May 21, 2007

I'm angry.

Writing about web page

Following on from the post on Pete's blog I have to have a minor rant of my own! Please see this article published a few days ago in the Northants Evening Telegraph.

Do we really need to reinforce the idea that all Librarians do is sit about stamping books and saying "Shhhh!"??????

I was under the impression that a decent enquiry service where people could be pointed in the direction of, oh, I dont know, lets say books and web sites about lace making? was a basic part of Library provision??? 

What on earth would that poor woman have been told if she had come in with the same question 2 weeks earlier?? "Basic research?? no, I'm sorry, we're a Library and we dont do that sort of thing."?!?!

I'm very angry and more than a little confused.

Do any Public Librarians have a view on this?

Am I really being unfair in my reaction to this?

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  1. Sarah Washford

    I work in a public library and I think there is a difference between basic library help and a lengthy one on one session. I do think £15 for half an hour seems pretty steep but most public libraries do not have enough staff to spend an hour with one reader taking them step by step through their family tree research. I wish we did!! I’d be interested to know if they are charging £15 to everyone or if they have discounts for OAPs and unemployed. Also how they draw the line – I’d hate to be told I had to stop helping a reader just because I’d crossed over into personal trainer time! I also wonder if some people will be put off asking for help by this article in case they get asked for money just for being told where the lacemaking books are! Sorry for the ramble but I’d be interested in hearing more from the library as newspapers sometimes leave the useful facts out…

    21 May 2007, 22:22

  2. Sarah Washford

    PS My ancestors were lacemakers in Northamptonshire and I imagine they would be pretty horrified that anyone would pay £15 for half an hour’s help finding lacemaking books…

    21 May 2007, 22:26

  3. Katharine Widdows

    Thanks Sarah,

    You do make several very good points here, in particular about the press, and I have been thinking about that today – contacting the Library directly to see what they have to say about it.

    I don’t know how enquiry services are run in public libraries generally, but in academic libraries if users have a complex query they can book time with a librarian (away from the enquiry desk) to go over it in detail. I appreciate that this is only possible if staffing and timing allow, and that public libraries may not have that option, but surely, £15 for half an hour??

    Do Public Librarians get paid £30 and hour?

    And does it take half an hour to point out the Lace-making books and find a web site or two?
    Other things will clearly take longer, and what then? Is the enquiry cut off until the user pays up more money?

    I’m shocked. I a really am, and quite angry.

    I do however, take your point that the press may have left out very important details and I will be trying to uncover the truth of the matter as soon as I get time to look into it.

    I really hope the article is in some way wrong.

    21 May 2007, 22:32

  4. Katharine Widdows

    On initial investigation (admitedly brief) of the Library Pages on the Northamptonshire County Council web site I can find no referene to this service at all.
    I will consider emailing them tomorrow if I still can’t find details on the web.

    21 May 2007, 22:54

  5. Pete

    Well, yes. There may have been some exagerration. Perhaps this £15 an hour is aimed at the more complex queries. Even so, the ‘line drawing’ issue Sarah mentions is quite important.
    The money charged should be invested in getting more staff to run this service, should it take off.

    22 May 2007, 08:53

  6. Michael

    The article basically describes what a reference librarian does: spending time with people, finding the right book (or whatever) to answer their enquiry.

    Like Sarah says, time is the key: we don’t have enough staff for people to spend a lot of time with individuals. I’d love to, but it’s just not feasible.

    Public libraries have to investigate revenue streams – fines, reservation charges, DVD hire – and this would seem to be one of them. I wonder how it measures up to the “comprehensive and efficient” and free access bits of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964?

    On the other hand, public libraries tend to charge for business information, often derived from expensive databases. We use FAME to provide, among other things, contact details for businesses at a cost of something like 1p per entry. Or at least we do in theory: I don’t know whether it actually happens or not.

    22 May 2007, 11:15

  7. Pete Smith

    “Public libraries have to investigate revenue streams.” Fair enough. Business seems to be the logical area- Business Insight being an example. It’s when it seems to encroach on ‘core’ services that people get narky.

    As you’ve noted Michael, the ‘comprehensive’ bit depends on your definitions ;) If libraries= reading/books a la Coates, then such services have no place in libraries anyway…

    Perhaps one way to resolve it is to offer it as a ‘cut off’ service, as Sarah hinted. A generous free time allowance, then maybe a chargeable extra period. This research need not be done with the person right there.

    22 May 2007, 11:34

  8. Michael

    That’s how People’s Network PCs work in some authorities: you get free access for a given period per day, then hefty charges therafter. The Select Committee criticised this sort of behaviour as contravening the spirit, if not the letter, of the Act. See and scroll down to Paragraph 102.

    23 May 2007, 17:01

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