V for Volunteer – a dystopian reality.

Four months ago I conducted an interview with the chair of a trustee group who are responsible for the museum in their small city. I was visiting the city to do some research for a book I was working on and, in the process, I got talking to the volunteers in the museum about their situation. That talk, and many emails after that visit, now make up the body of this interview. All names and locations have been anonymised as the people I spoke to did not want to cause any bad feelings, and feared that their grant applications would be refused yet again if they were found to be speaking out. I have nicknamed them V for Volunteer.

A little background first.

The museum is in a city with a population of around 43,000 people. These 43,000 people are spread out over a large rural area with a concentration in the city. The area is right in the middle terms of deprivation with the rural areas being very poor, and the towns being better off. The museum was part funded by a trust fund established by a Victorian benefactor, but with the bulk of funding coming from the local authority. It is in an area of great archaeological and historical importance, and conserves and displays items relating to that history, as well as many items of social importance.

In 2013 all local authority funding was cut from the museum, as were all council funded grants. Since then the museum has had to rely entirely on volunteers and donations from the community. Applications for grants have so far been refused, and the trust fund is only sufficient to cover heating and lighting. The volunteers have been left to try to keep the museum going.

This is their story.

Me – First off, I have to say that you do an amazing job. The museum is wonderful and I can see from the comments in the visitor book, and the joy on the children’s faces, that this place is loved. You are the Chair of the volunteer group, how many volunteers do you have?

V – (sighs) That’s a good question. When we first started this whole thing we had tons. I mean at our first meeting in the Town Hall, when they were talking about taking away the funding, we had over 600 people sign up for more information and 480 of those said that they’d volunteer regularly to help. That was back in early 2013. When we started doing this in January 2014 we had, I think, 75 volunteers. That number went down and down every week and now (April 2016) there are 13 of us left.

Me – Wow! That’s a huge drop in numbers. It looks like a pretty nice place to volunteer, and everyone I’ve met is incredibly friendly. Why do you think the numbers fell off so badly?

V – The trouble is that it’s not just us that needs volunteers. There are so many local things that now rely on volunteers and there’s only so much people can do. People gave all sorts of reasons for not sticking at it. Many of our volunteers found that the commitment was too great. As the numbers went down we had to ask people to do more to fill the gaps, but they couldn’t commit. Some got jobs and couldn’t spare the time. Some had other volunteering that they felt had to take priority. Many couldn’t afford to drive into town, and a good few left when they cut many of the bus routes into town. We did ask people why they quit, and the most common answer was that it was “just too much”. Most of our volunteers were over 65 and I think they just found it too tiring. It’s pretty exhausting working in a service capacity, and they no longer felt up to it. Lots of them said it “wasn’t what they expected” too. I think they all thought it was going to be a nice easy bit of a thing to do in their spare time and they were shocked at how much was expected of them.

Me – How do you raise money to keep the museum going?

V – We have applied for many grants, but so far have not been successful. The process of making grant applications is hugely complicated and none of us have any experience of that process and I think that has slowed everything down. We’ve had to beg friends for favours to get some help to put in these applications but each time the application has been turned down. One of the things we keep being told is that we need to be able to “prove a sustainable plan” – but how can we do that when we have no sustainable income? We are being asked to create business plans and detailed accounts, but we’ve been given no help to do that.

We do raise money from the community, but they are at the limit of what we can ask for. You can’t keep going to a community for money. There are literally hundreds of groups asking the community for money and we are experiencing a good amount of obvious weariness from the community over local charitable fundraising. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that we’ve already asked them for so much.

Me – What have been the main problems in running a service like this entirely with volunteers?

V – The main problem is that we really don’t have the skills for the job. I mean, we all do our best and try to learn as much as we can, but we really don’t know what we are doing. Six of us have a background in archaeology so we know the exhibits, and can do the talks for schools, but we don’t know how to write business plans, or handle competitive tendering, or keep a boiler working. This year I’ve had to learn bricklaying because the back wall collapsed and we couldn’t afford to pay someone to fix it. If I’m honest we are keeping going with a whole bunch of guesswork and patching over the cracks.

The other problem is that not all volunteers are really cut out for it. Many are unreliable and simply don’t show up, some are rude and aggressive, some hate children and think that they should be quiet at all time, or shouldn’t be in the museum at all. Most lack any kind of customer service experience. Public feedback is now saying that the museum is not the friendly place it once was, but we are completely dependent on volunteers and so we even have to keep the ones who would not make it if they were paid staff.

My personal main problem is that I’m exhausted. I don’t know how much longer I can keep going like this. The museum is open 35 hours a week, and I’m working around 40 hours a week for nothing. I love this museum, and walking away would be devastating, but for my own sanity and health I can’t keep going like this. I’m afraid to stop because I know that if I do the place will start to fail. I’m already living on my savings, and my husband feels it’s all threatening our marriage and our children’s future. This isn’t fair. We shouldn’t have to do any of this.

Me – That rather brings us to the future. What do you see in the future for the museum?

V – (another very big sigh) Awful question. When I’m asked that in public I have this smiling version of the story and I keep the positive outlook but, as you’re going to make this anonymous, I’ll tell you the truth. I don’t think that there is a future for the museum. Without public funding of some form we can’t keep going like this. We have been allowed to sell some items from our archive and that gave us a little slush fund. I reckon we are six months away from having to charge admission, and charge a lot more schools for visits. The risk around doing that is huge because we know how tight money is in schools and so the move towards charging may well be the final coffin nail. Sad fact is that we can’t afford to not charge. We are between a rock and a hard place. Behind the scenes we are getting really desperate now, and if I’m honest we don’t know how we are going to open this winter because fuel prices have shot up and the dwindling trust fund can’t take much more. Our heating bill alone could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The thing that really makes me want to spit blood is that we all know that if the museum fails, the council will make out like it’s our fault. They’ve lied to us all the way down the line by telling us we’d have support and guidance through this process. Now I can’t even get a reply when I call for help and I no longer even know who is supposed to be responsible for being our support contact. Last year our treasurer had a heart attack and we didn’t have anyone to take her place in time for the accounts to be processed. I contacted the council asking for help and I was passed from pillar to post trying to get someone to help. No one ever did. In the end we had to beg a friend of a friend to do them. We’ve just been cut adrift.

Me – What would you say to other groups taking on tasks like this?

V – Honestly? Don’t do it. We all started with such high hopes and we all wanted to save the museum and make a difference, but it’s been a huge mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I love working in and for the museum and I look at the faces of the people who come in here and for a bit it all seems worth it. Then I’m up at 3am because the decrepit alarm has gone off again, or I’m up to my elbows in the toilet because the old cistern can’t handle tissue, or I’m rallying people to mop up a flood from another frozen pipe. It’s hard to remember how much you love museums and the difference they make when you’re on your knees scrubbing up a spilt drink or consoling another unpaid colleague who has been shouted at by a member of the public. We know that the roof needs fixing, but we all pretend not to think about it.

All of this and we all daily work with the heavy knowledge that we haven’t really saved the museum at all, we’ve just put off the inevitable for a few years. Unless some miraculous benefactor steps in and gives us a few million, we won’t make it to the end of the decade. If the museum goes, it will be one more thing gone in our community. If I had to give people advice I’d say that time is better spent fighting to keep funding and paid staff. Do whatever you can, fight and fight and fight to keep that funding in place.

Me – It’s not an easy question, but I have to ask it. Why do you do it? Why do you think the museum should be saved?

V – We’ve already lost so much, the library is under threat and the buses have gone so that threatens the market. The youth club lost funding last year and so did five other youth projects. Pretty soon there will be nothing left to call this a community, it will just be a place with nothing left in it to give anyone culture or pleasure. The only people who will have any kind of pleasure or culture left will be the ones who can afford to pay for it. We all know the council should be funding community resources, and we all know the huge benefit to any community that a museum represents, but no one seems to listen. A lively and thriving community benefits everyone. It makes for a better place to live and so people want to live there. Those people pay council tax and national taxes and they work hard and deserve to see some kind of return in their towns.

What’s the point in working our whole lives if we have nothing left in our communities to give life more purpose and meaning? How can we hold a community together if there is nothing left to bring people together?

I will leave this interview with that extremely important point – how can we hold any of our communities together without our community resources? How can we possibly expect people to feel valued if an “everything must go” price is put on their community resources? How can we expect our communities, and the individuals in them, to have a sense of cohesion if all we do is drive them further apart?

Museums, libraries, art galleries, youth centres, parks, playground, paddling pools, drop-in centres, housebound services, day centres, community centres… these are the glue that binds our communities. These are the things that bring people together and create that sense of community that makes for safer and better lives for all. The current austerity cuts that are specifically directed at services like this represent an attack on the links in the chains that unite our communities. These cuts are eroding our culture and society and we, as citizens, are expected to do all the work to keep them going. Those of us who volunteer all the time are expected to carry this entire burden on our weakening shoulders. Good people are being lied to, and then they are expected to take all the responsibility for trying to keep their essential community resources going.

It is up to us all to unite to stop that erosion. This should not be a battleground of individual skirmishes, this is a war on social cohesion and on our culture, and we need to join together to raise our voices to stop it before we have lost everything that made our country great.

Write to your MP, sign as many petitions as you can find, speak out against the destruction of our communities, make your voices heard for all of those who don’t have a voice, rally your communities so that they can see what they are losing, make it clear that losing these services is not an option.

Above all, don’t let the desperate struggle to protect our community services and resources drive us further apart. Join your community with others, link to other groups and present a united and public front.

Divided our voices are hard to hear, united we are impossible to ignore.

Dawn Finch is a national library and literacy campaigner, and a children’s writer. She is the Past President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), and a member of the Society of Author’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators committee (CWIG)

CILIP have a national campaign to protect our libraries and support the essential work they do to raise national literacy levels and develop our communities. Please support the campaign for your legal right to a library provision here.

http://mylibrarybyright.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

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Reading – what’s in it for me?

library in the sky image

For those of us addicted to reading we know exactly how enjoyable it is, but in an increasingly busy world it is often hard to make time for it, so why should we bother? There is no doubt that reading improves literacy levels, and higher literacy levels allow people to gain better educational results, and in turn get better jobs, but is that enough of an incentive to make people want to read? Despite the evidence about the benefits of reading we still see reports in the news about falling national literacy levels and the decline in reading. The Reading Agency decided that in order to tackle this it was time to look beyond literacy levels and consider the wider personal benefits of reading for pleasure*.

The Reading Agency received generous funding from the Peter Sowerby Foundation for a collaborative project to develop a reading outcomes framework. The main aim of the project was to collate and summarise the findings of the most robust studies that related to non-literacy outcomes of reading for pleasure or empowerment*. A steering group was formed from the collaborative organisations and the report (conducted by BOP Consulting) was compiled. As Vice President of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) I was invited to be part of the steering group, and I am delighted to now be able to share this report.

The report: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, contains a powerful and undeniable message – reading is good for you.

The report confirms that people who read for pleasure benefit from a huge range of wider outcomes including increased empathy, alleviation or reduction in the symptoms of depression and dementia, as well as an improved sense of wellbeing. People who read for pleasure also have a higher sense of social inclusion, a greater tolerance and awareness of other cultures and lifestyles, and better communication skills. When we looked at the impact of reading for pleasure on people with increased health needs or issues, we found that people who were reading for pleasure demonstrated better health literacy, and were more able to cope with, and access, information related to their conditions. People who read for pleasure also showed lower levels of general anxiety.

For children and young people the evidence obviously demonstrated that children who read for pleasure had higher levels of educational attainment, but what is most interesting is how it improves the overall quality of their lives. Children and young people who read demonstrate significantly enhanced emotional vocabulary. In short, the young people who read like themselves better and cope with life better. They are more likely to use positive mental self -imagery and generally used more positive vocabulary in both their work and their lives.

This shows us that reading for pleasure is an important way of helping us to tackle issues such as social isolation, teenage depression, negative self-image, and social and educational disengagement. Reading for pleasure can make an isolated and depressed young person feel better about who they are and can make them more confident about the importance of their unique role in the world.

What can we do?
A key finding of the report is that extensive studies show that enjoyment of reading is a prerequisite for all these positive outcomes: people who choose to read, and enjoy doing so in their spare time, are more likely to reap all of these wider benefits. Negative attitudes towards reading for pleasure therefore have a much wider negative impact, and it’s essential that we create a far more positive attitude towards reading. We can throw out the “haven’t got time” and “reading is a waste of time” comments because we can clearly see that if you are reading for pleasure you are doing something that will improve the long-term quality of your life and your health.

It is worth noting that this process has to be about reading that is a free and voluntary choice. This is distinctly separate from learning how to read, and it is not the same as reading that is undertaken for study or educational purposes. In order to benefit from the wider outcomes of reading for pleasure we need to focus only on one word – pleasure. At school a focus should remain on uncritical free voluntary choice reading. Children and young people should be able to read freely from a wide range of material. They should be able to choose whatever format and style of reading material they want without feeling that it is yet another lesson or form of study. To facilitate this it is simply not enough to only have reading schemes and reading lessons, pupils of all ages require access to a well stocked school library and this will give them a better chance of becoming lifelong readers. To nurture a reading for pleasure environment all children should have access to someone who can help them to navigate the maze of books and reading in a positive way – logic dictates that this should be a school librarian.

Reading is good for you, and is something that we should all do at every stage in our lives in order to benefit personally. This should start at the cradle with reading aloud and sharing stories, and should move through our lives as pastime that is perceived as enjoyable. Reading is habit forming, and the children of readers read and are more likely to accept books and reading into their lives. We cannot expect our future adults to become readers if the only books they know are those on the reading scheme.

It doesn’t have to be expensive (remember, librarians are there to help you for free), and it doesn’t have to be great works of worthy literature. The evidence shows that all that matters is that people are reading a wide range of fiction and non-fiction in any form, and that they are reading it simply because they want to. No discrimination was made about the type of reading material, or the format – all reading is good reading as long as you are doing it because you have chosen to. We need to throw out the false idea that reading is an elitist or snobby pastime that is only for the idle, and that only “good” books matter – this is simply not true.

We are bombarded with health messages that we should be acting upon, but this report shows that reading for pleasure is the simplest and most enjoyable way to gain a significant number of long-term health benefits.

So stop feeling guilty! When you’re reading you’re not wasting time, you’re working on your long-term health.
The message is simple – pick up a book, and feel better!

Dawn Finch
Vice President CILIP
CWIG Committee
Children’s author and school library consultant.
www.dawnfinch.com
@dawnafinch

Links and the technical stuff…..
The full Literature Review document can be downloaded from the Reading Agency’s website and it contains a full bibliography of all of the research used. Please share and quote the report and use #readingforpleasure to keep the conversation going.

The Reading Agency worked in collaboration with the following organisations: Arts Council England, Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians, Book Trust, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Education Endowment Foundation, National Literacy Trust, Publishers Association, Scottish Library and Information Council, Society of Authors and the Society of Chief Librarians.
The report was compiled by BOP Consulting with funding from the Peter Sowerby Foundation 

* For the purposes of the report the phrases “reading for pleasure” and “recreational reading” are used interchangeably within the body of the document. We defined this as “non-goal orientated transactions with texts as a way to spend time, and for entertainment.”
The term “reading for empowerment” is (for the purposes of this report) defined as “transactions with texts as a means of self-cultivation and self-development beyond literacy”. For example reading non-fiction material such as craft or self-help books.
Both terms were used to define reading for pleasure and empowerment in all formats and media.

Full link URL – http://readingagency.org.uk/news/media/reading-for-pleasure-builds-empathy-and-improves-wellbeing-research-from-the-reading-agency-finds.html

The image used is licensed CCO public domain but courtesy credit due to bonnybbx, creator on Pixabay. Please always credit creators.

What value……? Creativity

Living in a country that increasingly values only a monetary return on investment (ROI), it seems timely to take a look at some of the more apparently esoteric aspects of our lives, and question what value they add to society.

First up – Creativity

It is a fact that many of the teachers that I work with tell me of the diminishing amount of time spent on the creative arts in their schools. Increasingly I find myself advising teachers how (and why) they should be incorporating the arts and creativity into their curriculum.
But why bother? I have been asked this question countless times; “my child is not going to be a painter or a poet, so why are we wasting time with this stuff?”

Okay, so let’s answer that one first.
Creativity is the key to developing imaginative thought processes, and imaginative thought processes are the key to problem solving. As a society we desperately need people who are imaginative problem solvers.

Well, that was simple! What, you want more?

Right, let’s have some identifiable scenarios and look at how this fits into all of our lives and imagine (because we have well developed imaginations and so we are able to do this) a life without creative and imaginative problem solvers.

  • I want a carpet fitted but my room is an awkward shape. My carpet fitter is great at maths and so has no problem working out the square footage, but he lacks a creative imagination and so he can’t work out how to work his way around the room economically. He loses money, and so do I.
  • My car has broken down, but all of the diagnostics show that there is nothing wrong with it. My mechanic has all the tools for the job and is well trained, but he lacks a creative imagination and so he is unable to imagine any unusual scenarios that might be causing the problem. I lose money (and a car) and his business suffers.
  • I need an operation. My surgeon is well trained and has the most amazing qualifications, but she lacks a creative imagination. When I’m opened up she checks all of the medical equipment, and the text books, but she can’t see anything wrong that fits what she has learnt. She does not have the imagination to think of what might be possible, and is only able to see what is actually there. I die.

Personally I want all of the people around me to have a creative imagination because it makes for a safer, wiser and more multi-faceted society. I desire creativity and imagination in every person that I work with or hire; plumbers, electricians, cab drivers, bus drivers, cleaners, lawyers, doctors, nurses, police officers, politicians, bankers, hairdressers, teachers… In fact there is not a single occupation that would not benefit from having staff who are creative and imaginative.

In our private lives we are able to achieve greater levels of self-improvement if we are creative problem solvers. Students who are imaginative problem solvers do better with their studies and achieve higher grades. This is turn makes for a better educated society and one that is more caring and self-supporting, and one that is better equipped at problem solving.

But, to convince those sceptics out there, we are going to need some more evidence of that.

 Big businesses know that creativity is vital to success within a corporation. An IBM survey of over 1,500 CEOs from 60 countries found that they overwhelmingly valued creativity in their staff. Frank Kern, senior vice president of IBM Global Business Services said;

“Coming out of the worst economic downturn in our professional lifetimes — and facing a new normal that is distinctly different — it is remarkable that CEOs identify creativity as the number one leadership competency of the successful enterprise of the future.”

The OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) prepared a report from their 17 nations about business practices and staff development. In the report they declared that “creativity and innovation” were key “21st Century competencies” They stressed that staff could not develop if they lacked creativity.

An article from Newsweek (link below) covered a number of case studies and drew on the educational creativity markers referred to and developed by E Paul Torrance. The article drew attention to the global importance of investing in the development of creative societies.
“All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.”

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This conversation starts with the child and so let’s consider the importance of creativity for the young. It is clear that we need to have creativity at the very heart of our curriculum to ensure that it takes its place at the heart of our society. It is not just about discreet teaching, creativity needs to lay like a blanket over every subject area. Teach history using paintings and poetry. Teach science and innovation by using creative writing and imaginative tasks. Teach physical fitness using dance and more physical forms of expression. Add the creative arts into social studies, literacy, languages and study skills. All subjects benefit from a broader approach, and the pupils studying them will benefit from greater creativity and will develop the ability to solve problems imaginatively.This makes for adults with a higher sense of wellbeing.

There are excellent reasons for having a cross-curricular approach to the teaching of creativity, however it is still being removed from the timetable. This is largely due to a misplaced belief that Ofsted and the Government want schools to entirely focus on academic achievement. This is simply not the case and the Ofsted inspection framework tells a very different story.
In 2012, Ofsted Director of Education, Jean Humphrys said; “Children’s ability to appreciate and interpret what they observe, communicate what they think and feel, or make what they imagine and invent, is influenced by the quality of their art, craft and design education.”

In 2014 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport commissioned a report to look into the impact of cultural engagement. Being a Government department they like to put a monetary value on things, and one of their key findings stated: “Arts engagement was found to be associated with higher wellbeing. This is valued at £1,084 per person per year, or £90 per person per month.”  

The report finds that: “These findings suggest that participation in culture and sport could lead to increased employment in the economy as there are associations between culture, sport and job satisfaction”

They also found that engagement with the arts results in a significant increase in the likelihood of young people going on to further or higher education. Despite this evidence headteachers and senior leadership teams genuinely believe that they will not achieve the grade of Outstanding if they have a curriculum that shows a leaning towards creativity and the arts. However the inspection reports that I see tell a different story.

One of the schools that I am connected to recently received a glowing inspection report and achieved the enviable grade of “Outstanding in all areas.” The headteacher at this school is a poet and a writer and has encouraged his staff to work with an incredibly creative curriculum. Every time I visit he is working with the children on a new art project to embed all that they are learning in other subjects. There is a fabulous dinosaur in the library (made to support their prehistory studies) and the dining hall is hung with paper mache fruit (made by children during their science work about healthy eating.) Every class is decorated with the creative work of pupils, and there is a strong ethos of drama, dance, music and art that runs throughout the whole curriculum.

In the inspection report for this school, Ofsted say this about the curriculum: “All of the themes create plentiful opportunities for pupils to practise their reading, writing and mathematical skills, engage in creative musical and art-based activities and debate about issues of morality.”

“Pupils learn in lively, stimulating classrooms and are excited about their learning. Those who spoke to inspectors said that their new creative curriculum was both interesting and challenging.”

But for me the very best reason for developing a school ethos based on imagination and creativity is that it makes for happier children, and happier children make better learners. This is my favourite part of this Outstanding report as it says everything you need to know about the importance of a school that understands the value of creativity.

“The behaviour of pupils is outstanding. The school’s over-riding supportive ethos forms the basis of a friendly atmosphere, in which relationships thrive. Pupils’ attendance is high, and they love coming to school to learn with their friends.”

This is the true return on investment in creativity and the arts; a better society.

Dawn Finch

Children’s author and literacy consultant

Vice President CILIP

CWIG committee member

Links

Librarians – let’s get out there!

This is a transcript of the closing speech for the joint CILIP Ireland / LAI conference in Belfast in April 2015.

Libraries – advocate and motivate!

Many of us work in isolation and conferences like this are our only chance to meet the other people who work within our service. We are unlike any other industry in that we largely work alone or in very small groups. To be able to attend extraordinary events like this not only keeps us up to date with what is new and current in our industry, but it allows us to discover that we are not alone in our trials and our adversities.

Libraries have never been at greater risk. Never. I have worked in libraries for over 27 years – through several restructures and reevaluations and reshuffles and several other things that regardless of the label hung on it meant job losses and a deterioration of the service available. This apparently was not enough and the erosion of the service has continued and has led us to this place where we are now. Thanks to the Seighart report we are now matched with railways and we are experiencing our Beeching moment. Actually, I think that this is an understatement. After Beeching it was still possible to catch a train, and the system is still recovering, but it is recovering. The same will not be said of libraries. When we lose our libraries they will be lost forever. This will be a single track line and there will be no recovering. No philanthropists will step in and rebuild. Losing our libraries will be an irreversible process.
So what can we do?

Of course our biggest problem is with governments and their inability to take the time to understand what libraries and librarians do and to find out exactly how important they are. This is largely because the people in power have a limited experience of libraries that is essentially an oak panelled silent room in their old prep-school or a silent brandy-fuelled room at the club reeking of aged and over-stuffed old-boys and cracked leather armchairs. They feel that it is fine to protect that sort of library, but do the poor and huddled masses really deserve access to that?

One of the most crucial outward problems facing libraries today partially rests in the perception of libraries. There still exists a perception that libraries are a middle-class remnant of a stuffy past that has no place in the 21st century. If we step outside into the streets and ask people to describe what a library is there is a very good chance that people will still describe this….

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Is this not what a library looks like?

Why do we bristle at this statement – because we know it to be false. We know that when people think of libraries they really should be thinking of spaces like this.

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This is the plan for the new National Library of Kazakhstan and it is a far better illustration of what we know a modern library looks like. We have dozens of examples of such modern community hubs and we know that our libraries are essential and lively 21st century spaces that serve our communities (be they schools, universities or academic establishments) We know that our communities would be significantly less successful without our presence. We know this because we are in these libraries every day and we are able to track their impact.
How do others know? What are we doing to ensure that the wider community is aware of the importance and impact of libraries?

So often all that the non-library using public see of libraries is when another campaign starts. Campaigns do work, especially noisy ones, but the most effective campaigns are ones that bring to bear the power of hearts and minds. We can’t expect people who have never used a library to understand what a librarian does or what a library can do for them – we have to show them. We have to make our voices heard in a way that is positive and affirming.

So how can we do this?
Use your users. One of the problems that we have with library campaigns is that it is often perceived as people just trying to protect their jobs – jobs that people do not understand or value. We need to better demonstrate what we mean to the people who use our libraries. Use your users to write about about what the library means to them, not what it means to you. A perfect example of this is the recent blog post at CILIP about prison libraries.

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Ex-prisoner Jonathan Robinson – a man who really understands how vital libraries and librarians are to the process of rehabilitation.

How much more effective is it to hear the voices of people whose lives have been changed for the better by the support of the library and the librarian? We actually have no shortage of support, but it is directing that support to the right people that can make a difference. Find out who has the most potential impact in your field or your county and get them on your side. Use the famous, use writers, broadcasters, sports personalities, local youth workers, schools, anyone who can be useful to get the message to a wider and more responsive audience.

Make sure that you are concentrating on the impact of the professional. Many library campaigns concentrate on the impact of the service, and not those delivering it. Talking about the professional is our job and we should be doing it as effectively as the campaigners are doing with the service. When you talk about digital literacy, make sure that you talk about the librarian that will deliver this service. It is not enough to save a library to have it staffed with volunteers, no matter how well meaning they are – this is not a sustainable system. Talk about the librarians and show why they are important.

Stay positive. As library campaigners it is vital that we stay positive about the benefits and usefulness of a well-run library. As a life-long campaigner for change I know that the angrier the campaign, the less people listen. These are stressful financial times for everyone, and so people need to feel something on an emotional level to stand by you and make a difference. Yank those heartstrings with positive tales and case histories and show the benefit and wider value of your library to its users.

Be seen! Be seen as an individual, not just as a faceless organisation. This is not just about a building with books in. A building with books in is not a library – no matter what the government would have people believe. You cannot run a library with volunteers – that is just a book lending service and that’s a completely different thing to a real library service. Make sure that people can see you and, in turn, that they understand what you do.
Blog, tweet, facebook, speak, get out there! Join with others and support each other. Conferences are the perfect opportunity to network and to show support for others. Take every opportunity to forge new links and new bonds with anyone who does what you do.
Show people what we do – show them that we are not just sitting there reading and waiting for a book to stamp out. Show people what you do in your service point and how you do it.

So what do we do? Who are we? Why do people deserve a real librarian and not a volunteer? This slide explains exactly what we do and why we are so essential to supporting our communities.

Qualified professionals infographicOne of the key elements of the campaign to erase the library service relies in part on all of us in the profession having divisions. It relies on academic libraries not supporting school libraries, public libraries not supporting health libraries, legal libraries not supporting prison libraries. We need to unite to ensure that we are providing an intermeshed and overlapping service – one access point effortlessly linking to the next.

Show your societal value. We do the most important job. We live in a time where the quantity of information available increases every second. With each passing moment the world faces another tide of information and only one sector of society can help to ride that wave and not drown.

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There has been a great deal of talk about the current government’s pledge to commit 7.4m towards wifi in public libraries and the campaign for digital literacy. We all know why this is so important. Those who are digitally literate have greater personal freedom and earn more.
People with good ICT skills earn between 3% – 10% more than those without.
72% of employers would not even interview entry level candidates with no ICT skills.

Who is at the cutting edge of this digital literacy revolution?
We are.
Our sector.
We are the only ones in the right place to provide management of that knowledge in all its forms and to help people to access and organise it. We are all that stands between the population and fifty million hits on videos of cats riding vacuum cleaners. We are the information conduits, we are the managers of information and we need to make sure that people understand how important this is.

These are dangerous times for libraries, librarians and for anyone who works in knowledge management. This is the time to represent a unified front. This is the time to unite and speak as one to stop the rot that threatens to destroy our libraries. If this destruction is allowed to happen, there will be no going back. If public libraries fall then there is a genuine risk that other information service points will fall in their wake. If we lose access to the unique skills that only a librarian can offer we will become weaker as a nation because of it.

Stick together, build networks, cross services and make sure that people realise that this is not just about buildings and property assets, this is not just about wages or cutting costs for local government, this is about the professionals who provide a service that ultimately improves the quality of life for every single member of our 21st Century communities.
This is what truly makes a library – a librarian.
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Why I will always be deeply Dippy.

I know that love at first sight exists, because it happened to me.

I grew up pretty poor and, by any standards, I had a tough childhood that was very much grounded in realities. We didn’t have a lot when I was a child, but I was lucky enough to live a bus ride from the Natural History Museum. It was a long way, but I could save up my meagre pocket money and gather enough together to buy myself a Red Bus Rover and head into London to spend a day hanging around in the free museums.

When I was very little Dippy lived in a side gallery at the museum and, the moment I saw her, I knew that I was in love. I looked up into that doleful skull and I knew with absolute certainty that I would love her forever.

I’m not alone.

In 1979, when I was twelve, she made her lumbering way into the main hall (known as the Hintze Hall) of the museum and I felt that my darling dinosaur had finally come to her perfect home. In this hall she could truly show off her magnificent size and her long long long tail. I could stand back and see exactly how big she was, and I could even walk up the stairs and see right down into every part of her skeleton.

I’ve remained faithful to my first love and, when I took my own toddler to the Natural History Museum, I got to watch my daughter fall in love with Dippy too. She is now twenty-one and she still loves that dusty old dinosaur.

Now the museum plans to remove Dippy and replace her with a whale skeleton. Lots has been said about how (ahem) “discreet” the plans to do this were, and as a regular visitor I certainly knew nothing about these plans until writer and illustrator James Mayhew drew it to our attention.

There have been arguments about how Dippy is a model and the whale is a real skeleton and so that makes it more important….

Let’s deal with that argument first. Yes, Dippy is a model. An accurately constructed model in perfect scale, but she’s a model and there is no denying it. But so is the T-Rex in the next room in case anyone hadn’t noticed (unless people believed that they actually have a large lifelike “real” T-Rex) and the museum is full of other models. Models are important for children as they help them to understand a creature that they can’t possibly see anymore. We can throw out the “it’s only a model” argument. Oh, and in case anyone is wondering….those dinosaurs in Jurassic Park? CGI.

The next argument is that the whale represents a species at risk and to display a real whale skeleton will be important for the promotion of species preservation.

Hmmm…sounds interesting and slightly more persuasive, but hold on, isn’t this the Natural History Museum? Surely it’s not the Natural Species Preservation Museum? The whale is already well displayed in the museum, and the Mammal Rooms are very impressive, and well loved by visitors. There is also the issue that the whale is nowhere near as at risk as it was a decade ago, and so do we really need to have a display that is there solely to preserve a species? Is the whole rest of the museum going to go over to displays that are entirely about species preservation? If so, there is a whole bunch of taxidermy that is heading for the dump!

I’m not against whales, I love whales, but I love dinosaurs more.

One of the other arguments is that the Hintze Hall has housed many exhibits since it opened in 1881 and that Dippy is just another one of those. Really? Nothing has been displayed as long, or regarded with such awe and positivity as Dippy, so why change it? In this 21st Century world of branding and marketing most organisations would sell their souls for something so iconic and easily identified with. Multinationals would pay millions to be able to have a uniquely emblematic image, and immediately identifiable object for their organisations. It certainly seems foolish for a charity to remove something that is such an incredibly successful part of their identity.

That’s not the key issue though, the key issue here is that the real people affected by removing Dippy have not been consulted. The plans (apparently) have been displayed in the side entrance (yes, I know that many of you will not even be aware that there is a side entrance) where academics and sponsors and the like enter the museum. They are not the REAL people who matter here. In 2013/14 the museum had over five million visitors – I kid you not! FIVE MILLION!! Those are impressive figures for any organisation, for a museum it is mind-blowing. That’s as many as the Science Museum and the Tower of London added together.

According to their own evaluation the vast majority of visitors come to see the dinosaurs. The dinosaur exhibits were, by a very long way, the most successful and popular exhibits at the museum. In fact the museum had to operate a timed queuing system for the exhibits due to extraordinary popularity. The dinosaurs have always been the most popular exhibits at the museum, right from the day the doors opened. In fact the creation of the museum itself was largely due to the new science of archaeology and a need to house larger exhibits.

Who are dinosaurs most popular with, and therefore who should be the most important visitors?

Children, that’s who. I have tried to find out exactly how many children use the museum each year but the figures are (apparently) “not broken down that way.” That is a great shame. Last year I was working on the sequel to my book, Brotherhood of Shades, and there is a long scene set in the Natural History Museum. Whilst I was working on it I went and sat for a whole day in the main hall and on the upper landings. I watched the visitors ebb and flow through the hall and I’d say around 70% of the visitors were young children.

It was absolutely wonderful watching the children enter and crane their necks up to look at Dippy. I saw children react with pure joy as they looked up at her. Small people with their arms outstretched and their mouths wide open with wonder. I saw children shaking with excitement and on the edge of tears with amazement. More importantly, I watched them fall in love with the possibilities of the natural world.

That is what has been missed here. Dippy and the awe that she inspires lays an indelible mark on the life of every child that sees her, and yet these are the only group that have not been asked about the change. Every child that sees Dippy becomes suddenly aware of the scale of something that once walked the earth, and of the infinite possibilities of our gloriously blue and green planet. Seeing Dippy is humbling, thanks to her location in the Hintze Hall of this remarkable building children feel small, and insignificant, and acutely aware of how much can change. Dippy allows us a glimpse into the past and therefore sets our feet firmly in the present – nothing exists like her anymore and nothing ever will.

Children are blown away by Dippy and you can see how profoundly she affects them, and yet no one has asked the children what they want.

Before you take Dippy away and erase that wonder from all of our lives, and the lives of future generations, ask them. Ask the children. Conduct a survey in every primary and infant school in the country and ask them what they would like to see in the Hintze Hall – a whale or a dinosaur.

I can guarantee you that I already know what the answer will be.

#savedippy

Sign the petition to save her here.

Library Campaigns – Bring the noise!

2015 rolls us towards one of the most potentially interesting General Elections that the UK has ever seen. At the present time the country is governed by a jumbled pairing of parties that no one actually voted in, all carrying the baggage of policies that didn’t come to pass, and stacking up a whole mess of broken promises.

All of this confusion has left most of us unsure of who to vote for. The lines between the parties have become increasingly blurred, and it is genuinely difficult to put a white paper between them. People deserve to understand the policies that are relevant to their lives and to their communities. We need access to information more than ever, and yet never has it been more convoluted and confusing. We need a way to access information and, once upon a time, this was simple thanks to the public library. I firmly believe that every community is best served by access to a well run and appropriately funded library service, however this service has never been more at risk.

Despite cross-party claims of support, and claims to be supporting a push for raising levels of national literacy and digital inclusion, there have never been more libraries at risk of closure.

As a follow-up to my post about what public libraries actually do, I attempted to gather together links to petitions and campaigns that are trying to save this essential aspect of our lives.  It is incredibly sad just how many libraries are under threat. I was curious as to just how many libraries and regions were affected, and my research made tragic reading. As my list became longer and longer, it became apparent just how potentially catastrophic this all could be.

The removal of library services not only means the loss of something irreplaceable for all of our communities, but also represents a significant breakdown in the democratic process of local government.  The campaigns in some of the regions might appear small, but that’s because the worst hit communities are often small, rural and poor. It is a shameful government that makes the most vulnerable and voiceless a target, but this has happened time and time again under this one.

The campaigns to protect libraries are not about protecting something antiquated and stuffy, or about saving  a twee manifestation of upper middle-class ideals, this is about protecting a service that not only makes a positive difference to all members of the community but one that actively improves the quality of the lives of its users.

We have all read many articles about the importance of raising the levels of national literacy, of the need to ensure digital literacy for all, of the positive impact of reading on educational levels, of how we have more students than ever, and of the need for more open communication of information to the people of the UK. So why would anyone want to cut the most successful way of dealing with all of those issues? Why would the parties not want to support the only service in the community that can tackle all of these issues at the front-line? The Sieghart Report on public libraries highlighted the fact that 35% of people use their libraries; so why would a government cut something that is used by over a third of the population?

The answer is – because it’s easy. It is easier to cut something that people in power don’t understand than it is to cut other more high-profile (and potentially political-career damaging) areas. It is easy to cut something that is used by over a third of the population as long as most of those users are too young to vote, or too vulnerable to fight back. It’s easy to attack those who do not have a loud enough voice to be heard when they protest. It is easy to cut services that some people have a false image of, and it’s easier to cut services where people have less fight.

So let’s bring them that fight! It’s time to bring the noise! Stand up for what you deserve, for what everyone deserves; library run by qualified professionals.

It is worth noting that I have been informed that many staff working within the public library system have been told by their authorities that they are not allowed to become “politically involved” in the campaigns to protect their libraries. This is why it is so important for library users to make a stand. It is vital that people all over the country make a stand before these services are lost forever.

Sign the petitions, write letters, join campaigns in your regions, make a noise on social media,  turn out for libraries and, when the election comes, vote for the parties who make a solid commitment to making a difference.

You can find full lists of campaigns through the websites of Public Library News  and The Library Campaign – and make a noise as part of Voices for the Library

Follow CILIP ElectionWatch to stay informed about which parties are prepared to make a solid commitment to our communities, and you can see a list of key advocacy issues and campaigns here on their website. On social media please follow and use #CILIPElect and #vote4libraries

Speak Up For Libraries annual conference is held towards the end of the year and full write-ups and further information can be found by using the link above or follow @speakup4libs

You can start off by joining in the celebrations for National Libraries Day – and really bring the noise!

Don’t let this be another one of those issues where you’re left singing – Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

NB – if you work for a public library and have been advised to not get involved in campaigns, please feel free to post your stories anonymously in the comments here.

Written by Dawn Finch

Library and Literacy Consultant

Children’s author and librarian.

 

Those links again………

www.publiclibrariesnews.com/

www.librarycampaign.com/

www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/campaigns/

CILIP advocacy pages

http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/public-libraries/public-libraries-cilip-activity

CILIP ElectionWatch

http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/electionwatch-cilip-campaign

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage public information posters.

This gallery contains 20 photos.

I do love vintage posters and this set offers advice for things that you shouldn’t really need advice for. However, there are a good few here that really should be brought back. Speaking as someone who routinely runs the gauntlet of those who seem to have taken up germ distribution as a hobby – I’d […]