Public Library Standards

New Birmingham Library Interior 2by Tony Hisgett

Licensed under CC-BY 2.0

Original source via Flickr

I have recently been investigating the situation of public library standards in the UK. I first encountered them as a library assistant working in England in 2004. The English standards were first introduced in 2001 to ensure that public money was being used effectively and to give transparency to what was considered a good quality resource. There were 19 standards in 2001 which were reduced to 10 in 2006. Two further revisions followed but by 2008 they quietly disappeared, replaced by the softer “Benchmarks”.

In the UK public libraries are free for any individual to join and to borrow books and other resources (some charges may apply, such as fines for the late return of books and borrowing other items). The vanished standards took into account the latest UK legislation on public libraries – the 1964 Libraries Act. Some 54 years later that act still stands and one of its main tenets is that local government authorities have to supply a library service to all anyone who wishes to visit a library and to all the population of the local authority.

“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof…”

In recent years, as local authorities across the UK are trying to find financial efficiencies the above phrase has become a mantra for anyone, professional or public, who are desperately trying to keeps libraries open.

The standards measured such things as library distance from citizen’s homes, opening hours, electronic access, efficiency of book issues, customer care, staff qualifications and up to date stock. They were monitored and assessed by the then Department of Culture Media and Sport and heads of service were answerable. Back in 2004, the library authority where I worked took the standards very seriously. Even us lowly library assistants were trained in them, and we were expected to gather information daily about the use of the library.

I benefited from being given excellent training in customer care, equality awareness and a qualification in ICT. I was supported and encouraged to take a course in librarianship (distance learning), although the training budget did not stretch to paying the fees. Opening hours were scrutinised and adjusted to cover times when people could easily visit the libraries, at evenings, on Saturday afternoons and Sunday opening was being considered. the service was expanding.

Now, the very same service is contracting. Like many other local authorities before them they have stopped short of closing any static libraries, although both mobile libraries have gone. Opening hours have been reduced, homework clubs disappeared and staff numbers have dwindled. Soon there will be only one qualified librarian not in a management role. As I mentioned, they are not the only library authority that are doing this – there are many pressures on local government.

The other UK home nations have different strategies. Scotland does not have Standards, but it does have the “How good is our public library service” framework which is a rigorous self assessment and forward planning tool that is peer reviewed and reported on behalf of SLIC, the Scottish Library and Information Council, which is an independent advisory body for the Scottish Government. This framework is closely linked to a National strategy for public libraries in Scotland, the current iteration being: Ambition & Opportunity The framework and strategy are prompts for library managers to scrutinise their  library service ensuring that tax payers receive high quality service and value for money. Note that SLIC is a Scottish charity, not the Scottish Government itself although it works on it’s behalf.

The Welsh Government does have Welsh Public Library Standards (WPLS), which are administered through MALD, the Museums, Archives and Libraries Division, part of the Welsh Government’s civil service. The current framework is Connected and Ambition Libraries which has an accompanying guide called How good is your public library. These are confusingly similar titles to the Scottish Framework. The Welsh Public Library Standards comprise 12 core entitlements and 16 quality indicators. As for the Scottish framework, there is an element of self assessment by library management with the addition of the future direction of the library. Similarly, the purpose is to ensure that Welsh tax payers receive a high quality service with money being spent well.  These standards are assessed annually, reviewed by an independent adviser and peer-reviewed.

Northern Island also has Public Library Standards which are assessed, although I do not know the assessment mechanism. It appears to be by centrally sourced surveys and data from the Northern Ireland Library management system. The 12 standards cover the same sort of areas as WPLS  and the Scottish strategy. They are based on a Northern Ireland government act, The Libraries Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 which states :

“…to provide a comprehensive and efficient public library service for persons living, working or studying in Northern Ireland.”

The main difference is that there is only one public library service that covers all of Northern Ireland, and it is part of the Northern Irish Department for Communities, whereas Wales, Scotland and England have multiple library services as part of local government.

So what is the point of having these standards, or strategic framework, apart from providing a checklist of good practice and demonstrating value? In my opinion, it is so that things are done. If someone has to look at what they are doing, if they have to count, assess, gather statistics, collect evidence they are paying attention to what is happening in their service and issues can be solved before they get out of hand and achievements can be noticed and celebrated.

Guidelines are good, as long as they are voluntarily followed, but when there are multiple pressures on services and their employees, it is the statutory actions that are prioritised. Standards are better, because even if a service knows that they cannot fully achieve a standard, they will work towards it and the issue receives a higher priority than it would otherwise. Similarly, standards give justification to actions, such as increasing the book-fund, or training staff. Standards also stimulate creativity. If you don’t have the money to achieve a standard, find a way around the problem, for collaborating with another organisation or simply coming up with an inventive idea. For example, several Welsh Authorities are collaborating with FE colleges to provide library and information qualifications to library staff.

Surely it is time that England had standards again?

 

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Not the Edinburgh Fringe, but Repository Fringe 2018

I have been rather busy over August. When most people have gone off to milder climes and sun kissed beaches, I have spent a lot of time in my study focusing on some consultancy work. This meant that I didn’t manage to write up the conference that I attended in Edinburgh – so slightly late, here some highlights from Repository Fringe 2018. 

Dundas Street, Edinburgh, looking towards the Forth

This annual  two day conference in Edinburgh is organised by the UK open access repository community for anyone who is interested in the concept of open access and for those working in institutional repositories. It is very much a practical conference, full of good, useful information and it provides a springboard for networks, initiatives, very useful meetings and potential collaborations.

This year’s venue was The Royal Society of Edinburgh, one of Edinburgh’s stately Georgian buildings. It was historic, welcoming and just the right size. I have to say that I was very excited to see portraits of past Fellows on the walls,  including Humphry Davy and the inevitable Walter Scott.

Speakers were drawn from all facets of the open access and academic community. The opening Keynote speech was from Danny Kingsley, Deputy Director of Scholarly Communication and Research Services, Cambridge University Library.  She drew attention to the surreptitious way that publishers are infiltrating online resources that openly share the work of academics and outlined the difficulty of getting academics to deposit their work into the repository. One solution being to train PhD students and their supervisors with the idea that sharing their work on open access is normal procedure.

Emily Sena, an academic and researcher as well as Editor in Chief, BMJ Open Science, Edinburgh, gave a powerful presentation from an academic perspective. Very much in favour of open access to information, she talked about the importance of publishing research that have negative results as this sets research into context and minimises bias.

Gavin Ian McLachlan, Chief Information Officer. University of Edinburgh spoke of the forthcoming data economy and data repositories. Edinburgh is being given funding to become “the Data Capital of Europe” and anticipates that many jobs will arise in the area for anyone who works and innovates with data. The University will be home to a world class data centre, that will include open data.

Colossus – Bletchley Park

 

Such openness comes with consequences. Information has become a commodity that may be bought and sold, and the people who work hard: to make discoveries, to write up their life’s work and prove or disprove scientific facts deserve recognition for their achievements.  Therefore, licensing and copyright laws have to be taken into consideration when work is made open, to ensure that reputable institutions such as Universities remain reputable and do not fall foul of the law. Jane Secker (City University, London) and Chris Morrison (University of Kent) have a solution. They have invented a board game that illustrates the problems involved and how to avoid them. They gave a presentation about the development of this clever training device and then there was a chance to play the game. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the hands on experience as I had arranged a meeting at that time.

Other sessions were summaries of good practice being done in repositories across the UK, updates of partnering organisations working to help the flow of information, such as Jisc, CORE and Wikipedia. A selection of special interest groups held meetings to support practitioners. I enjoyed the two days because the conference was relevant, concise, practical and informative. I also met old colleagues and friends, an important aspect for peer support in a field that is often isolated.

The presentations can all be found at the Repository Fringe archive: https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/2403

 

Ancient Libraries

Libraries have been around for a very long time and somehow it seems to catch the popular imagination, or media imagination, at least, when a new bit of knowledge is revealed about them. There seems to be something about human psychology that life in the “Old Times” was really basic and I think it must come as a shock when evidence is found that humans have been doing the same things for millennia. A piece of news caught my eye. A 2000 year old building has been revealed in Cologne, which puzzled archaeologists for a while.   Comparing it with other buildings, they decided that it was most likely to be a library building, as it had many small compartments just the right size to hold a few scrolls. Around 20,000 of them.

Of course, there is no record of what type of library this was or what sort of documents were held there. for example was it philosophical or religious teachings, legal documents or the mundane bureaucratic records of a governing body. Was it for the use of all, or a select few? Was there a Librarian that looked after these documents? we can only speculate, but what ever they were, the knowledge that they held was considered important enough for them to be neatly housed in a stone building.

Another library doing the rounds on Social Media is the Chained Library at Hereford Cathedral. I remember seeing this a long time ago, as a child. Hereford Cathedral was one of the places that I really liked visiting, along with Cyfarthfa Castle and Monmouth Museum. I was an unusual child. The Chained Library is so called because the books are chained to the shelves. Apparently the library was built this way in the 1600’s and the cathedral’s medieval manuscripts were rebound and re-shelved – modernisation at the time, no doubt.

As I recall, the library was situated up a narrow spiral staircase, in a small dark room, with the shelves looking very dark and very, very old (was very, very young). It was unusual to find it open, and there was a guide to take you up there. It certainly added to sense of mystery and uniqueness of the collections. It seems as though they have been cleaned and re-housed. Better for preservation, no doubt and accessible to more people, but rather a shame, I feel, to lose that feeling of something exciting and special.

A third library, I came across last week. This is a tiny library, and it is the space itself that enchanted me, more than the collection of books inside it. It is in a turret of Ferniehirst Castle, designed in the 1600’s and housed the private collection of the laird. Completely circular, with shelves reaching the elaborately carved ceiling, it felt like a little private chapel to knowledge and learning. And the natural habitat of a librarian.
The library in Ferniehurst Castle

By Victuallers [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Today, in this time of efficiencies and austerity it seems that library buildings are too costly to maintain, or too costly to fill with staff, and some people consider them unnecessary because knowledge is held on the internet. However, our ancestors know that knowledge needed to be put somewhere safe. Safe for the container of the knowledge, scrolls, books, other documents, and safe for the person reading that knowledge. I believe that there will always be place in the world for library buildings. 2000 years of their history shows that humans care about them.

Making a gateway of knowledge for knowledge sorters

It is a recursive idea that people who sort knowledge and information and make it available for other people need knowledge and information themselves. Not only that, but in order to access it quickly and easily, they require someone to sort it and make it available for them saving their time.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, and sometimes people don’t, what I mean is that librarians, library staff and information professionals spend their working time ensuring that other people can access the information that they need. However, they also need support, they need some professional evidence to develop their own knowledge, skills, interests and improve the services that they give to other people.

The Charted Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) is aware of that need and they have been giving support and training opportunities since 1877 as the Library Association and 1958 as  the Institute of Information Scientists. These bodies merged in 2002. CILIP believes that it should be an “authoritative source of data and evidence about information management and libraries” and “an active partner in providing a research and evidence framework for the sector as a whole”. Therefore it commissioned us at Evidence Base in partnership with Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University to look at the possibility of a portal of information about information, knowledge about knowledge: a place where information professionals can go to get find authoritative evidence to back up practises, procedures and new developments. CILIP also asked if we could make some suggestions of how such an enterprise could be sustainably funded.

Together we examined the online resources that exist for other organisations. The American Library Association’s LARK is a good example. We looked at things that could be of use to information professionals of all fields and had a sneaky peak at what other professional associations were providing. More than that, we actually asked people what they wanted, what would really be useful for them. And the answers were:

Essential Features:
Case studies
Data sets/statistics
Open access search engines and repositories
Research reports
Regular updating
A variety of entry points to evidence e.g. sector, use and topic
Sharing options e.g. Twitter

Recommended Features:

Summaries or structured abstracts of key papers and reports
Sector specific resource
Indicators of rigour
Links to other CILIP resources

They also suggested some Additional Features:
Comments facility
Ability to export references
Briefing documents for different stakeholders
Alerting services

We suggested that the best method of funding such an undertaking would be by a collaborative approach, with funding gathered from a variety of organisations.

We are delighted that CILIP and now considering what can be done to achieve this important resource for librarians, library staff and information professionals. The full report is on the CILIP website.

 

IRUS-UK Survey 2018

Evidence Base conducted the IRUS-UK Community Survey from January to March this year. The survey is sent to IRUS-UK members for a number of reasons. It is an evaluation of the resource and the team behind it. It a form of communication with the IRUS-UK members and it is a great way to get ideas for the future development of the resource.

IRUS logo

This year we had some particularly interesting results, some of the questions were more open than in previous years, and that meant that IRUS-UK members could express their thoughts about repository usage statistics gathering in a general way, telling us all about the issues that they face.  Some common barriers to collecting repository statistics are:

  • Unreliability of statistics from the repository’s software packages
  • The need to provide and report statistics in greater depth and details to institutions’ management
  • Issues surrounding the use of statistics without context – a lack of understanding from some people reading the statistics

Pleasingly, many of the people who told us about these issues also told us that IRUS-UK is already helping to overcome these barriers.

“Down barriers!” by Oleg Afonin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It is doing this because it has:

  • Reliable and authoritative statistics and comparable data
  • High quality support from the IRUS-UK team
  • An easy to use system

Some useful suggestions for the development of IRUS-UK were made, including having more data visualisations with enhanced features and additional reports with increased downloading options.

The boring statistics about IRUS-UK were as follows:

  • 85% of respondents were “very” or “fairly” satisfied with IRUS-UK
  • 79% of respondents felt IRUS-UK has improved their statistical reporting
  • 63% of respondents consider that IRUS-UK has enabled reporting that they could not do previously
  • 60% of respondents use IRUS-UK for identifying trends and patterns

When asked if they would recommend IRUS-UK to a colleague, the majority of respondents said that they would.

The IRUS-UK team are currently working on how and when these things can be added to IRUS UK. For the report, follow this link: http://irus.mimas.ac.uk/documents/IRUS-UK_Annual_Community_Survey_March_2018.pdf

Staffing libraries with librarians

It may seem a little obvious to the general public to say that libraries should be staffed with librarians.
IMG_20170726_104620
It must appear that one is saying that schools should be staffed with teachers, banks should be staffed with bank clerks or hospitals staffed with Doctors and Nurses. But we know that in today’s complex job market where there are more people than jobs to go around, well in the UK anyway, it is not that simple anymore. Libraries are staffed with library assistants, schools have teaching assistants, banks have Automated Teller Machines (ATMs, or “cash-points to the likes of you and me”). Hospitals have a whole range of specialised technician roles as well various non-health related roles. There are many reasons for this, some to do with the expense of paying staff with higher qualifications and some to do with the changing nature of these establishments.

I also think that the definitions of the job titles have changed over the years. Librarian once really did mean someone who worked in a library and now I think that it means someone who holds the Higher Education Qualification of Librarian.  Looked at in that way it is easy to see how the confusion exists.

However, being highly qualified and knowing all the theory about a subject does not necessarily mean that someone really fits the role. For example, I have observed many a newly trained teacher struggle with controlling their class until they have had a few years experience of discovering the subtle skills of psychological crowd control.  Similarly, W.C. Berwick Sayers wrote about the role of Librarian in the introduction to Ranganathan’s 5 laws. Please forgive the gender bias in this passage, it was written at a time when the pronoun “he” was taken to represent humanity, so in your mind read this as meaning either “he” or “she” depending on your predilection.

“it is the personal element that the librarian brings into the library which gives it its vitality. Many libraries, alas, lack vitality ; they have staff, but no librarians…

…the librarian must be a man of acquisitive mind who closes his mind to no subject of human interest. He is always a learner; he must always be awake to and welcome every development of human thought and every adventure of the human spirit. He must, however, be a man educated not only in the general sense but in every operation and process of libraries. He must be a lover of other men. When young people come to me as aspirants for library work I ask them, “Do you love books?” They invariably reply that they do, but I ask them next, “Do you like people and serving people?”

All this means that to truly be a librarian you must have the social skills to deal with people, the curiosity of pursuing knowledge and the sensitivity to be a natural educator.

JUSP Community Survey 2017

A little over a year ago I blogged the results of the 2016 annual survey that Evidence Base runs for the Jisc resource for academic and research  libraries, reporting their use of e-journals and e-books (JUSP) which they have purchased or to which they subscribe.

We have now completed this year’s survey and the 2017 report, which has been interesting because JUSP has added more reports and other resources to its service since last February. As well as being able to see how many times the library users have downloaded or viewed e-journals or e-books, library e-resource managers can now find out those statistics for a select number of data bases and aggregators. The JUSP team have also developed a set of data visualisations of the statistical reports that can be used by library staff to add to their own reports, or presentations, or as an analytical tool.

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These data visualisations have proven popular with the JUSP community and although it is early days since their introduction in November it seems that some institutions are already making good use of them and see potential for these to have a positive impact on their work. We will be monitoring the use of these and are interested in any interesting ways that libraries are using the JUSP visualisations.

Overall, the JUSP community are happy with JUSP, they would find their work much harder without it. Special mention was given about the customer support provided by the JUSP team who tirelessly work in the background ensuring that JUSP users are accessing their e-resource usage figures and develop the online resource in the way that is most useful to the JUSP community.