Dick Advocaacy

After a period of slightly unsettling instability I’ve finally decided to, at least, try to write a blog entry each week about the library and information sector. This is partly for my own benefit – the usual process of refining thoughts and opinions – but also as a contribution of sorts toward my hoped-for Chartership status. One requirement of the portfolio, as most people probably know, is to demonstrate knowledge of the library sector in the round – i.e. not just the bit(s) you’re already familiar with through your employment or academic background, but the sector as a whole, encompassing all the other types of libraries there are out there and their current status. One way of picking up on what’s going on in libraries around the UK (and the world) is through reading articles via the CILIP Weekly News e-mail and the Update journal. My intention was to write about something that has come up at work each week, but – in lieu of anything else to write about at any given Sunday (when I would usually do the writing) – I’d just pick an article from either of those sources and write about my reaction to it.

One such article that caught my eye this last week – at least the title and précis – in the most recent news e-mail was this one about advocacy. This set me thinking about the issue and provided me with a few points I wanted to make in response to the article – before I’d even read it. That was a bit of a mistake, because what I thought the article was about is not really what it was about. I was expecting to read something about how each library worker should be constantly striving to make the voice of the profession heard, especially in a time of deep and troubling cuts to the sector. I expected to be countering that suggestion with “well, OK – but how exactly?”; expecting that I would be making points about the difficulty of raising your voice and raising awareness when the only tools each individual has are forums like this one (i.e. blogs that nobody reads) or Twitter (where you essentially talk to people who are already like-minded). I was especially interested in exploring this from the public-sector library-assistant perspective – that is, seeing all the great things our public libraries do, but not having any real power to share that message beyond the immediacy of friends and family, because your job is almost entirely focused on day-to-day fire-fighting and you never go anywhere near the kinds of environments that would allow you to make the case for the service to the sorts of people who need to be listening. So, how then to “advocate”?

This led me to think about something that I already do for my local CILIP Regional Members’ Network (RMN – Yorkshire and Humberside), which is, as the social media manager, to curate the most interesting tweets and Facebook pages from libraries in our region into a weekly Storify article. The intention of this is to raise awareness of all the great things libraries do. It is, in a sense, a political act and, thus, an act of advocacy. My hope is that – although this hasn’t actually happened yet (and may, that is, probably, never do) – people will link/push these articles to individuals who wield influence over the public library sector (i.e. politicians) and contribute, in part, to an awareness of exactly what it is the sector does. That led me to think, well, if this is something that works (to an extent) on a local level, could it work nationally too? Especially in the run-up to the elections: could I create a Storify that advocated for the public library sector across the entire UK? I thought so, at least.

So, I started pulling together all the library Twitter accounts for every local authority-run library service into a Twitter list, that I could then skim through and pick out the most interesting tweets, Storify them, and then bring them to the attention of prospective MPs and local councillors. This began yesterday and is a slow process, but hopefully one that will be done before May 7.

That was going to be the gist of my response to the advocacy article – but, then, I actually read it. And it’s not really what I thought it would be about. It’s more about individual librarians embedded in academic environments and how they can – quite rightly – advocate their own value to their institution, to ensure appropriate salaries and resources. Still, reading it at least provided me with a little sliver of information about how librarians operate in an academic environment. From that point-of-view, at least, reading the article fulfilled part of the original criteria…and it’s given me yet another mammoth task to pursue, even if only by accident. And, hopefully, it’s a start toward getting me into the habit of writing a blog post whenever I can.

Also: I’ve volunteered to take part in the CILIP National Offers Group, looking at ways to improve the CPD offered to members. That will certainly be something worth writing about, once it begins.

And, seeing this band and reading this book and then this book have prompted me to restart this other project: cataloguing “stuff” – mainly music, in this case 1980s American indie rock and currently Led Zeppelin bootlegs – via YouTube playlists. Another work-in-progress.

Coda: as part of that “other project”, I listened to this compilation album. And, oh my, had I’d forgotten how good Scratch Acid’s “The Greatest Gift” was.

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