Sunday, 27 March 2011

Quickly, quickly...

A quick and dirty news round-up of things I'm never going to get round to blogging in full.

Me, me, me

Things that are happening

Things that have happened

  • On Friday 4 February I went to the first Museums TeachMeet, held at the British Museum. It was really interesting to hear about some of the techie things that museum educators are using - it rather puts libraries in the shade. I particularly liked the speaker who had made a 5-minute screencast of things he wanted to talk about - a really good way of sticking to the time slot! I really wanted to write this up in full, but it's starting to look like that won't happen, so I'll just put up the list I made of things to investigate futher:
  • The Personalised Library Symposium (#pls11) happened last Monday. I didn't manage to follow much of it on Twitter, but the idea that students like to 'womb' in libraries did come up. I think that's a rather unpleasant way of saying they like to make themselves nests

Cool stuff

Two delightful ways of increasing engagement with reading:

And finally...

Long-standing readers may remember that last year I posted about how I don't like the format of Update Digital. Update Digital now has a new, slightly re-jigged format, and I don't honestly think it's much better, but I'm not going to write a full-blown post on that unless you rise up in the comments and demand it.

Knit one, purl one: advocating for libraries the knitterly way

Hopefully you've already heard that the LIS New Professionals Network (LISNPN) is running a library advocacy competition. New professionals are invited to create library advocacy of any and all kinds: "an article in a newspaper, or on a website, or [...] an event, or an art-work, or anything at all. The only criteria are that it should raise awareness about libraries or librarians, and try to reach new audiences".

The competition was announced very shortly after I'd had a double-echo-chamber-escape few weeks, with an article in the Guardian and a talk at Ignite London 4. Fun as those both were, they were quite hard work, and I thought that for my competition entry I'd do something a bit more like recreation, and a good deal more off the wall...
Photograph of Classmark Mittens
...Introducing 'Classmark mittens', a librarian's answer to cold working environments and a compulsion to knit.


Why on earth write a knitting pattern?

Firstly, it's fun. Secondly, it's a way of connecting with lots of new people. There's a social network for knitters (and crocheters, spinners, designers and so on), Ravelry, with over 1,000,000 members in lots of countries. It's a brilliant resource - with hundreds of active fora on specialist and general topics, an enormous (and gorgeously organised) patterns database, yarn databases, space for members to record their projects and yarn and what patterns they own and the like, and space for designers to publish their own patterns.

So, for my LISNPN competition entry I've designed a library-inspired knitting pattern, popped a wee smidgen of library advocacy into its introductory text, and set it loose.
Screenshot of the Classmark Mittens pattern
You can get the pdf here without needing to be a member of Ravelry.

Ravelry's pattern database contains over 200,000 patterns: these are all catalogued with relevant metadata including the sort of yarn they use, the type of garment, size/age/fit/gender, amount of yarn needed, pattern source and availability, needle size needed, and so on.  That's one way that I hope people will find the pattern - by browsing for a pattern that meets their specific requirements.

I've also publicised the pattern by using a pattern testers group to find volunteer test-knitters who've ironed out lots of typos and unclear bits in the pattern as well as created their own project pages for it, including difficulty and pattern quality ratings.  I'm also posting to various relevant groups that have threads for designers to show off their new patterns. I'm not expecting this pattern to become a blockbuster like some (Ravelry's most popular pattern, 'Fetching' by Cheryl Niamath, has 17,640 registered projects), but it might reach a few people, and that's not bad for something I really enjoyed putting together.

Anatomy of a Mitten

About the mitten

The pattern is for a fingerless mitten with a thumb gusset (not an afterthought thumb) and a mid-length buttoned cuff in a mistake-rib pattern.  The cuff is knitted flat and the knitting is then joined in the round for the hand and thumb.  The hand and thumb are knitted in stocking stitch and finished with a mistake-rib and garter-stitch edging.

The pattern on the cuff is inspired by the appearance of bookshelves.  After extensive swatching, I decided I just couldn't work out how to represent 'information services' in knitting, and opted for the easy (and stereotyped) option!

I'm not really sure if a knitting pattern, of all things, help to dispel the grumpy-grey-haired-bun-wearing-cardigan-toting-librarian stereotype, but probably everything that keeps libraries in people's minds is a good thing.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Ignite, redux

In February I spoke at Ignite London 4 about 'Why Libraries are Great'. Richard Johnson (@chichard41) has been working on the videos from the event, and has just released the video of my talk, hurrah!  So here it is:

Why Libraries Are Great - by Katie Birkwood from chichard41 on Vimeo.

And for those who haven't already seen them, here are the stand-alone versions of my slides:
Some other talks I enjoyed were Charlotte Young on Art Bollocks, Andrew Betts on Standards, Maxwell J. Roberts on Tube Maps, and Paul Clarke on the Pythagorean Comma.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Blowing my own trumpet

'Inside trumpet' by Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas) on Flickr
Yesterday did go with a bang.  460+ people came to the Old Library exhibition, and the three talks had splendid audiences, both in numbers and in enthusiasm.  Before I packed up and left last night I went through the evaluation forms that visitors submitted, and I can't resist sharing this comment about my Hoyle talk and exhibition with the world:
The talk was beautifully structured and professionally & enthusiastically delivered. The 10 objects were inspirational. Thanks for all the painstaking effort and passion.
Owing to a few technical difficulties, the recording of my talk is sadly currently unavailable, but you can see the ten objects in this online exhibition.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Going out with a bang

'Rhein in Flammen - Feuerzauber in Koblenz' by a.renate on Flickr
For the last three years (almost to the day) I've been working on the Fred Hoyle Project at St John's College Library, Cambridge.

Tomorrow, Saturday, the project ends with, hopefully, a 'big bang'*. I've organised a day of events in College: three specialist talks (to be available later as podcasts), an exhibition of Hoyle papers (with accompanying online exhibition) and hands-on astrolabe building (with an online kit for those who didn't manage to book a place).**

This post was my first professional library job, and it hasn't really been your 'typical' library job (whatever one of those is).  The remit of the post was twofold: 1) catalogue an enormous archival collection and 2) do 'outreach' with it, hopefully according to the plan that had been submitted as part of the funding bid.

Weirdly, I managed to get the post despite having only a little experience with (but a great interest in) special collections, no archival cataloguing experience, and no public (let alone youth or schools) outreach experience to speak of.  But what I apparently showed was enthusiasm and a can-do attitude.  The can-do attitude was luck, really: lots of my friends do really cool science outreach, so I wasn't too phased, in principle, by the idea of talking to children about astronomy.

It's hard to work out what I've learnt from the project (aside form things like what colour ink Fred Hoyle wrote in during different decades, or what's best to eat in the College Buttery).  One main lesson is 'don't ask, don't get' - it's really worth getting to know people (networking again) and just asking what they might be able to do to help.  Another is 'build it and they will come'.  Ideas that might seem daft or unachievable at first often come to fruition, and in ways better than you'd imagined (Open Libraries, anyone?).  I've also learnt that if you're going to have to fill in an enormous form of all your expenditure at the end of the Project, it would be worthwhile and probably easy to keep your lovely records in that form, and not just beautifully ordered but somewhere else, in a different shape.

I've learnt things about putting up exhibitions: there will never be enough space for all the items you'd like to include, you wouldn't believe how little you can fit into a caption once it's printed at a legible size, taking time over the design really pays dividends in how people respond to it.  I've learnt that you can never have too many direction signs when people are trying to find their way round a college. 

More than anything else, I've learnt that you don't have to do every last thing that was planned, so long as the things you do do are good, and have learnt from experience, and meet your overall goals.  Perfectionism is useful in the details, but not always in the bigger picture.

Hoyle's been fun, but I couldn't work on him forever, much as I'm sad to be leaving.  Onto new, and more bookish things now.

*Among his many other achievements, Fred Hoyle is known for being the person who coined the phrase 'big bang', despite not having actually supported the theory himself.

**It might be quite a big bang, as there's been coverage in the Cambridge News, on the BBC News website, and on BBC Look East.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A letter to my MP

Further to my previous post about the government's review of the statutory duties
placed on local authorities by central government, here's my letter to my local MP, Julian Huppert.  Do use it for inspiration for your own letter to your MP if you so desire.

Dear Dr Huppert,

I was very pleased to see that you support the campaign to save
libraries, and to see that you went to the read-in at Arbury Court
Library on 5 February 2011.

I'm writing to you today because I've recently learnt of the Department
for Communities and Local Government's review of the statutory duties
placed on local authorities by central government

I note that three of the duties under review (DCMS_026, DCMS_027 and
DCMS_028) are duties created by the Public Libraries and Museums Act
1964, which requires local authorities to provide a 'comprehensive and
efficient' library service. I am very concerned that these duties might
be rescinded, as this would allow councils to impose drastic cuts to
library services with no recourse for this to be challenged in law. I
am also concerned that such changes to local authorities' duties could
be made with little parliamentary or public scrutiny.

I urge you to voice an opinion in favour of retaining these legal
obligations, and to speak to Mr Greg Clark MP, Minister of State for
Decentralisation, to express your concerns about this serious threat to
public libraries.

Yours sincerely,

Katie Birkwood

Protect the legal duty to provide public libraries

This is a two-part post. We start off with a new, and important, way that you can help defend public libraries, and then we move on to a rant. I recommend that you read, and act on, the first bit, and read the second bit at your own peril.

Practical Action You Can Should Take

Last week, on 7 March, Greg Clark MP, Minister of State for Decentralisation (seriously) announced that the Government is carrying out a review of statutory duties placed on local authorities by central government.  It wasn't a very loud announcement, I don't think - it had certainly slipped under my radar until yesterday, when Voices for the Library, Alan Gibbons, Katy Wrathwall (one of the CILIP Trustees), Public Libraries News, and others drew attention to it. ETA: a CILIP press release about this was issued on Monday 14 March.

The Dept for Communities and Local Government has drawn up a list of 1,200+ statutory duties that central government currently places on local authorities, the majority of which, they say, arise from primary legislation.  They are asking us, the general public, to comment on these or other statutory duties, and to say which should be kept, and which should be lost.

Three of the 1,200+ duties relate directly to public libraries.  Local authorities are currently required by law (the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964) to provide a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service.  Three duties imposed by this legislation are included in this review.  Removing the legal obligation to provide decent library services could have really serious consequences given the pressure that libraries are facing now when council could, and are, being held to account through legal challenges to their plans.

You can comment on this review via this form. Information about the review, including spreadsheets of all the identified duties (libraries are mentioned in the Excel second file), is available on this DCLG page.  These are the three duties affecting libraries are DCMS:
DCMS_026: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 1(2)

Duty: To provide information and facilities for the inspection of library premises, stocks, records, as the Secretary of State requires.

Function: Necessary for Secretary of State to fulfil (requirement) to superintend library service (see s1 of PLAMA 1964)

DCMS_027: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 7

Duty: To provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. In fulfilling this duty, must have particular regard to the matters in s7(2)

Function: Secure provision of local library services

DCMS_028: Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 Section 11

Duty: Supplemental provisions as to transfers of officers, assets and liabilities

Function: Provisions provide, for example, continuity of employment for transferring employees. This secures consistency across library transfers etc and in line with other local authority employment legislation

(This summary copied from the Voices for the Library post
Once you've filled in the form, you can also write to your local MP (find him or her here) (ETA: here's my letter) to voice your opinion on the subject.

The rant

The questionnaire is framed almost entirely in terms of 'burdens' (this review, is in fact part of a 'Tackling burdens: Reducing burdens on local government' initiative).  The use of this term sums up for me everything that I think is wrong with this whole Big Society business.  It's clear that by 'burden' we're supposed to think of something that we (or, in this case) local councils would be better without.  When I'm asked if a particular duty is a burden, an answer in the affirmative will be taken to mean that I think that duty can be dispensed with.

But the way I see it, we have government and councils precisely so that we can lumber them with 'burdens'. Healthcare, schooling, social care, policing, libraries, museums, the fire service are all difficult and expensive to provide: in stark terms, they're burdens to those entrusted with providing them.  But just because they're difficult to do it doesn't mean that government (local or national) shouldn't have to do them.  Because they are by their nature burdensome, handing them over to the masses is surely unlikely end well. The masses are unlikely to rush round to do them instead (either commercially (commerce might want to cherry pick the profitable bits, but is unlikely to want to have to so *all* of it) or as volunteers), and even if they did, they'd be unlikely to be able to do them very well.  I want my local authority to be emburdened with the duty to do the stuff that makes us civilised.


Tuesday, 8 March 2011

As it's International Women's Day...

...I thought I'd write a quick post about the book I'm currently reading, seeing as it was written by a woman, 'n' all.

Janet Flanner was a New York journalist, acquainted with such luminaries as Dorothy Parker. In the early 1920s she settled in Paris with New York Tribune drama writer Solita Solano on, as the American National Biography Online puts it, 'the Left Bank of Paris near other American expatriates and lesbians'. From 1925 until 1975 she wrote a bi-weekly 'Letter from Paris' column above the pseudonym 'Genêt' in the New Yorker magazine.

I hadn't heard of Flanner until late last year, when I was browsing through the Smithsonian National PortraitGallery's exhibition 'Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture' (Flanner appears in the section on modernism).

I ordered up the book from the local library, and have been not getting round to reading it for a couple of months now.  That's rather a shame - the writing is *wonderful*, and I know very little about the history of post-war France (its recovery from occupation and collaboration) so it's a good education, too. Sadly it's due back at the Library on Friday, and I still have 400+ pages to go.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A reply from the PM

'Letters from Friends' by D. Sharon Pruitt on Flickr

At Prime Minister's Question Time on 9th Feb, David Cameron answered a question from Ed Miliband by saying:
We all know a truth about libraries, which is that those which will succeed are those that wake up to the world of new technology, the internet and everything else, and investment goes in. That is what needs to happen. Should councils look at community solutions for other libraries? I believe that they should. Instead of sniping and jumping on every bandwagon, the right hon. Gentleman should get behind the big society.
(Hansard, 9 Feb. 2011, around Column 293)

I thought this was a pretty silly thing to have said, and so I wrote to him to say so (the Contact Number 10 webpage suggests that a posted letter is more likely to receive a response than an email).  I listed a few of the ways in which public libraries have been embracing technological changes - reforming the way they operate, educating their readers, making the internet available to all - and even suggested that I'd be happy to show Mr Cameron one of my local libraries so that he could see what's already going on.

Today I had a reply from the Prime Minister's office. Needless to say, my offer of a library tour has not been accepted.  In fact, given the response, it's hard to determine whether my letter was actually read at all:
From the Direct Communications Unit

I am writing on behalf of the Prime Minister to thank you for your letter of 11 February.

Mr Cameron appreciates all the feedback he receives, so it is good of you to have taken the time and trouble to get in touch and to let him have your thoughts.

Once again, thank you for writing to the Prime Minister.
I suppose that this is the nature of campaigning about something.  Most of the time, efforts look like they might be in vain - it's easy to feel like you're shouting into a gale, and that no-one will hear what you're saying.  When out on the street on Save Libraries Day (5th Feb) I got to thinking more or less the same thing: 'how many people can I possibly be influencing?' 

But equally, when out on the street I did have conversations with a good few people who really were interested to know what was under threat and how they could help.  And all the others who scurried by trying to ignore us will still probably have heard the word 'library' a few times; if drip-drip marketing is good enough for commercial products, then it's good enough for my library campaigning.  At the very least, people have been reminded of the existence of libraries, and Mr Cameron (or someone on his staff, at least) has been shown that there's one more person who's watching what he says and does.

I know that some other library folk also wrote to the PM around that time.  Has anyone else heard anything back?

Thursday, 3 March 2011

CILIP Branch and Group discussions

'Spring Blossoms' by Noël Zia Lee on Flickr
Is it too twee to suggest that this could be a
new spring for member involvement in CILIP?
The future of CILIP branches and groups is very much up in the air at the moment.  CILIP can't afford to keep running the branches and groups in the way that they are run at present, and has recently started a consultative process to try and work out the way forward.

Emma has written a very informative post about the meeting for branch and group representatives that took place on 16 February, and I recommend that you read that for further information about the meeting and about the process in general.

In summary, CILIP can't afford to keep all the branches (12) and groups (27) that currently exist.  It's hoped that through increased cooperation and collaboration, and a reoganisation of the structures, a more streamlined (and cost-efficient) system can be worked out.  It is, depending on how you look at it, either a very scary or a very exciting time.  Things are definitely going to change, but CILIP seem keen to get members' imput into how they'll change.

The level of input that you have already had will depend on how proactive your branch and groups have been in soliciting your ideas.  If you've not heard much about this already, fear not, as there should be opportunities very soon to voice your ideas: watch this space.  In the meantime, get your thinking caps on and consider what you want or need from local or specialist CILIP groups (and share your ideas in the comments if you like).

Here are my ideas:
  • Branches/groups to provide a way of getting to meet local(ish) people from different sectors, and people from across the country from my sector and/or with my special interest(s)
  • Branches/groups should be communicative and friendly - putting a personal, if not local, face to the organisation
That's pretty much it.  I'm not sure how concerned I am about the specific specialist areas covered by each group, so long as overall there's a home for everyone, and that each of the sub-interests in a group gets events that are relevant to them (as well as wider networking opportunities).