Another year has ended and now it is a great time for library professionals to look back at their activity and plan for 2019 with a fresh view.
There are many things that libraries got attached to in their long history such as fines, the library card, the Dewey classification and many other things that librarians have tested: the switch of focus from books to other activities, the removal of quiet zones and more. Some of them are not that successful anymore or still need more time to see the actual results.
To get more insights about a few statements library professionals should rethink in 2019, we have talked with two library experts for their insights and advice: Ian Anstice, editor of Public Libraries News (United Kingdom) and Jane Cowell, Chief Executive Officer at Yarra Plenty Regional Library (Australia). Here is what they said:
1. “Library fines are good. “
Ian Anstice: Back in Victorian times, we knew that members of the public were not grown up enough or honest enough to take out a book and return it on time. This played a big part in the need for ID as well, the relative cost of a book was greater in those days and people earned less. But now, books aren’t worth multiples of an hourly salary and systems exist in most libraries to allow automatic renewals. We can also email/text the user instantly if someone else wants the book.
I think the argument against fines has largely been won in terms of stock retention and equitableness of access. Once one library service peered behind the Oz curtain and discovered the truth and told others about it, then that was it. But the other problem apart from inertia (and never underestimate that, in all its forms) is the loss of the income from fines. This is especially true in the UK where budgets, and income from things like DVDs, have been cut and cut again. So, the solution there is to slowly increase more groups to be exempt from fines, first toddlers then children then senior citizens. You can sell each exemption as a good news story – you like good news stories – and the cut in income won’t be so bad. Lessen your addiction gradually.
Jane Cowell: Library fines undermine one of the core principles of public libraries — the provision of free and universal access to information. There is also no evidence that overdue fines encourage meaningful compliance.
Ultimately, it is up to every Library Manager to make the case to their Board, their Councils or their Deans of the impotence of library fines and the detrimental effect they have on the community that the library serves.
And if you cannot remove fines all at once take some initial steps. At my own library, we have successfully removed fines from all children’s items in the middle of a financial year with Board approval and an amended budget. We have also implemented automated renewals and a grace period, so fines are only imposed on those items on hold that users return late or keep longer than 9 weeks and 3 days. For the past month, we have also run a “Food for Fines” campaign which allows the community to reset their fines to zero with a donation of food and, this year, we collected over a ton of food for the needy.
One of the most wonderful outcomes of this campaign was all the lapsed Library users who came back. They had not been in the library for years as they were afraid of the past fines. For the 2019/2020 budget preparations, the case will be put to my Board to remove all fines. Yes, it will mean a tight budget, but I do believe an uptake in members, visits and loans will give me better evidence to prove the Library Service’s value than does a revenue line that actively turns the community away.
2. “The Dewey classification is the standard.”
Jane Cowell: Yes, it is time to let go of this white man’s classification system. And that means Library of Congress Headings as well. Yes, we do need a shelf locator and yes, we need metadata and tags to find the items on the shelf. But our systems need to be in line with the other voice systems that people are now used to.
How does Siri locate a book on our shelves? Natural language, crowdsourced tags could be added to our catalogues. We also need to be more mindful of respecting our First Nation peoples with the descriptors utilized within our catalogues and not use derogatory European terms set in the early twentieth century to describe the material collected. Nathan Sentance on his blog Archival Decolonist has written extensively about collecting institutions and respecting the indigenous way and I urge everyone to be more aware of the racism inherent in our cataloging systems.
Our nonfiction needs to be organized in smaller genres as more and more customers want much more curation to make it easier for them to choose a good book in the subject field of interest — too many rows of nonfiction just turns them away as there is too much choice. Nonfiction could be a major asset for libraries, but it continues to underperform. Given that it is a best seller at the bookstores, I do think it is how libraries organize, display and promote these collections, that needs to be improved. So, Dewey needs to go and let’s genrify the nonfiction more — there must be a better way for a shelf locator to work than a Dewey number so let’s start working out how to do this better.
3. “An ID and an address are needed for joining the library.”
Ian Anstice: I remember when I started in libraries 25 years ago. We demanded two forms of identification before joining someone; something official with their address on and something official with their name on. Unsurprisingly, few people had both on them and I personally sent away probably on average of one person a day because of this. Then a new policy came in and there was no problem. It was a mad idea and can be summarized as “trust the public to tell the truth”. We got rid of the need for ID.
But then a miracle occurred. We started turning away exactly zero people interested in joining per day. Seriously, people came up to us and asked to join and we automatically said yes. And it turned out that a surprising proportion of these people were honest.
And that I thought was that. Until I started visiting other library services who told me to my face that what I know works cannot work and that my service must be in some posh magic wonderland that is unlike theirs. No, it’s not. I then queued up a short while ago at a library which I otherwise admire and the person in front of me was turned away from joining because he had only brought his passport with him. Seriously, this chap had sufficient ID with him to enter a foreign country, but it was not enough to get him a library card. He walked away. It struck me that there was something incredibly wrong with that.
So, if you’re still in a library which demands ID, ask yourself; are you (a) so distrustful of the public that you think they’re book thieves or (b) have you got so many users you don’t need to worry or (c) have you received some questionable advice about data protection you need to check again?
It’s not like it’s a revolutionary idea. There are services in your region that have been doing it for years. Why not you?
4. “You need a library card to access the services.”
Jane Cowell: The library card has had its day and we must admit this and move on. Libraries love a good library card that promotes the logo and there is often a hard and fast rule that you must have your library card to borrow and if you do not have it a small fee must be paid for a new one.
In today’s world, people hate having too many cards. They want to scan it and keep it in their phone with their Apple Pay and then just use the membership number when they need to borrow. This is a consumer world, without cards if possible, and we must provide the current experiences if we want people to be confident to use our systems. The reality is that wallets are not common anymore and people want to have as few cards as possible — they log in and want to stay logged in.
For older self-service machines turn on the keyboard function so they can type in the number and the newer ones make sure that they can scan a card from a phone. Digital memberships do not need a card, just a membership number to login so do not insist on sending out a card to someone who simply wants to use your digital library. And while we are at that point, work out ways to reduce or eliminate barriers to membership. Set different types of membership for different types of residents.
5. “The library is no longer a quiet space.”
Ian Anstice: Once upon a time, all libraries were deathly quiet and any noise, particularly from children, resulted in librarians in half-rimmed glasses staring the perpetrator down, shushing them and showing them the door. Then the Fun Library Fairy waved its magic wand, and everything was bright and loud. Children ran around screaming, adults could talk animatedly, library staff laughed and cheered and those who associated libraries with quiet were loudly jeered in librarian social media chat forums.
The problem is that having a quiet study space is a real social need for many people and libraries once truly owned that unique selling point. That demand for quiet is still out there, as anyone who sees the public-enforced study areas on some libraries can attest. Don’t get me wrong, I like loud and buzzing libraries. But there is a place in the tent for quiet in libraries as well. If the library is large, this can be a room or a floor. If it is small, it can be an advertised time. Let’s bring back some good old-fashioned shush, people, while at the same time having loud fun elsewhere. It’s not all about extremes. Let’s quietly compromise on this.
Jane Cowell: Libraries are shifting from primary places of collections to spaces of curation, creation, active learning and meeting places. There is, however, still a need for ‘quiet’ in our communities and we should not lose sight of this essential part of library service in our rush to be ‘other’ or ‘current’. In response to constant visitor feedback at my library, a need to intentionally create a silent study space was recently actioned. The demand came from a wide range of library user groups that included High School students, Tertiary students, older researchers and those who simply wanted a quiet place to work on their own projects. Users were increasingly distracted by the activities happening across the rest of the Library spaces — as staff actively created a social hub for our visitor’s experience. Here is a blog post I wrote about silence in libraries and whether librarians should apologize for providing quiet or not. Take a look.
6. “Books are no longer important.”
Ian Anstice: Books are important to libraries and still – sorry about this – a core part of our service and something that librarians actually have to be involved in. Like with the Fun Library Fairy, at some point the More Than Books Fairy did its magic spell and convinced a ton of library staff that the cool thing to do in libraries is theatre shows, coding, 3D printing and, well, anything but books.
Despite all the things the profession has done in the last decade, people still stubbornly associate libraries with books. It’s because the book is not dead. In fact, the book is doing rather well and still accounts for the majority of business in every library you know. You just have to take a deep breath and accept that fact. Make sure you have teams that actually weed the shelves – and not just with spreadsheets, people actually need to know their stock – and buy appropriately.
I’m not saying give up on all those hundreds of emails that make our lives so worthwhile or stop doing all those theatre shows that are fun. I’m just saying there needs to be a rebalancing towards books for a bit. That’s not so bad. We used to be all about them. What’s bad is doing all one thing and not the other. Do a share of both. It’s all about a balance.
7. “We need dedicated teen spaces.”
Jane Cowell: I see a lot of wonderfully designed teen spaces in libraries with no teens in them. I see no need to corral teens into one space in the library. Libraries do need different zones, but I think that teens should be able to go into the whole library based on what they want to do as anyone else. Study in the quiet zone, game in the gaming zone, make in the making zone, collaborate in the noisy zone.
And yes, everyone must abide by the behavior standards for each zone — and that goes for all ages, not just the teens. Of course, we still need the children’s zone but that is the only one that should be zoned for an age.
The library landscape is in a continuous change, and librarians with their skillset are in the best position to try to take the pulse of the visitors and rethink the library’s services based on the users’ current needs while making sure not to go beyond the library’s core principals.
Do you agree with the statements above? Let us know in the comments or follow us on Twitter and let us continue the discussion there.
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world! Want more insights from libraries across the world? Find us on Twitter and Facebook and subscribe to our blog to receive new library insights directly to your e-mail.