Project refinement | Week 12

Libraries are one of the last noncommercial spaces we have where everyone is welcome. They strike me as a little glimpse of how we could live if we chose to be a generous society rather than a fearful one.

Jenny Offill in The Paris Review quoted on Twitter

Spotted the above quote on Twitter a few weeks ago. It did briefly take me down a rabbit hole about ‘Library Socialism’, reiterating some points that have already cropped up in my research however I’ve included it as I thought it was a nice way to describe the broader appeal of the public libraries and the value they have as a piece of social infrastructure.


Getting back on track though I have been trying to complete the formative outputs within each phase as I feel that with such a long time to spend on a project it helps to have some targets which aren’t set by yourself. Plus, I think when we come back after the break in May, the time will go so quickly. My Literature Review is still ongoing but I hope to get that pretty much done over the weekend so I can start concentrating on the Critical Report. Putting a personal action plan together I was mindful that much like a project brief, it shouldn’t be a static document – having a flexible document and being open to other ideas means that if you have to change course or find a more interesting route to follow, then you should be able to adapt easier. I was also mindful getting the plan done for this week would mean that I would need to have a rough idea at least of what the outcome would be for this project. Looking at the different online ‘awareness’ sites was extremely beneficial last week and in the context of my design development work and my interactions with @savecroydonlibs on Instagram, I started making notes.

Pulling these notes together (which are written up here), I have decided that I would like to produce a series of visuals designed to advocate for public libraries though undoubtedly what would be more helpful is a big chunk of money. Rather than show them in an exhibition it would be good to create a repository of resources – it could be a place where resources are built up over time and could be freely used by people wishing to campaign for libraries or simply to promote their value. I came across an article about posters for the American Library Association’s ‘National Library Week’ and when you look at them en masse they do make an impression.

Whilst creating an extensive range of resources before August might not be feasible, something could be constructed on which to build upon and sustain in the future. Creating an open ended outcome such as this makes sense in that public libraries have had to protect their worth from the outset and campaigners are having the same conversations time and time again and I imagine that they will have to continue doing so with technological and social developments. One of many things to think about going down this route would be whether there is something like a tagline that links all the visuals together like on Stay Sane, Stay Safe or whether it would be a more miscellaneous collection, united by subject matter much like Six Feet Apart Please.

For the moment however my Project Plan is this:

Over the break I am going to work on developing this outcome and run it past the contacts I have made in Libraries Connected and The Library Campaign to hear their views on the idea. Through Twitter I was able to watch the latter’s meeting held on the 14th April which was worth doing as some of the points that emerged are relevant to the above outcome. Their own summary refers to two in particular:

  • many groups produce useful material that could be shared
  • National library bodies seldom do things that library users see as high priority – such as… ·      Demonstrate that libraries are great value for money ·      Run a publicity campaign for public libraries, perhaps centred on social media.

With this in mind it would be good to hear their views on my proposed outcome to see if they think it is viable. It was helpful that the talk was recorded as it corroborated a lot of what I have looked at so far. Again, the activity at a local level defending libraries was discussed – activities at a national level pale in comparison and whilst the DCMS came under a lot of criticism, it was refreshing to hear speakers urge that library users and supporters need to be proactive too. The speaker from SOLE mentioned how ‘moral shaming’ seemed to work well but also that a lot of library groups are dismissed almost as activists and one can’t help but think maybe this is connected. In The Design of Dissent, (2006) Milton Glaser and Steven Heller discuss the idea of ‘quiet dissent’ and how much more effective it is because those dissenting can not be so easily dismissed as “hoodlums, or communists, or even left-wingers.” (p.227) People generally don’t like to be told they’re wrong so a more thoughtful approach is worth considering.


On Tuesday I attended Save Our Libraries Essex’s (SOLE) online debate with candidates who are standing in the Essex County Council election on May 6th. Much like the talk hosted by Book28 in Week Nine it was worthwhile attending because it places the issues I have been reading about in a real word context. Since 2018, 25 of the the 74 libraries have been under threat in Essex and the event was intended to clarify the different parties positions on public libraries. Unsurprisingly they all came out in favour of public libraries, rolling out almost stock phrases of ‘more than just books’ and it’s a “safe place” – whilst there is nothing wrong in using such terminology it does seem in keeping with people wanting to say the right thing ahead of elections. As the event progressed however and with more questions from the public, you could see the finer details amongst the councillors. The Conservative Councillor came under a lot of criticism especially for his belief that volunteers should be allowed to assist in running public libraries if they want to however, as people went onto question what this actually meant, one could see the problems with this stance. This Conservative preference for localism and the threat it posed was highlighted on Twitter last week by the head of CILIP, Nicholas Poole and is perhaps why there is such discrepancy amongst public libraries within the UK.

For my project it was interesting how many ‘stealth cuts’ were discussed such as extending opening hours but limiting the amount of days open, and one library worker was lamenting that more was not made of utilising the exterior of the building to display posters that could advertise what the library has to offer to the community.


Bibliography.

GLASER, Milton. and Mirko ILIC. 2006. The Design of Dissent Gloucester, Mass: Rockport.

JONES, Rebecca. 2021. ‘Political parties go head-to-head in debate on future of Essex’s libraries’ Daily Gazette Essex County Standard. 27th April. Available from www.gazette-news.co.uk/news/19259954.political-parties-go-head-to-head-debate-future-essexs-libraries/?s=03 [Accessed 27th April 2021]

Save Our Libraries Essex. 2021. Local Election Hustings. 27th April. [online] Hosted via Zoom.

The Library Campaign. 2021. The Library Campaign Zoom 24 April 2021. 26th April. [online] Available from www.youtube.com/watch?v=JptyzGMADAA [Accessed 28th April 2021]

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