CILIP in London Talk

Talk about the work of the Library Campaign – a volunteer organisation that aims to promote libraries in the public sector – including schools, hospitals, government departments as well as public libraries. They aim to be an umbrella group for friends and user groups.

Most of their current efforts are in England and they still occasionally meet hostility as the campaign used to be more trade union in style. They are now primarily concerned with the promotion and improvement of libraries (and also fight closures where necessary) as well as being concerned with the dangers of deprofessionalisation.

There is a need to persuade/lobby government and adopt a high profile to ensure that policies introduced are not dropped through lack of funding e.g. People’s Network and that more government support is present for new projects. Has been a definite feel that “there are no votes in libraries” and Campaign aims to change this attitude where possible.

There are several different types of user groups that the Campaign aims to support:

1) Independent, pressure groups, in contact with Council. Excellent at providing feedback.
2) Groups set up to fight closure or cutbacks. These often disband when the battle is won (or lost).
3) Groups set up by libraries or Councils. Danger that solely in place for fund raising. It is not the responsibility of users to fund libraries, especially as money raised is often off set against budget so target is no better off. Important to remember that funding by Local Authorities is a Statutory requirement.

Local Councillors are often indifferent or ignorant to what libraries can do and provide. Libraries are involved in life long learning, neighbourhood renewal and personal development – all aspects that government is promoting. Libraries are a political issue. Free access to information is an essential component in a democratic society.

Need to be vigilant so that standards of services are not eroded.

Library Campaign strengths include the fact that its members are a mix of professionals and users who have a passion and belief in libraries. However, there are a number of other organisations who have a higher profile, and the Campaign currently run by volunteers has no marketing strategy. Lacks money!

There is a danger that other groups that promote more negative stories e.g. all libraries closing, on verge of extinction will promote and perpetuate that myth. Campaign aims to counteract negative stories and promote library strengths.

Libraries are valuable – help people to live (e.g. improve quality of people’s lives) rather than simply to survive. Alliance with other local authority services strengthens libraries and the communities they reach – success of Book Start programme. Real economic benefit in investing in people’s education and development. Librarians into the community.

Having never worked in a public library (bar a 2 week work experience placement) I found this extremely interesting. I had not heard of the Campaign before – and obviously they are aware of the need to develop a marketing strategy. Possibly as my Local Authority appears to fund its libraries well enough that there have been no obvious closures/cuts they have not been active in my area.

However, the point about reaching out into the community is also important. I’m not sure how much my local library does in terms of workshops and talks – possibly more likely to be held at the Central Library. Although I use the library I am probably not aware as I should be about issues they are facing and their activities beyond being a provider of books, DVDs and ocassionally (as now) free internet access!

Another thought that struck me is how separate the different areas of work become. In the talk at the CILIP in London AGM there was some discussion about how difficult it would be to swap sector – how relevant sectorial work experience was often a big issue.

I have worked in academic, legal and now health libraries and even after my MSc have very little idea about the range, quality and issues of a professional public librarian. Will definitely consider organising a visit to a public library to discuss some of these issues. With the expected retirement of a number of high level librarians from public libraries there may well be opportunities that should not be ruled out through ignorance of the sector.

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