Out Of This World Science Fiction Exhibition


I spent a couple of hours this afternoon at the “Out of this world” exhibition in The British Library. It’s a collection of mainly printed material covering a wide variety of science fiction. It spans the earliest writings from 2AD to the twenty first century.

The exhibition was broken up into different themes eg. Future worlds; ecology of sci-fi; what would aliens look like?; alternative histories (and much more). Each section displayed a handful of books or illustrations defining the theme. It wasn’t solely printed material on display – there were also a number of interactive displays which focused on different aspects of the genre.
It was great to see that it focused on the idea that science fiction can’t really be defined by a handful of pulp fiction books.  The genre is so wide open that it includes writers you may not really expect to be sitting in there.

(c) cdrummbks / Flickr

I think my favourite parts were:

  • J.G.Ballard- I’ve been a fan of his for a few years and whenever the summer peaks towards the high 20’s I wonder if Surrey’s civilised atmosphere is going to crack and we are all going to end up eating each other… with a decent glass of merlot of course. The J.G. Ballard section also offered a couple of my musical favourites up – The Normal’s Warm Leatherette and Buggles Video Killed The Radio Star.
  • The Steampunk section – I love the idea of technology having developed from the age of clockwork, as you’d see in the Wild Wild West film.
  • Angela Carter’s “The Infernal Desire Machines Of Dr. Hoffman”. I first discovered Angela Carter through film adaptations of her fairy stories, but Dr. Hoffman is one of my favourite books of hers.

It was definitely well worth spending a couple of hours at the exhibition finding out more about this genre, even if you’re not into science fiction. Like me, you might find that some of those books you love are actually science fiction… and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 🙂

Sheriff Vaizey


I remember when Sheriff Vaizey galloped in to town on his grey dappled mare – the sun shone through a dust cloud that trailed him all the way from the northern territories. He’d been up that way on the hunt for Andy “Red Gun” Burnham. Vaizey didn’t like Burnham’s ways – in cahoots with a posse of book rustlers and funding bandits who were shutting down the libraries left right and centre… leaving communities abandoned like information ghost towns.

Vaizey was a member of the well-reknowned 1964 Club in those days. It’s said that “Red Gun” was taking a drink at the saloon, when in swaggered Vaizey, spurs a chanking, looking around at the assembled bandits, cowboys and rustlers, spat out a slug of chewin’ tobaccy and said:

“Andy Burnham’s refusal to take action in the Wirral effectively renders the 1964 Public Libraries Act meaningless. While it is local authorities’ responsibility to provide libraries, the Act very clearly lays responsibility for ensuring a good service at the culture secretary’s door. If Andy Burnham is not prepared to intervene when library provision is slashed in a local authority such as the Wirral, it is clear that he is ignoring his responsibilities as secretary of state, which in the process renders any sense of libraries being a statutory requirement for local authorities meaningless.”

Ed Vaizey sheriff badgeWell, you can imagine what sort of reaction that provoked from Red Gun. Soon chairs were flying, bottles of bourbon smashing against mirrors behind the bar, people stumbling backwards over tables. As the dust settled Vaizey strode out of there and his adversary was found as a crumpled heap of a man stuffed into a brass spittoon by the bar.

When they heard about this legendary Vaizey,  a few of our towns folk decided to offer him the Sheriff’s post – we could do with a strong man to sort out our own library troubles. Everything was hunky dory at first – he said he was going to do this and that. He made a few speeches to the town council about how great libraries were and how he’d defend them to the hilt.

As time went on nothing changed. No libraries were saved. It seems that Sheriff Vaizey was keener on sleepin’ in the jail house and big-wigging with the mayor than going out on the prairie to deal with those troublesome library varmints we had pestering us and rustling our books. Seems like one battle was enough for him and these days he’s more content to sit back and watch more libraries close around him. Why, I don’t know? Gets me to thinkin’ that maybe his words to “Red Gun” were a bluff. I don’t rightly know that it was Sheriff Vaizey who sorted Red out and planted him in that spittoon – maybe it’s a legend he created himself.

So, maybe it’s time for Sheriff Vaizey to hang up his badge, Stetson, spurs and other cowboy clichés and let someone else who gives two hoots about the library situation replace him. Or maybe we could just tie him onto the saddle of his grey dappled mare, slap its hind quarters and watch him ride off into the sunset to the theme tune of Bonanza.

“Hi Ho Vaizey! Away!”

Community Knowledge Hub and Libraries


Whilst following “The Future of Library Services in the Big Society” conference via Twitter today (#libraries11) I came across a link to “Community Knowledge Hub“. This hub will

“support the exchange of ideas, knowledge and expertise between organisations with a common interest in realising the benefits of community enterprise.” To be launched in July 2011, “The first Community Knowledge Hub will focus on libraries, providing support to community organisations and local authorities exploring community management solutions as an alternative to closure” and “support the evolution of community managed library services.”

Of course I agree that library services should be saved, but I still believe that it is the responsibility of the local authority to provide public library services. Some reasons for this include:

  • Need for impartiality
  • Statutory duties
  • Economies of scale
  • Existing expertise
  • Social needs.

These are just a handful of reasons and many more can be found on the Voices For The Library site.

Even though many people see the library building and its books as “The library service” this isn’t true. A library service isn’t only defined by a building full of stock, it also depends upon the expertise of the people running the library service, whether they are staffing that building or running services that support front line staff.

With regard to the development of library services, most communities won’t be handed a library service, they will just be handed a building containing books and other stock. Depending on how much control local authorities give to the communities, the community may have to pay for other assets transferred eg. stock; and (if they want to maintain a library service of value) they will generally have to pay to be part of the existing computer network and/or consult with the local authority on running a library service.

It’s ironic that the handing over of library services to local communities is described as asset transfer. The word “asset” implies that the library service has a value. I totally agree with this idea… library services do have a value… In which case, why are local authorities deciding that some libraries are of such little value that they are happy to dump them in a way that implies they don’t care what happens? “Ah! But they are handing them over to local communities, so they are not dumping them,” I can hear people say. In which case, you may like to know that in most cases if local communities don’t volunteer to take over a library, the library will be forced to close. That sounds like ‘dumping them’ to me.

“Each network will provide specialist advice, guidance and resources to drive up the quality and transformative potential of public services that are transferred to then delivered by and for local communities.”

Handing over a service to any organisation (in this case, the community) that doesn’t contain the specialist skills, resources or knowledge to run that service just sounds crazy. It basically means building library services from scratch. Why? Why reinvent the wheel? Why get rid of all that specialist skill, resource and knowledge provided by those who had previously helped provide library services via the local authority and then rebuild it?

“We believe that library services play a vitally important role at the very heart of our communities, and that ‘doing nothing’ would come at a considerable cost. “

I agree, but doing something that fragments a library service, reduces the value of that library service and removes expert skills and knowledge that has been built up over years is also a step backwards, which would come with just as much of a “considerable cost” as “doing nothing”.

Save Surrey Libraries Meeting

A UNISON meeting was held yesterday in Guildford, to discuss concerns about proposals for changes to Surrey Libraries. The proposals included the handing over of 11 libraries to volunteers and the removal of the mobile library service (more details can be found here). This was the second meeting that had taken place – the first also involved Alan Gibbons (author and national library campaigner) as a speaker. Alan’s passion for libraries had encouraged the holding of this second meeting.
There were about 15 people in attendance, with representatives from Unison, library users (including Friends of libraries groups) and library staff. The aim was to try to bring together the existing smaller library campaigns in Surrey (who were already concentrating on saving libraries in their own local area) in an attempt to create a larger unified campaign.
The meeting raised concerns about the validity of the consultation process and Surrey County Council’s plans in general for the library service. This included, for example:
  • How valid was the data used to make decisions about changes to the library service?
  • What exactly were Surrey County Council offering communities when they handed over libraries to them?
  • Campaigners felt they were given an ultimatum about their library ie. You volunteer to run it, or you lose it (something we have seen in other local authorities).
  • Those in attendance were aware of Chalfont St. Giles Library being cited as a successfully run volunteer library, but they were also aware that this success depended upon a management team of 10, 60+ volunteers and a steady high level of income through fundraising. The meeting agreed that this was not feasible everywhere.
  • Were bus routes considered when proposing the removal of the mobile library service?
  • Were the majority of the public in Surrey aware of the current proposals for changes to Surrey libraries? Did the suggestion of a community partnership make the public think libraries wouldn’t be closed?
  • There was a positive feeling from library users about the importance of maintaining paid library staff including librarians.
  • Are library staff able to campaign?
By the end of the meeting it was suggested that a positive way forward would be to:
  • Co-ordinate the campaigning efforts of existing groups in Surrey into a larger force.
  • Highlight the situation affecting  Surrey Libraries to the broader community – both locally and nationally.
  • Forge links with a number of local and national organisations as possible campaigning partners.
It was clear that those campaigners in attendance were passionate about fighting for their libraries and another meeting will be arranged soon to discuss the way forward.

Library Tribe photographs

Library Tribe - Ramblers Best WalksLibrary Tribe - The Dilbert PrincipleLibrary Tribe - Developmental PsychologyLibrary Tribe - The Lost Life Of Eva BraunLibrary Tribe - A History Of WarringtonLibrary Tribe - Dora Helps Save The Earth
Library Tribe - How To QuitLibrary Tribe - Killer Pets

I really like the idea behind Tony Smith’s “Library Tribe” photo set on Flickr. They’re of library users and their book selection as they walk out of the library. Each photo includes an insightful comment about their choice of book loan. Really like the style of the photos too – mainly black and white, but with the book covers in vivid colour.

On Flickr Tony says: This is a little project I have thought of starting since my local library, admittedly one of the smallest in my town in England, UK was closed. I live between two great cities and in the North West, well away from Westminster and the hussle of London and the SE.

Humble as it was, while in use it was a great little meeting point for everyone in the locality and doubled up as my local polling station. The latter the place where I did not vote for some of these savage cuts that are being acted upon us across England and to a lesser extent the rest of the UK.

A technique of stealth where the village council were very late to find out appears to have been applied. The excuse that the building had not been brought up to current standards as regards facilities and fire exits etc was an excuse for its demise, down on Albert Road Grappenhall.

It can be seen in use here and my comments later on the first page show how it is today (May 2011).

All a great shame as apparently Warrington had the first rate supported public library in the UK. I wonder what those Victorians, such as William Beamont (solicitor and local philanthropist who founded several churches and the municipal library) would make of this.

This set shows some of the people I have met using my local central library. All are strangers and in some cases the books tell a lot about them and how they use the facilities.

Since Victorian days, libraries have changed a lot. Many people I have chatted to have just gone in to use the computers/internet, read the free papers provided or just been in to keep warm (as some cannot afford to put the heating on).

I am hoping this set will open a window on libraries and how they are being currently used in 2011.

If you have a view, or to let me know what you feel about this set, again, please leave a comment.

Future Libraries Programme – Final Report to Governance Board


At the end of March 2011 the MLA (Museums, Libraries & Archives Council) & LGA (Local Government Association) produced a final report for the “Future Libraries Programme.” Its remit was to review pilot projects that had been running throughout the U.K. as part of the programme to develop public library services. Following on from this best practice in these projects would be disseminated to other library services in the U.K.

The following quotes were taken from the Executive Summary.

“library services can make use of recent evidence about consumer needs and aspirations, while policy priorities such as the Big Society create opportunities for library services to reshape themselves to be fit for purpose for the 21st century”

“Across the library sector and local government a range of activity is underway supporting change in libraries, and the Future Libraries Programme complements and extends this innovation and improvement.”

“Options appraisal should begin from an assessment of community and user need and aspiration.”

“Engaging political leadership from the outset is crucial.”

The fact that so many campaigners battled with (and are still battling with) local authorities to try and persuade them to change their plans to reduce/cut library services suggests that local authorities are not noting “consumer needs and aspirations” at the outset, but only when they are forced into doing it. Many consultations regarding changes to library services did not begin with a discussion with communities. They began with an attitude of “We need to save money, and here’s what we’re going to cut.” At this stage, communities made their discontent known (by campaigning) and then the discussions with communities began… after they had already been upset by the proposals.

The “opportunities” have been twisted into ways for local authorities to save money, rather than the development of “innovation and improvement” or “to reshape themselves to be fit for purpose for the 21st century” .  

It seems as if political leadership wasn’t part of the engagement process. It looked as if it was actually the driver in many cases, even though political agendas can often be different to the agenda of library services.

I understand that the cuts to local authority funding and the Future Library programme are not the same thing, but they are so intricately tied together. As the cuts came in, the Future Libraries Programme was there and it appears that those in power have leapt at the money saving options as the key thing, rather than picking up on the innovations that would still provide a quality library service for users. I’m not stupid – I understand that saving money would make people take interest, but at the same time, if libraries were invested in and developed innovative library services, local authorities would reap the rewards in increased usage.

Maybe the key problem is that decision makers at the top of the chain aren’t from a library background and, as such, it’s no wonder that these decisions are made. If they don’t understand the purpose of a service they don’t really understand what they are taking away from those who value and need it, do they?