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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Monday, September 25, 2006

    Public libraries: Criticism and CILIP

    Many of us will have read, probably with mounting frustration, the continued attack by Tim Coates on the management and policies surrounding public libraries in the UK. Recently, Richard Charkin of Macmillan Publishers was invited to speak to the National Acquisitions Group during their conference, and he has summarized what he said – and what he has since published in The Bookseller – on his blog. Broadly speaking, he is of one accord with Tim Coates, at least insofar as being appalled by the statistics of decline. Less interestingly, he also has a solution – but that, like the statistics themselves, for which I cannot vouch and which I do not recommend to you in any way other than to suggest that they need investigating and verifying if you are a public librarian, is not the point of this posting.

    Rather, it is to suggest that two things should be happening in the light of the ongoing publication and publicising of this issue; indeed should have been happening for some time now (can CILIP really have failed to comment thus far on the charge that “30% of [public] library buildings are no longer fit for use” (Charkin)?). AND, that they should be happening with high visibility in all the CILIP and library communities, and by all means of publication, both print and electronic.

    1. CILIP should respond in a reasoned and robust way to the charges made. The response should be published widely and be highly visible. It is not sufficient to denigrate the authority, stance or the wisdom of their authors; rather it is necessary to examine the charges – in some detail – and to suggest appropriate ways forward. If, as seems likely, some of the statistics (or at least the trends) given are correct, then CILIP – as the professional body representing public librarians and as advocate for the profession – should be advising on ways to improve or rectify the situation, that is:

    2. CILIP – which rightly makes much of its advocacy role – should advise the Minister, the MLA, and government in general on an appropriate policy to rescue public libraries (I use the term as a generic term as do Richard Charkin and Tim Coates, but perfectly well aware of the successes which exemplify good practice, such as the new library in Brighton which I visited recently). A strategy to “re-establish that the prime objective of libraries is to lend books and [to increase] book stocks” (Charkin) and to spend monies more appropriately than the reported £4m on MLA consultations would be a step in the right direction.

    This is the reason that CILIP members pay their subscriptions – to hear their professional body speak on their behalf. Of course, IF it can be shown that the entire set of statistics, and the premises that result from them, are false then the situation is less serious… BUT we still need to hear from CILIP with a detailed corrective of each and every point.

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