Friday 31 August 2012

Librarycamp session proposal #15 - comments welcome!

LibraryCamp session proposal #15 from Ben Taylor of Red Quadrant (AKA @antlerboy) has drawn some heat over on the wiki. We thought it was better to continue the debate here on the blog rather than on the wiki session proposal page so it doesn't confuse people just looking for the session details. Please have a read and add your comments below.

Ben proposed a session on...

'Bringing the politics back into libraries and libraries back into politics - can we create a more meaningful campaign for libraries' (from @antlerboy)

This is based on a theory that there are two (maybe three) rather sterile and competing theories of libraries at present:

A) libraries are a good thing, they served me when I was young, where would we be without them, jumpers as goalposts etc.... they should never change and I'll fight to the death to keep 'em

B) libraries are a good thing, they just need to be brought into the 21st Century, we need fewer, better, more efficient and effective and achieving more for less.

(and maybe the occasional 'challenge' of (C) 'libraries are dead to me and the web or whatever has taken over, forget about them')...

We all know that these characterisations are feeble caricatures of the rich and complex (and sometimes failing, or at least stumbling) reality. But when it comes to the national headlines, it really seems to be a case of (B) - usually the politicians in charge, those managing the finances, and those reporting directly to them versus (A) - usually the user groups, authors, defenders etc. Neither seems to really speak for the broad public and I think there's a slight underlying fear that (C) is true and it's all just deckchairs and titanics.

So for just one session my suggestion is that we go beyond the mechanics of building better libraries (pleased to see some rich material in that vein in the above - and quite a bit on a broader canvas too), and try to write a real political manifesto for libraries - not being scared of being political but making the social argument - what can we get people to actually vote for?

Not sure if that makes sense, so please hack it to pieces! 

@shedsue think this may link to the above: RD Lankes arguing, unusually, in favour of the Libraries are Obsolete motion at a recent Oxford style debate

@tomroper There've been a lot of attempts at library manifestos over the years, at various levels of the explicitly political. But I wonder how something meaningful can be constructed at a gathering where few if any library users are present.

@alan_wylie In response to @antlerboy - I don't know of any user groups, campaigners/defenders or authors who believe that libraries should never change but you are right there are lots who'll "fight to the death to keep 'em" As for these "defenders" et al not really speaking for the broad public I think they probably stand a better chance of achieving this than a consultant and a room full of library staff would!

And as for Library Camp writing a political manifesto for libraries I was under the impression that it was neutral and non-political organisation (if such a thing exists!)

@walkyouhome I was under the impression that LibraryCamp isn't an advocacy campaign for libraries, so perhaps this session runs counter to the stated aims of the event.


  1. Well, I did invite people to rip it apart! Clearly some serious rethinking is required - and that RD Lankes piece looks fascinating and requires a really good read.

    @walkyouhome, I commented on @richardveevers definition in the other post that while *librarycamp* is neutral and isn't an advocacy campaign, I don't think that means we all have to be neutral and can't use the container to practice, prepare and hone our advocacy - and be intensely political in our plotting to help libraries assume their powerful place in society ...

    @alan_wylie you're right that the defenders and the public are where it is at right now in terms of saving libraries, but I stand by my thinking that I don't hear *enough* really inspiring things that make me want to get out on the streets and campaign for libraries because of what they can offer (rather than because of what we might lose). There are some - I do think voices for the library do a good job, and I think John Dolan talks a lot of sense - and I know some of the reasons why I'm passionate about libraries personally.

    (And in fact, Alan and Tom, I get most inspired when we are working to engage with the public who, in my experience, don't usually pay any attention to the sterile public opinion but are dead clear in both the positives and the negatives that they see).

    But I don't see that we can do much harm trying to have a bit of debate and boiling down and honing a positive of what we offer, and how we can cleverly mobilise public opinion when we have a roomful of people who care enough to give up a Saturday to talk about what makes libraries great - even staff, and even consultants, are members of the public too :-)

  2. @tomroper Well, there’s no harm in trying is there? I thought the session proposal was similar to the ideas of RD Lankes ( where he talks about moving away from the deficit model when defending libraries and to start to construct more aspirational positive stories. I take your point about library users though, I wish there were more users coming. We make a big effort to attract people who don’t work in libraries, but I think it’s really worth concentrating on attracting more library users next time.

    @alanwylie librarycamp is neutral, it’s just an event, but obviously the attendees aren't going to be politically neutral, well I'd hope not or it might be v boring.

    @walkyouhome Librarycamp isn’t an advocacy campaign for libraries, it’s a day long event, a vehicle for discussion and we can’t start censoring proposals. If campers want to propose a discussion/workshop on library advocacy it’s up to them. If they want to focus on creating aspirational arguments for public libraries I can’t see how that is a bad thing. They might learn a lot. What’s wrong with having a go? It could be good practise for them if they ever have to do something similar for their own libraries.