Tuesday, 22 July 2008

University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

On our final official outing of the class, we began the day by making an entirely fitting visit to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. It was bittersweet to know that this would be the last of our experiences as a group, since the entire course had been such an exciting and thought provoking experience with people I grew to know and respect more and more over the course of the trip. Each individual brought their own knowledge and perspectives about everything that we learned and each place that we visited, which created an atmosphere of enthusiasm about what we were all learning that was invaluable. And at the university, we finished up as we had begun, with only our second day sitting in a lecture hall together, as a class.

David McMenemy, editor of the International Library Review and the Course Director for the library program at the University, started our day by introducing himself and the other associates from the library school and what they would be discussing. David began by giving us a short history of the University of Strathclyde and an overview of the current school statistics. Their library school is the largest postgraduate program outside of teaching. He then led a short discussion of the issues facing public libraries in the UK. There is a legal mandate here for public library services to be made available by local government authorities to the citizens of the area. The problems facing them are greater, even, than the abundance of and confusing overlapping provenances of the local authorities; the re-organization of government and, therefore, re-distribution public funding that has been brought on by the devolution of the Scottish parliament; and the general lack of money that plagues all libraries and public information centers. There is a “crisis of confidence” going on in the UK, and it could be deadly. This discussion was quite enlightening, as was our later visit to The Bridge. The de-professionalization of the business of libraries in the UK has had a deep impact on those serious practitioners, as well as having a negative impact on those who use the library and the quality of service that they receive. This is in stark contrast, of course, to the situation found in the US, where the non-professional population of librarians is being phased out and libraries are embracing, more and more, newly minted MLIS graduates.

This segued perfectly into a presentation by PhD candidate Christine Rooney-Browne, who is doing some very exciting research on public libraries. Her hypothesis is that the quantitative measures traditionally used to measure library performance—i.e. circulation statistics, door counts, and audits—are not adequate to evaluate the full social impact of libraries in the community, which cannot be measured by neat little numbers and stats. She is using established methodologies to assess this social effect of libraries and to possibly provide a way for libraries to communicate their full value. Christine is not limiting her research to libraries there in Scotland, but is also making assessments of libraries around the world, including in developing communities in Africa and in post-Katrina New Orleans.

The next two presenters were Alan Poulter and Alan Dawson, who both gave us excellent presentations on their involvement in library technology and research. Poulter presented his research on developing Forensic Readiness for Local Libraries in Scotland, or FRILLS. The idea that he presented was an excellent plan for re-working local internet access networks in public libraries so that, when the inevitable abuses of library computers for unsavory purposes occurs, such as purposeful illegal pornography download and viewing, there is a way for authorities to come in and review the offenses, as opposed to most current systems, which are wiped with each logon and logoff, and where those logins are completely anonymous. While an exciting and highly potentially valuable plan, Alan has run into problems with the difficulty and complications of implementing such systems. Dawson then gave us a presentation on the digital tools that are made available by the University of Strathclyde and explained how, without any money, they are able to maintain such complex systems of resources. In addition to their several helpful publicly searchable databases, which are maintained with a minimum of cost or space on their local servers due to their structure, including BUBL and CAIRNS, the most interesting part of their web resources are the staff and faculty pages listing their publications and links to digital copies of those publications, how those entries can be edited by their authors, and the safety precautions that have been taken with the databases to prevent any one contributor from making irrevocably uncorrectable changes.

After the University so graciously provided everyone with lunch (and with a CD-Rom of the powerpoint presentations), we were left with less time than we had originally anticipated, so we were only able to visit one additional site. The Bridge in Glasgow, however, was quite an impressive site. The Bridge is the only public library that I have ever visited that has both a theater and a pool—complete with slide. The Bridge is a community center that should revolutionize the idea of public libraries. They combined the collections of the public library and the local community college, with which the bridge is aligned, in philosophy as well as structure, to provide a one stop cultural hub for the community and which has apparently transformed the locality. Architecturally, the Bridge is very modern and very beautiful, somehow managing to combine concrete, glass, and metal with elaborate wooden accents to make an incredibly open and warm space. The community partners came together with a single-minded purpose of improving their area and worked in tandem to create this amazing place that would draw people in and get them reading.

The Bridge was truly awe-inspiring in form and purpose, and our tour guide, the coordinator of the local library system, Steven Finney, was highly enthusiastic about the project and its goals. The most interesting, and, I felt, disturbing part of the visit, was the revelation about the staffing of the libraries in the area, including the Bridge. To save money, the library hierarchies have been re-organized, so that there are only six professional librarians in charge of the fifteen local libraries. The day-to-day operations of the libraries are performed by non-professionals, and are only monitored by degreed librarians. “Money-saving” measures like this are precisely responsible for the crisis of confidence that we began the day by discussing, and it was quite disheartening to see, especially at a facility which was so obviously not under-financed such as this, and to know that this decision was made quite purposefully and without much thought to how professionally trained librarians would make more quality, informed decisions about service, selection, and management of the library and the materials contained therein.

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