Proof that library closures cause riots – Isobelle Carmody stops them

Throughout the night riot police played “cat and mouse” with the gangs who smashed their way into supermarkets and shops, including many upmarket retailers, in the heart of Manchester city centre. The widespread attacks followed similar disturbances in neighbouring Salford, in which a former library was set on fire and shops attacked in the central precinct.- Daily Telegraph (UK)

If proof were needed that the closure of public libraries directly leads to wanton criminality, muggings, arson, looting by the young here is THE prime example. If that UK library had been open, would there have been riotous looting – I think not. Those young people would have been nestled in the YA section of the library reading one of the Obernewtyn books by Isobelle Carmody, or maybe researching butterflies on the Internet for their homework assignments, or maybe just relaxing with friends and discussing the library’s new graphic novels. The government and local councillors who have closed UK libraries, should be held responsible and accountable for turning the young to crime, when all they ever wanted was information access.

The state has turned the young from Hoban to Hoodies, from Turgenev to trainers and from Rand to rioting.  Let these riots be a lesson that when a library closes, so do minds. Not a single UK library must be allowed to close in the current economic climate. When austerity and unemployment are prevalent, closing down the only free (at point of access) institution where people may improve themselves is a far far worse crime than stealing shoes.

See also

Dollars, Sense and Public Libraries

A report conducted on behalf of the State Library of Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria Network reveals what we already knew to be true – the return on investment from libraries and their services far outweighs the initial investment.

The research measures the value of Victorian public libraries’ contribution to the community through a cost benefit analysis and an economic impact assessment. Dollars, Sense and Public Libraries found that the benefits contributed by public libraries significantly outweigh their provisioning costs and represent a sound return on community investment.

The resulting report from “Dollars, Sense and Public Libraries – A landmark study of the socio-ecomomic value of Victorian Public Libraries,” revealed that over the 3 year time period of the study, on average “Victorian public libraries return $3.56 for every $1 spent.” Now that is certainly money well spent!

You can read the public report here, or the full technical report here.

Nothing much to borrow

I was reading a contentious blog post by John Redwood, a Conservative politician in the UK from a government that is closing >500 public libraries. While I disagree with all his ill-thought out points, I was interested in his views of the book stock.

I lingered over the non fiction shelves. The books seemed oriented to middle class hobbies like antiques and foreign travel. I guess the book buying had been well judged to cater for the demand of a fairly affluent local community that said it wanted a public library.

Some defenders of every public library imply that they are for a different clientele. They conjure images of children from homes living on low incomes developing a passion for reading serious books borrowed from the local library. The library is seen as a force for self improvement and the pursuit of knowledge. I fear that in many cases this is no longer true, if it ever was.

To be sure public libraries have moved far from the Carnegie conception of a place whereby the poor could better themselves with the tools to educate themselves. Those tools being only non-fiction works with which to learn or enhance a skill or trade. In Australia the first public library founded by the great Sir Redmond Barry also had no fiction. Fiction was also unavailable in the first mechanics institutes. While fiction was available in the minimal number of Australian public libraries (until post WW2) it was also provided by subscription libraries (even unto the 1930s) in Australia.

I have no problem with public libraries providing fiction it is what people want and expect.

I do however think there is a point to be made about the non-fiction collections in most public libraries I have been in (and that’s quite a few).

It is no surprise that Redwood, found little to interest him as every public library collection here and there (as they should) express generally the makeup of the clientele and of the library staff, both of which are overwhelmingly female (see the ABS stats). That non-fiction collections are blessed in the areas of craft, cookery, crime, self-help, child care, travel and health is therefore no surprise.
But there is little for the young person keen to learn more than pastimes, hobbies and cures (have a look at the size of the 500s as opposed to the 600s shelves). But then that is why I suppose we have the Internet.

Why is this a problem you ask, well it may not currently be a problem in Australia which has high levels of employment, but in the US and UK where there is mass unemployment (and libraries fighting for funding) libraries need to be helping people by providing tools to learn and grow and find jobs. Offering the unemployed hobby books is not useful.

Skinner not Normal

The British comedian Frank Skinner launched an ill-timed, ignorant and germophobic attack on public libraries last week. Which is a shame as he wrote the funniest autobiography I have ever read. However he wrote the article in question for The Times, the Murdoch owned newspaper which is conveniently placed behind a paywall, so that only those very few subscribers and buyers of dead trees have to see it. So I haven’t read it all and nor can I link to it for you. For shame.

Funnily enough, Henry Normal, the very successful British comedy writer and producer only the other week had this to say:

My career is all down to the Central Library in Nottingham. I was lucky that I went to the library and there was a writers’ group. Being part of that group really gave me the confidence to pursue a writing career.

– in the Nottingham Post – a newspaper which is not behind a paywall.

ALA 52 things and a few more

New from ALA 52 things to do with your library card and additions

  1. Get to know your librarian, the ultimate search engine @ your library.
  2. Update your MySpace page. – really how quaint
  3. Research new job opportunities.
  4. Find a list of childcare centers in your area.
  5. Learn about local candidates for office.
  6. Pick up voter registration information.
  7. Check out your favorite graphic novel.
  8. Pick up a DVD.
  9. Get wireless access.
  10. Participate in a community forum.
  11. Find out how to navigate the Internet.
  12. Prepare your resume.
  13. Get new ideas for redecorating your house.
  14. Get a list of community organizations.
  15. Attend a lecture or workshop.
  16. Hear a local author reading his/her latest novel.
  17. Join a book discussion group.
  18. Attend preschool story hour with your child.
  19. Get homework help.
  20. Look up all kinds of health information.
  21. Research the purchase of a new car.
  22. Trek to another planet in a Sci-Fi novel.
  23. Call the reference desk if you have a question.
  24. Research your term paper.
  25. Learn about the history or your city or town.
  26. Decide which computer to buy using a consumer guide.
  27. Check your stock portfolio.
  28. Borrow or download an audiobook for your next road trip or commute.
  29. Use the library’s resources to start a small business.
  30. See a new art exhibit.
  31. Volunteer as a literacy tutor.
  32. Find a new recipe.
  33. Ask for a recommended reading list for your kids.
  34. Make photocopies.
  35. Get a book from interlibrary loan.
  36. Enroll your child in a summer reading program.
  37. Take a computer class.
  38. Hear a poetry reading.
  39. Take out the latest fashion magazine.
  40. Enjoy a concert.
  41. Trace your family tree.
  42. Check out a special collection of rare books.
  43. Check out a legal question or issue.
  44. Find out how to file a consumer complaint.
  45. Learn about home improvement.
  46. Borrow some sheet music.
  47. Learn how to use a database or computerized catalog.
  48. Find the latest romance paperback.
  49. Pick up tax forms.
  50. Connect with other people in the community.
  51. Find a quiet spot, curl up with a book and enjoy.
  52. Read a newspaper from another country.
  53. Plot a revolution
  54. Add to the library by writing a book so you can see it on the library’s catalogue/shelves
  55. Campaign to support your library against cuts and to improve services
  56. Provide advice to librarians on how to improve services
  57. Continue to wonder why librarians are so sexy and yet to you unavailable
  58. Start a library mash-up group utilising local information to create new apps and tools for your community
  59. Hold a library sleepover party
  60. With your library start a local Flickr group for preserving your community’s photographic history
  61. Start a list with the help of your librarian and their system to track what books you’ve read and be surprised at the end of the year by the amount
  62. Borrow an e-book reader and some e-books to go with it
  63. Join FOLA (if in Australia)
  64. Post a book review on your library’s blog


Election 2010

And so Australia goes to the polls.
There will be many issues which will dictate which way you vote. This post is certainly not going to give advice on how to vote, but it is asking you to think about libraries as an issue.

Libraries are a vital public service that almost never get mentioned in federal election commitments or party manifestos. And having checked today the policy sections of the two major parties websites, neither of them have a single mention of libraries. The Greens briefly mention libraries at:
(to remain impartial the policy webpages of the other parties will be checked ongoing for library related mentions and added if found)

As Librarians we have an agenda that it is beholden upon us to raise with all political parties and candidates.

Public libraries are predominately funded at a state or territory level and so invariably when federal elections are called, federal politicians do not address library issues.

But libraries were at the core of the previous federal administrations initiatives such as:

  • Early childhood education
  • Literacy initiatives
  • Encouraging the digital economy and digital citizenship
  • Increasing social inclusion
  • The National Broadband Network

It is true that a large number of additional school libraries and a very small number of public libraries were built by the stimulus package. However, public libraries were not funded as part of any of these initiatives. If these policies are again to be raised we need to ask that libraries be funded to work with federal government.

We have our own issues too that need addressing such as:

Digitisation – there are vast amounts of library and community held records, publications and images that need to be digitised both for access and preservation.
Digital Preservation - digitised and especially born digital material is being created by the community in vast amounts. These digital objects need to be safely preserved. The lead institutions for digital preservation, The National Library, The National Film and Sound Archive and The National Archives of Australia need to be supported to carry out this work.
Public Libraries – state and territory library funding is uneven and subject to the vagaries of economies and budgets that other public services are not. In a time of recession it is not expected that, for example, a school should lose staff and cut its opening hours, but it seen as acceptable to happen to a public library. Public libraries should be subject to a nationwide standard of funding, hours and staffing. Half of the Australian population use libraries and they should not have their services curtailed by a short-sighted local government.
Mandatory filtering – Librarians oppose censorship for good reasons, and have set forth good policy alternatives, which should be addressed.

You will probably have some other ideas for how government should support libraries. So, librarians engage with your local candidates and ask them, what are you offering to libraries? And don’t let them tell you it is not a federal matter.

Update 1.

Labor policy 24 July

An additional $1 million will be provided for digital playback devices and improved access to digital content in public libraries around the country to increase the accessibility of print material, such as books and newspapers, for people with vision and physical impairments and learning disabilities that have difficulty reading traditional printed materials.

Fox news and libraries

FOX News, the arbiter and epitome of all things unbiased and sensible in news reporting, asks Are Libraries Necessary, or a Waste of Tax Money? partricularly during a period of recession and in Chicago’s case a budget crisis. The Fox News reporter secretly filmed for a number of hours in the (non-lending) bound periodicals section of a library, and then reported unsurprisingly that people were not borrowing books but just using the Internet.

Mary A. Dempsey of Chicago libraries puts them right about a few things. It is a very stout defence of libraries and well worth reading.

The public library is supported by taxpayers for the common good of all the people of Chicago – just like public school. We don’t ask our schools to make profit. Neither should we ask it of the public library. As journalist Walter Cronkite once remarked, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Some background on a family’s views of libraries.

The incalculable cultural significance of The Library

New article over at Meanland entitled: The incalculable cultural significance of The Library, not a title one could possibly disagree with.

Some quotes:

Libraries are not just warehouses that hold books. Libraries are hubs of learning and research, of interactivity and community – and this is what we have an obligation to preserve. How many free, comfortable places can one still go to to study? How many communal spaces are there in which learning, exploration and reading are fostered

Libraries, moreover, have librarians – amazing people who help you find books, source information, make the photocopier work. Librarians are living libraries, experts in helping find information that’s hard to unearth or has been lost

The article talks of the traditional physical use of libraries and the, what may seem conflicting, need to serve the offsite reader with digitised content (using natch an NLA example). I think most librarians agree that we need to continue to retain the Library as Place, as well as recognise that the majority of our users will now be online. It should be understood however that one has not replaced the other, the traditional user has not generally gone online only, the online user is in fact part of a vast and growing new usership.

Librarian’s roles may change and expand, so that we may serve both onsite and offsite readers. But, the actual physical public library will continue to serve a purpose that cannot be fulfilled with any amount of digitised or born digital content – as (mentioned in the quote somewhat) it is the single remaining indoor place where it is possible for the public to congregate without needing to purchase or pray. As such, it should be the hub of every community as well as the local resource centre.

There will also, obviously, be the need to continue to have a building to house the digitised contents. For files and servers don’t actually repose in the clouds (well some do but they are owned by Google).

Shut not your doors

Library services are essential to the social, cultural and educational fabric [of] New York City. Closing libraries will do irreversible long term harm to our communities.

Postcard from the NYPL postcard campaign

Threats to the New York Public Library’s funding (including a proposal to shut 40 libraries and drastically reduce opening hours) has resulted in a call to arms from NYPL employees to their communities. And their communities are responding wholeheartedly by taking part in the library’s campaign, Don’t close the book on libraries, to petition against the funding cuts. The call to arms has included postcard writing and phone call campaigns to government officials, as well as a 24 hour read in (with the delightfully witty slogan of “we shall not be shushed”). Further pictures from the read in and postcard campaign can be found here.

Library philanthropy

Reading might be instructive, or it might be a pastime, or it might be actually harmful

- Governor of Victoria, Sir John Fuller (1911) from
This was said at the opening of an Andrew Carnegie funded public library in Northcote, Victoria.

It is salutary to remember it was this Scottish/American philanthropist who funded four public libraries in Australia, on the condition that they were permanently free to the public. Four public libraries is nothing like the 1,687 public libraries he funded across the US (just look at one years worth of library philanthropy by Carnegie and others in this 1901 article but still enough to make him the largest library benefactor in Australian history.

There would have been far more public libraries built in Australia with Carnegie money (as there was in New Zealand which got 18 or Canada 125) but most councils or state governments were not prepared to pay the ongoing costs of funding the libraries staff and maintaining book stock if they were built, and so they weren’t.

In the US philanthropy continues to build or fund libraries, but I can find little such use of private capital for the purpose here in Australia either now or historically. Maybe the type of entrepeneur in Australia does not value self education and free access to information as it is valued in the US. Or maybe philanthropy is ‘un-Australian’ as there certainly seems less of it here than in other nations.

I would be interested to know if there have been any public libraries built through private philanthropy in Australia, if anyone knows of any please let me know. I know of some past funding for university and state libraries by such as that of Baillieu, Dixson, Mitchell, Mortlock and Fisher. But these monies were primarily to bolster ongoing libraries and in relation to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Carnegie, Mellon and other US philanthropists including recently Bill Gates they were very meagre sums indeed.

ALIA seeks feedback on a national vision and framework for public libraries

We would  like  to  hear  your  views  about  this  approach  to  creating  a  shared
vision and national framework for Australian public libraries.  Please feel free to
circulate  this  document  to  your  members  and  to  anyone  outside  your  own
organisation whose opinions would be valuable.

See the paper at:

I like:

We have so much to contribute to government priorities – social inclusion, community partnerships,
fairness and equitable access, support for working families, health, safety, well-
being, life-long learning and the digital economy.

Social inclusion – it’s what Libraries do, and not just because they are cool in summer and warm in winter.

As Senator Stephens said in a speech, discussing “the crucial role of libraries as community hubs, neutral spaces, places of learning and for gaining access to the internet and other sources of e-learning.”

Neutral spaces are a vital community factor, misperceived for their vitalness to society, for where else does it exist, no other covered public space remains where people may legitimately congregate without direct purpose. The old venues where all could freely mingle (the church, the market place) are no longer the hubs they were. One is no longer the institution visited by all, the other is now a large sterile commercial hub, mediated to seperate people from their money and from each other, and with security staff on guard specifically to prevent people congregating for any purpose other than bargain hunting.

This feeds into the concept of  ‘Library as place’ a little understood idea in Australia, but one widely studied and recognised in the US.