What to say? We can’t even look after our own libraries!

I was pleased to be asked to speak about my MSc dissertation at the New Professionals event being held at University of the West of England tomorrow evening. My MSc dissertation was about libraries and international development. It investigates the role libraries and librarians have to play in furthering international development. I won’t bore you with all the details of my findings here in this post but you can have a read of the dissertation if you are interested as I have published it on my blog.

I am writing this post as I am rather surprised to be totally stumped regarding what I am going to say about my dissertation in the talk. I have been invited to speak about it at several events in the past and have never encountered this problem.

When I undertook the research for the dissertation in 2008, although it was only a few years ago, things were very different. It was just when the economic crash was happening. The fallout and impact of which I never could have imagined.

As I was writing up the findings of my research I started to feel the tremors of what was to come. This was largely instigated by the publishing of the KPMG report in 2010 which, with no references to support it, advocated the idea that just anyone could run a library (aka Community Libraries).  The discussions I had with people on twitter and with people within the profession about the state of librarianship and the way we are represented (or, more to the point are not!) and the impact this would have on library services in the wake of this report, raised alarm bells.

You will be wondering what this has to do with my dissertation? Well, to summarise my findings

Libraries, whilst in an ideal position to help developing countries to meet their educational targets, increase literacy and challenge poverty, are often being set up by well-meaning charities with no experience of running libraries, stock selection and management, reader development, service evaluation…or the many other essential skills librarians are trained in. As a result these libraries are falling short in their ability to contribute to global priorities for human development. In my conclusion I advocate the employment of librarians by international aid agencies and argue that it is a false economy to set up libraries if they do not meet the needs of the people using them.

So, whilst I was writing up my dissertation, KPMG wrote their report advocating the idea that volunteers with no experience should run our public libraries in the UK. As many who know me will be aware, once I finished my dissertation, this prompted me to Co-found advocacy group Voices for the Library and campaign group Friends of Gloucestershire Libraries.

Since this time tens if not hundreds of our libraries have been handed, or are due to be handed to volunteers to run. Therefore, it seems rather naive of me to stand up in front of librarianship students and new professionals tomorrow to advocate the role of librarians in international development when we cannot even prove our worth in our own country. This makes me very sad and really stumped as to what I really should be saying tomorrow.

If you are wondering why I am so down on the idea of a library being run by noone but a few well-meaning but ill-experienced volunteers then perhaps read my research and consider what we are doing to our libraries here.

Owen Jones wrote a piece for the Independent stating that “Mission, belief and passion have been stripped from politics” and it struck a chord with me as I fear that this is the case for our profession too.

Instead of feeling excited about the important role librarians can play internationally, as I was when I first wrote up my dissertation, it has made me feel rather despairing because we can’t even look after our own libraries.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. [...] Johanna Bo Anderson’s Blog : 26th November What to say? We can’t even look after our own libraries! http://johannaboanderson.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/what-to-say-we-cant-even-look-after-our-own-librar… [...]

    Reply

  2. Communities are being persuaded or coerced into running libraries for fear that they will lose them if they don’t. Even worse, a very small minority are flattered to believe that they can offer an even better service than professionally qualified and experienced staff. What planet are these people on?

    What I’m sure we will witness shortly is the crumbling of this system as communities struggle to get volunteers, are defeated by battles to fund raise, fall out over decisions and direction and so on.

    Keep speaking up for libraries and librarians Johanna. I don’t need to be a librarian to know how central the profession is to providing sound library service provision.

    I know people jump in with the best of intentions but I think most if not all volunteer-run libraries are set to fail, just prolonging the agony and allowing local authorities to claim to have listened and to have worked with communities. The community themselves will be blamed when these libraries eventually falter and fold; the community cared, but just not quite enough to save the service, and the local authority absolves itself of all responsibility.

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  3. Yes, I remember that KPMG thing. I did wonder at the time who it was who commissioned it, and who paid for it..?

    Reply

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