Thursday, October 09, 2008

I despair for my chosen profession, I really do. My professional association, CILIP., the one that sounds like a speech impediment rather than the supposed organisation for librarians in the UK, has looked at the deprofessionalisation of the job in the UK, that increasingly employers in the public sector are not requiring staff at quite high levels not to have any experience, knowledge or even interest in libraries to work there, and decided their bold and innovative reaction to this is to hassle their members more to give them more time and money by being involved in Continual Professional Development and Re-accreditation. This is presumably so I feel good about myself when I've lost my job and the Government forces me to sweep roads in order to get the dole, while the library I currently work in is run by some fourteen-year-old who was able to text 'B∞kz' to the Council Job-Line.

It doesn't do much for my confidence when we get unrestricted bum-gravy like this from Andy Burnham.

"The popular public image of libraries as solemn and sombre places, patrolled by fearsome and formidable staff is decades out of date, but is nonetheless taken for granted by too many people,"...

People would be able to chat, drink coffee and watch videos in English libraries under a new government proposal, The Independent has learnt. Andy Burnham, the Secretary of State for Culture, will today launch a consultation on changing the face of libraries which he believes are out of touch.

Under the proposals, libraries could install coffee franchises, book shops and film centres. Noise bans will also be reviewed. Mr Burnham will tell the Public Library Authorities conference in Liverpool that libraries must "look beyond the bookcase and not sleepwalk into the era of the e-book".

Maybe it's bad copy on the Independent's part, but if there are any legal restrictions on talking, drinking or any other behaviour in public libraries currently they are rarely enforced. There are already libraries with coffee franchises and libraries in proximity to book shops and cinemas. Telling us to 'look beyond the bookcase' betrays an ignorance of what the profession has been doing in partnership with Burnham's own government for the last ten years, let alone wider trends.

And who is he planning on starting a consultation with? Library managers who are busy doing real work? Library users? Or maybe he plans to take a leaf out of the Home Office's book? Just as a lot of Government crime policy is driven by the Daily Mail readers who don't experience crime but are always afraid of it, maybe he'll ask people who have no idea about what libraries actually offer for what they want libraries to be. New Labour consultations never achieve anything. We need public education that we are here, and perhaps if the Government can find money to bail out bankers from their own cock-ups they can find a bit more loose change so that services that actually help the public don't have to cut jobs and close branches that would be a help too. We already do what most people who never use a library actually want us to do already, we could do with being able to tell people that we do it.

Not that I expect anyone who sups at high tables to say that today. Libraries are in the middle of their Five Year Plan so we're probably on course to start the purges of the people holding back the grand vision of the future. I'll see you before the firing squad.

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