Tuesday, 26 April 2016


I'm at the tidying the folders stage of my current job, which is actually the tidying the folders stage of three successive jobs. And being the hoarder that I am I'm bumping into quite a few old memories.

Like the correspondence between myself and other library systems managers as we tried to manage the ambitious project of rolling out a lot of internet-ready public PCs to libraries that weren't networked and weren't laid out for this sort of provision whilst managing inconsistent mixes of conservatism and high (sometimes entirely unrealisable) expectation amongst our management teams. The implementation of the People's Network was easily the single biggest gear shift in English public libraries in the period between the 1964 Act and the current dissolution of the public library service so it was never going to be an easy thing to be able to manage at a local level. And it wasn't. By this stage of the game we had access to email (I know, but it's a long time ago) so we'd share the highs and lows, reassuring each other that we weren't alone in having problems and often coming up with solutions and/or ways of managing stakeholders' perceptions of how things were going and which were the priorities to be really worrying about (something I was ever so grateful for after a meeting that was planned to be about building the business case for the council's investment in the project became a three-hour discussion on the best placement of one desk at a particular library!)

Jocular mentions of the popular board game People's Network-o! became so frequent that in the end we had to have a go at mocking it up. My stab at it is typically over-complicated. A colleague from Yorkshire came up with the most elegant version: a grid of 50 squares, all of which said: "Go back to Start."

That implementation was bloody hard work but ultimately it was worth it. In many ways, even after so long, I think libraries are still only nibbling at the potential they have with the network. Personally, I was slow to realise how important having all libraries as UKOnline centres was going to become; a lot of brilliant and too-often very low-key work has been done on the ground to tackle the digital divide and go a long way towards making digital inclusion more than just a phrase to be included in bid documents. More disappointing has been the general realignment of the traditional reference and information services (though as always there's good work around if you look for it). This is starting to be addressed in some of the SCL's national offers. If the public library service survives the ravages of Austerity we may yet see the full fruition of the network's potential.

No comments:

Post a Comment