Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The future of libraries is still being debated - like this:

"... move with the times to stay part of the times"

"... the citizen-focused services I think should be on offer"

"Libraries can't go on being merely traditional"

"...if she's ever stuck for an idea on how to run libraries, she visits Tesco"

"It's about moving from a service-driven economy to one that is about experiential learning"

"... sleepwalking into the era of the iPhone, the ebook and the Xbox without a strategy"

Books? Reading? Oh dear. How traditional, how contemptibly, merely traditional. It is obvious. We need a strategy. Another bloody strategy.



Graeme said...

The language is appalling, but I thought that the author was a little too dismissive of some of these "strategies". I say this because I live close to this library, which in many ways, seems like what the Birmingham council is getting at. My library has a cafe, long opening hours, and judging by what I see people holding in the checkout queues, lends nearly as many CDs and DVDs as it does books. It's widely used and loved. There are certainly some differences between this library and the one they're talking about in the article--it, for instance, is owned and run by the provincial government and supplements, rather than replaces, smaller and more local city library branches. While the library rents plenty of CDs and DVDs, they're also continually getting new books in and reading seems to be their priority. It's bright and airy and modern, but it still feels like a library. I don't know about larger questions of "strategy" or whatever dreadful business-speak cares about. The library is a success though.

Anton Deque said...

The language is what to expect. I was educated by the old B.B.C., especially radio and the Kent Library Service. The local branch dated from the turn of the 20th century and had one large room of shelves. It was a place to go and just browse. We had few books at home and no money to buy any. Tens of thousands of people such as me were in Jennie Lee's mind when she made her remark about libraries and working class children.

The new library in this northern city looks like a department store.

Face it. I'm a dinosaur and if you don't like it you're one also.

Overtired and emotional said...

Do you want libraries to promote an elitist notion of learning or a populist notion of entertainment? In my view, one wants elitism. Old fashioned Carnegie libraries, complete with mahogony shelves, probably now gone, opened up a world of intellectual liberation and development to generations.

If we reject that, then we reject civilisation itself. Only in retrospect do I realise how much I loved my boyhood library. Corny, I know,but how many public services do you really love?

(That question is rhetorical.)

Anonymous said...

Tesco?? What the hell is at Tesco?

The Plump said...

Actually, libraries are capable of all types of function; popular and 'elitist' (in sense of content and not user). I used to run adult education courses in libraries all the time. They were also one of the most important locations for advertising and marketing programmes.

I have no problem with wider usage, but it is all a varaiation on the core purpose of books and reading (with a bit of music, DVD and internet thrown in) as well as acting as a local reference point for information.

The problem with the language is that it is the language that determines the debate. What you have is fashionable nonsense and managerialism forcing undesirable change onto institutions against the wishes and expertise of the staff and with contempt for the people who use them. It marks a hostility to the institution of public libraries that neatly justifies funding cuts.

Amidst the hyperbolic futurism of all this guff, one thing is lost. This is the fact that the book is one of the most useful, enduring and practical of technologies. I suspect it will outlast us all.

Harry Barnes said...

Did you see this - ?

mikeovswinton. said...

Pete; on the simple and absolutely infallible principle that I'm always wrong in my first reaction to new technologies (eg I got my first CD player in 1998 and still prefer vinyl)I'm afraid that you are on a loser here. The Kindle or whatever name it goes under will drive the book away from the face of the planet. Unfortunately. I hate the idea and they don't smell like books do and ..... I know. In this context arguing for libraries is around the same level as arguing for Non-conformist chapels. People are all going to end up with them Bluebery things that the trendy young things use to email each other. I saw a guy in the toilets at Kro just before Xmas. Stood at the stalls doing what we all need to with one hand, emailing with the other and shouting loudly about what sort of pint his mate should get him. And they say men can't multi-task.

the dry mikeovswinton said...

Might I just add that I made sure I was stood some distance from him?

The Plump said...

Just because you saw me with a Blackberry on Thursday Mike (not in the Gents I hasten to add)!

The point about technology is that it has to be better than exiting technology, new isn't enough.

They win over storage space (though don't look as pretty) OK. However, when e-readers can be used in the bath, used without electricity, have no software faults, have a memory that cannot be erased, are unbreakable, can be trod on and sat on with no ill effects, can be scribbled in as easily as you can with a pencil in the margins, be flung across the room in disgust, be read in the kitchen when cooking and allow you to spill hot oil, fat, marmalade, etc all over them with no ill effects (dead important for cookery books), left in a hot sun on the beach, covered with suntan cream and filled with sand and, most importantly, be picked up second hand for 20p in a jumble sale or free from your local library, then they are in with a shout.

And books are not for urinals - for a crap maybe ...

The Plump said...

And Harry - thanks for the link. I hadn't seen it.

mikeovswinton, resigned but dry said...

No, you are completely right. Kindles or whatever are crap. But they will rule the world. You'd have known that they were not going to succeed if you'd seen me with one, extolling its merits. I have so many books on my "to read" pile that (a) I don't need to go near a library until 2027 and (b) I'll never need to buy a sodding kindle. On the other hand iPods are the business. I've got the best tracks in the known universe on one little bit of metal that fits in my pocket. And you can listen to it in the gents with no chance of accidents.

Graeme said...

About the Kindle, Ian Jack summed it up best here: "Why is the ebook ­coming? Because a lot of capital has been invested in it."

A book, even one that has been abused, can last for decades if not longer. An electronic gadget, even one that has been immaculately cared for, won't even last five years.

The Plump said...

And how ever much capital has been invested, it will be wasted if people don't buy it. I'm still with the book.

George S said...

Kindles will have their uses but people won't collect Kindles. Nor will they mark them, throw them at the cat, smell them or find their pages smeared with butter. Kindles will be texts and books will be books. Books are things and people like things.

Take heart mikeovswinton.

The Plump said...

Not just things, but possessions. And often prized possessions. After all, how can an author sign an ebook?