Thoughts on Janene Cox IFLA Public Libraries keynote

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I attended part of the IFLA Public Libraries satellite conference today as a speaker, and I will post more details/links to the conference paper etc when they appear on the IFLA site.

I only heard a few of the speakers today and am looking forward to catching up with the conference papers as so many sessions sounded interesting. One speaker I did get to hear was Janene Cox (past President of the Society of Chief Librarians).

Janene spoke about the work the Society of Chief Librarians are doing. She highlighted that they are more visible now than in previous years and I’d agree with that and they are involved with some promising initiatives at the moment, including the 4 universal offers (reading, digital, health, information).

Janene had both positive and negative things to say about the current public library situation in England, which is understandable. One point she stressed was that advocacy for libraries is key. Things that stuck in my mind and I wish I’d commented on some of them at the time (I always raise my hand too late!) were:

On one hand Janene was talking about the great skills library staff have and how they are an asset in the provision of our library services, and on the other hand increasing numbers of libraries throughout the country are being handed over to volunteers.

Localism has taken a negative turn – mostly it’s (again) about handing libraries over to volunteers, not giving them an input into the library service direction to address local need, or supporting library services in a way that doesn’t leave them feeling dumped on. It’s localism that often suits councils, not necessarily localism that suits local library users.

Localism was also mentioned in regard to it being up to the local authorities to decide on how they deliver their local library services and central government in England is standing well back and giving no guidance or ensuring that standards are met. Guy Daines (CILIP) highlighted that Welsh libraries released their own report highlighting that their library standards will remain in place and annual reports will be produced to see how library services are shaping up, so why aren’t English public libraries doing similar?

Using Liverpool as an example of a council investing in its library services with the example of the fantastic central library that opened last year was ironic as it was reported last week that 11 smaller libraries in Liverpool are now under threat.

A member of the international audience asked at the end, if the delivery of library services in England is dictated to us by the current political agenda shouldn’t library service staff be getting involved in that political discussion? Personally I think if we don’t get involved in the discussions we and the people who use our library services stand to lose a lot.

This was sticking in my mind when in the final session Hans van Duijnhoven (Netherlands) said that we can’t be objective in the provision of our library services, we all have to make choices.

If we don’t make those choices ourselves (as the people who understand public library services best) the choices will be made by those who don’t truly understand the purpose and value of libraries.

Do we really want that to happen?

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