Monday, April 02, 2012

Public Library News: April Fools?

April Fools Day always raises some dubious claims, which have to be carefully considered before they are accepted as genuine. It was therefore somewhat an unfortunate day for the Public Library News blog to post a report into a panel discussion on the future of public libraries held under the Arts Council England (ACE). Perhaps they just couldn’t wait another day and thought the news to hot to handle, or perhaps it was a spoof.

What we found interesting was that they seemed to have dropped the ‘book’ and moved onto ‘community centres’. The ‘core services’ were about ; civic engagement, transformation, getting people back to work, promoting health and repeatedly they have some weird obsession with 3D printing and fab-labs .

It certainly didn’t describe a library as we know it today, or yesterday and books were brushed off as being "the given". On one hand they wanted to ‘engage more with e-books and encourage "live" literature such as author visits’, but on the other saw acquisition, cataloguing and librarians as past their sell by date. They state that ‘other people offering these things (books). Why should a library offer them too?’

The more we read, the more convinced that it must be an April Fools Joke. The thinking was far from joined up and somewhat all over the floor. So on one hand we have real estate and inventory and folk who are trained to relate this to the community and on the other thinking that say we can role up the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, the civic crèche, the Community Day Care Centre, the Tourist Information Centre, the Job Centre, whatever into one building and call it a library. Forgetthe books its more about the service. Its as if thinking 10 years out they believe the community will still be physical and need a building or that ‘books are a given’ but don’t need curators and people interested in them to manage the service. We fondly remember when librarians became ‘Information Officers’ and wonder if the same hands are on this tiller.

The Public library service is what it says on the tin and changing that redefines its role, who it employees, its financing, and who its customers are. The panel discussion clearly lacked vision, mission and operation today and it’s a shame as it has potentially a huge role to play in the digital age and one far more engaging than 3D printing.

Their conclusion was that, ‘the argument in the country tells you what passionate feelings have about their libraries. Makes it important to discuss. We need to get thinking for "not tomorrow" but for 5 or 10 years time.’ Ours is that they should get today’s thinking joined up before they dream like little children on what they want to be when they grow up.

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