Saturday, 22 October 2011

LibCampUK11 Session 1: Real social networks

The first session I attended was on real social networks, as we started to get into the discussion I did get a feeling that I hadn’t picked the right session for me, as it was predominantly based towards public libraries, which I know very little about.  But I stayed with it because I felt one of the advantages of Library Camp was the opportunity to learn about other sectors, and I’m glad I did because it turned out to be very interesting.

The purpose of the session was to discuss some of the ways in which libraries can connect more with their communities.  Some good points were made about how differently patrons view their branch libraries compared to central ones.  Apparently many people feel more comfortable talking to their branch librarian than to staff in a central library because they often find the environment intimidating.  There seemed to be a perception from users that as central libraries were much busier, they might be bothering them, whereas a branch library tends to be much quieter so it wasn't so much of an issue.
A number of people shared their experiences of using the British Library, particularly some examples of poor service they had received.  It really highlighted how it only takes one bad experience, amongst many otherwise good ones, to put you off and that it's the bad memories that people are more likely to remember!

Some of the conclusions made at the end of the session included;
    Courtesy of @pigsonthewing
  • Stop focusing so much on the stats – but as one public librarian pointed out, this is easier said than done, if higher management use those stats to decide whether to continue with the service or not
  • Highlight that online use is still using the library as much as physical visits – again it was pointed out that physical visits can be more important because they justify having a library building.
  • Encourage book groups in the library as a way of getting people to socialise - here the problems of space were discussed, a story was told of a book group being asked not to use the library any more as it was getting too large for them to accommodate.  It was also pointed out how successful Birmingham book groups held in coffee shops were because people like the atmosphere.  However, a lot of discussion followed about the difficulties of outreach work, because they don’t add to physical footfall in the library space.
  • Remove social media blocks on library staff computers – this led to lots of horror stories about people having to run Twitter posts past line managers before posting them, which was time consuming and rather defeats the purpose.  Also of library staff wanting to update the library Facebook pages, but having to use the public computers because access to social media sites is blocked on the staff ones.
  • Librarians need to get involved in the designing of space when refurbishing/building a library – again this led to stories of buildings designed with little regard for how they will actually be used.  And that certain well used elements can often be off putting to patrons, for example security barriers, which are not a very welcoming entry to the library.  There were some interesting examples of successfully combining a library with an additional service (e.g. community centre) in the same building.  One example was of an after school club being led into the library to see books they had been discussing in their session, and another example was the success of placing the library in a shopping centre.
  • Be friendly and human - some people pointed out that if staff look too busy then people feel uncomfortable approaching them.  An example was given of a library that employs volunteers to go around welcoming people as a way to combat that problem.
By the end of the session I was starting to feel a bit (guiltily) relived that I don’t work in a public library.  Although we all have limitations on what we can do, there does seem to be a very significant divide between what public library staff (or at least those staff that were at Library Camp) want to offer to their patrons, and what they are actually able to provide within the limits of their organisation.  It was a bit disheartening to think that one of the more visible sectors of our profession is in many cases powerless to affect the changes they want to in order to meet the needs of their community.  I just got the impression that whenever they wanted to implement any changes (big or small) too many bureaucratic barriers were placed in their way.  It was definitely a real eye opener for me in that regard, and I'd be interested to hear if that has been other peoples experience.

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