Posted by: paultovell | January 21, 2010

Borrowers without boundaries

On the one hand, I have been spurred on today by reading a wonderful quotation that librarians are “great defenders of freedom and democracy”.  On the other, I read in Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill, the frequently heard speech about how libraries are “getting worse” (although in whose viewpoint was not clarified).  This has all got me thinking about what people want from us, and it’s led me back to Northern Ireland.

I have never been to Northern Ireland, although in my Managing Your Career Day post below, you can read how Diane was enthralled by its library service.  But I have heard a lot recently about what’s been happening in libraries there.  You’ve probably heard that their authorities have all combined to form one library service, Libraries NI.  I know similar things have happened in London, too.  And I’m sure that this must be what our customers really want.  No artificial boundaries (I live in a different county from my workplace and so have to join two services, for example); a much greater and richer stock to access, consistent procedures and policies, no inequality in provision, extra convenience.  Even moving jobs to work for a different authority can be a bit of a lottery.  

I have known a borrower travel thirty miles to access a better library service because they are appalled at the stock where they live.  Doesn’t sound like the fair and inclusive service promised in 1964.  And just look at the freedom they have across the Irish Sea to consult the public about what they really want…

Certainly a step in the right direction for those who are hoping the “one form joins all” idea becomes a reality.  I even like some of their policies better than our own, especially about opening hours.

Of course, what you do lose is the local identity and pride inherent in a local service for local people (to paraphrase Derbyshire’s motto).  A regional service might maintain this, but if we’re heading for a national one, it’s gone – except for local studies collections.  But I’m not sure that’s really why we exist as a “service to humanity” (grand-sounding statement courtesy of Michael Gorman, from Rob Westwood’s article in the back page of the Gazette last week).  People don’t really care who is providing the service (except when they need to complain) – they care what they can and can’t have.  And if what they can and can’t have here is different to a library just across the River Dove, then perhaps it’s time to start following Northern Ireland.  Meanwhile I continue to search for something, take note Ms Hill, which categorically states that what the public want from a public library is reams of antiquated books, piling up into forever.  That’s surely a storehouse, isn’t it?


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