Monday, 17 October 2011

The 3 A's: Advocacy, Activism, Articles

I like to think that I do my bit for library advocacy, correcting people when they inevitably go to the twinsetted, hair-in-a-bun, shushing archetype, gently explaining the additional services that a modern library offers (especially when it is staffed with dedicated, well-trained professionals who are confident that they will still have a job next week). I had a stand-up argument with a local councillor at a wedding recently; she was adamant that staffing local libraries with switched-on volunteers instead of 'lazy, bare-minimum' paid staff would, far from being detrimental, help the local community's access to information. I restrained myself from head butting the mother-in-law of the bride, but still regret that we had had this conversation toward the end of the evening, when the demon drink (gin ftw!) had curtailed by debating skillz. Sadly, I am never wholly eloquent in defending public libraries, even when sober; I feel something of a fraud when I do it, because [shock horror] I'm not actually a user of them. The simple fact is that I can get all the resources I require from the library I work in, as well as all the tertiary benefits which public libraries also offer. Others are not so fortunate, but I don't feel comfortable speaking for them. Ultimately, the facilities we are currently in danger of losing (or have already lost) may never be replaced - the time for action is now, but I feel inert.

It's not for me (I'm too reserved to proactively prosthelytise), but good on those who do it. I'm not sure how much of an effect standing around outside libraries with placards or staging a sit-in does, but it does grab some media attention and thus give the cause a little in the way of publicity oxygen. Johanna's article raises excellent points about the merits of advocating, the tangible difference it can make for people and that it does not have to adversely affect your 'day job', but ultimately I simply do not have the energy needed to effectively advocate for public libraries, particularly given my lapsed use of them.

I suppose that attending events outside of the profession and pitching for ways in which the library can contribute is a (weak) form of activism; in this vein, I recently attending a symposium on Student Writing in Transition, focused on school/FE to HE transitions, the academic skills which are required at HE level and the transitional support offered to incoming students. This was mainly attended by academics and learning development-focused support staff (though there were a few other librarians there, and induction falls within the remit of a Libraries and Learning Resources team here at NTU); hardly an escape from the echo chamber, but I did manage to talk to a few people about our front-line experiences with the level of student academic skills and transferable information literacies, and how library services can further support development in these areas.

This does not concern articles per se, but it does reflect professional writing so may merit inclusion here. A chance encounter with this blog by a third party led to my line manager's boss becoming aware of its existence and browsing its contents (looking for reasons to fire me, no doubt!). She noticed that I was soon to attend Library Camp and asked me to take some notes on what I learnt and engaged with on the day to inform an exercise which she was completing looking at what other information services were doing. I duly produced prĂ©cis reports of the sessions I attended and broad-strokes comments about the themes and foci of the day (which will eventually become blog posts themselves, but there's a certain amount of re-editing to do there!), which were presented during the horizon-scanning reporting session and generally well-received. In short, what began as futile screaming into the void has yielded a tangible benefit and increased my professional visibility in the workplace. Was this a positive thing? We'll have to wait and see...

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