Thursday 5 April 2012

Public Libraries

Following on from my last blog post, I visited my local Central Library, meeting up with some ex work colleagues from my distant days when I worked for the public library service.  While it was just great to talk about libraries for a few hours (I do feel very alone sometimes being a solo professional librarian in my workplace), I also gained a great insight into how public libraries are transforming their services so as to cater for the technological age, whilst still maintaining their core function, that of lending books which I am so pleased about.  I am writing this blog post during the first week of the Easter holidays; a week in which I have read picture books to my daughter on our Ipad, downloaded e-books onto my Kindle, searched the Internet countless times every day, read the Times every day on the Times app AND visited my local library, borrowing eight books for the family which is a sure sign that libraries and technology can co-exist quite happily.  However, I digress.....

Once we had discussed the current national situation re public libraries, we moved onto to e-resources, looking at the Cyberlibrary (access to hundreds of websites  chosen by librarians and libraries across the south west) and then specifically the online reference tools, available with your library card.  Having agreed to disagree on my personal bugbear, that of schools not being able to have an institution library account to access the online reference information; I acknowledge why footfall is important, especially in the current climate for public libraries, whilst she concedes that she can see how hard it is to encourage students to individually use their public library, we move onto to discussing the migration of many printed sources into e-format.  We mention Encyclopedia Britannica and how it stands up against Wikipedia; both of us are continuing with Britannica for another year to ascertain use before making a decision to continue subscribing.  I am shown unique sources such as the Oxford Digital Reference Shelf including the OE of British Literature, Children's Literature, Maritime History and Theatre and Performance which can be accessed alongside Theory Test Pro, Find My Past and Ancestry Library Edition; the last two being very well used indeed.  My understanding on Ask a Librarian is updated to learn about the Enquire Service; a national service with central libraries across the country each having 4 shifts of 4 hours each every fortnight with online access through the Enquire Qwidget.

Our discussion moved onto ebooks with the public library service here yet to take the final leap re ebooks.  We looked at a neighbouring service's e-book provision with Overdrive and discussed such difficulties as Overdrive not being compatible with Kindle in the UK, and vagaries of publishers such as Harper Collins (26 loans per e-book)and Penguin not allowing any of their e-titles to be purchased by libraries.  My colleague also mentioned a particular missapprehension amongst library users in that they do not realise that a e-book cannot be loaned to two people at once, just like the printed version.  I am going to focus on e-books in more depth in a later blog post, reflecting on the work of librarians such as Nicola McNee (trialling Overdrive in her school library) and Buffy Hamilton's work with Kindles and Nooks in the US and tying into my own initial trials and experiences with e-books. 

We finished the visit with a tour around the Central Library which was of immense interest to me who had worked there for five years before.  I loved the redesign of the Reference Library (still a PATLIB) to include the PCs and quiet reading room adjacent to the Map room, but it was the Lending Library with its reading room, new Children's library, self issue facilities and Enquire pods which made me quite wistful.  I also loved the brand new meeting room (which was once the Local Studies Stack).  As we looked around, I was also interested to hear about the staffing restructure of the previous year which saw all Library Customer Service Assistants (?) having to reapply for their posts and a new initiative in that front line staff in the Central Library moved around the building, gaining valuable experience in both lending and reference services; a move which I applaud as I well remember my difficulties in gaining experience outside of the lending library.  An even more recent restructure has seen the public library service move under the auspices of Leisure and Tourism within the council.

I already follow the Library Service on Twitter and Flickr and look forward to hearing how it continues to develop and enhance its provision in the 21st century.  It will also be interesting to see how the public library service can complement and enhance the service offered by the school LRC.

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