service and about our profession – I believe that the enabled access that we in the profession provide is critical to people’s lives in a huge number of ways and I would appreciate the opportunity in the role of Vice President to support the profession in maximising the impact of that message.

We need to provide more tangible evidence of the ways in which access to information and knowledge empowers individuals, organisations and societies. It is my view that there has been a steady erosion of the funding of, investment in and commitment to libraries and information service support in all kinds of spheres in the three decades of my career and that this erosion has been mirrored in academia, where our discipline has found itself swamped by an organisational incorporation into ‘bigger’ disciplines to the detriment of the subject. I’d like to bring the whole profession – practitioners, academics and those entering the profession together to assemble the evidence of the impact of libraries and information in an even stronger way. Through CILIP we have the base of professional partnership on which to make that work.

2. If elected what is the one area you would like to see CILIP tackle?

I should like CILIP to tackle the notion of empowerment through information both by celebrating the successes and illustrating the impact of information access but also by exploring further the ways in which people, organisations and societies can be disadvantaged through not having access to relevant, reliable and robust information. This is very much in line with my own chief focus in so much of my work but I believe that it is an agenda that it is at the heart of what CILIP is seeking to achieve.

3. What would you like to see the Taskforce’s Ambitions document contain?

I’d like a clear action plan on assembly of evidence and its powerful communication. I think that all of us who are involved in LIS understand and believe passionately in the vital role that libraries and information services play at every stage and in every context. What we have perhaps been less good at doing is having a targeted strategy for how to tackle the attitude that allow us to be packaged up as something that is ‘nice to have’ in good times but under threat at others. Strengthening and reinforcing powerful advocacy and building on work CILIP has already done is crucial.

My own particular contribution to the debate whether or not I am successful in this election will be to develop our understanding of how access to libraries and information more generally enables people and in particular disadvantaged groups to overcome barriers to success and exclusion from society.

4. In your opinion are public and school libraries facing a crisis or opportunity? 

As ever there are no threats without opportunities – that is an accepted truism in business practice. The threat is real and has resulted in the erosion I describe above – and not just in public and school libraries, but in every kind of library and information service imaginable. But the opportunities are there too: indeed arguably too many opportunities. For another truism in management is that if you have 83 priorities, you’ll fail: if you have one or two you have a far greater chance of success. And one of the ways in which the profession and academia needs to work together is on identifying and focusing on the most high value opportunities, the biggest wins – is that the extent to which libraries and information services support the health of our economy? That’s a big ticket item for sure.

5. What is your opinion of the My Library By Right Campaign & did you sign the petition?

I agree that all of society should have free and equal rights to information through libraries and other forms of provision and I support the My Library by Right, as I did the American Library Association’s Declaration for the Right to Libraries. I was very happy to sign the petition and wish the campaign every success. It is it seems to me a fact that LIS professional communities across the globe share the same set of common values about libraries and information and we need to work together through IFLA and other fora to drive forward such campaigns.

My final thoughts

Standing in the election for Vice President of CILIP has given me a very welcome opportunity to reflect back over a career spent working in Library and Information Science, a career of researching information use and need amongst citizens, business, decision makers in government and so on – but also a career of recruiting young people into the profession and preparing them for a career in library and information service. Those 35 years have seen many changes but ultimately at their core the library and information professional is dedicated to excellent service to people, to organisations and to society. We have a huge amount to celebrate in that but some messages to convey to policy makers about how and why that is important.

I want to conclude by saying that while I would be honoured if given the opportunity to take on the role of Vice President of CILIP, I will not be downcast if I am not successful for having read the post of my fellow candidate in the hustings, Ayub Khan, that I completely support everything that he says.

Cilip VP Election – Ayub Khan

This post is written by Ayub Khan, one of the two candidates for Cilip Vice-President. I asked each candidate the same five questions with the opportunity for an opening and closing statement. The questions reflect my own interests as a public librarian but are hopefully also relevant for the wider profession as well as campaigners. 

The successful candidate will be elected Vice-President and “…will become CILIP President in 2018. The Vice-President and President are honorary roles and their duties include being an ambassador and spokesperson for CILIP.” 

Many thanks to Ayub for sharing his views. 

Details on how to vote can be found at: Elections for the CILIP Board and for Vice-President 

ayub-khanAbout me

I started my library career as a Saturday assistant more than 25 years ago. I have hands-on experience of all aspects of library services – at nearly every level. For the past few years I have been working hard in Warwickshire, steering county services through much change and many economies.

I have been a member of CILIP for more than two decades so I have a good understanding of the organisation, its membership, values and ambitions. I have been heavily involved in the national and international library scene, through various professional bodies, helping to develop new strategies and programmes whilst steadfastly adhering to traditional library values.

I would describe myself as a moderniser and problem-solver – and someone who is prepared to hard-sell library services at every opportunity. I am equally comfortable presenting to Government Ministers, or chatting to customers. In 2013, I was awarded an MBE for my services to libraries.

1. What is the core message of your manifesto?

Despite the challenges of recent austerity years I remain enthusiastic, committed and optimistic about the future for libraries. I believe CILIP has a pivotal role to play in providing a positive narrative for libraries – and pressing for positive action – as the leading voice of a vibrant and forward-thinking profession.

2. If elected what is the one area you would like to see Cilip tackle?

If elected as Vice-President I would focus on libraries’ future potential, as well as their proud traditions. My priorities would be workforce development, advocating the key role of knowledge workers, partnerships and technology.

 3. What would you like to see the Taskforce’s Ambitions document contain?

I would like to see the Taskforce come up with some practical, funded actions for change. There have been several reports, in recent years, looking at the future for libraries – but relatively little has changed as a result. We need to move forward now, with a clear purpose, ministerial mandate, and a properly-funded action plan.

4. In your opinion are public and school libraries facing a crisis or opportunity? 

Libraries have certainly had a tough time over the last few years and, for many of us, there are more cuts to come. We need to capitalise on the wider range of services libraries now offer – and their unique role. There are real opportunities for libraries around information literacy, data security  and information governance.

There has been plenty of commentary on the wider benefits of libraries – for health, literacy levels, education and job prospects, social inclusion and cohesion, the cultural wellbeing of the nation….. One anecdote sticks in my mind. Author Neil Gaiman, during his 2013 Reading Agency lecture, said he once heard a talk in New York about private prison provision in America. Apparently they forecast the number of cells that would be needed in 15 years time based on the percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds unable to read.

More recently, the October 2016 Libraries Taskforce meeting focused on ‘healthier and happier lives’ – one of its seven key outcomes. Members stressed ‘the importance of libraries marshalling evidence to advocate their strengths’ so they could promote library services – to health commissioners – as a prime delivery channel, particularly in terms of the self-management agenda.

What shocked me was the fact that, in one of the richest countries in the world, more people die from loneliness than smoking. Surely we need no other incentive?

Digital developments present all kinds of exciting opportunities for libraries. Advancing technology will enable library services to work together more effectively – and to offer more and better services to both physical and online customers.

Blowing our own trumpet: the opportunities are out there. I would encourage the profession to sing its own praises a lot more, and to shout about the power and importance of libraries. I know we tend to be modest types by nature but we are underselling the wider impacts we have on society. Libraries need to be seen as the solution, not a problem. Evidence-based advocacy – and the confidence to deliver it – is crucial.

5. What is your opinion of the My Library By Right Campaign & did you sign the petition?

I signed the My Library By Right petition as an individual citizen and support the campaign in principle. We need to take our voice to a national level – because it was national policy that created the austerity agenda. And we should capitalise on the massive public support for libraries of all kinds. We need others to be our advocates – as this would be more powerful.

Finally

It may sound corny but the library profession has given me so much that I want to give something back. I have a hands-on background but plenty of high-level strategic experience gained from the ‘day job’ and various voluntary/honorary roles I have undertaken, over the years. I believe my experience would bring a broader perspective to the Vice-Presidency, and I would welcome opportunities to influence policy, ensuring grass roots concerns and aspirations were fully considered.

 

Cilip Vice-President Election

vote2The good news is that there will be elections for the post of Vice-President, which has not always been the case in the past with Cilip struggling to generate interest and attract candidates.

Elections are not only healthy for the democratic mandate of the professional body but shows an increasing interest in Cilip by members. Those standing are to be commended for their willingness to give up their time and energy to support the work of Cilip.

In return it is only right that members show an interest in election and participate in the ballot. Voting opens on the 8th November and closes 1st December. Further details can be found on the Cilip election page with details of the candidates submissions.

The post of the Vice-President is particularly important as the successful candidate will also be President the following year and will influence the direction of travel for Cilip. Both VP candidates, Ayub Khan and Rita Marcella, have kindly agreed to write a post for me outlining their ideas and answering some questions, which I will publish over the coming weeks.

I have recently gone from being highly critical of Cilip to being a strong supporter due to the approach the body is now taking, particularly in questioning both central and local government decisions concerning libraries. With that in mind I shall be following the election closely, with the hope that the successful nominee is willing to drive the current direction forward and not put the metaphorical brakes on.

There is a time and place for a softly-softly approach but this is not one of them. We need clear strategic leadership and a strong voice in support of libraries, not quiet acquiesce to government policy. It will be interesting to see which candidate will provide this.

________________________________________

Addendum:

Barbara Band has kindly pointed out that the:

“Presidential Team (ie: VP, President and Immediate Past President) attend board meetings and are able to participate in discussions, none of them can vote. This can be quite frustrating but those accepting the position are aware that it is outward facing, the link between members and the board. The Presidential Team may be able to influence board members by being verbally persuasive but the direction of CILIP comes from the voting board members and it is the Presidential Team’s role to support any decisions made.”

And it is the outward facing role to the membership and public that is incredibly important in setting the tone for the body. Both Barbara and the current President, Dawn Finch, are outspoken critics of Government policy and changes within the sector. Unfortunately, this has not always been the situation and many past presidents have felt restrained by their position from being overtly critical of political decisions or partner organisations.

My hope is that the current stance of speaking more frankly about the negative impacts on the profession and the public will continue, instead of the banal platitudes that unfortunately still appear in some quarters.

 

 

 

 

Parish Councils, Localism & Libraries

I’ve previously written about the trend of moving services over to Parish and Town Councils, which at the time appeared not to have gained much notice in library campaigning circles.

This development has gained traction with more and more authorities looking to second tier councils to take responsibility for services, including libraries (single tier Unitary or Metropolitan Authorities operate slightly differently).

The rationale being that first tier authorities e.g. County, District or Borough Councils are capped by central government in terms of raising council tax but parish councils are not. Previously this stood at 2% but the 2016-17 financial year saw the Government propose a threshold of 4% for local authorities with social care responsibilities and 2% for district councils.

Any proposed rise above this limit would require a local referendum, which few councils have the appetite for. Currently, parish and town councils are not subject to such limitations and can raise precepts above the 2% threshold. Thus, cash-strapped local authorities have sought to exploit this loop-hole to pass services downwards.

The transfer of responsibility has been window-dressed in the terminology of Localism: the desire to  encourage decision making at the lowest practical level of local government in order to decide what level of services should continue e.g. street cleaning and grounds maintenance.

However, regardless of the jargon used it is not the desire to empower communities that is the driving force but the harsh financial settlement imposed by central government year on year on councils. Unfortunately, with no lessening of the overall council tax, plus a rise in the local precept, many people regard this as paying twice for the same service.

It also puts greater pressure on parish councils not only to provide additional services but to raise income and resources within a small locality. This is coupled with a fear that continuing excessive rises in the precept will lead to the introduction of a cap similar to the limit on first tier authorities. There are also technical issues around ‘General Powers of Competence’ and the need to employ a qualified Clerk in order to deliver such services.

The counter-argument runs that if local people do not see the value in a particular service then it will discontinue, with the principle that communities will only get those amenities they are willing to pay for.

In practice this leads to another two-tier model of winners and losers. The winners are those lucky enough to live in an affluent parish, with an articulate community willing to save their local library. The losers are those communities without the social structure to mount a robust defence, which will see library provision disappear.

This is the downside of localism. Relocating services not to empower communities but to divest financial responsibility and place libraries in a more precarious position so that if they fail the blame lies with the local community and not the local authority.

Pragmatic, a cynical ploy, or just a matter of financial survival for the local authority? Sadly, in the current political and financial climate, it’s likely to be all three.