Sunday 4 October 2015

Guest Blog - What all Barnet Tory Councillors should realise about libraries - By Barnet Librarian

Local people defending Friern Barnet Library
By Barnet Librarian.

Firstly, I want to thank you for standing up for libraries. For using them, recommending them and defending them.

However, there are one or two things I'd like to clarify and expand on. Any librarians left on the frontline in Barnet Libraries are there incidentally. Barnet stripped it's frontline teams of professional librarians nearly 3 years ago, reducing a team of 26 adults and children's specialists down to 6, now based at NLBP planning and developing the service. What you encounter now are dedicated, skilled and experienced para professional staff helping you on a daily basis. That was the beginning of the deprofessionalising and attempted destruction of our library service.

Secondly, if we were to take one of your typical customer examples, the job seeking refugee, yes there would be a book recommendation and loan involved at some point in his journey, but Barnet Libraries go much further than that. If his English language skills were poor, he'd be referred to one of the many Conversation Caf├ęs run by library staff across branches. Here he could practice his spoken English, access skills for life stock, make friends and contacts. He'd also be referred to the free Transparent Language tool Barnet Libraries provides online to develop his English further.
The next step would be to offer IT training at one of their library based sessions. This can be anything from the basics of using a computer, to more advanced applications.

Subsequently, he could attend one of the job clubs also run in libraries. Here he'd receive advice about how to search for vacancies and how to build a CV. While he was there he could also talk to library staff about how to access benefits and housing options, even receiving help with filling in the long and complicated forms needed to qualify for these, followed by authentication of his ID and supporting documents by authorised library staff in order to fast track his application.

Lastly, he could take advantage of the new project to be launched in November by the Service Development Librarian Team (those 6 remaining librarians), who've recently won funding from the Tinder Foundation to run a digital inclusion and employment related IT programme for people on low incomes in the borough. Using portable technology, library staff will deliver 6 week programmes of IT learning and career development sessions introducing users to sites they subscribe to like My Work Search, giving access to online job advice, CV builder tools, interview techniques and databases like Monster.

Yes, this user will probably take home a book or two as well, and yes he may meet people whilst at the library who'll say, "I saw a great job advertised down the road yesterday", but this is just the icing on the cake of a huge range of resources he could have just accessed.
Can this be delivered by teams of volunteers? I doubt it.
Could this be delivered by staff during the proposed 20 hours of staff time in a Core + library? I doubt it.

Could this be delivered without a librarian team, procuring the systems, successfully bidding for funding, training frontline staff to deliver? I doubt it.  I could have used any of your customer examples to tell a similar story. Adult, child, OAP, toddler, student, refugee, job seeker, low income parent.......all would access a different life changing part of the service.....and yes a few books would also be involved :)
Barnet Librarian is a librarian working in the London Borough of Barnet, who clearly and for obvious reasons is probably keen to remain anonymous. This was originally posted as a comment in response to a blog I posted yesterday. Having read it, I feel it merits the exposure of a blog in its own right. Do we really want to throw all of this away? Is it really a "value for money saving" to throw all of this away?

Guest blogs are always welcome at the Barnet Eye. 

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