library management: a monarchical approach, or how Umberto stole my library

It is with a great sense of goosebumps that I begin this post, because it is time travel, the long way round. 

I started this post with this title back in 2014/2015 December/January and it lay fallow for a while because I was dealing with 'stuff' (as you know by now 'stuff' is a technical term for...  stuff)
Now fast forward to this brief port of calm before the terror inducing work of university and actual Work shuffle my brain off - I find myself looking at this title and what's left of the body of the post below and freaking out, because: at the "the mountain place" we discussed this. The similarities between monarchy and library leadership structures, the Librarian Queen or King if you will, who rules all with a wave of her OR his inherently-granted-to-them-by-the-divine right-of-knowledge-management-and-accession-control, er...hands, are not lost upon me, as evidenced by the The Most Boring Book in the World© OR The Most Cleverest Book in the World© , which is same book.
Now that run-on sentence was epic even for me, so let me rewind it a bit and start at the start with the help of visual aids and more words.


If you were to look up Library Management on Google, sift through all the stuff on technical whatsits and doohickeys, you would find nothing on managing people who work in a library.
Here and there you'd find some reference to catalogers but they pretty much manage themselves as long as you don't take away their coffee and listen to them moan about the awful state of the AACR Standards (which is like normal cataloging standards but with less Dewey).
Managing librarians, who are actually people, is something that falls under the general business practice of "managing people". This practice usually goes hand in hand with a set of rules, methodologies and skill set that helps the Manager...
to manage...
"the people" effectively. 
(Um, so everyone got that.)

There are common competencies and skills that one needs to be an effective manager, some are terse some are flowery but they break down quite nicely into these:  
Critical Thinking
Diversity Awareness
Emotional Intelligence

For a further breakdown of what all these mean go here

At its most basic these competencies are translatable to most industries and jobs, perhaps with notable exceptions like being the Head of a Crime family, or Crocodile washer but most industries that keep office hours, and have an office or only exist inside of the Viagra addled mind of an Octogenarian dealing with his library problems, adhere to these competencies that define a good manager.

So if this is the competencies that create the good manager within an organization, it stands to reason the organization will cultivate these competencies to create an awesome batmanesque manager of people and processes (or people who ARE the processes) for the good of the organization. Even the most egregious CEO (Donald J. is that you?) will make sure he has a corporate structure, a plan, a framework, a design drawn on the back of a crusty napkin that creates this golden God of a manager. (Or Bat..er manager)

Now we come to libraries. (Please put on your rubber gloves and electrically insulating outer wear due to the random lightning strikes from up high - Once again this my opinion based on "not facts.")

Beardy McBeardysonn and noted author, Umberto Eco, wrote a book called the Name of the Rose. 
He wrote this book on purpose to be a murder mystery at an abbey in the middle ages. He gifted us with a Sherlockian hero, who was British and spoke English until Sean Connery played him in the movie, and then it wasn't English but Scotchish. 

The book was a success, the movie was a success - which is all fine and well when you realise that the stupid book is written to be impenetrable, the last thing you want in a  murder mystery. 
                                                          In fact the book is this:

"So the author's making fun of his readers then," someone might say. "Tons of authors do that."
"Yes they do." I would say back in a smarmy know it all sing-songy voice.
"But really, dear reader type person that only exists in my head - to illustrate this point, you're not looking closer at all, and I really expected more of you, you're a terrible disappointment."
Reader Type Person T.E.O.I.M.H.: Hang on. I only have half the facts here, and you haven't been particularly helpful with explaining, so don't blame me for not being quick, if you're withholding all the information.

 Me: Fine.....I'll explain. But the disappointment still stands.

Using the video as model (required watching now, I would think): The Taunter is the Book, and the idiots outside the walls all tired, bedraggled and flinching from the cows being thrown at them, are Librarians.

(Insert humorous picture here of someone saying Sacre Bleu)

(Thank you)

Eco has this beef with Librarians which he uses Name of the Rose to discuss: 

In the book the librarians are hoarders
Hoarders of knowledge and the power that knowledge gives.
Hoarders of secrets, to maintain that power, and;
Hoarders of their own interests, to maintain their status within the power/knowledge structure. 

Its not a pretty picture, when you deal with the relationship structures which Eco most undoubtedly thinks is standard for a library. In fact it becomes downright horrific; Younger assistant librarians are seen as clueless, and needing to be managed to protect them from themselves because new ideas are blasphemy and advancement only comes at the price of buying into the status quo defined by the Librarian (management).

And even when one tries to fall back on the grand idea of libraries of places of accessibility to knowledge, if you can decipher the signs and know which aisle to walk down, guess again. The library in the book is a labyrinth, (they call it the labyrinth - for pete's sake) and it has its own weird system that is gibberish unless you have a map, which only the librarian has - in his head.
No open inviting place of knowledge exists in the book - its consumed by this cathedral that is designed to keep you confused.

Which brings us to the last little f-you that Eco has for librarians; 
Library Management.
None of this hideous power structure, or status quo-ness or hoarding exists without maintenance and upkeep by people with vested interest to keep everything so ridiculously shitty - is what Eco is saying without the sweary bits.

The Librarian, as authority that controls all the  bits that keep the wheels turning to ensure he stays on top is Eco thinking that librarians are micro managing little monarchs with our divine right of authority given to us by our ability to keep people away from information and knowledge.

Historically that didn't work out so well.

Eco puts the boot in and keeps it on the neck until we librarians, can't stop squirming away.

The final chapters of the book end with a fire, the antithesis to what libraries stand for, our elemental Moriarty. The fire scours the Abbey and its contents reducing our hero to tears.
You can't help but wonder if Eco thinks libraries deserve to be destroyed by fire.
However the image of fire as destroyer is also profoundly counterpointed in mankind's history as the fire of creation, the light of wisdom ( a fire that doesn't destroy but illuminates).
Hmmm. (This is not an essay and I can say hmmm if I want to.)
Where was I.
Library management. 
The irony of the book is that the fire was caused by the Librarian, in his attempt to maintain his power and his control of  knowledge (of the library and of the magical MacGuffin - a prized book.)

What's striking about the old blind villainous (spoilers - believe me, you'll never get to the end, I'm doing you a favour. After all I know what's best - I'm a librarian.) librarian is that he creates and maintain his power by recruiting those who are believers in his ideology. 

That is a powerful thing, perhaps more so than his total control of the library and its knowledge, he also controls the people that maintain that power.

William Butler Yeats offers up the words that describes the erosion of authority, divine or otherwise: "The center cannot hold"
Well it bloody well can if you have more than one person holding it in place.
The old blind bad guy librarian maintains his people by their belief in his ideology, his belief in control and maintaining the  status quo so his little mini-me's can maintain it after he is gone. Which is how monarchies are built and should be completely irrelevant to how a library functions. Right?

So here come's the thing.
Its a small thing but not so so small that it won't echo a bit.
Eco thinks this of all libraries, and librarians:

         " Eco's complaints range from the peevish to the profound, from the sometimes
            impossible length of call numbers and the absence or inaccessibility of library
            photocopiers to the latent hostility he perceives in librarians towards the patron ("an
and potential thief"), or the fact that librarians and not actual users determine
            subject headings under which ultimately the user, often an expert in the field, must
            search for books [8, pp. 240-42]. As one  reads "De Bibliotheca," it is easy to 
            imagine Eco, standing impatiently in some long line at the library circulation desk,
            brooding darkly over the details of the library dystopia ("a good library in the sense of
            a bad library") that we finally meet full blown in The Name of the Rose [8, p. 240]. "
                                      (Taken from Jeffrey Garrett's Article, Missing the Eco. On Reading"The
                                        Name of the Rose" As Library Criticism)

We make our own bad librarians, who build bad infrastructure that warps away good infrastructure that induces competencies that erode while we stand behind that desk.
Like damaged "children" we bequeath our worse traits to our assistants who become librarians and management who in turn for good or ill create their own damaged "offspring".

              "Librarians, Eco is telling us, may fall victim to the same temptations that other 
                mortals might. They may attempt to hide behind their professional
                credentials. They may seek to create a mystery about themselves
                to put the performance of their duties beyond question to outsiders.
                They may react in fear and destructively in times of change. And, above
                all, they themselves may not perceive the contradiction of their ways."

                 (Taken from Jeffrey Garrett's Article, Missing the Eco. On
                   Reading "The Name of the Rose" As Library Criticism)

And unless the library as an organization draws a line and says no, these are not the values that make us librarians, we are not mired in confusing labyrinthine rules enforced by a monarch that resides in an office away from the people that ask us to make things just a little bit easier them.

If  these things:

Critical Thinking
Diversity Awareness
Emotional Intelligence

which define good common management practices in a real tangible way are subsumed by a status quo, that is irrelevant, illogical and ideologically bound to hiding the damaged "children" in the cracks of a limping library service, well then, like Eco suggests perhaps we should just burn it down and start again.



in the dark place, or adventures in higher education

Its inevitable higher learning will get you in the end despite your rationalizations of  "I don't need it, I'd rather catch a venereal disease than go back to University or College".
 My excuse is little less melodramatic. 
I went because it was free and I really actually wanted to know if there is something beyond the boundaries of the public library desk.
This presented a problem; 
one) it meant leaving the comfort zone of the public library and its warm but dust covered embrace. 
two) a bit more prosaic - I would have to admit that I did in fact not know everything there is to know about librarianship and the practicing thereof. 

Admittedly my experience was entirely practical, based on real world experience but a little theory to sharpen the skills wouldn't hurt.
 So like in most kung-fu flicks where the hero has to check his ego if he wanted to learn something, I resolved to be an empty vessel and allow a higher learning institution to fill my possible leaky, definitely rusty cup. 

Which brings us to number three) the brain fart can be a wonderful thing. 

Its the wrong headed decision that can yield surprising results in both a positive and negative way. At one point people called it serendipity but really, the word is way to long and melodic to exist outside an Ed Sheeran song, so brain fart it is. 
The brain fart was That-Place-on-the-Mountain - and yes it is actually built on a mountain as the quiver in my knees, legs and back can well bear witness too in front of a court of law. 

That Place has a good library school that specializes in heaps, oodles, googles of academic research in the field of librarian stuff. I hated it immediately.
 I was the plucky first mate on the good ship Public Library and here came an upstart Captain who had only sailed briefly when he fell back onto a boogie board in the family swimming pool. 

At registration, everyone was annoyingly jovial and downright friendly devoid of the snobbery that one would expect from people who worked that close to The Mountain.
To my horror, the jovial friendly air continued well past registration and into the first week of classes. 

This wouldn't, couldn't stand.
 So now I shall endeavor to recap (slightly) some of the things I've learnt in the hopes of detecting any "Let's teach the Public Librarian the wrong things" shenanigans. 


This weeks classes dealt with the research process, and the research problem. Now research to me is the problem, however the word problem here just means trying to find out the root  cause of an occurrence through an empirical means of collecting data and information to come too some sort of answer.

(Really it seemed quite straight forward, except the part where I think dialectic methods of instruction should just replace writing stuff down but that's just me being picky.)

The second lot of classes all focused on identifying documented and undocumented information sources, and testing the ability of a catalog to display the necessary information that will make you sleep all warm and fuzzy because what the catalog told you was that this reference source was totally ok, and had not contracted ebola at all. 

 That little exercise is up a public librarians alley and right on the dinner table - we live and die by our choices; that fraction of time spent looking up a book for someone, means that your brain has to check the edition, publication date, publisher and when it last circulated has to contend with a queue of borrowers who also want their time with you, the faster you move, the  more harmonious your interactions. More harmoniousness is one thing librarians would like to have tattooed on their bodies but we're just fraidy cats about that sort of thing. 

The week ended with a rather animated decision about copyright - Good God, what is it good for?!
The protections that copyright afford printed media is absolute except for mucking around from the big corps when copyrights lapse but other than that, regular people have fair use to copyrighted materials  without selling your arm, or banking on Cousin Clara's musical talent in Idols.
 Copyright is lovely when you have words on actual paper, the problem arises when those words sit on a database somewhere, behind a firewall that requires Cousin Clara's kidney's. 
Digital Rights Managment Systems, pay to enter firewalls and licensing fee's are the gatekeepers to authoritative research, and if your don't have the means to circumvent these protections ie. money, you will not be producing the next miracle polymer that can turn sweat into Chanel no 5. 

Ugh. I hate it. I hate the fact that South Africa has to pay to jump through the hoops when it comes to digital information like journals and eBooks.  It galls me that licensing costs are so high, and they are clearly a major factor world wide for public libraries. In South Africa, the licensing cost for one best selling author could run a library for about a year, or so I was told.....By someone else that does not work for the local authority. Honest

All in all the week was against my better wishes: enlightening. I await next week - where there will be rertorts, rebarbs and sharp witticism flung to put the ineptly schooled students in our place. Please?


lost in translation, or destroy all jargon fiends

Librarians love Jargon.
Its the cream cheese icing to our red velvet cake of organizational policy and process.
Take for instant the word “accession" - a perfect example of how librarians love the Jargon.
Under normal circumstances the word would mean attaining a position of rank that is far superior to the one you had before. In Librarian lingo, it means to record the details of an item to a catalog. 
(oooh, there's that tingle!)
Along with accession, we have “dewey” or “DDC”, “Ref interview”, “The Catalogue” (“the” is required because the catalog is considered to  be slightly less holier than “The” Pope)  “End User” “Outreach” “OPAC” “Fiction” “Non Fiction” “Study Collection”
There are much more of these little jargon fiends that creep into the brain and pretend they’re normal words to our librarian eyes but contrary to popular belief, a “borrower” doesn’t know what the heck an OPAC is.
And if you give them a Dewey number, you better give them a map, a GPS and a magic crystal to find their way back from Narnia.
The Jargon fiend words are the pits because they indulge their existence by making us feel important for knowing them. It is important that we know these things but its not good to inflict them on our public.
To prevent us (Librarian Jargon aficionado's) from sneaking in jargon fiend words with your dialogue with the public, I suggest the following:
Find in your library anything that is Jargon that you are using to communicate with patrons.
If that communication contains a jargon fiend word without an explanation - take it out and use the explanation instead.
For Example: if OPAC is stuck on the public access PC, remove it and replace with a “Find what you’re looking for, over here.”
Now if you’re doing this sort of thing already, well then good for you, and apologies for the completely obvious observations. 
However might I suggest then that you go to your shelves, find the non fiction section, go to the nearest book about birds, find the label on the spine, look at it with the intent  and purpose and then ask loudly:  “Just how easy are you to find?”
If you get no response from the book in question, that is in fact okay. You can image an answer and it will go like this:
”To find me, someone has to find out what your hours are, then come into the library, decipher whatever signage is on a wall trying to explain Dewey. Then get it completely wrong. Go to the desk, stand in the line to ask for the book they’re looking for. Have the librarian explain its in the library and attached to this funny little number. The person goes back to the funny sign to decipher the funny number, before looking through all the books in the section called “study collection” completely not finding me. 
At this point the patron is confused, angry and just a bit pissed and instead opts to wait in line at Smartcape to look up the information I contain on Wikipedia. While I remain unloved, untaken  and universally wondering WTF Dewey!”
 "Sometimes its hard to admit its over".

The last thing the book says before we turn our imaginings elsewhere is:
“Sigh. Maybe an app could help”

So if you have wondering tribes of searching patrons getting lost amongst your shelves, or your Smart cape is bursting at the seams  with users wanting information, consider that your worst enemy might be your best friends: Dewey and his Jargon ilk.


The 2015 One

This is the 2015 blog.
The first one for the year. It should be all those noble and inspiring things that speak of the untapped potential of a blooming year that is too yield a bountiful harvest.
Not so much.
South African Library land is not having a good year - yes it started only 20 days ago, and No, I am not being a Debbie Downer. 

The problems that have come over from 2014 are to whit:
Budgetary Constraints 
(Constraint being a similar word to FUBAR but with less implied swearing.)
(A change thereof that has yielded less than positive synergistic flow amongst the human resources - "euphemistically" speaking. Yes I know putting quotation marks on a derivation of the word euphemism is unreasonably smarmy.)
(That thing that Einstein and Hawking said exists only in our minds but is a neuroses shared by all.)
But the icing on the cake is the foretold venturing into "that place" on the Mountain that produces librarians. 
I'm going there.
And the Universe proves once again that its sense of humor is greater than the amount of chess moves in existence
Pity party over.
Librarians rebound well.

Highlights for 2015 will include the IFLA Conference in Cape Town -  where I will do an interpretive dance explaining Information Literacy. However since there is a codicil in the Constitution (under the Thou Shall Not Boogie Down clause) that prevents me from dancing, the steps will be taken up my bosses boss, MC Funky De Walt, who will wax lyrical about Information Literacy while Krumping

Minor Events include Library Week, a marathon orientation session for a whole school and slowly not losing my mind while trying the raise the flagship Information Literacy in Libraries all over Cape Town. All the while, walking within the dark place all by myself.

So 2015, perhaps not like 2014, but nevertheless still filled with fruity potential for shenanigans and hair raising adventure in librarianship.

Watch this space.


More than Words or Between the Gush and the Cold Place

Quick. Someone asked you to name your top 5 favorite books. 
The adrenalin starts to pump for no apparent reason. Your brain releases a Dopamine Seratonin and Endorphin Cocktail. The grey masses that govern logic and creativity synch together under the blissful gaze of your amygdala as it too joins the party.

The lists appears in your pre-frontal cortex, sparks of pleasure behind each one listed in your perfect top 5 order. And following the 5 nanoseconds of time that has passed, you gush forth your top 5 list and its sounds like this:


Thing is, asking someone for their top 5 list of anything and you going to get the enthusiasm and passion wrapped in a mass of words that might not make much sense to you, the asker of the question.
And if you, the asker of the question, is someone who can relate and decipher the word gush, then your question is asked from a point of understanding of the context from which your askee is answering the question. Basically, you know what the hell he's talking about.

But if someone who's background  and context is as far removed from yours, that it might as well be on Pluto, asks you a brain engaging question like the one I posed, you would want to  put your answers in a context they would understand. The word gush would just alienate our Plutonese question asker. 

The narrow path through the valley of segues is this:
As a librarian when someone asks me  for my favorite books, I'm going to speak in a language they understand, without a) making sound effects and b)talking till their eyes glaze over.

Usually when someone does ask for an opinion of a book, they are looking more than just the standard "good" "super crap" answers, they are looking for bountiful and nourishing depth. But conversely they want something short of a full first hand account of the storyline, and the nitty gritty specifics of what is happening in the book. 
In short, they want a giggle, some encouraging words and little bit of flesh but never the full monty. 

Its a skill, something that is touched on in librarian training through book review training and book appreciation training, but requires the personal touch of a 'live' interaction. These interactions help you gauge the way a patron will react to your words through their body language or their blanket refusals while making "I'm going to kill you" gestures.
Really, its something you have to see experience in order to be better and not to misread situations like offering a priest, Fifty Shades of Grey.

The caramel center of my little piece of mind pie, lies in the interactions I witnessed when asked to appear on a panel to discuss science fiction and fantasy. 
What my favorite SF and Fantasy novel were.

I love talking about the things I love but I learnt long time ago, you have to speak about these things to other people, as if they were from Pluto. You would have to remove all the feel good brain chemistry and steer it in a direction that empowers your ability to communicate rather than your enthusiasm. Perhaps finding a happy middle between the two. 

So I stressed about this panel.

How on earth do I find that happy middle ground between the Gush and Cold Analysis? It also didn't help that the people I was talking too were other librarians who had no knowledge of SF or Fantasy. (The closest  they may have come to the genre was perhaps ignoring Lord of the Rings on tv, or hearing about that weird Game of Thrones show, with the really hot guy.)

My expectations got the better of me and I succumbed to writing down the things that I wanted to say. And when it was all their on black and white, I realised that if I ever tried to tell a patron about these books they would look at me, and then run for the hills in the face of my gushing. 

So I tried again.
I endeavoured to find that book (or books) that occupied the venn diagram of favourite but also good for a novice reader. And attached with these choices had to be a "why" great than "because it has magic in it".
It was hard, but I did it. 

So clutching the paper against my breast, I ventured to that place beyond the Curtain of Spiced Meats stuffed in the Intestinal Casing of a Sheep, to tell the people what they needed to heed. 

T'was 5 of us that sat at the table, facing our fellows, awaiting their baleful questioning arrows. 
The Good Lady Cheryl made her mighty presentation, and we watched and listened for.......
it was mighty and we learned much. 

When the words stilled on her lips, her gaze  fell on me, and with pointed finger said:
"Speak unto the throng so that they might hear your words of wisdom."

I verily almost shat myself but rallied to speak thus unto the assembled hordes of Book Warriors:

"SF and Fantasy for me, embodies the concept of telling a story.(Wave hands) Within the pages of a Fantasy or SF books you find whole universes created by the will and imagination of the story teller;  And it’s a wonderful experience to walk through those worlds and be excited, and awed by the reading of it. (Nod head, sagely)

So the books I have chosen have made me feel that excitement and have engrossed me fully pulling me away from those things that steal your time so effectively. (Mime sending a text)
I have also chose these books because I have recommended these to patrons and have gotten positive responses, but I have taken into account the popular and critical responses for these authors as well in my decision making processes.
These are my guiding principles." (Make Amen hands)

I spoke the hallowed names of the scribes I had chosen,  singing a song of greatness for the words written in their mighty tomes. The Hordes nodded and rebutted with questions which was totally my bad, for I had not enunciated properly when I started.  But for ought I had stressed, for the information flowed with neither Gush or Coldness but through that happy place of Middle Ground.

My colleague to my left, then took up the message and from his words (that he took from an article he had written some years ago. Humph) flowed the love of the stories and the magic they could bring. With wonder he started and with wonderful words he ended. 

Then, to the amazement of others and the astonishment of the Librarian Horde before us the second companion to my left took from his pocket a magic device and plugged it into a thing that projects image against a wall and thus we saw moving images of ......films with robots and stuff blowing up. 
But nay, despite the lack of sound, we found much pleasure to be geeked at. 

Then spoke another, with words that mesmerized for all the wrong reasons because  people started glazing over.
And then more speaking:


By the time it got to the fifth person, the damage was done. The audience was in fact dead. 

But lo, soon they were revived by cookies, tea and coffee but they were just merely ghosts getting ready to leave, not the fresh faced human beings we started out with. 

The talk I was looking for didn't materialize, and I can't put the blame on my colleague, from his perspective he was knowledgeable of the genre and could speak about it with authority and at length, with sound effects.  I just expected a little more from everyone. (Yes even myself.)

On my way back, thinking about the things said (and left unsaid), I came to this cold comfort of a conclusion. 
The three components that make up effective communication Sender - Message - Receiver work best if all participants are aware of the fourth component: Response.
Because that's how Dialogue is made.



Going to the Matresses - 15th LIASA Conference, Day 2

The time of the 'new' librarian has come, and it isn't us. (Us being public librarians)
UCTLiS in the first presentation of the day called for the emergence/creation/the need for this 'new' librarian that is all singing, all dancing and ready to research and produce academic papers at the drop of a ha...book. The new librarian will be immensely employable because he will embody the things that UCT and Academic Librarians value most, the ability to make the Library School look really good. 

Ok, now that it's out of my system. 
Let's begin again.

Public Librarians are not new librarians, the context in which we work are not conducive to creating these academic papers which UCTLIS puts so much faith in. That's not to stay there isn't a passion and interest for public librarians to write papers, its just not an easy thing to bloody do and everybody thinks that it is!

The Challenges that my colleagues so easily think can be vaulted with good intent and spindly legs of wishful thinking are myriad; the red tape quagmire of the local authority, HR practices that are designed for the whole organization not just one  department thus limiting what staff can do, the lack of any sort of training or retraining in research methodology due to lack of funds for training by the local authority and a general apathy from Library Management.
Furthermore, if the LIS schools (like UCT) haven't priced themselves out of being helpful, it would be feasible to have research methodologies and all the skills that produce viable research on the Work Skills plan of the Local Authority's training interventions.  

The challenges that need overcoming require concerted effort and force of will to work through  and it cannot be done alone, stakeholders who are WILLING to participate and agree that the end result of educating and training a librarian isn't a piece of paper that makes the department look good, but rather, its BUILDING  a librarian. Not a new librarian, or an old librarian, just a librarian with potential to do...

 "going to the matresses"

The Sobering Thought, or That Sinking Feeling - 15th LIASA Conference, Day 1

The truth is this....
I don't think Cape Town has the best library service in the country any more.
I've declared it quite loudly on twitter, and have had enthusiastic kudos which I freely admit I reveled in like a large mammal in an appropriately matching habitat. 
But my bubble has been irrevocably burst by the Liasa Conference Plenary session number 2 (plug: Number Two is always better that One).
And the burster of said bubble is the Kwa-Zulu Natal Public Library Service.

So how did they do it, you might ask? Well they didn't use a long pointy stick.
The did it by being librarians. And:
Opening new beautiful libraries that are each unique and distinct.

With Books, and staff.
Revamping old libraries into spaces conducive to studying.

Free Internet, with assisting assistants.
Coming to 'terms' with the Local Authority in a responsible adult-like manner.
Meeting users needs, which translates to play area's for job seekers with kids, educational toys to encourage skills development and *sigh* consoles (Nintendo Wii etc)

Granted all these things do not add up to 'We are not the best anymore.'  No, what adds up to 'We are not the best anymore' is the fact that there are queues of kids and parents waiting to get into the libraries.
People queuing to get into libraries not because its opening time but because the inside is that busy!

The local libraries in this province are  not as busy as they once were, local librarians have indicated that they've seen a significant drop of patronage and in the light of KZN's successes when we have the same resources at our disposal, its making me ponder a few things:
Why was there only one library built in the last 5 years in this Province?
Did we lose our drive when we stopped needing to justify our existence to the Local Authority?
Do we now just do the things we do, to tick of the little boxes and collect the pay at the end of the month?
Has strong leadership and an adherence to Local Authority dogma stifled all creativity and passion in the rank and file?

Hopefully by the end of the conference I will get these answers, but it still doesn't change the fact that we are not the best Public Library Service in Cape Town anymore.



The Politics of the Librarian, or the Identity Crisis - 15th LIASA Conference Day 1

Its like I never left....

Yes more than 5 years have passed since the last conference I attended, and things have changed significantly.
We have Twitter now.
We still have Facebook but its not as cool as it was.
E-readers are not the pipe dream of a few academic librarians.
And Public Librarians are still manning (or woman-ning) battle lines against illiteracy and ignorance. 
For all the things that have stayed the same, Public Librarians have changed. In Cape Town the Public Library service has found a stability in its practices that only strong leadership and foresight could bring. And who doesn't love us, with our books and  free internet access?

Well the people of Ratanda in the Westonaria municipality in Gauteng certainly didn't like us last year. (Click here.) 
 In a display of frustration at the lack of service delivery, the people burnt the library down and the librarians went into hiding for fear of attacks against their houses. The people of Ratanda were definintely not loving us.

As a topic to spark a discussion in the one of the interesting plenary sessions, its certainly set my brain a-tingle. The people of Ratanda weren't burning down a library, they were burning down a building of the local municipality and targeting the workers of that building. To the people of Ratanda, the noble intent of librarians didn't mean a thing because all they saw was the corporate image of an organization that was making their lives literally stink of crap.

When I walk into my library, I know I'm a librarian. I have the tag, the designation on my payslip, the people that take out books and visit the internet all know me and name as  Librarian. But I can't help but be aware that the tag has a logo on it, the sign out front loudly proclaiming that the building you stepping into is a library is the same plain carbon copy of the plaque that adorns all the other buildings in the City, the tariffs that indicate what I charge as fees and penalties all have that logo affixed to it, and that little doubt that I have, is slightly less worrisome when I look at that payslip with its logo. 

 Lyn Steyn,  when she was Ruler of Fish Hoek Library, stated quite vehemently that she felt that a Corporate Image and the drive to sterile same-ness was stripping away the character of the Public Library Service in Cape Town, till we just became another department that gave books to people, interchangeable from the Valuations department. I scoffed, because the Library Department had always been on the outside of the behemoth that was the Local Authority, and conformity was a small price to pay for a seat at the grown ups table.  But here's the thing, when Ratanda Library burned all they saw was a way to hurt the municipality for crappy service. They didn't see the books, they didn't see the kids reading, or the helpful librarian they only saw the logo, and decided to punish it. 

A public library serves the public's need, so what if the public only sees you as a logo? What then? Do you have the right, to throw off those local authority shackles and take on a situation you know is unfair? Are we Local Authority employees first and Librarians second?

If we are Librarians first then we need to recognize that the burning mob is someone that was pushed that far by the indifferent treatment of the "Logo".  If we are Librarians first we need to make sure that our patrons know that we are MORE than the "Logo", better than even. If we are Librarians first, we need to look at these "Logo" rules, regulations and decided what will make my patrons experience just that little bit better in these harsh times. 
If we are a Librarians first, we serve our communities needs first, and corporate interests second.
Perhaps it will be enough to halt the flames.
Perhaps it will be enough to prevent standing in front of a smoldering pile of ashes.


Sex and The Librarian

and the Librarian.

(This is not a Haiku)

Trying to put those two images into the same mental space will give you a number of responses depending on what perspective you’re looking from.

If you’re a random average member of the public, going by stereotypes and lack of any realistic depictions of a librarian, you could probably gravitate towards the rather succinct response of: "EW."
If you’re a random  average academic librarian,  you would mutter something incomprehensible about undergraduate students not wearing appropriate clothing or bothering you with, *shudder* skin exposed, and go have a quiet cup of tea in the office while ruminating over Dickinson and a crossword.
If you’re a random average public librarian you would….NOT talk about it?!

I'm surprised (And not in a "Guess what I have on under my overcoat kind of way" either.)*

Riding the desk is part of the job description, and said Riding requires dealing with the public’s queries on books we may or may not have. (We don’t have those fancy separate information desk thingies. We have one desk for EVERYTHING, cos that’s how we ride…er roll.) Questions about the general whereabouts of books like The Joys of Sex, the Kama Sutra,  and books with information on specific Body Changes, Mens/Womens’ Plumbing issues that have nothing to do with household maintenance, are all dealt with in a professional and non judgey manner. Similarly, the books from the Romance section whose authors have names like Christine Feehan, J.R Ward and Nina Bangs. (I didn’t make up that last one.) I, as well as my colleagues can give a fair appraisal of whether a book has more or less Bang within its pages. Sex and the Librarian in a purely bibliographic way is something librarians can comment on in a professional and sober manner.

But something happened.

To find out what let us
again consider the mental landscape of Sex and the Librarian, now shove in Fifty Shades of Grey.
What’s your mental landscape looking like now?
If you’re a random average member of the public, the "EW" would have some chains and  a safeword.
If you’re a Academic librarian, there would be a shot of something strong in your cup of tea, along with a few exclaimed "Good Lords" to punctuate your heightened.... engrossment in the book. (Although publicly you would denounce it as filth of the highest order and chastise the younger academic librarians and shelving minions for reading it, and possibly start using safe words in staff meetings.)

If you’re an random average librarian (that reads, and you are not undead) you would devolve into a 1950’s housefrau  or a giggly (tee-hee) teenaged girl who just found out that the birds and bees had nothing to do with fauna or flora, and that storks play no part in anything except  to crap on lawns.

Somehow Fifty Shades has reduced  public librarians into the worst possible version of our species (Bibliopithicus Hominis Erectus). Libraries were pathetically slow on the uptake when the book started appearing in international news, like they were hoping this was just some bad sweaty dream, and then when Fifty Shades landed and borrowers curiousity were all aflame, a handful of libraries (5 and less) started actively promoting it and now finally after months of circulating, we have some libraries seemingly reluctant to still stock it or replace worn copies and (shock, horror, gasp) even talk about it. And not talk in any particular meaningful way a person who has never even heard of Bondage, Domination and Sado-machochism would probably would WANT to talk about.

No this was more of a none committal grunt response to a borrowers question of: “So dear librarian, have you read the book? What do you think?”

Hardly a salacious question for such a response, nor one that dwells outside the realm of professional conduct like, for examples: “What colour are your leather straps?” or “Are you a left handed whipper or a right handed?”

So can we say that librarians and sex is the vanilla experience of good customer interaction, its when you add the chocolate of bondage (tempered by our ties to our morales perhaps) that we falter in the vigorous practices of our good customer service.

Good thing this was only a once off occurrence, publisher surely couldn’t be publishing more of the same.


Oh crap.

There goes the Customer Service.
(Is that the gnashing teeth of hausfrau librarians and the tee-hee of wallflower librarians I hear?)

*The latest Pratchett kept dry from the rain, hence the overcoat.


A Fined Keith in the Right Place - A Taxing Ramble

So Keith Richards owes his childhood library about 3000 pounds as reported by the media,
over HERE 

This bothers me because the only reference to libraries in popular media occurs when someone famous owes our establishment an overdue book, thereby incurring our wrath. As a ‘popular’ depiction of a public library, it sucks. 
Surely we’re more than the priggish, tight-bunned authoritarians we’re depicted as?


Well, most public librarians would’ve just wanted the book back.  The money would’ve been incidental. Which if you’re a none librarian person (or Academic Librarian) should be a bit of shocker really. Public Librarians don’t in fact, care about the money. 

Well I don’t.
It’s not like the fines go back into the library in any case, well not in South Africa. You see in South Africa, Public Libraries are not supposed to make a profit. But that doesn’t stop our patrons from offering money-making suggestions. I have to regularly fend off suggestions to sell whole collections to fund further book purchases, or hiring out video machines to people who want to make use of our video cassettes (yes, we still have them).

When I calmly told the video-machine-suggestion guy that we could not, in fact, purposefully make some money, he got angry.
How dare we not make money! 

And then he damned the government to a fiery hell.
As enthusiastic as his borderline sedition was, I tried valiantly to explain that Libraries are a function defined by the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. And as a Function, we couldn’t charge money for anything that we could then use to buy anything with, as well as the various laws and that inform Government departments what they charge for. I thought about explaining the whole unfunded mandate thing (The thing: The local authority is paying for the library service even though the provincial government should pay) and how the Local Authority Libraries Bylaw of 1990 (which says that fees could be levied) is essentially squashed by the Constitution, but I don’t think he would have cared.

The thing is (sedition talk again), I don’t have a problem with Public Libraries not making money, in fact I think we’re making too much of it as it is. Public Libraries charge administrative costs for reserving books and of course late fees for overdue books. It always seemed to me we were monetarily punishing people for liking books and punishing the poor for not having ‘means’.The argument for maintaining these fees is that they’re administrative costs. But let’s break those costs down: Paper, a Writing implement, Electricity, a Computer and the Computer System.

Now as far as I know, all our costs are covered by the Local Authority (this is a matter of public record so the Managerial Finger Twinge of Firing, the MFTF, should not come into play) who in turn gets monies from the National Government, who in turn gets it from SARS(South African Revenue Service - Tax collectors in the American vernacular) and other fees and levies the National Government gets paid.
So why charge another fee, when it’s covered already by these Taxes and levies that we are in fact paying already?

The Other Thing is:
Public Libraries are so intrinsically linked to the image of the punishing fines we charge, our only real claim to fame is our Fine Amnesty week, timed in South Africa to coincide with National Library Week (because like love and marriage, you couldn’t one without the other, or a horse and carriage.) Stripped of that ability to fine people, what would we then have to define ourselves by?

Sadly though, I would give my left arm for a ‘Keith’ and his lax attitude to due dates, just so I could have some media attention for my Library or my neighboring Library or the Library Service. Well, attention that isn’t subsumed by the Local Authorities Corporate restrictions and a Managerial whimsy for rigid control of rank and file Voices. (Is that a Lightning bolt I spy in the distance.)
Whatcha gonna do?

Does anyone know if some drug addled and time ravaged South African rocker has some overdue library books?







Anyone Else but?