Here are the recaps of the after-lunch sessions…
Lunch was great, and topped up with additional and unnecessary cake, it was even better. I think my favourite cakes are definitely the lemon based ones, and would choose them over chocolate any day. At lunch time I had the chance to chat with a few people who had recently graduated from the course at Sheffield. They had all found jobs, which was quite reassuring, although they warned that it was pretty tough and not everyone had managed to find something yet. I took on board some useful advice about applying, and am not panicking yet!
Distasters in Libraries
The first post-lunch session was run by a former colleague, @Sonja_Kujansuu. She’s thinking of doing her dissertation on water disasters in libraries and wanted to hear about everyone’s experiences, as there were a few leaks in the Law Library last year (although luckily nothing was damaged)!
There had been so much discussion about virtual/non-physical library spaces earlier in the day that it was interesting to be reminded that (some) libraries are still based in a physical space, and both the space and the hard-copy collections are still important. The effect of floods and leaks on libraries can be devastating, although there are companies that specialize in freeze-drying flood-damaged books. Cambridge has recently suffered unexpectedly severe flooding, and two Cambridge librarians were in the session, talking about the importance of disaster management plans and how their implementation doesn’t always go exactly as expected. There was also another librarian from a very flood-prone area (I think his library was between a lake and a river!) so a flood-management policy was vital, and they knew exactly what to do in case of a disaster. There was also a media librarian who was mid-writing a policy document for what to do in case of floods – especially important because in their archive there was a lot of unique material on tapes that might be lost forever if there was water damage.
A couple of decisions that had been made to combat flood damage: in the very flood-prone library, a decision had been made to move a lot of the stock onto a higher floor. The media librarian was working on separation of assets – keeping two copies of the same bit of video in separate places so that if the worst came to the worst only one would be lost. Another member of the group pointed out that general maintenance could reduce the risk of water damage, as something as simple as a leaking window could be very destructive if it wasn’t noticed.
Another worrying issue that was brought up was that although we probably think of water as harmless, flood-water can actually be pretty toxic, making it harmful for people as well as books. One group member had got burns from a reaction from flood water and the printers ink in the books. That led on to a warning that however much they want to help, you really shouldn’t let your readers try and save the books.
That said, it seemed that there had been some pretty positive reactions from readers noticing floods and pitching in to try and help. One of the Cambridge floods had actually been noticed by readers, and they had conducted a makeshift rescue job for the books (I think it was out of hours) before a porter was notified. And in a flood in Sheffield public library, the general public had been keen to help and had had to be turned away. I think that’s quite uplifting because it shows how much people still care about the print collections, and about the library space.
The discussion went on to the wider effects of a mass flood-clean up on the library users. At a time when libraries are having to work hard to be welcoming places for readers, it could be damaging if the library space is unable to be used for weeks at a time. Loyal readers are likely to find somewhere else to go, and it could be hard to build up visitor numbers afterwards. One of the Cambridge librarians was worried about this happening after her library was flooded. The library whose stock was moved upstairs also had a suprising reaction from readers – apparently there were complaints that it “didn’t look like a library any more!”
Finally, we came to the importance of communication. Having a flood-management plan neatly typed up and stuffed in a file, or saved at the bottom of a folder somewhere is all very well, but if it comes to the middle of the night and you’ve got porters and students trying to haphazardly save books, then it isn’t very useful. We agreed that all disaster management plans should be circulated to all staff, including non-library staff in the building, such as porters, and that they should all be clear on what to do in an emergency. Some people had even carried out flood-drills in their library, which struck me as very well prepared!
Because of the time limits in the session, we didn’t get round to talking in depth about any other kinds of library disasters but points that were touched on included books being stolen (in public libraries apparently DVDs are a target for that kind of thing), and IT disasters where records could be wiped clean. It was a very interesting session overall, and I hope it gave Sonja lots of material for her dissertation.
I knew this would be a difficult session as the topic of volunteers in libraries is such a tricky one. The session leader had had experience of using volunteers in libraries, and although she was against job replacement by volunteers, she was arguing that using volunteers to enhance your service (rather than replace paid work) could hugely benefit both the library and the lives of the volunteers themselves. It sounded as though the volunteers she used often had health/mental health problems that meant that they couldn’t work, and the experience of volunteering had empowered them and made them more confident.
The discussion revolved round whether it is possible to draw a line between job replacement and this kind of supported volunteering. I sadly came to the conclusion that in the current climate, the line is always blurred. On one hand, you could say that a volunteer coming to help people use the computers in a public library is ‘enhancing the service’, but on the other hand that is a job that paid library assistants in academic libraries do. And the more library services are taken on by willing and eager volunteers, the more the government (who actively want to cut paid roles) can say, “oh well, public libraries must have been overfunded before – look, all the services are still being provided and we don’t have to pay anyone.” There was even the example of a librarian who had lost her job but had come in still to run a children’s session for free because she loved it – it’s obviously great that people are dedicated, but it was pointed out that people’s dedication and enthusiasm may play into the government’s ‘big society’ hands and damage both the profession and library services in the long term.
We then moved onto some common misconceptions about volunteers:
1. They are free. They are NOT free – as well as all the admin/CRB checks etc. they also need support from paid staff if they are to provide the right level of service.
2. They will do the same work as paid staff. They won’t – they are working for free, they don’t really have to do anything they don’t want to. If they don’t want to engage with IT, or a particularly difficult customer, they don’t have to.
3. They can run a library. Library staff are trained and experienced – a room full of books staffed by volunteers is not a library. And what happens when their energy/motiviation/finances run out and their lives move on to other things? What happens to the public’s right to a library service? We discussed seeing Oxfam shops with signs on the door saying “Closed due to lack of volunteers,” and agreed that we need to fight against that happening to libraries.
Although I believe that volunteering can be empowering, and volunteer energy and enthusiasm can have a really positive impact on society , we are up against a government who actively wishes to cut the public sector in general and public libraries in particular. Public librarians are being openly advised to ‘consider volunteers’ as a political strategy to reduce the number of paid staff. Now is perhaps not the right time to concentrate on the empowering nature of volunteering, or within a few years there will be no libraries left to provide properly supported volunteer placements. We discussed whether now is the time to take a hard line on ‘no volunteers,’ even if it means the closure of smaller community or branch libraries, to show both the government and the general public that a publicly funded library services CANNOT be run by volunteers – it needs to be run by trained professionals and have a decent amount of state funding.
[Just to say thank you to the leader of this session – it was bound to be controversial due to the topic and she made some balanced points from both sides of the ‘volunteers debate’]
From open source to open access. We started with the common misconception: “you’re a librarian, so you must be against open access.” You can see why people might think that – surely if everything was freely available online then there would be no need for libraries? In actual fact, many librarians are fighting hard for open access, as it would mean a fairer and more equal access to resources without all the profits ending up in the pockets of the big journal publishers. Open access, from what I gather, can be run on two main models – the Gold model, where authors themselves pay to publish in an open access journal, or the Green model, where authors deposit a copy of the article in an institutional repository (usually a final draft), and then publish the final article in a closed access journal as usual. I don’t know much about the subject, but it was the general consensus that the Gold model wasn’t sustainable, as it just moves the cost of access from the library budget to the research budget. Institutional repositories are still in their early stages, and there are a few problems with them – mainly because researchers in general are still desperate to publish in high impact peer-reviewed journals in order to further their careers.
We discussed whether by funding open-access publication instead of purchasing closed-access journal subscriptions, universities/libraries were actually spending less on their actual users and pretty much funding everyone else’s access to resources. However, hopefully you could get to a point where putting up your open-access research would be so good for the institution that researchers would see an added value in doing it. Also, it was pointed out that a lot of research is publicly funded, and therefore technically the general public have a right to see the finished results, rather than them being hidden away behind a (vastly expensive) pay wall.
We also talked about whether librarians should be curating the open access material that’s out there. Librarians who work with this material believed that there was still a huge role for library staff to point their users in the right direction to get the right material and to evaluate it, even if the material didn’t belong to the library itself. It also seemed that as institutional repositories got more popular there would be work for librarians there too.
That was the end of the day! I didn’t win the raffle, which was sad, but we retired to the pub where it was lovely to catch up with people/meet new people before catching the train back up North. Generally, I had a very positive and interesting day despite the undoubted fact that the profession is going through a very rough time. It encouraged me to get involved more directly with library activism and advocacy, and am going to see if there’s anything going on in Sheffield at the moment.
On a last note, if there is anyone who blogged about the session about LGBT in Libraries I would love to read it, as I wish I had made it to that one!
Many thanks to the organisers, and I shall (hopefully) be back next year.