CILIP Conference, Day two – Reaching people.

The theme that I have picked out from the second day of the conference is the way that libraries can reach everyone. This is specially true of public libraries. Neil MacInnes, Strategic Lead-Libraries, Galleries & Culture, Manchester City Council spoke of the work that Manchester Libraries are doing to bring information and literature to the people of Manchester. This has required quite a lot of revision of the service but they appear to have succeeded in getting more people using the libraries and perhaps significantly, more people using the items that have been held in archives for many decades.

For example, the geographic locations of the branch libraries were compared with the current centres of habitation, and it was realised that some libraries were not where the people are. This meant moving some of the services, some be co-located with other services. The Central Library, which was built in 1938, had become unloved, and so it was completely refurbished. Such effort brought in many more visitors. The overall remit is not merely getting people IN to libraries, but is also getting books OUT to people. They had a Shakespeare folio in the archives which had been seen by very few researchers. Now it has its own taxi and security staff and is taken to branch libraries where students and school children can see it. It has been viewed more times in the past few years than it has been for decades.

Work like this is so important to show that libraries are not dead archives for the intellectual only. Showing a precious object can inspire and stimulate a sense of history as well as showing off treasures to be found in ordinary libraries. Manchester is managing to shout out about their achievements. After Neil’s talk a delegate said to me “Oh, the Central Library from my city does many of these things too.” but that other city is being quiet about their achievement.  It is important these days to be Loud Librarians, to be one of the strident voices clamouring for attention and funding, and to demonstrate the impact on society and learning that libraries have.

And that brings me to the second workshop that I attended, “Loud Librarians” by Selena Killick (Open University) and Frankie Wilson (Bodleian Library, Oxford). And they are. Loud, that is. This workshop was very well attended, so many of us wanting to be loud!! Selena and Frankie had us working (always a good thing for a workshop), and considering:

  • Who were our stakeholders
  • What were the main outcomes they wanted
  • How we could record how we addressed those outcomes – not just numbers

It was a very practical session and I will certainly use their techniques, so simple, logical and effective.  They told us how we could demonstrate the ways that libraries are reaching out to people.

I then attended a series of seminars on the themes of Information Literacy and Literacy and Learning and the presentation that stood out was Dr Konstantina Martzoukou’s (Robert Gordon University) talk about trying to reach “Syrian New Scots” – how to give essential information to Syrian refugees in Scotland. The project was working with groups to find out what information they wanted and considered ways of giving them the information. The plight of the refugees was made very clear by the inclusion of a poignant video showing the city of Homs, before the current conflict and the devastation the conflict has caused.

Jason Vit of the Reading Agency outlined the current work that they are doing to engage people with reading. This included working with bus companies to put up posters on busses, and having “pop up” bookshops in certain places. They are developing “Hubs”, certain towns, where they are concentrating efforts to increase the literacy of disadvantaged communities. The Reading Agency take a down to earth and innovative approach to reaching people, wherever they are.

So, this conference consolidated my belief that libraries do get information out to people and that there are other organisations that we could work with to do that. We also have to realise that we are the vehicle by which the ordinary members of society can have objective, authoritative information, to balance the subtle persuasion of  internet giants or the noise of press and politicians. It means that we have to be very Loud Librarians shout about our services and successes instead of being quietly complacent.



CILIP Conference 2017


So, here I am, in Manchester at my first CILIP conference. This post is about three inspirational speakers that I heard in only the first day there.

Carla Hayden

Day one was very thought provoking and quite inspiring in a number of ways. The first Keynote speaker was Carla Hayden, the first Librarian of Congress who is female and of colour. Shockingly, she is only the third Librarian of Congress who is a qualified Librarian. She spoke amusingly with wit and charm about what she had achieved in Baltimore: about her interview for being Librarian for congress and about her visit to the British Library.

She said that she was initially unsure whether to apply for the post of Librarian of Congress as she has been instrumental in trying to open up access to libraries. She was not sure that a National Library, and archive as is the Library of Congress, would be the right place for her, but at her interview, with the President of US, Barack Obama asked about increasing access to researchers to their resources. She know then that she would be right for the post. Since then she has embarked on a programme of digitising many of their items.

She is visiting the UK with her mother, who on entering the British Library commented “This is just like a public library”. This, of course, is a good thing, because it is a demonstration of how a National Library can be welcoming and friendly. I believe that Carla Hayden wants to develop that feel at the Library of Congress, especially after she spoke to an American researcher there who told Carla that the British Library is “better” than the Library of Congress. The researcher had no idea who she was speaking to! Carla completely won us over, were are most definitely “Her UK People” and we gave her a huge round of applause at the end of her speech.

Luciano Floridi

The second Keynote speaker was inspirational in a different way. Professor Luciano Floridi of the Oxford Institute of Information presented us with some interesting concepts of power and the way that Library and Information services could ensure that Power is balanced democratically to make society fair and informed. He reminded us that information is about answering questions.

In the past Power has resided either with the people who answer the questions or with the people who ask the questions. He put forward the theory that currently Power is held by those that control the questions that people ask.  It is the role of Library and Information Science professionals to ensure that people can ask novel, innovative and surprising questions.  He suggested that it is important to gather the answers now of questions that may be asked in the future. This is how a democratic society develops.


The third inspirational speaker was at a workshop about using teenage volunteers in libraries to help at the annual Summer Reading Challenge.  Matt is a young man who was a volunteer at Bolton Libraries and Museum Service. He spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his experience and how it can help teenagers. Bolton Libraries and Museum Service set up a teenage volunteer group to help with the Summer Reading Challenge and organised training events for them. They enabled the volunteer workforce who were asked to come up with their own group name. They chose the word “Imaginators”, because the group believed that they were helping the younger children develop their imaginations through reading.

Matt worked as an “Imaginator” for a number of years and now has come tot the stage in his life where he is applying to university. He feels that being a volunteer has meant that he has an “edge” over other entrants, working with younger children is a good thing to have on his CV. His intention is to study the classics and he now has gained the skills to explain WHY he wants to do so. He considers that working in a library has inspired him to eventually become involved with Library and Information work. He actually did apply for  a paid post in the library, which he was successful in getting and now he has a Saturday job in Bolton libraries.

The way that Bolton Library and Museum Service have worked with a group of teenagers to plan, organise and develop a training programme, with a series of outcomes and rewards (Pizza and lots of biscuits) made me think about the reasons for using volunteers in libraries. The relationship that any organisation has to have with volunteers is that there has to be an outcome for everyone involved. Basically, there has to be a point to using volunteers other than exploiting free help.

From the volunteer’s view this could be training that helps with personal and professional development, or simply the feeling of well being that they gain. From the point of view of the organisation, they can show that they are investing in people and their skills as well has getting tasks done and providing their users with an improved and enhanced experience. This sort of win/win situation is not easy to achieve and takes time and effort to plan and instigate. Definitely a lot of food for thought there.

Mark Hepworth and Information Literacy

television remote

Enter “Television Remote” by Walt Stoneburner is licensed under CC BY 2.0a caption

Today I am feeling guilty, or at least regretful. I should have written an article that I started planing over a year ago. Articles take a long time to craft and may be in gestation for some years, only because work gets in the way. This is what happened when I intended to write about my small piece of research with Mark Hepworth. Mark Hepworth was an academic specialising in Information Literacy and I first encountered him when I was a PhD student moonlighting as a University Teacher at Loughborough University. He died last year and to honour his work in the field Aslib Journal of Information Management  have published a special issue Mark Hepworth: In Memoriam.  I really should have written and submitted that article.

There is an obituary about Mark in the Times Higher Education which gives a little insight into his life and work. My first work with him was helping to teach a module on Information Literacy at the Department of Information Science at Loughborough. It was a very practical module because it taught the students about Information Literacy by actually developing their own information seeking skills. Then I graduated, went off the the exotic climes of Nottingham, and returned to work (not study, this time) at Loughborough. On my very first day of paid research work at LISU I was handed a sheaf of questionnaires and asked “Can you finish this project for Mark, please? He is going to do some work in Africa”.

The project was about one of the things that meant a lot to Mark. It was a development of a previous project that was looking at the possibility of developing a messenger system that appeared on television screens, while you are watching the television. It was in collaboration with Nottingham Community Housing Association who were putting the concept into reality with the help of a software company. The research was to find out whether it helped communication between the housing association’s team of social carers and made the elderly and vulnerable residents of homes feel included and safe.

This theme of vulnerability, communication and information and the digital world ran through many of Mark’s projects. It is somehow ironic that at the time I took over the project, unknown to many of his colleagues, Mark was falling ill, with Motor Neuron Disease, rapidly becoming vulnerable himself. It did not prevent him from going to Africa, however.

The messenger system comprised a box, like a Digital Television box, through which the television signal was fed. I was not told the full technical details of this box, but this was the link that would send and receive messages from a website.  Messages would check on the well being of the user, “how do you feel today?”; or be reminders “Don’t forget your doctors appointment at 10.30”; or give information “armchair exercise in community tomorrow”. The messages could only be answered by the recipient using their remote control to check one of a series of multiple selection answers, so it was no replacement for email, twitter or snapchat. But then, not all for the people we researched were interested with that sort of digital technology. Pictures could be sent and friends and relatives could be registered as users on the website.

The research looked a number of things:

  • The users satisfaction with the system
  • The well being of the users
  • The ease of use of the system
  • The information that users wanted to have

It found that participants that were digitally competent found the system frustration because it was a one way messaging system, they could not use it to send alerts. However, other participants felt safer, more included in society and reassured that someone was looking out for them.

Nottingham Community Housing Association have continued developing the system as a commercial enterprise and won an award for technology at the 3rd Sector Care Awards 2016. This, then, is my tribute to Mark and hopefully I will manage to write up the article, before it gets too late.

A full report on the research is available from the Loughborough University institutional repository



Books and Cycling


I have a Google alert that notifies me of anything that crops up about children’s mobile libraries and bookmobiles. This is because of my doctoral research into children’s mobile libraries and their effect on literacy. I am still fascinated by the subject, but these days I have little time to really read the alerts. I collect them with some false hope that one day I will collate all the information to produce the definitive work on children’s mobile libraries. Every now and then I have a little clear out of the data that have accumulated, such as vanished links or notices saying that Y will not be visiting X today because of rain/snow/mechanical breakdown. Actually, perhaps I should keep account of the days that mobile libraries are off road and the reasons for doing so. Someone, somewhere will no doubt really want that information.

But I digress. Today was one of the clear out days, and I found a fascinating podcast about a Bicycle Bookmobile. Like me, you may have seen some posts circulating around social media of bicycle libraries in developing countries, but this time I was really surprised to find that the podcast was an interview with a university teacher who has started a service in Arcata California. When I searched further I discovered that there are many “Bikemobiles” in the US.

The interesting feature of the Arcata bicycle bookmobile is that it combines the two passions of Melanie Williams, books and bicycles – which is obvious really. She was a university teacher that took a group of students to help reconstruct some libraries in a area of the US which had had a natural disaster, and she describes how that experience changed her life. She realised how important books are to literacy. She is an educator, and now in another role is promoting children using bikes to improve their health and to give them road sense before they become drivers.

While doing this it occurred to her that a bicycle bookmobile would be a great way to help literacy and promote bikes. All the books are children’s books with the theme of bicycles. She describes and recommends some in the interview. The podcast lasts for around 20 minutes, the first half is about books and the second half deals with promoting cycling. It is really worth listening to and can be found here.


Finding the right book

I have just discovered that my first library has been demolished. This adds to my list of personally significant buildings that exist no more. My primary school, secondary school, the building where I studied for my PGCE, the hospital where I was born, all vanished into building rubble.


Not building rubble, but the best I could do

Is someone telling me something I wonder? I was looking for a photograph of the library, which was part of Tredegar Workman’s Institute, because I wanted to illustrate this blog.  My mother was a passionate user of the library and I suspect that I travelled there with her before I was actually born. I certainly remember being taken in a push chair and then as I grew older, being abandoned into the “Children’s Library”, a separate room where I was usually alone, avidly browsing, getting the next “Swallows and Amazons” or “Biggles” book.

You see, my mother told me that libraries could find you any book that you wanted. Of course there are some that are simply not available, but I did not know that then. It was simply the magic of being able to ask for anything at all and it would be found – “requesting” a book. The other thing that I did not know at the time is that the library did not ring up the one in the next town and say “have you got a copy of War and Peace? We have completely run out here and we have a customer who wants it”. In fact, I still find it extraordinary that libraries do not do that.

Now, of course, I know better. The ability of local libraries to find a book for a reader in the 1950s and 1960s was firmly based on a well organised system called “Interlibrary Lending”. In the UK this was done on a regional basis, geographically close libraries forming an organisation where books could be lent and borrowed from one library to another within the region. There were approximately 15 of these regions which held “union catalogues” of the books that were available to loan.

In fact the regional organisations did a little more than sharing their stock with each other. Sharing the alphabet between them, certain of the regions collected one copy of each book published to hold in reserve. For example, the East Midlands collected the work of authors beginning with G to J. This was known as the “Provincial Joint Fiction Reserve”. There was also the “Inter-regional Subject Coverage Scheme”, collecting non-fiction and sharing by Dewey Decimal numbers. So, the East Midlands saved all the non-fiction books with the Dewey Decimal numbers between 400 to 499, and 800 to 899. I chose the East Midlands as an example because my first library job for Derby City Libraries was in the building where these reserves were held. Sadly, these reserves are no more.

Each region had a hub which held their union catalogue of the books available in each library of that region. The hub received the messages from a requesting library, found which library had the book and passed the message on. The book was usually transported from one library to another post or by a network of library vans. The cost of this service was paid for by the member libraries subscribing to their regional organisation. Obviously things have changed dramatically, and a reader is now more likely to consult Amazon or Google Books if they want to read an obscure book. However, I think that the interlibrary lending regional system was a wonderful example of the organisational skills of librarians. They achieved a network across the UK when anyone could have access to the information they wanted.

Library delivery van “Yale University Library mail delivery vans” by Step is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you want to know more about the Regional Organisations and other details of Interlibrary Lending up to the 1990s then there is a really useful thesis by Patrick Wanyama on Loughborough University Institutional Repository.

Celebrating Ranganathan

I had an invitation this week, to attend a seminar in Ahmedabad, India which is being held to commemorate 125 years of the birth of S.R.Ranganathan. The event appears to be called “Librarian’s Day”, which I think is a lovely sort of day to have. Just think if “Librarian’s” day became a national event. People would have to visit a library and give a librarian a present. Books would be acceptable, but so would chocolate, cake, money, fast cars, expensive shoes, fancy electronic gadgetry. But I digress. Apparently, according to Wikipedia, which as you know is always right, Ranganathan’s birthday is celebrated in India by “National Library Day”.


I first came across the life of S.R Ranganathan during my master’s course in Information and Library Science. I was fascinated by the idea of a young, Indian, mathematical genius coming all the way to the UK to study Library Science. Not only that, but he brought a fresh, straightforward view to the profession devising a new classification system (Colon Classification) and five “laws” of Library Science.

I was so enchanted by his “Laws” that I turned them into a poster which I laminated and put on the wall of my School Library, where I was librarian at the time. I have no idea whether they are still there and I don’t have a picture of them, so I am sorry I cannot show you my poster. I can tell you what the laws are, however.

  1. Books are for use
  2. Every reader his / her book.
  3. Every book its reader.
  4. Save the time of the reader.
  5. The library is a growing organism

Books are for use

Some people may consider that books are special, sacred objects, or things that are far too precious for people to handle, or even that they make splendid decorations or statements of being “learned”. But a book is merely a carrier of a message, from author to reader and to receive the message you must read the book. Ranganathan was also meaning that they should be accessible. There is a lovely conversation in his book “the Five Laws of Library Science” between the First Law and the Laws of Cost and Space. The First Law law argues that books should be on shelves within reach of a person of average height. I tend to take down books that are in pubs or cafe’s as decoration and start reading them.

Every reader their book – Every book its reader

Somewhere there is the right book for every person, the book that inspires, influences and makes them discover that reading is a joy, a pleasure. I have spent a lot of time teaching children to read. Sometimes is a difficult process, reading is like swimming, sometimes people take to it instantly, but for others it is not so easy. But there is always a key book, the one that unlocks their desire to turn page upon page and get to the ending. For my son it was James and the Giant Peach. For my younger daughter it was the Usbourne Little Book of Horses and Ponies. Two very different personalities with different needs. Ranganathan considered that libraries should stock ranges of books to appeal to different types of readers.

Save the time of the reader

This means that books must not only be accessible, but also easily accessible – easy to find with classification systems and helpful staff. How else would you find your perfect book?bookshelves.jpg

The library is a growing organism

Ranganathan considers that a library is never complete. It expands and changes as the needs of the community develops and as new books appear. If you happen to be like me and a collector of books you know what it is like. I have
been known to sneak new bookshelves into my study at home without my other half noticing, in order to accommodate the piles that are creeping over the floor. Information grows, therefore libraries grow.

Ranganathan published these laws in 1931, a long time from the current information explosion and digitisation. However, taking his principles for having a library that is accessible for everyone I am quite sure that were he alive today, he would be promoting Open Access to information, digitisation and the accessibility of e-books.


I was a bit confused when I heard to term COUNTER compliant statistics because the word COUNTER has so many meanings. Could it be to do with those round disks you have use to go up ladders and down snakes in the board game?

roman gaming counter

“Glass mosaic counter or inlay” by Roman via The Metropolitan Museum of Art is licensed under CC0 1.0


Statistics is about counting, so that makes some sort of sense. It could not be a shop counter then,

lego counter

“View of counter” by Takanori Hayashi is licensed under CC BY 2.0


or a ticket counter, these are types of counter that help people to access something.

ticket counter

“Ticket Counter For Foreigner s” by Barney Moss is licensed under CC BY 2.0


or how about a kitchen worktop, some people call those counters. They are things to facilitate tasks. In the kitchen.


“Butterfly on a counter” by Helena Jacoba is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Or indeed, counter also means against, opposed to, so counter compliance must mean that it is statistics that is not compliant.

No, I reasoned, it must be something to do with counting.

clicker counter

“Counter” by Marcin Wichary is licensed under CC BY 2.0


So after all my speculations I gave in and searched Google. I discovered that COUNTER is an acronym, as many things are these days. It stands for Counting Online Usage of NeTworked Electronic Resources. It is a standard code of practice that facilitates exchange of the usage data of e-resources. So, in plain terms, it means that when publishers count the number of views or downloads of a journal, book or database has had, they should save and organise that data in a standard format that can easily be shared with libraries that subscribe to the journals or have purchased a book. These are simple examples of a rather more sophisticated system.

According to the COUNTER Code of Practice the data are also arranged in standard reports, for example JR1 is a statistical report of all the views, downloads or attempted downloads an individual journal has had over a period of time – basically how many people have access the webpage for that journal. Similarly, BR1 is the statistical report of the number of views, downloads or attempted downloads of a book. There are a variety of other types of report as well.

Overall, COUNTER compliant statistics are a way of libraries being able to understand whether the e-resources that they have purchased or to which they subscribe are being actively used. In the day before electronically automated systems when physical books were stamped as they were borrowed, you could easily tell which were your most borrowed items. So, COUNTER is doing the same job, but better, because you could never count the number of times a book was looked at, a reference noted, a photocopy taken and returned to the shelf.

To learn more about this, visit the COUNTER project website where it explains things in more detail in a much better way.  However, I don’t think I was entirely wrong about COUNTER, it does include some of those other meanings. It counts people who are trying to read an article or book, it facilitates the work of librarians and publishers, it gives librarians access to data that they need to improve their electronic collections. It doesn’t serve cake though, which is a bit of a shame…

cake counter

“Sweet Counter” by terren in Virginia is licensed under CC BY 2.0