The Reading Agency and Publishers Association held an event recently at Canada Water Library focusing on their Digital Skills Sharing initiative (funded by Arts Council England) which had been running for 10 months. The initiative consisted of six teams of publishers & public library services working together in an attempt to develop libraries digital marketing and communications channels with their readers. Further background details can be found here.
The event included a key-note from technology commentator and journalist Bill Thompson, a run-through of the six projects and a panel discussion in the middle of the project presentations.
Richard Mollett (Chief executive, Publishers Association) introduced the event, explaining how the initiative came about, the Publishers Association and The Reading Agency involvement in it and the projects that would be showcased during the event.
Nicky Morgan (Director of Libraries, Arts Council England) followed this up by speaking about the forthcoming publication of A.C.E. Envisioning the library of the future report in spring 2013 – a follow up to the research and consultation programme of the same name, aimed at developing A.C.E. “long-term vision for public libraries in England.” Nicky Morgan also encouraged libraries to tap into the funding streams available for libraries.
Bill Thompson’s keynote provided an interesting perspective on libraries and the role they play in today’s society. Amongst other things, he suggested that we’re not yet at a digital age and highlighted that even though we are surrounded by digital devices and information in a digital format, the physical is still relevant to us and it is just as important in our everyday lives. He spoke about the great shifts towards screen based consumption & engagement that were happening. With this shift also comes changes in reading habits – the focus on shorter pieces of text; different methods of text communication; bite sized pieces always being updated. He asked in a screen based world which bits of our brain does the internet want to use and can we spare them when we want to use it for deep reading beyond the internet? He suggested that we should be thinking about questions like “What’s the point of reading?”, rather than “How can we get people into libraries?” He also commented that illiteracy is seen as a failure, even though our brains aren’t born literate and literacy isn’t natural to us.
Projects Showcase 1
Gloucestershire Libraries with support from Granta set up a Twitter book club focused on new authors. As well as discussions between book club members they also had Twitter interviews and a Skype event with authors whose books were being read and discussed. They also considered using Facebook and even though a greater number of people use Facebook, Twitter provides a more immediate interaction, which is useful when trying to run live and interactive sessions. They did however note that due to this immediacy Twitter needs more time dedicated to it.
Leeds and Wakefield Libraries with support from Random House were keen to develop their online presences via social media and rather than trying to build numbers of followers, they were aiming to develop the engagement they had with library users. They saw this engagement as a way to develop advocates for projects in library services – advocates will actively promote projects that interest them.
South Tyneside Libraries with support from Pan Macmillan wanted to focus on a teenage reading project & the Big Borough Read. The teenage project was built around a Facebook page setup specifically for the project – once a teenager liked the page they were given a book, read it, review it on the Facebook page, and once they reviewed it they were sent another book. The reviewing aspect wasn’t entirely successful, as some teenagers weren’t keen on posting as themselves (so required some staff intervention). The Big Borough Read also had a dedicated Twitter and Facebook page. This project focused on a single book to be read by as many people in the borough as possible. They found that Twitter was the most successful method of engagement in this instance.
The panel discussion was chaired by Miranda McKearney (CEO, The Reading Agency) and included Bill Thompson as well as representatives from both the publishing industry and public libraries. Points raised during the discussion (themed “Compelling reader experiences in the library of the future”) included:
The library hybrid focused on service delivery via both physical and digital space will continue to be important in the future.
Publishers create large amounts of content around writers and it would be of benefit to everyone if they released it for use by the library community.
Publishers recognised that libraries are a non-commercial space.
Libraries are seen as trustworthy sources of information and we should be emphasizing this when competing with other services.
Libraries should take the opportunity to be the Google of our local areas ie the first port of call.
We need a UK wide online portal for libraries that can act as a single place for people to go to for their information and library needs.
We need a UK wide development body for libraries.
Librarians should be involved in the development of online services, not just wait for the next big thing to come along and follow it.
Projects Showcase 2
Kensington & Chelsea Libraries with support from Little Brown set up an online reading group “Text Tribe”. The target audience were users who might not be able to get to the library to join a conventional reading group. They used a WordPress blog, backed up by Twitter, Facebook and publishers channels. As part of this the publisher donated 120 books for those involved in the reading group. Even though WordPress was the main focus for the reading group it didn’t work perfectly for book discussions.
Nottinghamshire Libraries with support from Penguin & Hot Key Books ran a competition to promote a teenage book title, with the winning entries to be created and used on the libraries digital signage screens. This project illustrated how difficult it is to encourage involvement from library users, as they only had 2 entries (8 once they got a school involved). However, the publisher illustrated that it’s not just an issue for libraries, as they have had equally low numbers of responses to their own competitions.
North West Libraries with support from Faber and Faber wanted to reach families who were willing to share their love of reading via digital media. This included using Pinterest for the Reading-Families project. Here families were invited to contribute to reviews etc. It was interesting to note that the families recruited via Facebook were the most active users, possibly because they were already used to having an online presence.
Following on from the presentations and panel discussion Miranda McKearney closed the event, emphasizing that even though this was billed as a wrap-up event a number of the projects would be continuing and the libraries involved were starting to expand on their use of social media and digital reader engagement. The Reading Agency are currently building a resource to continue their support of this theme at http://readingagency.org.uk/digitalskills and are keen to receive feedback on developing this.
It was an interesting event and (even though my library service already uses social media) it was really useful to hear how libraries with the support of publishers had made use of it to engage with readers in different ways. The projects also helped illustrate the need to think carefully about which social media tools libraries should use for engagement and that there isn’t necessarily a “one tool fits all” scenario. For example, South Tyneside found that Twitter was more engaging for their Big Borough Read project, but Facebook was a better fit for their teenage reading group. Many of the projects echoed earlier comments around the importance of the physical as well as online interaction – it appears as if the face-to-face sessions in these digital projects were just as important as the online engagement with readers. It also seemed to be a great way to build the dialogue between libraries and publishers – helping develop links and understanding between both sectors, enabling each other to support our work and our audiences’ love of reading.
I thought this article about the introduction of a children’s mobile library service in Qatar was interesting, especially the emphasis that Qatar’s Culture, Arts & Heritage Minister puts on the value of reading.
“… the ministry was keen on supporting projects that would develop abilities and talents, but singled out reading as a development of great value that the community must instill in children at an early age to help build a generation of enlightened intellectuals.”
“… the significance of the project will be obvious when children grow up and see that their creative work had reached the community.”
“… such projects will allow Qatar to have thousands of writers whose innovations were started when they were young.”
CILIP’s International Library and Information Group ran an informal session a few weeks ago, in which Johanna Anderson discussed the research she had undertaken for her Library and Information Management MSc: ‘Library Aid to Developing Countries: A case study investigating how a Western literary library model is integrated into a Sub-Saharan African oral culture within the Malawian primary education system’.
The research was undertaken in situ at a primary school in Malawi and was based around a library set up by a UK charity in the school. Following on from the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, Malawi had already made primary education free to all children. The uptake of school places had increased so dramatically that it was felt libraries could be introduced as a way to ease the pressure on the education system. Donations of books from the UK were the main method of providing stock for the library and no experienced library staff were involved in the setting up or running of the library.
Johanna discussed the background to her research and the key areas she’d focused on:
The role reading had to play in Malawi culture (one with a predominantly oral tradition, rather than written).
How relevant the stock was to its users (level of readership, subject coverage, English language stock).
How the library stock was used and the impact it had on the community (people who could read shared information with others; it taught people about the world outside of Malawi; infrastructures needed to be put in place to support & develop the library).
How reader development was supported (focus was mainly on sharing information in books, with little focus on reader enjoyment).
It was really interesting to hear about library services from such a different angle, specifically one based in a non-western developing country with a culture that traditionally focused on oral communication, rather than the written word.
Books introduced a change in the way communication occurred in Malawi – information used to flow from the elders to the children, but now it also flows from from the literate (often school children) to the non-literate. It shows that resources people have access to change the way they interact and communicate with each other. This isn’t just the case for developing countries, but also for any community who has access to new methods of communication. For example, witness how the internet and, more recently, social media has changed the way people communicate, obtain and share information.
Johanna’s research and the discussion around it during the event highlighted the fact that a library is so much more than a room full of donated books. For a library to be successful it needs the infrastructure to support it – where the library is housed, systems used, trained library staff. The library discussed in Johanna’s case study didn’t seem to have this infrastructure in place. It made me wonder whether irrelevant donated books could instead be converted into a means of supporting the infrastructure of the library that was there? eg sell the books in the UK and help pay for training for the library assistant, a more suitable home for the library, put in place systems that ensures the best use is made of the resources. I also wondered if librarians on secondment/sabbatical from the UK to libraries in developing countries could be a good way to help develop the infrastructure around libraries? In some ways it might be of benefit to both the libraries in developing countries and UK librarians – it might get librarians to think about their core skills – get them back to basics – think about the purpose of libraries/librarians and make them re-evaluate their own role in UK libraries. Some critics suggest that public libraries in the UK have lost their way. By going back to grass roots and a situation where their core/basic skills need to be used might be a way for them to re-evaluate what their role is. For example, as a technical librarian a lot of my focus is aimed at the technology side of things. I wonder how much of the librarian focus I’ve lost whilst pursuing this particular technology path and how much of it I could regain if I had the opportunity to get back to focusing on the core skills and knowledge?
Johanna’s dissertation highlighted the fact that where, in the past, books/the written word might have been seen as alien to a culture founded on oral tradition, people in Malawi now associated books with knowledge, power, prestige and wealth. Many of these associations also tie in with the fight against poverty. The Malawi Government also acknowledged the importance of literacy and put strategies in place to encourage it – resulting in increased literacy levels. It seems ironic that a Government in a developing country can recognise the importance of literacy and put measures in place to ensure it’s supported, but at the same time our own Government is happy to encourage the whittling away of our public library service.
As I say, the event and discussion generated around it was really interesting. If you want to find out more about Johanna’s research her full dissertation can be found here.
New York Times article talking about how cheap software might replace lawyers. http://t.co/JxeFEmkq #savelawyers
Meaning Based Computing & Taxonomy based search might co-exist in future.
Cutting-Edge Technology Projects (Alexandre Lemaire, Ministry of Culture – Department of Public Libraries / Jean-François Füeg, Ministry of Culture – Department of public libraries / Christian Ducharme, W3line)
Samarcande – union catalogue of French speaking libraries in Belgium
Political issues slowed down development of Samarcande catalogue.
RT @ostephens: Depressing and almost unbelievable refusal by libraries and/or their political masters to share bibliographic metadata in Belgian #ili2011
RT @bethanar: Catalogue: http://t.co/RMacayzD. Comes frm union cats of provinces, harvested by OAI. Also supports SRU & z39.50 #ili2011
Tools for librarians for Samarcande – Getting bib. descriptions – z39.50; SRU;OAI / MoCCAM for ILL’s / Getting stats
Not a real-time catalogue – need to develop availability functions
Samarcande – FRBR; Web2.0; Users contribute with Web2.0 functions; Sharing/monitoring tools. Want to develop social media presence.
Bring in external data to Samarcande.
W3Line http://t.co/dxhbCh3Y were responsible for technical development of the Samarcande union catalogue.
Library Users in Turbulent Times (Kayo Chang, Bahrain Polytechnic)
Talking about Bahrain demonstrations and effect on Bahrain polytechnic
Effected library service. Facebook and Twitter use was banned because this was seen as part of reason why disturbances started.
Commenting or liking picture taken at demonstration could lead to suspension of student.
Had to make more use of library blog than Twitter and Facebook after social media was banned.
Library Users in Turbulent Times (Feda Kulenovic, Peace Support Operations Training Centre BiH and Reading for Ubuntu (www.citanje.org) )
Potential roles of libraries in post-conflict societies: Bosnia & Herzegovina
Libraries can transform. The mission of librarians is to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation and information.
Librarians need to be the person people go to for reliable information in times of conflict were misinformation is prevalent.
Created a library wherever he could – embedded librarian. Beyond the walls of the library.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” (Helen Keller)
RT @kulinba: #ili2011 My latest SlideShare upload : Potential Role of Libraries in post-conflict… http://t.co/bAulqRBn
Library Users in Turbulent Times (Maria Cotera, African Prisons Project)
Maria talking about African Prisons project (mainly in Uganda)
Literacy is a big problem in the prisons.
Moderator highlighting similarities and differences between the situations of 3 speakers situations.
Most important role in social change is providing information. Librarians have the power to progress social change. #savelibraries
Innovative Services to Engage Users (Joanna Ptolomey, Joanna Ptolomey Information Services)
Now on stage talking about health information content.
Old model is that health information is pushed out to users/patients, but can’t push information back in.
How do you manage the finding, collection, sharing of health content that is relevant to you?
Librarians will be very important as chaperones/stewards for helping others to curate their own health collections.
Innovative Services to Engage Users (András Kardos, library.me.uk)
Project http://t.co/o1UFoWBh developed in Hungary. Central portal for all libraries – contains all info. for all libraries.
Want to develop it for UK libraries too.
Contains info re. library services; catalogue; news for libraries in Hungary
Innovative Services to Engage Users ( Dave Puplett, London School of Economics)
I’m a lefty librarian and proud of it.
“People first, Content second” is a new social model.
Areas of opportunity – marketing; widening communication; user feedback; 2 way communication
RT @calire: #ili2011 Social design – Services designed around people. #b202
LSE Library use social media to be part of the conversation and engage with users.
4square is a great marketing opportunity – people saying publicly that they’ve used the library to their friends.
Flickr – people are tagging photos; parts of photos
People will interact with social media accounts if they think it’s a real person they’re talking to.
Developing ourselves (Julio dos Anjos, INCITE: Associação Portuguesa para a Gestão da Informação)
23 Things is now being run in Portugal.
Developing ourselves (Jo Alcock, Birmingham City University)
Heeeeeeeeres @joeyanne talking about productivity #ili2011 & #cpd23
Get things done: Record ideas so it’s not clogging up your head space; prioritise & do it; create trusted storage space…
Inbox flowchart for organisation. I wonder if this can be translated into automated actions using http://t.co/TJGca8wN
Some really interesting productivity tools coming from @joeyanne
Huzzah. Ifttt gets a mention by @Joeyanne
Searching without Google (Karen Blakeman, RBA Information Services)
Looking at search tools beyond Google, inc. specialist search.
Google is launching its “standout” tag which will allow publishers to highlight a number of their articles to improve their ranking
Login to your Google dashboard and see what info they know about you.
Yeeeeeeeees. @Karenblakeman mentions mild beer. 🙂
Google sometimes thinks it knows what you really want when you search, rather than what you actually want.
What are Yahoo playing at? Seems as if they just can’t be arsed developing anything any more!
Search tools: Duckduckgo; Blekko (also shows who else has linked to site);Wolfram alpha (I still don’t get it!); Zanran (charts)
Silobreaker for news searches.
Specialist searches: chemspider; biznar; techextra; philpapers; mednar; scirus; pubmed; healthmash; offstats; guardian data store
Social media search: topsy; socialmention; blogpulse / Create search engine – blekko / zuula
The New Normal Needs a New You
Ulla de Stricker says expand definitions of what we do in a time-scarce economy.
@Chibbie Talking about how TEDx would be great for inspiration.
Michael Stephens: Libraries have the potential to be anywhere and everywhere.
@chibbie Says if you look for roles to take on don’t look for the word ‘librarian’ in description. Our skills go beyond the name.
Surprisingly even though conference is technology based, there has been a great focus on people interaction.
Thoughts on the conference
I really enjoyed the whole event, including meeting friends/people I know on Twitter and plenty of other library/information based people from so many different countries.
Even though they weren’t always of direct relevance to my current role, most of the presentations I sat-in on were of interest to me. They helped me put my job and library service into the wider context of library and information services in general. It’s useful to attend an event like this to remind yourself where your place might be in the grand scheme of things and how librarians and information specialist throughout the world are working towards common goals.
The key themes that came across during the conference were:
Library and information services and our information skills don’t have to be constrained by the walls of the library or the title “librarian”.
We need to share resources and knowledge with each other – by either collaborating with others to share the load or by pulling together isolated silos of information.
Libraries are key to developing social change and improving society – they open up access to reliable and relevant sources of information to everyone, and we are the chaperones of that information and those who want to access it.
We can help improve ourselves and our services by making sure we use the most appropriate tools available.
We are in an age where people are just as much content creators as information consumers and we need to understand how this impacts on the provision and management of information services
Even though it was a technology based conference, there was just as much emphasis on the human side of things, which appealed to me. Maybe within this area there’s a suggestion here that technology in information and library work will still need a reasonable amount of human input and not just steam along like a Google search engine, without anyone there to say “Hold up! Are you sure this information is correct?”
As I say, I really enjoyed the conference, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to attend again some time in the future.
As literacy and libraries go hand in hand it is encouraging to see so much emphasis on the value of libraries within the report.
In defining the context of the inquiry it was indicated that “a poverty of trained librarians” was a factor contributing to low levels of literacy. At the same time you should also say that in the current climate, a lack of posts for trained librarians is also a factor. It’s no good having trained librarians if they are not employed in a role where their skills can be used.
Here are the main points made in the report regarding libraries.
“The right of citizens to visit a library and have access to a range of free reading material must be made overt and funding made available. Evidence shows that libraries both in schools and in the community have a positive effect on reading, yet many are disappearing because of financial constraints”
“The active encouragement of reading for pleasure should be a core part of every child’s curriculum entitlement because extensive reading and exposure to a wide range of texts make a huge contribution to students’ educational achievement. This is why libraries are so important to the development of a reading culture – both those in schools and those in the community.”
“Participants in the Inquiry praised the work of Sure Start Centres where parents and their children could come to improve parenting skills, address social issues and receive informal literacy help. The aims of these Sure Start programmes are to (1) increase the numbers of parents/carers reading with their children; (2) increase library membership amongst 0-4 year-olds and their parents/carers; (3) ensure that 100% of children have access to good quality play and learning; and (4) reduce the number of children who need specialist speech and language support by the time they start school.”
“Evaluations of Bookstart programmes in 2009 indicated that parents were strongly supportive of reading with babies and toddlers and generally read frequently with their children. Longitudinal evidence suggested marked improvement in book sharing frequency after receiving the packs for ‘less active’ reading families (those that reported having relatively few children’s books in the home and read with their child less than once a day). Three months after receiving a Bookstart pack these ‘less active’ reading families reported significantly increased reading frequency, stronger parental interest in reading with their child and higher levels of library membership. Early intervention initiatives such as Sure Start Centres and Bookstart should be guaranteed funding over a period of time.”
Theme 7 Specifically focused on protecting library provision…
“It was felt by all groups in this Inquiry that the lack of a coherent support for school libraries and their proven impact early in children’s education is a huge anomaly. Although it is clear that libraries are not the single answer to improving literacy, they are an important resource for supporting a school’s literacy teaching and learning.
The concern is that students without school libraries will not have access to a wide range of learning and reading resources to support their learning. A good library and, crucially, a good librarian, can be a real benefit to a school and attainment.
For example, the
School Library Commission Report, which surveyed 17,000 students, found that there was a very strong relationship between reading attainment and school library use. Young people who read below the expected level for their age were almost twice more likely to say that they are not a school library user. Conversely, those who read at or above the expected level were nearly three times more likely to say that they are school library users.”
“Many children have no books at home and such a culture will not encourage reading. Libraries are essential to provide free and open access to a wide variety of reading materials. Economic constraints are forcing some of these to close and for schools to limit their library facilities and this can only be a barrier to successful literacy for learners of all ages.”
“The Publishers Association reports that purchases of school library books have declined by 40% since 2002. The Secretary of State has said that children should be reading up to 50 books a year and that successful schools give a high profile to reading for pleasure, but current policy seems to operate against this.”
“Throughout the Inquiry, the School Library Association and several literacy associations highlighted the importance of books and reading materials of all kinds, including new technological developments.”
“Libraries must be central to literacy development, and must be appropriately resourced.”
There’s no need for me to comment on these points, but in summary I’ll just state the obvious for those local authorities who don’t understand the importance of decent library provision…
Funding must be made available for free reading material and access to it via both school and public libraries.
Both school and public libraries are important because they provide a broad range of reading materials, which improves literacy and this in turn improves educational achievement.
Surestart and Bookstart schemes have a positive impact on library use.
School library services supported by a good librarian have a positive impact on literacy levels.
The current ethos of reducing funding for school and public libraries clearly goes against the idea of improving literacy.
Hopefully this report, backed up by the opinions of experts in literacy and all Government parties, will help secure the future of library provision in the UK.