Voices for the Library - presentation at CILIP Wales conference
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    CILIP Wales 2011 – Voices for the Library

    [1] What I have to offer you, in this closing session, isn’t like many of the other speakers. My somewhat unimaginative title isn’t a pop-culture reference. I don’t have a great new building to show off. I’m not going to have a conversation with Dr Who. What I do have are some stories for you – stories about libraries, and the people who love them – and, hopefully, some advice to help you start stories of your own.

    Mairwen’s story (http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=520) [2] Mairwen here, just want to let everybody know what a fantastic library we have in the small Welsh village of Llanbradach in the County borough of Caerphilly. There is something for all ages the children from the nearby school come in singly and with their teachers to learn the delights of reading their are regular demonstrations ie. music, quilting, rugmaking, talks and film shows of the village from the mid 19th C. Apart from the obvious youngsters working on the computers, us Senior Citizens are given a helping hand if needed. I borrow quite a lot of books and having eclectic tastes I could ask the librarian to order anything from Physics to Philosophy to crime. Always the librarians do their best to obtain them. We also have our reading circle at the library, since I retired and moved here 5yrs ago I have met and made friends with so many people. I wish everybody could have a library as happy and good as ours.

    Mairwen is just one of many Voices for the Library – and thanks to Karen, for lending Mairwen a voice here, today.

    The Voices for the Library story

    In September 2010, a new hashtag started appearing on Twitter. People following a certain group of information professionals started noticing slightly mysterious tweets flying around, topped off with #pling! [3] What people didn’t know at the time was that they were witnessing the birth of a movement. 2 short (and extremely busy) weeks later, the mystery was revealed, and Voices for the Library was launched.

    [4] Voices for the Library is a campaign that encourages anyone who loves and values libraries to share their experiences and stories about what libraries mean to them. The group of information professionals behind Voices were concerned about the threats to libraries of closures and cutbacks, and about the negative and inaccurate coverage of libraries in the media.

    They felt that public libraries were being misrepresented as underused (despite figures showing a rise in use) and obsolete, and that there was a need for a space where librarians and library users could come together to make their voices heard: to speak out about what their ‘library truths’ were. Voices aimed to be this space: to combat misrepresentation and to provide accurate and impartial information about UK public libraries.

    For instance: some of you may have heard Ned Potter and Laura Woods do their ‘echo chamber’ presentation? They talk very eloquently about the Newsnight debacle where, in a report on public libraries, they reported the total number of loans in UK public libraries as being 314,000, when in fact it was 314 million. As Ned and Laura point out, librarians on Twitter went mad with frustration – but no-one outside the profession paid any attention to our protests, and Newsnight never corrected the figure. There we have a huge misconception about the value and use of libraries – which could, potentially, do real damage to the UK public library service.

    But Voices isn’t just about librarians giving information, and saying ‘we’re actually all rather good, you know’. The name ‘Voices for the Library’ was chosen carefully – we wanted it to be a place where anyone who cares about libraries can make their voices heard. Much of our content comes from library users, who want to share their stories about how libraries have affected their lives. These stories cover all sorts of aspects of public libraries: [5] the obvious, and most-talked about, is the books. People tell us how they had no books in the house when they were growing up, how the public library was a life-line where they discovered new worlds, and made friends between the pages of a book. Parents tell us how Rhyme Time and reading challenges have helped their children develop and grow.

    There are people telling their story who are self-educated, through the resources their public library had to offer. People to who the library is the only safe community space they know. People who use the library for research. People who’ve taught themselves English at their local library. People whose public library is their only access to a computer, who otherwise would not be able to apply for jobs and access council services and go paperless with their utility bills…

    The other category of ‘library user’ stories are those which come from famous users – yes, it’s the celebs. [6] I know that the statement of a celebrity is intrinsically no more important than that of anyone else, but we can’t deny that it helps to raise awareness. Celebs who’ve spoken out recently about the value of libraries (to us and to other campaigns) include Robin Ince, Phillip Pullman, Julia Donaldson and Brian Blessed.

    And, of course, there are stories from library staff as well. Some are examples of the kind of work they do, to show the range and depth of what trained library staff do, and to illustrate that it’s not all stamping books and shushing! And some are more theoretical debates, about the philosophy of public libraries, their purpose, and their place in society. And then there are those that show how that theory translates into real social effects, such as this extract from Carol’s story: (http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/wordpress/?p=1161 )[7]

    Carol is a Community Engagement Officer for Southwark Libraries, working for the Community Library Service. They’re facing cuts, including the loss of the mobile library and homebound delivery service:
    I must tell you, many of these customers are absolutely heartbreaking. They’re completely isolated. Many of them will not be able to attend the cabinet meeting at Peckham Town Hall on the 8th February to voice their objections – because they can’t walk across a room, let alone leave their (for the most part) inadequate council housing. I see these people every week, and many of them say they simply don’t know what they’d do if we weren’t around. It isn’t just about having something to read / listen to / watch. It’s about a life-line. It’s about having something to look forward to, and to occupy their minds, and perhaps most importantly in a lot of cases, someone to talk to. Many of our customers don’t see anyone else from month to month. I’ve sat with some of them whilst they’ve cried from sheer lonliness and despair. Over the years we’ve found people unconscious, listened to their problems, and given them a little hope and company.

    These are the stories we feel need to be heard.

    Our social media story

    So, how do we tell these stories? Heck, how do we hear them in the first place? Through social media. We’ve relied heavily on social media right from the start of the campaign – not just for dissemination, but for collaboration too. We faced a number of challenges, for which social media was – not just the best, but often the only – solution.

    [8] Firstly, we’re geographically dispersed. VftL team members live scattered across the country, from Brighton to Harrogate and all points in between. This (combined with the other challenges I’ll come on to talk about) means that meeting face-to-face has been basically out of the question. Team members had met randomly at various things, but not enough to do any systematic collaboration, and we’d never all been in one room together – until late Jan, when we had our first face-to-face board meeting, down in London.

    This means that everything that had been done up to then – all the planning, work, collaboration etc, had been done purely virtually and remotely.

    [9] Our second challenge was that we have no budget. For the first few months, absolutely nothing. Mick Fortune paid for the hosting of the website out of his own pocket. Various team members paid to get flyers printed. We didn’t have a small budget, we had no budget at all, which meant our tools had to be free. Thanks to generous sponsorship from Credo Reference and Britannica, we got ourselves a budget! But with travel and attending events, it’s already mostly accounted for, and we can’t rely on any more coming in. Which means that we have to carry on finding free solutions – and most of these come from social media.

    [10] The third challenge? Time! We have even less time than we have money. The VftL team are all volunteers, doing what we can for the campaign in the time we have available. As most of us are not only working full time, but also have other responsibilities such as degrees, other commitees/campaigns, writing to do – and even social lives! - this time can be quite limited. As well as meaning that none of us have got quite enough sleep for the past few months, it also means that we quite simply don’t have the time to spend on a tool that doesn’t work, quickly and easily. We need to be putting all of our effort into what we’re doing, not the tools we’re using to do it – and I’d say that’s a key point for any campaign. Of course, some things require more time than others – the website, for instance – so our key concept here is return for time spent.

    [11] The final challenge is that of trying to run a nationwide campaign, under the constraints set out above: geographically distant, no money, no time. We do have a target audience – library users and stakeholders. The problem here – as anyone who’s tried to do marketing for public libraries will know – is that they’re not just one demographic! Public libraries in the UK are designed to serve the whole community, from babies to pensioners, and often the only thing they have in common is that they use libraries.

    Social media is really the only way we currently have of being able to communicate with these disparate groups of people! Now, we know we’re missing out a huge chuck of the population, and I’ll talk about that later on – strategies to get the word out to the ‘non-line’ community.

    Tools
    So what are these free, fast tools we’re using?

    We do most of our communicating within the group by email, but there are a number of other tools we use. [12] Within the group we use a wiki for collaboration, Chatzy for online meetings (it’s an online service that allows you to create a private online chat room, and have text-based discussions – which also means you can copy and paste the text of your discussion, to make minuting a breeze!), and doodle for scheduling our meetings.

    For outward-facing communications, we have 3 main points of entry: website, facebook, and twitter.

    [13]Website: this is our fancy new website, launched in Jan. We were very lucky that team member Ian has a cousin who is a graphic designer, and who very kindle designed our new logo. For free. The website was initially built and launched in a very short space of time – 2 weeks from conception to launch – and the original website was … *ahem*… functional… [14]
    Our primary aim was to get the campaign off the ground – not to spend our time making sure everything looked perfect. Once the campaign was going, and we knew that the most important pieces of work – spreading information, gathering stories – was underway, we were then able to sit down and think about a rebrand and our image. This is the way that has worked for us. If you do have time to get everything perfect in advance, great! If not, don’t worry. Making improvements as you go along is perfectly acceptable!

    And the website really has been a success! We use Google analytics [15] (again, a free tool) to track usage, and since we launched in September we’ve had over 38,000 unique visitors, with over 128,000 page views. Most of these visits are from the UK, but we’ve had visits from 120 countries/territories in total, including Yemen, Algeria, Iceland, Mexico, and Romania.

    [16] Facebook: the other main landing point for our online presence is facebook. Again, facebook pages are free to create and maintain, though they do take quite a bit of time if you’re very active! Luckily, Ian & Gary who maintain our facebook page are very active, and we now have 2776 likes (which used to be called ‘fans’), and nearly 400,000 post views! Facebook sits in the gap between the website and our twitter account (which I’ll come on to talk about next). While there is a fair amount of cross-over in the content, facebook gives us slightly more freedom for longer links and discussions than twitter, but is more news-y and less in-depth than the website. It’s hugely popular – it’s a space where people are!

    [17] Twitter: twitter has a special place in the hearts of the Voices team – after all, it’s where we met! VftL was conceived on twitter, by a group of info pros who, for the most part, had never met. They knew each other only through twitter – that’s where the discussion and the idea started.

    The twitter account was the very first thing made! That’s why it has a different name to everything else – Ukpling (remember that #pling! from the start of the story?). This was intended to be the original name of the group, standing for ‘UK public libraries in need group’. Discussion changed this to ‘Voices for the Library’, but the twitter account was already established, under a different name.

    Now, it is possible to change your twitter name, and we have discussed doing so. But all the ones we really wanted were taken, and we’d built up quite a twitter following – over 2000 followers – so we decided to stick with it. It we were running the campaign all over again, one of the very first things we’d do would be to change the twitter name! Real-life storytelling – with props! Of course, no matter how much we ‘push’ our social media content, there are some things that just work better in person – like today! [18]

    One of our big aims recently has been to find out how to get in touch with the ‘offline’ community – perhaps those 10 million people in the UK who don’t have a computer, and for whom their local library might be their only point of internet access. To help get the word- the voices! – out to people who don’t use social media, we’ve got some actual, real physical material! We have flyers, which we hand out at events, and which are available from our website for people to download and distribute.

    A new weapon in the VftL arsenal are these rather charming badges and ribbons [19] – available for a small fee from the VftL stand by the door! [I’m delighted to see some people wearing them already!]. We can’t take credit for the idea of the ribbon campaign – it came from library campaigners in Oxford, who were more than happy for us to use our national presence to promote the ribbon campaign, and get other campaigns – and individuals! – wearing them. The badge campaign was the brainchild of Lauren Smith, our media rep and all-round bestest indie-kid. She wanted something that would not only get the message across, but also be visually appealing – something fun (but not twee or dumbed down) that would appeal to children and adults. Badges! They’re also easy to design and order, and quite cheap – we’d talked about (like everyone else!) doing tote bags, but it’s much easier to get someone to shell out a quid or so for some badges than 10-15 for a tote bag/tshirt/mug…

    We’ll be taking along badges and ribbons when we go along to events – not only library/info events such as this one, but crucially non-library events, to get out of that pesky echochamber. As Annie mentioned this morning, a number of librarians around the country have been speaking at Womens Institute events, and those include VftL members. Others who have been speaking have contacted us beforehand for advice. I recently spoke to a National Union of Journalists sector group at their national conference. Later this month we’re off to the Hay festival, where we’ve got a stand. Seems like a great place to promote the importance of UK public libraries, drum up some support, and get some great stories!

    [20] It can be a lot easier to piggyback on an existing event, campaign or movement than to start your own. You might find it easier to get libraries on the agenda at a local residents meeting, say, or a parish council rather than getting people to come along to a meeting about libraries. Find existing forums, and see if they’ll let you speak. This is also a great way of really getting outside the echo chamber – people who come along to a meeting specifically about libraries are going to be those people who already really care about them! People who use libraries, and who are probably at least vaguely aware of what’s going on. At a more general meeting, you have a chance to speak to those who perhaps don’t use their local library very often – or at all! – but who might still be interested. You might well inspire non-users to join up or return by telling them about all the other fantastic services which libraries offer, which are under threat – a recent ipsos mori report (http://www.mla.gov.uk/news_and_views/press_releases/2010/ipsosmori, nov 2010) said that 19% of lapsed users wanted more information about what libraries offer – this might be your chance to give it to them! [21]

    And, as the survey points out, its’ not just lapsed or non-users who don’t know what the library does: ‘Nevertheless, even some current users aren’t aware of everything you can do at a library. For example, as shown in figure 1 above, 19% of current users in our survey thought that being able to reserve or renew books online would encourage them to make more use of libraries; in fact, this facility is already widely available at public libraries’

    If you’re speaking on behalf of libraries, prepare to be an advocate and emissary for all libraries, everywhere. As Annie said this morning, all sectors of the library/information world are going through tough times - whether from cutbacks, closures, outsourcing, de-professionalism - it affects us all. So it's even more vital that when we advocate, we advocate for the profession as a whole. We need to support each other: this is no time for professional squabbling or jealousy.

    And advocating as whole can make a difference. For instance, when I spoke to the NUJ recently someone in the audience brought up the topic of school libraries, and I had to tell them that unfortunately school libraries weren’t statutory, and that even when they exist, they’re not required to employ a qualified librarian – or indeed any librarian at all! I couldn’t give her any detailed statistics, but I could refer her to the Heart of the School website, which is dedicated to proving the importance of school libraries. This means that the people in that room, who came there caring about public libraries, now care about school libraries too.

    Telling our story to the media [22]
    We also talk to the media a lot – whenever they ask us to, and often when they don’t! VftL representatives have appeared on local and national radio & TV – mainly our media rep, Lauren Smith, though other members have braved the microphones at 6am to talk about library closures in their area. We try to take every opportunity that arises - Lauren once did a mammoth session of 12 local radio interviews in the space of 2 hours, topped off by going head-to-head with Ed Vaizey on you and yours! One of the things we’ve learned about dealing with the media is that you have to contact them first – if they don’t know about you, they won’t contact you! Don’t be scared to push forward - if you have something newsworthy (and bear in mind that their interpretation of newsworthy may be different to yours!) tell them about it! The flipside of this? As some voices members can testify, once they do know about you, you might have a hard time getting them to leave you alone…

    Grow your own stories [23]
    What have we learnt from our experiences with Voices for the Library, that can help you make you own story have a happy ending – or, at least, not be a comedy of errors?

    [24] Be flexible. This is one of the most important pieces of advice I can give. If you’re not willing to be flexible and fast-moving, then all your other efforts will probably go to waste. This is about being flexible in what tools you use, and in how, when, and even why you respond to things – an indignant blog post isn’t always the right answer! BUT sometimes maybe you do need to be ready to write that indignant blog post at a moment’s notice, when that’s the right thing to do. Luckily VftL have some great team members who are fantastic at producing well-researched and eloquently written posts at the drop of a hat. If you don’t have this capacity – and there is nothing *at all* wrong with not being on the job 24/7 – then you need to be flexible in fitting your responses and strategies to your available resources.

    [25] Be passionate. There’s nothing worse than fake enthusiasm; nothing more damaging to a campaign than an advocate who doesn’t really believe in it. Again, you don’t have to be advocating for libraries constantly – but when you are, you have to be absolutely committed. And yes, advocating does involve some ‘above-and-beyond’ work to get outside the echo chamber. People have suggested talking about libraries whenever you have a captive audience – tell your hairdresser, your driving instructor, your gynaecologist…
    Now, no-one’s going to blame you if you want to have the occasional hair-cut in peace, but if you do decide to take the plunge and start talking about libraries, do it with passion, conviction – and a decent grasp of the facts! Which brings me on to…

    [26] Be accurate! One of the major points of the current crop of library campaigns is that they are campaigning – at least in part – against inaccurate information about libraries in the media. Now, accuracy and a correct reporting of the facts is important in any campaign – but even more so when one of your points is that the ‘opposition’ is getting their facts wrong. One of our major arguments can easily be turned into a stick to beat us, if we don’t use it carefully.

    [27] Be realistic. Yes, there are a few people out there with seemingly inexhaustible commitment. VftL’s Lauren Smith has been described as a ‘one-woman library-saving machine’ – and that’s fine. I can think of others who work 12, 15, 18 hour days working and writing and advocating – and that seems to be fine – for them. It’s not fine for me. I can do maybe 10 hours of work a day before I go all wobbly, and have to have a sit-down with a glass of wine and a bit of no-think tv. And that’s fine too. I try to manage my commitments so I’m not regularly pushing myself beyond the amount of work I know I can productively do. It doesn’t always work, mind you, but I’ve just about managed to get things to the level where I don’t feel guilty for having an evening off.

    Don’t feel guilty for having an evening off. Don’t feel guilty for having a week off. Don’t feel guilty when life gets in the way, and you have to abandon advocacy to go and pick up your kids, or mop the kitchen floor – or even have a pint in the sunshine with your mates. Set yourself realistic targets for involvement, and do your best to stick to them. You’ll have much better results – and be much less stressed! – if you aim to do 30 mins a week, and achieve it, than if you promise to do an hour a day, and never manage it. And be realistic about what your campaign can achieve, too. Yes, it would be super-awesome if you manage to convince people not only not to close libraries, but to build more! And to make everyone use them! And give them loads of funding! And medals for librarians! And free ice-cream! Let’s face it, it’s not going to happen. Set realistic targets – get 1000 signatures on a petition; get the council to reconsider their proposals; buy your local librarian an ice-cream – and you’ll be much a much happier and healthier campaign for having hit them.

    Above all? [28] Be happy. And this, finally, is my story. One of the great and abiding joys that has come to me through my VftL work is getting to work with an absolutely amazing bunch of people. They’re an inspiration – and more than that, they’re my friends. A while ago, I was feeling a bit burned out, and asked to be taken off the VftL emails for a while. Do you know how long I lasted? 36 hours. I missed them too much. Something would happen, and I’d think, ‘ooh, I wonder what Ian’s said about… oh. Oh yeah. Guess I’ll just have to form my own opinion then…’ I know that this is not a happy time for libraries. I know things look very bleak, and it can be the most hideously discouraging thing to have all your hard work disregarded. I know that some days it’s just all too much. But you have to keep hold of your happiness – even if it’s only a tiny fragment of it. Hold onto why you are doing this. Remember to celebrate the positive. If you allow yourself to only ever see the negative, you and your campaign will suffer. Don’t found your advocacy on fear and hatred and negativity, for out of negativity only come negative changes. Found it on love and joy and hope, and remember to always take comfort in the fact that, whatever happens, [29] you damn well went down fighting.

    [30] Thankyou
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    Voices for the Library - presentation at CILIP Wales conference Voices for the Library - presentation at CILIP Wales conference Presentation Transcript

    • Bethan Ruddock @bethanar
      Mimas and Voices for the Library
      #CILIPW11
    • Mairwen’s
      story
      Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/watt_dabney/4017150425/
    • #pling!
    • Carol’s story
      Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mkorchia/3278430500/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/mslivenletlive/490552618/
    • Image used by CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/theaftershock/3283238354/
    • PLING!
      UBLIC
      IBRARIES
      N
      EED
      ROUP
    • Some things…
      …just work better in person
      Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/52059084@N02/5019700545/in/pool-1486854@N20/
    • Picture used under a CC licence from
      http://www.flickr.com/photos/nevernameless/10160990/
    • MLA/Ipsos MORI report: What do the public want from libraries? November 2010
      Full report at http://research.mla.gov.uk/evidence/documents/what_public_want_from_libraries_full_research_report_final_081110.pdf
    • Grow
      Your
      Own
      Story
      Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/l-e-e/2761041337/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessicafoley/4270697958/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/escondidopubliclib/5515352357/in/photostream/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bcostin/340062076/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/32961941@N03/3166085824/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosengrant/3370782464/
    • Image used under a CC licence from http://www.flickr.com/photos/ibailemon/2870137723/
    • www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk
      @UKpling
      contact@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk
      @bethanar
      bethaninfoprof.wordpress.com
      bethan.ruddock@manchester.ac.uk