Libraries promote potentially dangerous books

Last week it was the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week when libraries across America hold a variety of events to draw attention to attempts of banning books from schools, bookshops and libraries. The ALA always appear to me to be activist librarians and the organisation of Banned Books Week is an outward expression of their stance on freedom of information, upholding the right of free speech and an individual’s right to read. A truly objective librarian does not censor the reading matter of other people however much they dislike it themselves. For example, I would ban all Mills and Boon books, but I concede that, for some people, reading Mills and Boon brings pleasure.

Banned Books Week started in 1982 when librarians noticed that, increasingly, the content of many books were being challenged. They found that although the content of books were being questioned, many more people fought against the books being banned outright. The ALA website has links to lists of these books and actually some may surprise you.

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Which of these books faced being banned?

This year, the UK have been joining in, with the British Library holding a discussion event on Censorship and the Author  and Islington library compiling their own list of Banned Books. Their list suggests that if the challenges to the books had succeeded we  may not have had the Harry Potter series, the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Roald Dahl’s Matilda. However, London is SO behind the times. Fife Libraries in Kirkcaldy held a Banned Books event LAST year.

This event was not scheduled for Banned Books Week but was part of  Book Week Scotland which is held each November. Fife Libraries’ “Banned Books and Prohibition Cocktails” event was rather more fun than a debate on censorship, it took the form of a Speak Easy, and teamed up local gin producers with the library to offer prohibition style cocktails as well as book readings and the books themselves available to borrow – presumably in plain covers! It appears that the local constabulary were not invited. I am not sure about how much more aware the good (or bad?) citizens of Fife become about the importance of freedom of speech or reading, and the issue with censorship, but I do know that many more people became aware of the library with the event attracting some people who did not usually visit libraries. Hopefully the event opened their eyes to the great delights of of literature and expanded their thoughts enough for them to come back and explore the library shelves for the “dangerous”, potentially forbidden books.

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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.

 

 

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.

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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”.

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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.