New Economic Reality

This conference, rather ironically held in the plush surroundings of the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Edinburgh’s financial quarter, provided a range of high level speakers to address the age of austerity and where and how to fill the deficit gap. The main focus was the Independent Budget Review published by a group led by Crawford Beveridge CBE. Commissioned by the Scottish Government, the report was published in July 2010. There weren’t many laughs in the content – a reduction in the block grant, declining outcomes in education and health despite a higher per capita spend and unaffordable levels of public sector pensions. Robert Black, Auditor General, has been widely quoted in the press, said at the conference we should have prepared for this sooner and to be prepared for a long hard financial winter. A range of other distinguished speakers followed talking sacrifice of sacred cows and putting forward their cases for continued investment. Douglas Sinclair of Consumer Focus Scotland pointed out that all of this was service-centric and failed to take into account the needs of the citizen. Martin Woodrow of the British Medical Association defended ring-fencing health strongly, but failed to secure the support of any of the 200+ delegates.

The most striking speaker was Professor Frances Ruane of Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute who spoke bluntly about Irish solutions and the impact on the economy and individuals and put forward a plea for a monitoring body to measure rolling fairness. The idea is to avoid the same group in society being hit repeatedly by cuts. A panel of representatives for the five political parties gave their views on what they might protect or sacrifice first. Brian Adam MSP spoke for the Scottish Government saying they want to ringfence health budget and protect concessionary travel, free personal care and no rise in the Council tax. The sell-off of Scottish Water is also planned with significant financial benefits, although this will take time. Other solutions suggested are scrapping the Borders Railway and other large public projects. The bad news is that public sector workers account for 60% of the Government expenditure and so years of pay freezes, reductions in staffing by natural wastage, non-compulsory and compulsory redundancies face Scotland. The political parties are all developing their manifestos at the moment and Frances Ruane advised that they all agree on a savings figure and say clearly how they intend to achieve that. As Robert Black says ‘do nothing is not an option’.

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Valuing our professional differences

LLUK held their annual seminar at the Scottish parliament on 15th September. The discussion was chaired by Martyn Wade, LLUK Council Member and Chair of LLUK’s Scotland Committee and focused on workforce development. The specific challenge was ‘how do we create a single lifelong learning workforce for Scotland’s future?’

LLUK has six constituencies: HE, FE, Community Learning and Development, Work Base Learning, Libraries Archives and Information Services (LAIS), and Career Guidance. The immediate response is, of course, whether this is a ‘good thing’ and then shouldn’t we be celebrating our unique contribution since we all meet the needs of our customers with proven success? Each of the sectors had a chance to put forward ways of joining up approaches to CPD, common standards and qualifications, sharing of resources and ways of overcoming barriers.

The discussions were of particular interest in a week when LLUK proposed changing the title of the LAIS National Occupation Standards (NOS) to Knowledge management services, Information and knowledge management services, or Information and knowledge services. In a stated attempt to avoid jargon, the title of one section is suggested at ‘Managing the interface with the customer’. During the development of the last set of NOS, LLUK promoted a generic approach but we have to consider what defines our profession, wide as it already is. We have to balance new skills with traditional, professional ones.

In an interesting discussion, the group agreed that shared competencies and values can sit comfortably at the core and accommodating the uniqueness of sector partners is vital. The event was followed by a Garden Lobby sponsored by Des McNulty MSP.

Information Literacy and Public Libraries

Last week was a busy week for the project with meetings and or presentations everyday.

On Monday morning we were in Greenock at Inverclyde Libraries talking with the People’s Network Librarian Sean McNamara about identifying areas for possible IL input into existing courses they offer and new courses for 2009. Courses such as an employability course run through their local community partnership with Fairer Scotland funding and Career Planning in conjunction with the West of Scotland University. Discussed Web 2.0 tools and the possibility of using a blog for learners to give their thoughts and feedback on the course/s. Inverclyde Libraries Manager Sandra MacDougal joined our discussions and we spoke about staff training and IL including: the Information Handling Skills course and qualification as part of the SLIC 2000 Learners Project (used by Midlothian Lothian Public Libraries for staff training) and the POP-i course (developed and used by Bradford Public Libraries for their staff) also the previous NOF courses and the recent CILIPS / SQA ICT qualification for Libraries. Some of their staff are currently undertaking the ICTL qualification.

We have had similar discussions with the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and the Ewart Library in Dumfries. The Ewart Library offer an expanding programme of tutor led computer training courses and workshops in their libraries to assist local communities (in partnership with Adult Literacy and Numeracy Partnership , the local college and other learning providers). Included in the programmes is The British Computer Society eCitizen package which includes information literacy although it does not identify it as such.

Glasgow REAL Learning Centres which are part of Glasgow Libraries have a new team in place of Learning Support Officers who will look after the learning centres (including learning portfolios, ITC and the employability agenda). Of interest to the project is the partnership between Glasgow Libraries and the Chamber of Commerce and the breakfast sessions held at The Mitchell Library.

I’m sure we will be hearing and seeing more information literacy work in Public Libraries. If you are interested in this area then the Information Literacy Website has a section on IL and Public Libraries.

Economic recession and library use

The link between economic decline and increased public library use has been discussed by US commentators for many years. Some sources date the first reference to this linkage as a statement in the 1880 Annual Report of the Chicago Public Library (Lynch, M. J. (2001)). More recently, the American Library Association (ALA) has conducted studies based on visitor statistics and circulation figures.

The theory seems to have some basis in fact, as has been borne out by the findings of the ALA studies. Factors such as job seekers visiting their libraries to borrow books that may help them to qualify for new jobs or to check newspapers for vacancies could certainly have an impact on library use. More significant, perhaps, would be the impact of those with less money to spend opting to borrow rather than buy their books.

It would be interesting to find out if Scottish libraries are beginning to experience increased use as a result of the current economic climate. SLIC will monitor CIPFA statistics in order to gauge the situation at a national level but it would be interesting to obtain anecdotal accounts of the situation from practitioners.

More video games in libraries

In our previous post on this topic we noted that video games were already well established in American public libraries. The American Library Association (ALA) is now seeking to develop this further through a $1 million study into the impact of gaming on literacy skills.

As part of the Gaming for Learning project, which was announced during the ALA Conference, the ALA will build a model for library gaming that can be deployed nationally. The Librarians’ Guide to Gaming will be developed in collaboration with leading gaming experts in order to create a comprehensive online literacy and gaming toolbox. It will then be tested in selected libraries before being rolled out across the US.

Commenting on the project, ALA President Loriene Roy said: “Gaming is a magnet that attracts library users of all types and, beyond its entertainment value, has proven to be a powerful tool for literacy and learning.”

We look forward to the publication of the Librarians’ Guide to Gaming to see what lessons it holds for Scottish libraries.

Video games in libraries

Edinburgh City libraries recently launched the Libraries4U project which aims to encourage more young people to use their libraries. As part of the project, three Edinburgh libraries have been refurbished to include new teenage zones. The libraries at Craigmillar, Kirkliston and Moredun also offer access to popular gaming consoles and host games clubs and competitions for young people.

The use of games consoles has become widespread in the US where, according to the LA Times, a study by Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies found that a quarter of US libraries held video game events in 2007. As part of the US National Library Week 2008, Friday 18 April was declared National Gaming @ your library Day.

Many American librarians – and the American Library Association (ALA) – support the use of video games in libraries, claiming that it makes libraries seem more relevant to young people and promotes the use of other resources ( i.e. books). This is supported by another Syracuse University study which, as quoted in the LA Times, found that three quarters of library gamers returned for other services.

Are video games just another new format that public libraries should stock and promote, like CDs and DVDs in the past? Let us know your views or experience of gaming in libraries.