Library Camp Leeds was my first ever library camp. I have experience of the “unconference” format from things like Cultural Conversations, but as someone with autism, I find events with minimal structure and lots of social contact quite difficult and tiring. Much as I enjoyed it, #libcampls was definitely exhausting. Especially as it was very hot and sunny. There are other great reports so far from Carly, Lesley and Carolin.
There were 16 proposed sessions, pitched at the beginning of the day. These took place as four sets of four; two sessions before lunch and two after. The initial rush to pitch saw a lot of the men present jumping up. Given they were actually a minority in terms of attendees, this gave me the push to be brave and pitch my own ideas. I pitched two sessions.
1. Richard had mentioned on the wiki that he would like there to be a session about ebooks, and since that’s my undergraduate final year project topic, I was happy to lead that with his help. He was very supportive, and this session, in the first set, was much more of a group discussion from the off than anything too guided. There was a high level of contribution from most in the group. Publishers are antagonistic towards libraries when it comes to ebooks, either demanding very limiting terms and conditions or excluding them altogether, and it is ludicrous that on the one hand publishers and authors are clamouring for PLR and zero-rated VAT on ebooks and on the other locking out the very organisations who would support them in these aims – libraries.
Money, as so often throughout the day, came up as an issue; particularly for public libraries, though the costs of digital formats for academic institutions can be astronomical. Managing users’ expectations and interoperability issues between formats and devices are real problems, and some thought libraries should just give up on ebooks for now. However, we did talk about the positives of ebooks, including for accessibility, and the excitement of affordable digital magazine subscriptions. Because the magazines are supported by advertising, as well as subscriptions and single issue cover price, it could potentially work to add advertising to library ebooks, especially when enhanced ebooks become more common and so e.g. movie trailers can be embedded. Obviously not everybody is keen on commercial creep into libraries, but in some cases it may be unavoidable in order to fund the resources and libraries in many sectors already stock DVDs, newspapers and magazines that contain advertising and trailers. Another idea was to develop a special ereader for libraries nationally, that had no resale value but could be lent out in the manner of Playaway. Again, the spectre of money reared its ugly head.
2. Kate from HMP Styal led the second session I attended, about prison libraries. Her library has 10k books and there is an average 6 week inmate turnover. A lot of work goes into literacy projects. The library helps to record prisoners reading stories and then the CD is sent to their children for bedtime. There is a mobile library service for the detox wing, which involves taking a trolley of books direct to them as they cannot get to the library building itself. The library has a major role in the prison’s aims of education and reducing re-offending by preparing prisoners for release. It is a genuine leisure facility and popular. The prisoners have basic, standard and enhanced categories when it comes to privileges. The building at Styal looks more like a boarding school with houses and gardens than normal prison. Officers have no time to accompany prisoners there, other than those with mental health issues who have one-to-one contact and are escorted once a week. Prisoners get privileges and opportunities if they behave. The prison library is run like a school library system. The librarian has free range when it comes to book selection, beyond the essential specification: law, human rights etc titles are specified. The library stocks daily papers plus weekly magazines.
Popular titles are very different to those in a “normal” library. Crime authors such as Martina Cole, “smutty horror”, misery lit, true crime, celebrity autobiographies all go down well. Nothing is allowed that can be used to aid things like bomb-making: microelectronics, books about extracting chemicals from food etc. Private prison libraries are different, there are more restrictions, e.g. real life crime books can be banned. Libraries are not always seen as important by private prison companies even though they are essential and statutory. Outreach and publicity are important; liaising with managers and senior officers & service providers. Books related to other services are ordered and highlighted: coffee shop, gardens, events, drama group.
There are not many people working in the prison library, so it is hard to feel part of a team. It is important to make an effort with officers and healthcare workers as it takes a while to get to know them and for them to trust library staff. 3 prisoners work in the library at the moment, with a library assistant and senior library assistant as well as the librarian. One is studying for an NVQ as a library orderly funded by Women in Prison. There are problems with prisoner volunteers, and it is awkward when one has to be “sacked” as you still see them around. Rhyme Time with babies is valued, as babies aged up to 18 months stay with their mums in the prison. Organisations like the BBC organise creative writing and other events – prisoners loved rap poet Mr Gee.
Prison libraries have to have a qualified librarian, and hours a week, minimum size of the library, book numbers are specified. Assistant applicants don’t have much library experience. It can be lonely. You can’t be connected even via Twitter during the day. The CILIP prison librarians group is good. There is nowhere to go upwards career-wise, as there is nothing above qualified librarian, so everyone tends to be older and stay in their roles.
Male prisons are bigger and prisoners have more resources. Crime in women’s prisons is low level, less organised, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Deliveries in more secure prisons have to go through a security process, but Kate can bring things in and isn’t searched. Only Iibrary staff can use the one online computer, orderlies have to just sit next to staff using it. Prisoners can use other PCs but staff must check/read documents before printing.
The library is included as a resource in healthcare, and connects to housing and employment services. One of the most difficult aspects of the job is older prisoners ashamed about not being able to read. The appointment system can be a barrier, as prisoners often come from chaotic homes and lives, with negative experiences of education. Prisoners have to have enhanced status to get out CDs and DVDs. Extra cleaning and helping out results in green tickets: get 2 in a week and get enhanced status and extra library time. Kate gives green tickets to prisoners who are helpful in the library or bring back others’ books. Red tickets are given if they misbehave or return books late.
I really enjoyed Kate’s session and hope to take her up on her offer of visiting the prison library.
3. After lunch, the afternoon sessions moved outside to the park. I brought my picnic blanket, as this had been mooted earlier in the week on Twitter when it became apparent that the good weather would be continuing. It was time for my second session, which was on accessibility and invisible disabilities. I concentrated on the latter not just because my own are invisible (autism, dyspraxia, cerebral palsy), and my research interests lie in this area, but also because speaking to other people about it confirmed my view that while library services at least try to cater for more “obvious” physical disabilities, learning disabilities and mental health, and some provide support and services for disabled children, adults with disabilities like mine or who deal with their impairments in a non-standard way tend to be unsupported.
Another member of the group agreed, as she is visually-impaired but does not read Braille and prefers not to be stuck with the limited range of large print books or reading groups that are only for the blind. Signage and decent light was a common issue for both of us. Non-disabled members spoke about sensory and other issues that they had noticed but not raised, and the importance of doing so pro-actively rather than reactively (based on complaints or known issues around disabled staff/users) was discussed. What is good for people with disabilities is often good practice for everyone.
I believe that this session went really well, and people seemed to think that it was useful. It made me want to lead more sessions and presentations on the topic in the future. Lesley has written about it in more detail; it feels quite awkward to go on and on about my own session. I mentioned that often good information and resources can be found at the websites for specific disabilities, for example the NAS, RNIB and Scope.
4. My final session of the day was Dace‘s session on new professionals in Latvia and the UK, and this was a great one to end on. Lesley and Carly have covered the session well, but it felt like the sort of discussion we should be having more often. And lots of us would like to join an international wing of the Latvian group, because for such a new organisation they are doing so much and so well.
The Latvian new professionals conference will have lectures from “gurus” about practical skills – fundraising, other skills – sharing experience and personal knowledge. Dace has been in the UK for 2 years. She is taking her experience back to Latvia. The country has 1 library school, and of 25 new graduates a year, only 8 work in libraries. There are only 200-250 new professionals in an ageing profession and they must stick together. It is important to raise the profile of librarianship: there as here it is low paid, with levels of respect and understanding dropping.
Carly said she thought it was important to give career talks and has got involved. It’s not just about showing librarianship as a career option, but also raising awareness of what we do for new graduates who go into other professions. Library schools need to review what they teach to give people better skills and more practical experience of things like budgets and management. The New Professionals network can fill the skills gap, and it is important to offer events for free or with bursaries for new professionals, students and the unemployed – but funding or finding event spaces for free can be very difficult. Dace said her group have to fundraise in Latvia in order to do anything as they are only a small group. Even so, they are committed to blogging as a group 3 times a week. Every member makes one post a month. Lecturers ask students to read the articles they post. They make a presentation to library school once a year (undergrad) and go into schools and have good links with IFLA.
Latvian new professionals help public libraries and ran a competition for jokes from libraries for April Fool’s Day. They ran an email list for Library Day in the Life. 30 librarians took part in the project, making Latvia the 3rd most active country after UK and US, The feedback was that they are very excited about the next one. Dace is involved with other fun events like Cycling For Libraries.