Monday 29 April 2013

A tale of two libraries!

Firstly i purposely didn't take any photos of the libraries involved as i don't really want to put staff under undue pressure by me walking about snapping pictures of their libraries and it's not really my intention to name and shame, the issues and problems are much deeper than just that of individual libraries, managers and staff!

Recently i visited two public libraries, both in North London and both run by different authorities, one a central library and one a large branch library.

Let's take the central library first. The library is newly renovated, with several self serve kiosks, new shelving units and a prominent cafe at the front but there were only 3 staff on view and surprisingly none of them were 'floor walking', they were all behind desks dealing with users! The exterior design was of the 'glass box' school and the interior was of the homogenised, design by numbers, retail school! Fine if you like that kind of thing but personally it leaves me cold, i want a library not a dentists waiting room!
The other worrying thing that was instantly noticeable was that the books on the shelves were untidy and there were piles of books waiting to be shelved.
Now the whole management spin surrounding self serve is that it frees up staff time to walk around 'engaging' with the public and i presume tidying shelves and doing other non-mundane desk bound tasks (whatever they may be?)
So why aren't they then? Could it be that users still want to be dealt with at a desk or/and could it be that they are so short staffed that they have to spend most of their time catching up with the backlog of work that's built up due to being so short staffed? Or it is possible that i walked in at the wrong time of the day?

When i first started working in Public Libraries 20+ years ago shelf tidying was drilled into the staff as one of the key duties that must be performed on a daily basis.
Tidying shelves just doesn't mean making them look neat, although that is important, it really means putting the books in alphabetical or numerical order so that the public can find them and staff can trace reserves, inter-library loans etc., it's, or should be, the benchmark of a well managed and properly staffed library.

It's also a possibility that due to changes in the dynamics of some library management and front line staff, less steeped in the methodical traditions and ethos of the profession, that the importance of shelf tidying is not recognised or prioritised as much? But this is just me thinking aloud and could easily be pure hypothesis?

The large Branch Library in the other authority couldn't have been more different. In contrast to the homogenised, impersonal feel of the newly renovated Central Library, this one felt warm, welcoming and well like a proper library! Yes i know my last statement is highly contentious and objective but it's how i felt!
The library interior obviously hadn't been renovated for some years but there were comfy chairs spread around, 5 staff (yes 5!) on view, a proper full size desk, shelves full of books, a music section with vinyl and scores, a teen area, a large separate children's library, a study area, a PC area, in fact everything you could want and need from a library, it was bloody great!
I had a close look at the 'quick ref' stock and although the collection was relatively small it was adequate but the non-fiction collection was comprehensive and there was a good depth to it. There was also some nice displays, the one on 'London in Film' particularly took my eye.

These are just my rambling observations about two libraries but my point about untidy shelves seems to be a worrying trend.

Anyway it's a bloody shame, there is nothing more off putting than walking into an untidy library and it can't be nice to work in one either, soul destroying i would think?

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