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Sunday, 4 September 2011

CPD23 - Thing 16 - Library Advocacy and Activism

Confession time - I don't consider myself to be either a library activist or advocate. I mean this in the narrow sense that I am not very vocal and active in proclaiming the benefits of library and information services (surely not the only one who admits to this?). This doesn't mean that I don't think this issue is unimportant though....

More than just buzzwords

Over recent years, however , more and more librarians (including many new professionals) are defining themselves as activists  - in the UK people like Johanna Bo Anderson, Maria Cotera, Ned Potter aka the Wikiman and in the US people like Jessaymn West ('putting the rarin back in librarian'), Alan Molaro (whose blog is the Information Activist Librarian). I envy their enthusiasm, passion and commitment.
WI campaign for libraries
In response, CILIP (who could be accused of not being active enough in this area) are now taking more active steps to focus on advocacy as one of its main roles. One great win is to get the support of the Women's Institute who have adopted libraries as its campaign in 2011.

The idea of information activism is not entirely brand new (witness Dale Carnegie and others from the past), but now in the face of market pressures, political and economic pressures due to recession, competition from online sources and behemoths (the mighty Google and fast nimble new internet service providers), librarians are realising that they need to take more active steps to promote and market themselves and move out of what Ned Potter labels the echo chamber (where librarians are simply talking to each other instead of marketing a message to people outside).

Activism and me

To date as I indicated above, library activism has passed me by somewhat, so to speak. Not sure exactly why. Maybe its because fortunately none of my local library services have been directly affected yet by cuts or have developed an active Friends network of supporters (and people generally become activists eg in climate change most often when they are directly impacted personally).
However, this might change as my local council is currently conducting a review of the library service (which it would be naive to think won't emerge unscathed). If my local library is threatened, I would like to think that I could and should do something, although what I don't know exactly.

Despite this, I have got active in some small ways. For instance, on 5th February 2011, you might remember we had a national Save Our Libraries Day in the UK. CILIP encouraged as a minimum that people borrowed items from the library and this is what I did, but I was kind of frustated and felt it would have been more fulfilling to have done more. I therefore look forward to 2012 and the launch of National Libraries Day and seeing if I can do more.

Be the change

It is said that charity begins at home. Likewise with advocacy and activism which are both like ripples, that spread out from individuals who are inspired, motivated and empowered to connect with others.

We should therefore all look at ourselves and ask whether we are each doing enough to shout loudly and speak up for the work of libraries and information professionals. Getting published is one way to do this but it is often easier said than done.

Why is it for instance that when library closures and campaigns are reported in the press, that there are always authors interviewed but never librarians? This annoyed so much a few months ago in a piece on BBC Breakfast that I wrote in to the producers to complain.
The future of libraries and inforamtion professionals?
Clearly, journalists have their own agenda and visions of how to report a story. Too often they go for cliche, something that will attract maximum attention and therefore alight on people who can sell a story, such as authors due to their fame because they are more in the public eye.

Simple actions we can all take

I think we all have a role in advocating the changing face of libraries and information professionals away from the usual unrepeatable cliches. That means each speaking to all friends and family about the value of libraries and information resources. How many of your immediate circle actually use a library at all?

There are also some really simple steps that we can take (as suggested by the Women's Institute Love Your Libraries campaign:
  • to carry and USE our library cards with pride.
  • sign the Petition in support of public libraries on the Government's e-petition website. Any petition that has over 100,000 signatories will trigger a debate in Parliament.....there are only 7,000 signatories so lots of support is still needed.
  • write to your local MPs and councillors to say how much you value your local libraries (and yes they will reply back from previous experience).
Also not forgetting the very worthwhile forum Voices for the Library which you should all check out for further ideas and campaigning tips.

General thoughts on being an activist

In getting involved with being activists/advocates, I think we have to recognise what success looks like, how it happens and how people interact and work together. Successful advocacy and activism is built on:
  • People
  • Passion
  • Partnership
  • Planning
  • Promotion
and this depends on individual and organisational values and culture.

As Johanna Anderson says in her blog piece on activism, we should all be advocates (or as I would put it we should all share our passion and enthusiasm). Activism goes beyond just passion - it is about hard work and doesn't just happen overnight. It means being strategic and being aware of other people, attitudes and opinions and knowing when to act or behave in certain ways ie be strategic. (Basically we need to recognise which projects and campaigns are worthwhile pursuing and which are not).

Advocacy and activism in government departments

I've mainly referred to advocacy in the context of public libraries which seem most embattled in modern 2011 austerity Britain. However, advocacy is also needed within government libraries as well. Government information professionals are needed for many reasons because they help oil the wheels of good government by:
  • storing and using data effectively so that it is properly protected, accessible as required, and easily available to support good decision-making.
  • directly impacting on government cost opportunities: the Office of Fair Trading has estimated that stimulating and facilitating the re-use of public sector information could potentially contribute £1bn to the UK economy per year
  • enabling policy officials to have the information available to do their job eg a permanent secretary knowing information is secure, efficient handling of Freedom of Information requests and collaboration between teams.
Many government information service units/libraries have already learned the hard way to change or face cutbacks and have learned that they need to work to promote themselves on a more strategic basis to colleagues.

Its for this reason that in December 2008, the government published a knowledge and information strategy document called "Information Matters". This is an action plan to guide government in better use and management of knowledge and information. However my feeling is it still needs promoting across government departments. (An advocacy gap here, I think!)

However, time moves on and now all government departments face huge internal organisational changes. There is therefore a risk that "Information Matters" is forgotten in a maelstrom of other activities. At the same time I fear it is becoming all too easy to sideline librarians and information professionals who might not seem to represent the core work of a department eg policy work.

Amidst these change pressures it is important for professional civil service groupings (such as the Knowledge and Information Management Profession) to have a well organised, supportive and active Head of Profession. I don't get this sense of direction or support from within my current department. Additionally while there are senior groups in place (the nebulous Knowledge Council) in government, I don't get any feeling of how this impacts on me on a daily work basis. ((Probably another role for me to advocate internally, there!)

Library advocacy pictures say it all.....

Pictures convey much more than words as these posters show - they convey powerfully what I want to say but far better:
Vintage poster campaign to Love Libraires created by Phil Bradley

Washington State Library Marketing Initiative


I recognise this posting might not be very coherent....I should have labelled it 'random ramblings', but CPD 23 Thing 16 does give me (and I hope others) lots of food for thought about what more I (and we all) can do personally to ensure libraries are not taken for granted and thrown to the wolves just because they are easy targets.

1 comment:

jothelibrarian said...

Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed reading your post on this Thing :)