An introduction to Voices for the Library


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This presentation was delivered at a CPD25 event on the impact of the Browne report on academic libraries.

The script for the presentation is available here:

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  • [1]The focus for today has mainly been on the situation facing academic institutions in the light of the recent Browne report and the potential cuts ahead. This presentation is about how a campaign has come together to address the cuts to public libraries and how it is trying to demonstrate the value of libraries in order to underline their importance to society and fight off the cuts and closures.[2]Hopefully, you have heard of a public library campaign called Voices for the Library? Voices for the Library came together in August 2010. We came together as a result of a growing disillusionment with the way libraries and information professionals were portrayed in the media. Discussions about libraries and cuts to the library service usually sidelined those within the profession, in favour of those who had no background in libraries other than as an interested observer. As a result, a narrative had developed that librarians, trained staff and, most importantly, library users had no control over. Enough was enough. It was time for us to take the narrative back and demonstrate the real value of libraries as well as highlight the many contributions librarians and trained staff make to society.Launching the campaign was an interesting experience. Spread across the UK, many of us had never even met each other and we relied heavily on social networking and email to develop and launch the campaign. In fact, much of the early work of the campaign involved heavy use of Twitter to try and co-ordinate our efforts and create early interest in what we were trying to achieve.We were also fortunate to gain support from a number of agencies early on, including CILIP, Unison and The Reading Agency. We were also extra fortunate to receive sponsorship from organisations such as Credo, Encyclopaedia Britannica and ExLibris. This sponsorship enabled us to hold a meeting in London to further organise the campaign and, most importantly, finally put names to faces.We had a number of aims when we first established the campaign. [3] Firstly, to provide positive stories of the contributions libraries and librarians make to society. We felt this was crucial as there seemed to be so few stories in the public domain which has led to the situation we are now in: councils cutting libraries as they believe they are irrelevant.[4] Secondly, to provide factual data. One of the things that has struck us most over the past ten months is how often libraries that are proposed for closure have seen an increase in usage over a five year period. The fact that such libraries are still in the firing line suggests that libraries are seen as a soft target.[5] Thirdly, to provide voices for the media...connecting local campaigns with the national media wherever possible.[6] Fourthly to give local campaigns a voice and a platform to highlight their local situation, promote their campaigns and offer whatever support we are able to provide.[7] Finally, to raise awareness of the impact of the cuts. Closing a library isn’t a quick win. The shock of a library closure, particularly in the most deprived areas, will reverberate throughout the community for decades.[8] Those are our aims. But why did we feel there was a need for Voices for the Library?[9] Some of the reasons have already been mentioned, but they are worth repeating. The sheer scale of the situation necessitated a response [pause]. [10] What is happening to libraries is an element of what is best described by Naomi Klein as ‘The Shock Doctrine’- ie pushing through a range of painful policies at once, before opposition can organise. Launching a campaign that sought to bring together a range of local campaigns was, we felt, a step towards preventing the wholesale destruction of our public library network in a way that small-scale disparate groups could not hope to achieve.[11] So, how have we gone about achieving our aims?[12] We use a range of social media, including Twitter and Facebook to post stories from our website, items from news websites, interesting blog posts...anything that highlights the current situation or provides some positive examples of what libraries and librarians offer (it’s nice to lighten things up with positive stories from time to time!).[13] Our efforts with social media helped to get #savelibraries trending worldwide on Twitter after an initial tweet by @mardixon, as people shared their reasons for supporting libraries and highlighting the cuts that they were facing. This led to positive coverage in The Guardian about the strength of support for libraries in the face of such extreme cuts.[14] We have also worked to produce a map highlighting the closures across the country through information gathered by Ian Anstice – a member of the VftL team and the man behind the Public Library News website that has been the media’s first stop for up-to-date information about the extent of the cuts.But it is not just online that we have tried to spread the word about the campaign. [15] We recently produced a series of badges that we are selling to help raise awareness not only of our campaign, but also the situation facing public libraries. [16] We have also recently printed a batch of business cards with details of where people can find us and get in touch with us. I’ve brought some with me here today so if anyone wants one, feel free to come and grab one off me later![17] We also recently had a stall at the Hay Festival. Again, we felt this was important as it provided an opportunity to connect with people who may not necessarily be aware of the dire situation facing public libraries. And where better place to raise awareness than at one of the largest book festivals in the country?![18] Whilst there, we encouraged people to fill out catalogue cards pledging their support for libraries. This one was written by Ellis aged 4!But absolutely central to our campaign are the stories from library users about why they value their local library. Without these stories, these voices for the library, our campaign would flounder. It is by demonstrating the value of libraries to local communities that we hope to offer a serious challenge to the cuts that are proposed from Gloucestershire to Doncaster and from the Isle of Wight to North Yorkshire.[19] Stories that focus on the importance of the availability of a wide range of bookstock for themselves and their children.[20] Stories that highlight the importance of the library as a place to study and conduct research.[21] Stories from people about how the library has helped develop their children’s literacy and supported their education.[22] Stories about how free access to technology in libraries, particularly the Internet, has helped bridge the gap between those that have access and those that do not and ensured that a sizeable proportion of the population aren’t left behind.[23] Stories about how the library plays a vital role in bringing together communities and creating a true ‘Big Society’.[24] And even stories from celebrities defending the need for libraries and throwing their support behind the campaign to save them. We were lucky enough to have Robin Ince write a story exclusively for our site, sharing his passion for libraries.[25] Finally I want to end on an image that I think says a lot about the range of reasons why people value their public library. This word cloud was generated after asking the question: “What three words would you use to describe what libraries mean to you?” The answers do, I think, demonstrate the wide ranging reasons why people value our public library service. And by demonstrating each of these reasons, we hope to encourage councils to change their minds.
  • An introduction to Voices for the Library

    1. 1. Public libraries fight back!<br />
    2. 2. Voicesfor theLibrary<br />Launched website in September 2010.<br />Founders met on Twitter.<br />Utilise number of social networks.<br />Supported by CILIP, Unison, The Reading Agency.<br />Sponsored by Credo Reference, ExLibris, Encyclopaedia Britannica.<br />
    3. 3. Share positive stories.<br />
    4. 4. Provide factual data.<br />
    5. 5. Connect the media with local campaigners.<br />
    6. 6. Provide a voice for local communities.<br />
    7. 7. Raise awareness of the impact of library cuts.<br />
    8. 8. ...but why?<br />
    9. 9. Over 400 public libraries listed for closure.<br />Lack of a ‘voice’ for library users across the country.<br />Lack of awareness of what modern libraries offer.<br />Growth of misinformation about library usage.<br />An under-appreciation of the value of trained professionals.<br />Lack of media engagement with professionals.<br />
    10. 10. “[Milton Friedman] advised politicians that immediately after a crisis they should push through all the painful policies at once, before people could regain their footing. <br />“He called this method ‘Economic Shock Treatment’. <br />“I call it ‘The Shock Doctrine’.” <br />(Naomi Klein, 2007)<br />
    11. 11. ...and how?<br />
    12. 12. Use a range of social media.<br />
    13. 13.
    14. 14. Closures map.<br />
    15. 15.
    16. 16.
    17. 17.
    18. 18.
    19. 19. Stories about books…<br />
    20. 20. …study…<br />
    21. 21. …literacy…<br />
    22. 22. …technology…<br />
    23. 23. …and community.<br />
    24. 24.  “I turn in my library card on the day of my death.”<br />
    25. 25.
    26. 26. Follow us:<br />Voicesfor the Library<br />@UKPling<br /><br />
    27. 27. Photos on slides 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 17, 18, 21 and 23 taken from <br /> the Voices for the Library Flickr Pool.<br /> Slide 7: Chris Devers<br /> Slide 10: My Hourglass<br /> Slide 12: KEXINO<br /> Slide 19: Ozyman<br /> Slide 20: 96dpi<br /> Slide 22: splorp<br /> Slide 27: devilla<br />All the above images are used under a Creative Commons licence.<br />