OY, Mayor Davies: there’s more to working in a library than stamping out books

Mayor Davies’ profound contempt for the entire library profession is appalling – his comment on local radio yesterday that it can’t be that hard to stamp out a few books demonstrates his total ignorance. He admits he doesn’t know what librarians do and blames Doncaster’s librarians for the state the libraries are in – even though he knows full well there haven’t actually been any librarians running the service for several years because they were made redundant. There wasn’t even a head of service until a couple of months ago (which makes us wonder – if the Mayor doesn’t think it takes anything to be a librarian, why did he decide now was the time to employ a librarian to run the service?)

It takes a lot of on-the-job training, and often professional qualification, to provide a good quality library service. When staff currently working in the service are made redundant and volunteers take their place, the skills and resources provided by proper staff will be lost. Volunteers would need significant, costly and time-consuming training in order to perform the tasks required. The proposals for the service have not taken into account exactly how volunteers are going to run a decent service. Here are some things trained and qualified staff do on a daily basis, that Mayor Davies seems to have no idea about (thank you to those on twitter who contributed to this list):

  • Dealing With Library Users:
    – Suggesting a book for anyone from an 8 year old boy who never reads to a 70 year old woman who has read everything;
    – Being unfazed by complex enquiries which could be of a sensitive nature;
    – Understanding how to help people with computers who have zero confidence/experience and believe they can’t use them;
    – Dealing with abusive visitors;
    – Dealing with young people behaving badly – police have been called to library branches when young people have been climbing on bookshelves, causing problems, refusing to leave premises etc;
    – Dealing sensitively with people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities and may be challenging to help properly;
    – Keeping user information confidential;
    – Huge training requirement around legal/ethical issues;
    – Understanding the issues around safeguarding children and the elderly;
    – Providing a safe, friendly space that welcomes everyone;
  • Helping People Find Information:
    – Information literacy i.e. teaching people how to research, study and helping people develop lifelong learning skills essential for an informed citizenship;
    – Understanding what users need and how they go about finding it (and working out where the problems are);
    –  Teaching people how to search effectively;
    – Helping people organise information effectively;
    – Helping people assess which information is reliable, for example the NHS expect patients to use online sources to find out about healthcare, but a lot of information on the internet is not reliable and can misinform people;
    – Showing people how to find information about legal issues;
    – Helping businesses find business information;
    – Helping people research their family history or local history;
    – Unearthing the needed information from the mounded heaps of print and electronic, free and subscription services, efficiently and accurately;
    – Ensuring that less easy-to-find materials are available for particular groups – community langs, LGBT, people with/ disabilities etc;
    – Being able to interpret research requests – working out what people want when they’re not sure how to explain
    – Providing pointers on free and paid resources;
    – Knowing how to do proper subject searches and suggest unthought of sources of information;
    – Signposting to a huge range of services &say what they can offer: advice/help on immigration, debt, tax, legal, benefits, housing;
    – Providing specialist information i.e. market research/patents/EU/law/health;
    – Helping people if the library doesn’t have what they need;
    – Understanding the need for access and negotiating access to information that may be blocked by council filters;
  • Research Help:
    – Teaching people how to research properly;
    – Current awareness services, all types of research;
    – Personal training sessions on resources;
    – Filtering materials for relevance;
  • Internet/Technology Support:
    – Teaching people to use the internet;
    – Helping people set up email accounts;
    – Showing people how to use online job boards;
    – Showing people how to use online council & government services;
    – Teaching people to use online resources e.g. e-books, e-journals;
    – Giving people login details for library computers and helping them when they have problems/forget passwords etc.;
    – Providing technical support on systems and tools (i.e. loading ebooks from something like Overdrive on to a ereader);
    – Help using the photocopier/printer/fax machine;
    – show people how to Integrate emerging technologies into their daily lives.
  • Organising and Running Events and Activities:
    – Organising/promoting events for kids/teens/adults that promote a love of reading;
    – Rhyme time and story time sessions, increasing childhood literacy and promoting reading;
    – Children’s activities;
    – Visiting authors and poets;
    – Book festivals;
    – Gigs (Get It Loud In Libraries);
    – Helping with homework and school projects;
    – Book groups;
    – IT classes;
    – Doing the risk assessments needed to make sure everyone is safe and secure at events;
    – Dressing the library for events, making it look attractive and impressive (professional);
  • Partnership Work with Schools and Other Organisations:
    –  Working with teachers to improve reading skills;
    – Working with schools & other community groups to promote the library and showcase all it has to offer;
    –  Working with U3A and other community groups to help public with online information;
  • Library Management:
    – Understanding how libraries work together, dealing with interlibrary loans and the British Library;
    – Data protection;
    – Reporting on library use and user needs;
    – Using statistics to identify trends and assess levels of use;
    – Managing electronic resources;
    – Ordering databases;
    – Paying invoices;
    – Getting value for money via professional management, organization and promotion of resources;
    – Promoting and marketing the libraries, including using social media to promote the library service;
    – Attending training and events to make sure that the library service is keeping up with developments;
    – Dealing with legislation including reproduction and attendant copyright law: photocopying/scanning for personal use, hi-res resources for publication/TV;
    – Maintaining and building technical solutions for users’ needs;
    – Maintaining a safe, interesting quiet environment;
    – Being a premises controller: be responsible for a large public bldg, know what to do when heating breaks down, roof leaks etc;
    – Training for fire marshals etc;
    – Reporting to local Councillors, showing how libraries meet the wider council aims;
    – Managing budgets and staffing, liaising with those who provide the funds;
  • Collection management:
    – Promoting/displaying/ weeding/ordering stock;
    – Making sure the books and other items in the library are ones that users want/need/will benefit from;
    – Reader and community development – encouraging people to read more widely and helping communities build knowledge and skills – matching resources to people’s needs;
    –  Describing/cataloguing/arranging physical or digital material in useful ways so that people can find it;
    –  Chasing and collecting books back and enforcing fines;
    – Matching stock held with local community group(s) needs;
    – Dealing with stock management / complaints etc. in accordance with international agreements on intellectual freedom;
  • Archives and Special Collections:
    – digitisation and digital preservation, making sure information will be accessible in future;
    – Storing and conserving media (including old/rare books);
  • Other Council Services Provided Through Libraries:
    – Dealing with people paying council tax and parking fines;
    – Giving out condoms and bin bags!

This is a just a small insight into the world of public library workers. Readers might also be interested in this blog post by Hannah Bailey, who grew up in Doncaster and is now a Unison Assistant National Officer for libraries. She spent a day in a library to find out what goes on in a public library, and found the experience very educational. Maybe Mayor Davies should do the same before dismissing the work of an entire profession, making many members of staff redundant and forcing a lot of responsibility onto people who pay their council tax for a properly staffed library service. You never know, he might just change his mind.

As one of the contributors to this list said, “We make it look easy because we’re so good at it – like Olympic figure skaters (without the sequins)”. It’s not mysterious, Mayor Davies, it’s just what we do. It’s varied and complex, and we’re very concerned that volunteers will lack the ability and support to provide the services needed by the public. There’s no guarantee in the proposals that there won’t be serious issues with this, and for this reason the proposals should not be approved by the Cabinet. Of course they will be – as we’ve seen already, the Cabinet will do whatever the Mayor tells them, despite their parties telling them not to. It is therefore crucial for these proposals to be called in to Overview and Scrutiny and turned down by the council.

Thanks to Lee Francis for making a wordle out of this post

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29 Responses to OY, Mayor Davies: there’s more to working in a library than stamping out books

  1. NeilM says:

    This character sounds as if he is yet another rather superficial politician who would benefit greatly from access to library books, learning and, before he opens his mouth, at least some rudimentary knowledge of what Librarians, and all Library staff actually do. He might then realise they are far more use to the community as a whole than are transitory local politicians.

    • Martin Fisher says:

      I understand Mayor Davies used to be a teacher. I wonder what he would think if a local politician said teachers needed no training, because any parent could do their job.

      • NeilM says:

        Thanks for that Martin As an ex-teacher he should know full well the value to society of Libraries. Perhaps when one becomes a local politician one has to have one’s brain removed.

  2. angelaallen says:

    Lauren – thank you so much for summarizing so well what we do. I remember 30 years ago when I started my library degree my little brother saying ‘Why do you need a degree to stamp books out’. I soon put him straight but he was 11 – this is a grown man. His level of ignorance shows how much HE needs to use a library. Actually with self service I can’t remember the last time I actually stamped a book ;-)

  3. Beverley says:

    The part of our work that everyone sees, the stamping out books and talking with patrons would be enough to scare the willeys out of many volunteers. Youth’s climbing on shelves? The legal ramifications of giving advice that is incorrect? If our volunteers were left on there own they’d run for the hills. They like shelving and stamping books and leaving the “hard stuff” to us.

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  5. Sally says:

    This upsetting and anger inducing, even more so since i’ve just started work in a public library and after only 6 weeks I have done ALL those things on that list (minus a couple of digitising tasks) and I’m not yet a Librarian. Her job is mine magnified by 100, she is one busy and very hardworking lady. Shame on him.

    • Lauren says:

      Hi Sally! It was lots of people contributing to what librarians and library assistants do, not just the one person, but I think if it was one person s/he’d be very tired by the end of THAT day!

  6. Jim O'Neil says:

    “Thanks for that Martin As an ex-teacher he should know full well the value to society of Libraries. Perhaps when one becomes a local politician one has to have one’s brain removed.”

    Hmmm, would it be possible to have it paid for out of Council Tax?
    Jim

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  13. john holmes says:

    Most folk in Doncaster should no longer be surprised at ANY daft comment from the Mayor. The latest from an ex teacher is quite appalling. The sooner he goes the better for this area.

  14. NeilM says:

    As an ex-teacher this character should know full well that Libraries and well qualified staff are a vital asset to our society. Perhaps he wasn’t a very good teacher either.

    Even in this computer age it is still books that are the key to success in life, and it always will be.

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  18. Oat Willimott says:

    I’m a Campus Librarian at a college in Leeds, and a resident of Doncaster, and I’m not surprised at ANYthing that the Council or the Mayor get up to! Even the abysmal ignorance they enjoy to display!

  19. Oxford user says:

    Could I suggest another section on helping library users to understand Council consultation documents – especially ones about the library service. It would start with how to use FOI requests to get information about the service that officers themselves didn’t realise was available and go on to how to see the flaws in spurious statistical analysis.

    • Lauren says:

      If only library staff weren’t actively discouraged from helping users support their library service by campaigning against cuts and closures using the evidence that’s made available through FoI requests :(

  20. W. Smith says:

    Re: Mayor Davies’ profound contempt……..Its not contempt. Contempt requires a modicum of intelligence that this man just does not have. Its plain old ignorance proffered from a jumped up little public official. We get a lot of that here in Oxfordshire. A man like this is testimony incarnate as to why we need more libraries. We need to stem this tidal wave of profound stupidity.

  21. Dawn says:

    Shock Horror! Does this man realise that as librarians it is our responsibility to create a service plan that serves to strenghten our communities! We follow the ‘golden thread’ – helping councils deliver on their key agendas. We have a massive responsibility to our communities to provide services that people want, and to do that we actually have to listen. Perhaps he should re-train!!

  22. Norman says:

    It can’t be that hard to ponce around at expensive dinners, cut a few ribbons and wear a gold chain and be chauffered everywhere, can it?

    Are Librarians the only people who don’t know how to market themselves?

  23. Rae says:

    I find it both disappointing and unnerving that any member of a supposedly civilised society feels that they have the right to denounce another’s profession simply because they are ignorant of the tasks they actually preform.

    Yes Librarianship is expanding and needs to progress and expand but that is not to say that the profession should become redundant and run by volunteers, who, much as they are helpful and do a lot for the service, cannot be expected to undergo the vast amount of training required to successfully run a library/ information service.

    For the last six years I have been working towards becoming a qualified librarian. At 16 I decided I enjoyed working in my local library and since have worked towards my A levels, an undergraduate degree and am now on a masters course in information and library management. This is to say that I had been working part time in a library as a library assistant for five and a half years before being able to take my current qualification. The master’s degree has in the last four months already identified more than several areas of the profession which I was not aware of! Therefore I understand that many people are ignorant of what librarians actually do. This does not and will never give them the right to say that the basics they comprehend, as the be all and end all of the job, makes us irrelevant or unsubstantial to society.

    So in future we need to make clear to the world that we do ALOT and in return we expect only what any person in any profession expects, respect, courtesy, and a salary to support ourselves and our loved ones.

  24. NeilM says:

    Congratulations Rae. I wish you every success in your Library career, I am sure Libraries will still form the hub of our respective communities long after we have seen the last of the current set of unpleasant politcians.

    As for that character Davies, he is living proof that there are some very ignorant and moronic people around.

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