Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Libraries are barriers to reading

100 Classic Books on Nintendo

Who would have thought? I’ve just seen the ‘100 Classic Books’ title advertised on prime time TV, just after Big Brother, for the Nintendo DS. Brain Training was a hinge product.  It changed the entire games market. Nothing will ever be the same again. But this is even bolder.

Of course, the traditionalists will be waving their reading glasses in horror, as usual. But to turn books into a fetish is simply to deny learning and access by those who need it most. Real books are great, but let’s not confuse the medium with the content. Just as journalists and newspaper owners fail to realise they’re in the ‘news’ not the ‘newspaper’ business, so book fans and publishers fail to realise that this is about reading, not books. Books are simple a piece of technology. A damn good piece of technology, but one that has some strengths and lots of weaknesses. In time its weaknesses will outweigh its current strengths.

Books destroy trees, need to be expensively transported and stored in expensive libraries and retail outlets. Sure they’re portable, but only one or two at a time, not a 100 or 1000? You can’t search them, and they’re difficult to bookmark, highlight, hyperlink or comment without defacing the product. In time, and it may be a long time, books will be read on screens.

Let’s face it, 100 books for less than £20 is 20p per book and the advantages are portability, storage and bookmarking. William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, R L Stevenson, Jack London, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Hardy, Jonathan Swift, George Elliot, Edgar Allen Poe, Lewis Carroll, Jules Verne and lots more, available on a games console. It’s all good.

This is the shape of things to come, just a tiny glimpse of the possibilities in learning. Nintendo have taken a leaf out of Amazon’s and Sony’s book, with Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader both available with massive downloadable libraries. My brother-in-law, a busy man, who’s always on the move, swears by the latter.

We can now see where this can lead us, or more specifically lead our children. Why lock up knowledge and the ability to learn in libraries and schools, when we can publish and distribute it at marginal cost to everyone. As long as we publish in open standards, the devices will just keep on coming. Leave the device design to the experts, like Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun, I believe that Moore's Law will produce $10 devices by 2020, possibly a lot earlier – we just need to focus on free content.

Fill their boots with books

In my book, this is a groundbreaking movement in education. It is not beyond the wits of government to be bold here and recommend an entire ‘digital canon’ for every child in the country.

Take 1000 or 10,000 books, all of the BBC Bitesize content (we the public have paid for it, surely we own it), lots of e-learning, at all levels, language learning, and give it away to every schoolchild for free. Just hand over the entire canon, all GCSE and A-level subjects and lots of juicy extras. The cost would be a tiny fraction of the overall education budget. In fact, I think it can be done at no cost at all.

Libraries as expensive warehouses

How? This may sound like a contradiction – encourage reading by closing the most costly libraries. There are lots of them. The cost of borrowing a book in some public libraries is greater than the cost of the book itself. This may be hard to believe, but it’s true. Divide the actual cost of the library by the number of borrows per year – it’s shockingly high. I don’t mean all libraries or university libraries, just costly public libraries.

Public libraries are no longer encourage reading. In the age of digital abundance, and cheap books, they’re an expensive obstacle to reading. Libraries spend inordinate amounts of time trying to fine people and recover books that people just find too inconvenient to take back. They stop reading from libraries as they criminalise readers. Librarians have become debt collectors.

My local library in Brighton is a beautiful, frightfully expensive, award winning building, but inside is a scrappy warehouse of cheap shelving and a very sparse book collection. Many libraries are just like this, more like bad second-hand book or charity shops. They can’t hope to match the demand-led approach of a real bookshop.

What the planners had to do, to make the idea fly, was include a CD and DVD lending facility. In other words it had to become a Blockbuster to survive. This is the cul-de-sac that the modern library faces, as in the age of digital distribution and downloads; it’s a service that is heading towards vanishing point.

It wouldn’t be so bad if they actually took a business-like view of the world. This New Year I stepped into the local library in my parent-in-laws’ home town, in Scotland. The library had fewer customers than staff, and I simply wanted to use the internet facility they advertised in the window. I was told that I had to be a local resident. Even the offer of payment was rejected.

Then there are the book wardens – sorry librarians. Let’s be honest, they’re mostly just warehouse workers ordering, stacking, handing out, taking in and stacking again. Yet they cost the earth. As graduates (in stacking?) they demand salaries way beyond what the job requires. And many are seriously deficient on the customer care side. The main cost of any public library is the inflated salary costs. This is why the borrowing cost per book in many libraries has become absurd.

OK, I’m sure there’s a few tramps out there and those earnest parents who drag their children along every Saturday, when they’d much rather be playing football or playing computer games, who’ll be seeing this as an affront to civilisation, so I’ll try another tack.

Close down a whole swathe of libraries and encourage, even subsidise, the big bookshops, such as Borders or Waterstones, to expand their activities. They have all the best sites, good coffee, helpful and knowledgeable staff, and better book collections. Give us all some tax breaks on buying books.

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39 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can have 1000's of books for free if you go to Project Gutenberg. I've been using this resource for years to read on my pda or laptop. I still get books from my local library after searching for them online at home and ordering them to be delivered to the nearest branch so I don't have to waste my time searching.

3:40 AM  
Anonymous videoconference said...

wow...it's pretty cool to have those kind of books..

8:58 AM  
Blogger Donald H Taylor said...

Happy New Year, Donald!

It's complete nonsense, of course, that 'Libraries are barriers to reading'. They don't prevent people reading. For some types of reading they are excellent sources - particularly when you want a book for a short time and don't want it on your shelf. For children learning to read - who need to get through a lot of material - they are a great source of books to read once. For adults who want once-off books, ditto. I'll be going back to the library with my daughter later this week. We'll both be returning books.

But you're right that libraries need to change. A hundred years ago they were the only gateway to information for many. Now that role is taken by the internet, so of course they need to embrace it or be sidelined. Like journalists being in the news business, not the newspaper business (as you say), libraries are in the information, not the book business.

Libraries aren’t barriers, blocking anything. Rather they are mostly ignored. This is sad. I don’t say this because I have some sad, antique love for books, but because a place on the high street that facilitates reading in the young, could continue to play a role for adults. If they are reformed they will. If are not, they will continued to be ignored by most people because they simply aren't useful or fun. That's why people do things mostly.

I agree with the comments on the Sony Reader, by the way. It’s fantastic. I bought my wife one for Christmas, and she loves it. She’s a publisher, but describes herself as being in the ‘information business’. Let’s hope that libraries come to have the same idea.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous bWare said...

Are books not zero rated?

50p for a novel just isn't tempting when I can access the most comprehensive encyclopaedia ever compiled for free. It is the limitations of books that dictated the literary forms we have. What impact would Anne Frank's live Twitter feed have had?

11:25 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Donald (Taylor)
My point is that libraries are now the domain of a diminishing groups of middle class parents and their children. The statistics confirm this - library attendance has been in steep decline for many years. My argument is that this is not the group society as a whole should be subsidising. They can well afford to use bookshops and Amazon.

bWare
Excellent point - the book has severe limitations in the age of digital abundance. I listed some in the post, but there are many others in terms of format, images, moving images and so on. I also believe that the cult of 'storytellinn absolute good is also a 'bookish' view of the world that is starting to fracture. Young people are abandoning traditional 'narratives' for shorter, sharper and more social forms of text engagement. In this respect, they may be way ahead of my generation, who seem at times to be trapped in the book fetish.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Obnoxio The Clown said...

Nah, holding a book has a charm that e-books can't match. Forget the portability aspect.

Books rock!

4:43 PM  
Anonymous Lee said...

As a former book-warder I have to disagree with this negative view of libraries and desire for yet another electronic and soon-to-be-outdated gizmo.

I left because the Library services could not compete with the outside world for wages, when altruism alone couldn't pay the bills, when they demand so much of the staff running their libraries but do not reward them in return. I admit they are going to have to adapt with the times and some have. But I fear the problem is the councils that fund them, not the Libraries themselves. the councils were more of a problem in evolving the service in my time and political motivation often blocked any initiatives to attract and engage new members or reward certain staff and pay a competitive wage.

I left a very successful, busy and popular branch which had long since thrown off the image of the stuffy, impersonal and enforced quiet of old, despite the limitations of what they could implement. I was proud to work there and felt that I was making a valuable contribution to local society in my own way.

I can say that I have never been in a library as poor as the one that seems to have turned you off. And that sometimes the rules are there to protect the books that are often defaced and stolen, for others that hope to enjoy them; and usually to ensure that some people do not abuse the computer access when it is free (although the 'locals only' rule is a new and unfortunate one) - I have experienced people trying to hack the networks, download porn, and block-book sessions merely to carry out web chats and prevent fair usage - sometimes the warders are there to protect...

Also, even if we can enjoy reading books electronically (which I do not) how is a reliance on electricity for a temporary benefit that much better than killing trees for preserving literature in a more tactile and accessible form? Neither are ideal, but eventually with the way things are already going this reliance on / demand for electricity will outstrip supply, let alone the cost - which would mean that only the middle class and rich may be able to enjoy such a luxury in the future.

And how are they to adapt if this is the way to go? perhaps public libraries could provide the download service, guidance and provision of readers, so that we don't all have to have a computer and pay for internet access to enjoy the benefits of this new method?

- sorry I enjoy your blog - but find this piece to be too loaded with bias to stay silent

6:17 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Salaries:
Range of typical starting salaries for newly qualified (0-2 years' experience): £18,500 - £22,500.
Range of typical starting salaries for chartered librarians (2-5 years' experience): £22,500 - £29,500.
Range of typical starting salaries for information director/head of service: £40,000+.

All public sector therefore hols and pension OK - looks reasonable to me. Not the most stressful of jobs.

Look, my point is that many (not all) libraries have become financially nonsensical. I'm arguing for the provision of thousands of books for everyone, free from having to deal with the inconveniences of a building.

Why is expressing an opinion interpreted as bias? Library footfall has been falling for years, the cost per loan has, at teh same time been rising. Simply pumping money into these building is like supporting Woolworths - the stock in both is well by its sell by date.

I also love books, but don't see this as a reason for denying a younger generation access to digitally abundant, and free resources at marginal cost.

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Rina Tripathi said...

I have become so greedy about these writings here that I read them when my mind is fresh and just one at a time, so that I do not finish all in a go!
I have an example at my home of my son who is crazy about the technology but, he also can't resist buying or borrowing a book from a library. I have never seen him reading a long story on the laptop even when he is addicted to reading novels.
The only novel I read online was a Nicholas Sparks. Somehow the idea of e-books is not that inviting. I had read a review Mr Jay Cross had done on e books and he did not seem to enjoy reading one. The pleasure of smelling a new book or a musty old book shelved in an ancient library is incomparable to e-books.
This, when I have been regularly harassed by librarians and right now I am wondering where that CD is that son got from the library and for which the librarian has been irritating me for quiet some time. Add to it the fact that daughter has misplaced the Noddy book and I dread returning the Jane Austen I borrowed. The fact that really matters a lot is that books need lots of tree being cut, that is the sad part. The libraries must stay as in a single visit you are exposed to what you are searching for and also that which might interest you. Trees should not cut for furniture and other things that can be lived without but for knowledge it's a worthwhile cause. Thanks for this interesting post visiting here is always a mental exercise.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Books do not destroy trees.

Only tree fibre can make cheap high-quality paper for books.

Fewer books will require less tree fibre.

Less books will destroy forests.

4:04 AM  
Anonymous Vaughan Waller said...

Sifting through the various comments I fully agree with libraries are in the information business not the book business, electronic books are an option but not for everyone, some libraries need closing and a few others. But no one has mentioned that a local library is or should be an important centre for the culture of the community. If you send everyone into their homes to read books online or on a reader then it is another dent in the facilities whereby people meet and share their joy of reading and be part of a living community. What Andrew Carnegie did over a 100 years ago is still needed now albeit brought up to date. Sure, you can find a lot of information yourself via the web but the ability to borrow for a short period a book that is possibly even way out of print is available free from your local library and long may that continue. And you can always look up if they have it and reserve it online.

But budgets are tightened every year. The salary figures that you mention are for librarians of which there are often only one in any library (some smaller branch libraries have none). The rest are library assistants, often part-time of one sort or another who earn a lot, lot less. Budgets are being spread across books, computers, DVDs, CDs, magazines, newspapers and much else and where the budget is small yes, the choice is poor but that is not the fault of the library system.

This is another example of something that we will only really value when they have disappeared due to lack of use.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

"Young people are abandoning traditional 'narratives' for shorter, sharper and more social forms of text engagement."

Hmmm... so what about the popularity of traditional narratives like Harry Potter, Tracey Beaker etc.

My children devour books - even those with 500 pages. Children's books are often far better written (in my opinion) than adult books.

Yes, there may be a shift to include other types of text, but I wouldn't say it's at the expense of books.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Islander said...

Donald, I take exception to your comment that libraries are the domain of the middle class and their children. I take my two-year old daughter to the library every other Saturday, and she loves the books. She also loves the music classes, Christmas card making sessions, art classes, and storytimes provided for all the local parents/children during the week that my wife takes her to.

We, and most of the other parents that attend, are most definitely not middle class. I earn minimum wage, and my wife does not work, as the only jobs available round here are minimum wage, and would earn her far, far less than childcare costs.

Whilst the Sony Reader and its ilk are excellent for what they are, my daughter would reduce it to its component parts in less time than to say "don't break that", whereas with paper (or at the moment, board) books, she isn't strong enough to rip them apart yet, and they don't tend to smash when dropped (or thrown) down the stairs. Plus, the batteries don't run out in the middle of a bedtime story.

Your comments about giving every schoolchild a Sony Reader-type device, along with all the information stated is an excellent one, and could be paid for by, instead of closing libraries, halving the number of Local Education Authority administrators.

Libraries will have to modernise – refusing you internet access just because you are not a local is inconceivable, but, to be fair, most librarian are not the well paid graduates you presume, rather they start on £11,000, and at that rate, a lack of customer service abilities is to be expected, if deplored.

Perhaps, instead of closing down the libraries, they could be moved into large empty high-street shops, such as the recently vacated Woolworths, and as well as books, CDs and DVDs, they could also have properly staffed coffee bars, purchasing facilities for books, and comfortable reading chairs to encourage clientele to sit and stay for a while. Given the proper management, they could even turn a profit!

11:25 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Let me get this straight paper from books comes from trees, but more books means less tree cutting?

Two out of every five trees are cut for pulp. The current pulp paper production releases large amounts of dangerous pollutants, such as chlorine, dioxin and furans into the air and water.

Read Maggie Haggith's book 'Paper Trails' an expose of the environmental destruction, chemical pollution and human right abuses around the paper industry.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Vaughan
I strongly agree with this 'community' argument but don't agree that libraries do much on this front. They're often (not always) 'quiet' non-social zones, with rather grumpy staff. In fact there was a massive bust-up recently when the minister suggested dropping the 'silence' rule. I'd like to think that libraries (wrong brand to start with) could be centres where people could meet, events could be held, good coffee drunk - but in this day and age these places are called bookshops.

On salaries - the data suggests that the primary cost in libraries is salary costs and that this often makes the cost of borrowing prohibitive.

Neither am I arguing for reading soley on electronic devices. What I'm saying is that the library model has had its day and that some of these resources should be shifted toward putting information in people's pockets, not locking it up in largely empty and expensive buildings.

1:04 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Mark
There has been a renaissance in writing and reading among young people but it has not been in reading novels.

Recent research shows that while reading skills have improved in the UK (see Massey, Elliot and Johnson, 2005), there is some indication that fewer pupils nowadays read for enjoyment.

Thew overall increase in reading and writing is clearly on online media - texting, messenger, social network sites etc. Then there's the drift towards non-text media - photograph media sharing, youtube etc.

I'm personally not impressed with the harry Potter stuff - it seems to be rehash of the olf 'public school' Blyton/Just William stuff.

A report for the 2008 National Year of Reading showed that 45% of teenagers have been told off by an adult for enjoying something that is not deemed to be ‘proper reading’. A poll commissioned by Teletext in 2007 questioned 4,000 readers on their reading habits. The survey found the top 10 fiction books that Britons cannot finish are:
1) Vernon God Little, D.B.C Pierre (35%)
2) Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J. K Rowling (32%)

Harry Potter still features in the top 10 reads for teenagers, it also appears at number 8 least loved read.

The evidence seems to show some decline in reading long narratives but a massive increase in screen based reading/writing. In this sense, it's largely additive.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Islander
I have no doubt that some working class people use libraries, but statistically it is clear that it is a middle-class haunt, as are book shops. The people who are in most need of information are least likely to use a library to get that information, hence the funding of alternatives such as UK Online.

Note that I'm not arguing for the abolition of books but the additional provision of books on new devices - it's not mutually exclusive.

Your excellent suggestion about high-street venues was the final point in my post. I just think this could be handled by the professional booksellers - not Local Authority run libraries.

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

You are so wrong in terms of U.S. public libraries. They are so crowded, and more used now than ever before. There have been numerous newspaper and television reports on people crowding into libraries these days, although funding is being cut for these public jewels. In fact, a report was just issued that stated the average American family of 4 saves $2,500 a year by checking out 10 items a month from their local public library.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Or maybe I'm right...

More than half of Americans visited a library in the past year with many of them drawn in by the computers rather than the books, according to a survey released on Sunday.

Of the 53 percent of U.S. adults who said they visited a library, the biggest users were young adults aged 18 to 30 in the tech-loving group known as Generation Y, the survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project said.

"These findings turn our thinking about libraries upside down," said Leigh Estabrook, a professor emerita at the University of Illinois and co-author of a report on the survey results.

"Internet use seems to create an information hunger and it is information-savvy young people who are most likely to visit libraries," she said.

Internet users were more than twice as likely to patronize libraries as non-Internet users, according to the survey.

More than two-thirds of library visitors in all age groups said they used computers while at the library.

In other words it is by focusing on internet access and computers that libraries thrive, not books.

3:45 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

'Smell' seems to be a common thread in the defence of books. So why do books smell?

For paper with a high level of whiteness, the pulp must be bleached. Due to its lower lignin content, chemically-produced pulp is generally easier to bleach. Bleaching typically uses some combination of chlorine, sodium hydroxide, and hydrogen peroxide as whitening agents or lignin removers. Pulp and paper mills used to be a significant source of chlorine, dioxin, and other hazardous emissions, so many have switched from pure chlorine to chlorine dioxide, and some have eliminated chlorine entirely. The products of sulfite mills are typically light-colored to start with, so they sometimes can be bleached without using chlorine at all. Recycled paper commonly requires more bleaching because it's made from a mix of low- and high-lignin papers containing inks, dyes, and so on. As a result, 100%-recycled paper often has an off-white color, and some may be light yellow or gray.

They smell of dangerous polluting chemicals - then mould!

3:57 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Library book circulation per user has no strong, long-run trend. From 1856 to 1978, library users borrowed from U.S. public libraries about 15 books per user per year. From 1978 to 2004, book circulation per user declined approximately 50%. The growth of audiovisuals circulation, estimated at 25% of total circulation in 2004, accounts for about half of this decline.

Book Circulation Per U.S. Public Library User Since 1856 by Douglas A. Galbi Senior Economist,Federal Communications Commission (2007)

4:08 PM  
Blogger kjfalk said...

Two things: 1) I take it you're writing in the U.K., and I don't know what the state of public libraries is over there, but here in California we have some terrific libraries. Even with our budget woes, our neighborhood branch offers a lot. My daughter loves going to the children's room and pulling out books to look at. Their music CD collection is great. And the librarians themselves are happy to help people figure out how and where to find the information they're looking for. And that's without mentioning the online catalogs and databases the library gives patrons access to (even from home) - including ebooks which you can "check out" (alas, only to a PC) In any case, the librarians I've encountered understand that their mission is to serve the public and help guide them through all the stuff that's out there.

2) Why is this an either/or thing - you can read ebooks OR you can have public libraries? I don't get it. It's a false dichotomy.

I do think we're unfortunately living through the aftermath of the bubble and the crash, which means there are lots of beautiful and expensive buildings, with no money allocated for the actual services such buildings are supposed to provide. Because that's not the glamorous part, and you can't put a shiny plaque with your name on a librarian. (They get mad.) But that means more investment is needed, not less.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Julie Trelstad said...

Seriously? When I go to a mega-bookstore, I can never find anything particularly interesting to read, and If I tried to sit down to write a research paper, I would be shown the door. The non-Starbucks Starbucks in most Barnes & Noble stores are hardly the best coffee available.

All of the publisher-subsidized tables of books in front show me which books have the biggest marketing budgets behind them, not the books that have been chosen by consumers. My local library, on the other hand, has a hand-picked selection of reliably excellent books and DVDs chosen with the community needs/borrowing habits and local school curriculum in mind.

If public libraries are just that - public - taxpayers do have a right to demand better community service. So get involved with your local library and make that difference.

4:44 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

KJfalk
I in now way wanted to suggest mutually exclusive options. I just think that the newer digital technology should be better supported, as we can't just rely on old-fashioned libraries for the provision of knowledge and reading. The balance, at present, in terms of public spend, is weighted towards libraries and print.

10:01 PM  
Blogger Karlos said...

Barriers to reading... crazy talk!?

More and more people are reading AND using online stuff provided by my local library & attendance is increasing each year across all groups. Sorry Don, you've just got a crap local library. It's your library after all, so get some people together and fix it.

My local branch... http://www.wcl.govt.nz/

12:31 AM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Rather than the 'I go to a library' and 'my library is great' arguments we need to ask two questions:

1.Is it true that despite rising populations and more education, is library borrowing in overall decline? YES

2. Are libraries the best way to spend public money in encouraging people to read? NO

The first suggests that we need a different approach to the second. All I'm saying is, let's be more pluralistic and sophisticated i our approach. I'm not saying raise all libraries to the ground, just trim the ones that are uneconomic.

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Edith said...

I'm a qualified librarian working in the academic sector, and I just wanted to correct your facts on the salary issue. The figures you've quoted look like they're from CILIP's website (the Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). However they are the figures for qualified librarians rather than people who work in libraries - 90%+ of library staff - those people you see shelving, stamping books, etc. in a public library are library assistants who are paid much less. I don't have current figures but you're talking more in the region of £15k. Academic libraries have a far higher proportion of professionally qualified staff but it's exceptionally rare for a library to be solely staffed by professionals (one place I worked came close but employed students to do nearly all the shelving).

I'm pretty amazed that you pass judgement on public libraries without knowing such a basic fact.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous NC said...

Your points are correct in so far as yes, borrowing is in decline and there may be other ways to encourage people to read (like at school, rather than making children learn facts when they don't have the skills to write them down and understand later), but saying libraries are a barrier to this is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, where you live can be a barrier due to the differences in local authority, as your experience seems to prove. I spent two years working in a public library and know that there are plenty of people who get fired up by Richard and Judy but who certainly can't afford to go out and buy one, let alone all of the books they recommend. That library service spends an awful lot of money on buying the latest titles (and desperately trying to get them as quickly as Asda), copies of which are read ardently until they need to be withdrawn.

Libraries are evolving, and this may be in a direction away from just providing books, but that's not to say that it's public money wasted.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Edith
You're easily amazed!

If you look back at my comment I was replying specifically to a professional librarian who had left the service because he felt the salaries were too low.

Whatever the salary levels, the basic fact remains, that in SOME libraries the cost of borrowing a book is way beyond reason BECAUSE people are expensive. This is not true of all libraries but is certainly true of some.

10:59 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

NC
I agree that the quality of libraries varies enormously, that's my point. In some, the cost would be better spent in other initiatives. This is the norm in most areas of human endeavour.

If borrowing is in decline and costs per loan are rising - there has to be a reappraisal.

There are several 'barriers' here:

fining users (many don't come back)
poor customer service
inconvenience in terms of location
poor book selection
the hassle of getting there and back

Finally, and this is my main argument. If some libraries are soaking up money and not spending it wisely, then that is preventing that money being put to good use elsewhere - that's the real barrier.

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Lee said...

Those salaries are for Librarians - you obviously know little about the realistic running of a library in the modern age.

Very few boroughs actually have more than one librarian at a branch, often these people simply buy books and concentrate on services like the Children's library. They don't actually run them, rarely deal with the customers and are barely seen in the libraries apart from to weed out old stock.

The day to day running is done by the counter staff, Library and Senior Library Assistants - who are rarely as well paid as that and do deal with the very real stresses of dual roles and customer service expectations. And the councils often refuse to help fund their education to provide the service they aspire too and prefer to count their revenue.

My point was purely to highlight that you clearly know very little about the real state of affairs and would do well to recognise that when commenting from the outside.

As you clearly have a very strong opinion and some influence in the learning community you have to recognise the responsibility to put forward a balanced and well informed view.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Come opn Lee, this is a blog, a sort of personal diary and thoughtpad, not an acadmic journal. Its fine to punt out radical ideas for comment. To be honest, I don't feel 'responsible' to anyone in this blog. That's the joy of blogs and blogging.

First, I thought I had addressed the salary issue in a previous comment, but let me reiterate.

1. I was replaying with those salaries to a professional librarian who had left tehs ervice because he felt his salary was too low (read back through comments).

2. The cost per loan in SOME libraries is prohibitively expensive because the cost of running that library is so high, primarily because of the 'human' salary component. My argument is that (whatever the salaries) this physical storage, loans, borrowing and collection model is, in some areas, unworkable. There's more to reading and books than libraries.

The fact is that book borrowing AND FOOTFALL, has been in decline for years. Why increase spending against a well established drop in demand.

I'm not in favour of abolishing all libraries, especially academic libraries, but am in favour of rethinking local library services and closing those that are clearly unsustainable.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

In UK as a whole it would appear that:

53% of public library staff
37% of school library staff
55% of integrated libray staff

are professional librarians.

Loughborough University survey of library services.

2:31 PM  
Blogger jay said...

I've long held that community libraries should borrow ideas from Borders and Barnes & Noble: attractive displays, multiple copies of what's hot, and the invitation to peruse. However, the big book stores over here are going out of business.

Last year in Berkeley, a great independent bookstore, Cody's, disappeared. A Staples outlet replaced our Barnes & Noble. Yesterday I visited Borders in the neighboring town to the south; the parent company's bankruptcy shows from the lack of stock.

This is a sad state of affairs.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"statistically it is clear that it is a middle-class haunt, as are book shops"

Ah, yes. The evil middle classes. They are all rich, aren't they? And God forbid they should be regarded as part of 'society'.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

This post was about the ,barriers to reading' which is a socio-economic issue.I have absolutely nothing against the middle class. I do have a point about public money being unfairly distributed to support their foibles.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous boz said...

Classics on a console. Because the only way to get kids to read is by dressing books up as video games. You obviously have no recent experience of children or of working in libraries. Your idea is facile and insulting. What a pillock.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Donald Clark said...

Library attendance down, book lending down. Console sales up. E-book sales up.

"Pillock!"

Not one argument just an illiterate rant. How very inarticulate - hope you don't work in a library!

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In regards to your saying that it isn't a stressful job. It is classed as one of the most stressful jobs in the uk due to the fact that library staff are NOT TRAINED to put deal with anti-social behaviour, violence, child abuse and drugs. None of which I expected to witness when I started working in the library service at 17.

Being threatened by the public on a daily basis yet still coming back is an honorable thing.

Libraries provide formal and informal edducation. Libraries provide information access. Libraries provide social work and youth work in the community. Libraries provide somewhere warm for people to go because they cant afford their heating. Libraries provide somewhere safe for battered children, a respite from a harsh life.

Don't decry a service that assists communities in anyway it can with a severe lack or resources. The best resource a library has is it's staff who are generally overqualified and underpaid (I say underpaid in the respect that youth workers, social workers, community services and mp's get paid a hell of a lot more to do work coering less areas.)

10:32 AM  

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