Saturday, November 24, 2007

Libraries Threatened by In-fighting

Alison Flood writes about the new report on Libraries from think-tank Demos for the Bookseller:
"The report, Fact and Fiction: The Future of Public Libraries, divides the library lobby into two camps: the "book lobby", which argues that the solution lies in putting more re-sources into book stocks, and the "diversifiers", who believe that libraries are about more than books and need to broaden their offer. The book lobby thinks the diversifiers are philistines, while the diversifiers look on the book lobby as obtuse." The report
calls on the two sides to work together to avoid forcing the public library service into a permanent downward spiral.

This "coming together" presupposes that the "book lobby" (Library users who deplore the running down of the public library system over the past ten or more years) has as much power to influence events as those the report calls the "diversifiers" - when in fact the latter is made up by the Councillors, council officials, politicans and central government bureaucrats who have neglected the Library buildings, cut library staff and book budgets and sold off the books over the past years. "Coming together" sounds like another way of saying "don't complain - put up with what we give you."

A quick examination of Public Library statistics demonstrates that the "downward spiral" has been going on for over ten years. The so-called "book lobby" (of which I count myself a member) are not against computerised resources in Libraries - far from it. Many reference sources are much better provided online than in out-of-date printed works - and it is great to be able to access these from home, as I can in Essex. Computerised catalogues and online reservations are great - but so are books. The argument about computers in Libraries is a complete red herring - they are already there, and have been for many years. Nobody is saying that they should be taken out. But neither should they be used as a stalking horse for the kind of cuts and changes they have been taking place. The whole focus of our criticism is that book stocks are being reduced, insufficient books are being purchased, and Libraries are being turned into "community centres" "one-stop shops" for council services, and even gyms, to the detriment of their use as libraries. Library closures, staff cuts, and falling bookstocks are resulting in people turning elsewhere for books and information. Of course, a "one-size fits all" approach is wrong, but so is the continual closure of small community libraries to finance services in big urban centres. Yinnon Ezra and John Holden want to find common ground with the book lobby. Until they can accept that continuing library closures, the neglect of library buildings, and the reduction of bookstock are unacceptable it will be very difficult indeed to find common ground.