Arts Council England Live Chat (25 July 2012)

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Updated: 25 July 2012, 8:15pm

Alan Davey (Chief Executive of Arts Council England) is taking part in a live chat today. I submitted these three questions:

  • How do ACE aim to ensure that the non-arts aspects of libraries is developed as much as the cultural and arts aspects? Areas such as (but not only) support for education & literacy, community & social aspects are as important as the cultural and arts focus of libraries.
  • Will the ACE charter and mission statement be amended to reflect your new responsibilities that go beyond the arts, as indicated above?
  • Once existing ACE National and Regional council members terms end will the opportunity be taken to increase numbers of representatives for libraries who are able to focus on libraries beyond their arts and cultural aspects?

I received the following reply to the first 2 questions:

To Gary Green: We are already working hard to ensure that we join up arts and cultural activity with the wider libraries agenda, mainly through the Libraries
development initiative announced in January. Areas such as education and literacy will be targeted through projects like the one led by the London Borough of Richmond, which tests the delivery of adult learning in libraries. The Books on Prescription project will also help libraries address health and social care issues by prescribing books from a list of high quality self-help manuals for people suffering from common mental health problems. It is also worth noting that most of the artistic activities going on within libraries will be used to support education and literacy, and will involve local communities. In answer to your second question, our mission statement has already changed to reflect our wider cultural remit and is very much embedded in our decision-making framework Culture, knowledge and understanding. Our charter has also been updated.

Another libraries question was asked by Silent Pete.

  • What experience does the arts council have to oversea museums and libraries? This seems a sector where the expertise of the MLA is missed.

To which he received the reply:

We’ve taken on a significant number of former MLA staff and recruited new people with the right knowledge to enable us to look after these new sectors. We’ve sought to engage both sectors in a constructive way and have listened very hard to their concerns and needs. WE’re getting good feedback from the sectors about the way we’ve done this and so I think you cannot say we lack the right expertise.

Not directly related to libraries, but the following question about the rumoured end of the DCMS was also asked by nolarae:

  • The Rumor Mill is pretty active at the moment, saying that the DCMS will be split up after the Olympics. What potential threats does this pose for Arts Council not having DCMS holding ‘holding back the wolves’, i.e. other Govt Depts taking funding away from the Arts?

Alan Davey’s reply:

Well, I’m not sure that wolves get much from DCMS budgets – it being the smallest department in Whitehall by far. Whatever happens, they’d need to protect budgets for arts and museums and there would need to be a place in Whitehall to represent their interests. In the past this has been the Cabinet Office, the Education department or even the Treasury direct. Some other countries such as Australia put arts and culture as part of the Prime Minister’s office, reflecting their importance. So if there is a proposal to abolish the DCMS there will need to be a convincing alternative so that the interests of arts and culture remain at the heart of government. And that is the case we – the sector and the Arts Council – have to argue as strongly as we can. It seems to me to be a false economy to abolish a body if you then have to reinvent it elsewhere.

It was good to get a reply that addressed some of the issues I raised. It was also good to be reassured that ACE still had staff to focus on libraries and museums, even though I’m not sure how many of these members of staff there are in comparison to previous MLA numbers and how many of them have a specific focus on libraries.

I didn’t receive a response regarding council members with specific focus on libraries, so I’ll be interested to see what happens in the future at that level.

However, I still have the nagging thought that the updated Arts Council England mission statement still focuses heavily on art. It’s led by the line:

“Our mission is ‘great art for everyone’ and we work to achieve this by championing, developing and investing in arts and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives.”

and continues…

“We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. 

Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. 

Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £0.85 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.”

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy art and the impact and benefits that libraries can have on this area, but I still feel it might be more helpful to have an acknowledgement in the mission statement that libraries (and museums) are more than just arts focused.

Stacks Are Being Removed From Delicious.com

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I know some people abandoned the social bookmarking site delicious.com when it looked like it was shutting down a couple of years ago. At the time I transferred my links to Pinboard like others did, but I kept my delicious.com account. Then AVOS announced they were taking it over. Three cheers for AVOS. 🙂 I did try a few other bookmarking services, but delicious.com worked for me, I liked it (I’ve been with it since 2007) and I stuck with it through the changeover. I seem to remember there were a couple of times it played up in the early days, but I don’t know any free services that haven’t played up once in a while. AVOS have built on the original service (I like what they’ve done) and one really useful addition in particular has been Stacks.

Stacks enable users to pull together links that might not be directly related but can sit together under a theme the users defines. I find stacks particularly useful for bundling links together for presentations and training sessions. I can give them a descriptive title and even more background detail in the stack description field – showing people why I created that stack… what its purpose is. Stacks also have a unique url I can point people to during the presentation/ training. You can also add an image for the stack. It may not have any specific technical function, but visuals are often a greater draw than just text alone. They also give visual clues as to what the stack is about as well.

I do use tags, but the good thing about stacks is that I can quickly add a link to them without worrying that I’m using exactly the same tag I used for a similar item. I don’t put everything I have in stacks – a lot of my links come in via packrati.us or via connections I’ve set up using ifttt.com and can just sit there with catch-all tags. eg “fromTwitter” “fromGoogleReader”. I don’t necessarily want to put them all in stacks, but I know that if I found them interesting enough to tweet or post to Facebook or Google+ or Tumblr in the first place I know I might want to find them again and having them sitting there in delicious.com means I can find them with a little bit of digging later on. However, the items I put in stacks are put there for a purpose. I mentioned the presentations and training, but I also have a few interests that I like to keep specific links bundled together for. Stacks allow me to go to those interests straight away, just by clicking on the stacks link without the need to trawl through my rambling lists of inconsistent tags. NB: As someone with a library cataloguing/classification background I should probably keep better order in my tags, but say, for example, I only very occasionally save a link for some kind of infographic, how am I supposed to remember if I used “vizualisation”, “visualisation”, “vizualisations” or “vizualisations” as the tag for that type of link before? Stacks that aren’t reliant on accurate tags make this easier.

Another great feature of stacks is that other delicious users can follow them. So, when a new link is added to a specific stack they’re informed about it. This is a great feature. You can also follow an individual user, but I would find following a stack more useful – it means I’m only going to see the links I want to see. For example, I’m interested in public libraries, therefore I might follow a stack that focuses on this subject. However, the same user who created the stack might also be interested in and have a stack about sea-food. I really wouldn’t be interested in their stack of sea-food links. It helps you focus on the things you’re interested in, rather than having to sift through things you aren’t. Even if a user doesn’t want to follow a stack, but wants to see if I’m saving links that might be of interest to them, stacks act as a bold pointer on my profile page to areas I’m interested in.

Screenshot of delicious.com bookmarking service stack functionality

I know you can/could use tag-bundles in delicious.com – where you link your related tags together. However, this doesn’t work in the same way as stacks. This relies on the tags bringing links together, rather than being able to decide on the individual links you want to bring together. NB: I say can/could, because I’m still not entirely sure if this was something that was dropped after the takeover by AVOS, or not.

Anyway, my point to the blog post is that delicious.com have decided that even though they acknowledge that their users like the stack functionality and the developers have been impressed by how stacks have been used, they’re getting rid of them! All links in a stack will be converted so that the stack title becomes another tag associated to that link. Along with this, some of the detail (stack title and description) and functionality (no longer able to follow a stack) will be lost during and after the conversion process.

A recent blog post (20 July 2012) on their site said: “We introduced stacks last year as a visually rich way to think about your links and we’ve been blown away by the amazing content you’ve created. But given the upcoming launch of new products from Delicious’ parent company, AVOS, and our focus on simplifying the Delicious site, we realized the value of stacks is limited for our users moving forward. For this reason, we’ve decided to simplify how users organize links on Delicious by consolidating stacks into tags. Users will no longer be able to create stacks on Delicious starting in early August, 2012.”

I can probably live with some of the functionality going, but it’s frustrating. Don’t get me wrong, if stacks hadn’t been introduced I would have still been happy with delicious, but to have this useful functionality taken off me now is a bit of a downer. I really find stacks helpful for the way I work – being able to quickly and easily pull links together anywhere, providing a bit of background detail in the title and description, and allowing users to follow them.

I use very descriptive stack titles and I’m not sure having a stack title converted to a tag such as “Introduction to Web 2.0 & public libraries” or “Mobile Devices/Technology in the Physical Environment (with a specific focus on libraries)” is going to be useful to me and (1) I don’t fancy typing that tag out every time I want to link other urls to it (2) I’m not sure I can convert into a condensed useful tag for myself or others to follow.

And giving such short notice about the changes is a bit of a worry – I was planning to use stacks for a few presentations I’ve got to make in a couple of months time.

I’m also wondering if the statement above means that delicious.com will be treading on the toes of AVOS’ new product if it continued to contain the stack functionality? It’s not going to be so identical is it, that they can’t co-exist, surely? Or are the developers automatically assuming that if people like stacks they will go over to the new product? What if this is the case, but the new product doesn’t do some of the things delicious.com does? Or does it mean that they want to make delicious compatible with the new products and stacks have no place in this compatibility?

Anyway, they’re just idle thoughts.

I do hope that whatever happens with delicious I’m still able to organise my bookmarks in the way that I have  recently found to be extremely useful ie via something that is similar/same as stacks. In the mean-time I’m going to back up my bookmarks and see if the stack information appears in them.

Updated CILIP Volunteers In Public Libraries Policy

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Today CILIP published their revised volunteer policy for public libraries. The decision to revise it was made after concerns were raised by members of the library profession (including myself) about the existing policy.

The back story to this change is written up in the following posts.

CILIP Volunteer Policy & Job Substitution: Letter to CILIP Update (16th May 2012)

Response To My Letter Re. CILIP Volunteer Policy (6th June 2012)

Further Discussions About CILIP’s Volunteer Policy (18th June 2012)

The wording of the new policy is as follows:

Use of volunteers in public libraries

 In 2012 CILIP Council agreed the following policy statement on the use of volunteers in public libraries. 

CILIP believes that society benefits from the contribution that trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers make to developing and delivering services. We do not believe that volunteers should undertake core service delivery or be asked to replace the specialised roles of staff who work in libraries.

Volunteers have long supported and provided highly valuable additional support, working alongside qualified and paid staff, and they should be acknowledged and valued for this role. They should also be given appropriate role descriptions, training and management.

CILIP is opposed to job substitution where paid professional and support roles are directly replaced with either volunteers or untrained administrative posts to save money. This applies to all library and information services in every sector.

If this happens services will suffer and will be unsustainable. What remains would be a library service unable to serve the community comprehensively, support people’s information needs or provide everyone with the opportunity for learning and development.

CILIP will not assist in recruiting or training volunteers who will be used to substitute the role of qualified, trained and paid library and information workers. 

We acknowledge the difficult times that we live in, but now more than ever, high quality information services are vital to people’s lives, and local communities, learners, workers and businesses need the support of a trained and skilled workforce to thrive.

Date of policy: June 2012

Policy to be reviewed: June 2014

I’m very pleased with the revised policy. It acknowledges the support role of volunteers, but it also puts it in the context of how this is a support role and should not be used either as a replacement for trained staff providing core public library services, or as a cost saving exercise. In fact, it goes a step further by including “untrained administrative posts” alongside volunteers in this context – a statement which could prevent some library services from considering this route too. It emphasises that it will not assist in the development of roles that fall under this this banner.

At the same time as emphasising these areas it is also good news that the policy has expanded on the reasons why it is important to have library services provided by “trained and skilled library, information and knowledge workers”.

I also think it’s important to highlight that, in relation to its opposition to job substitution, the policy also states:

“This applies to all library and information services in every sector.” 

In doing this, CILIP emphasises that this is not acceptable in any situation and demonstrates its support for the profession across the board.

Not only does the new volunteer policy set out CILIP’s stance in line with advocacy work it has previously mentioned, but it also provides a policy with more substance. The original policy (from 2010) was too vague and brief – it didn’t clearly define CILIP’s position and left gaps that could allow library service providers to misinterpret it in a way that went against the spirit of the policy. This vagueness and brevity was a major cause of concern.

However, it’s reassuring to see that CILIP has taken note of these concerns, that the issues previously raised have been addressed and I hope that it will help ensure that public library users receive the professionally run library services they deserve.