Friday, December 19, 2014

Librarians Working Together

Time to pool our resources
Librarians Working Together, by Maureen Sullivan, Keith Michael Fiels, and Alan S. Inouye
The only certainty in the library community is that we live in uncertain times. Buffeted by technological turbulence, the very roles and functions of libraries are up for reexamination and reinvention, as evidenced by the articles in American Libraries’ June 2013 E-Content Digital Supplement. But the truly fundamental change is a shift in foundational relationships—as is a hallmark in revolutions. We can, understandably, become obsessed with equitable ebook licensing terms and the integration of digital-content discoverability into library systems. However, underlying these changes is the fact that significant aspects of the decision-making that library managers control have moved into the hands of the executives of publishing houses, distributor companies, and other organizations outside of the library community. This changing landscape necessitates that the library community develop fundamentally different ways of operating.
In the face of this uncertainty, we observe some movement toward increasing communication, cooperation, and collaboration among members of this community. In the world of ebooks, notable collaborations include the Digital Public Library of America, the ReadersFirst Initiative, OCLC’s Big Shift project, and ALA’s own Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG). Each effort successfully brings together many local library leaders as well as representatives from national and regional library organizations.
Also supportive of broader library efforts to collaborate is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was prescient in its strategy shift to emphasize the development of organizational infrastructure and collaborative capacity for the library community. The Edge public library benchmarks initiative is one such funded effort. The Digital Public Library of America also represents an important, visible, large-scale collaborative undertaking in the digital content space.
This collaborative movement is essential. The magnitude of what we need to do in the coming months and years is staggering. No one organization has the resources to lead, coordinate, or even meaningfully participate in every facet of the necessary work ahead. There is strength in our numbers, and we cannot afford to duplicate efforts or work at cross purposes.
Library organizations are eclectic. We have different resources, core competencies, staff expertise, and constituencies. Some organizations have greater research capabilities, while others are better suited for external communications and advocacy. Some have staying power and offer better homes for longer-term efforts and sustainability, while others may be best at supporting targeted projects. We need to determine our roles carefully to ensure that we are doing work to which we are best suited. For example, in the past year ALA took on the national bully pulpit role, a natural fit for the largest library association in the world and a strong voice for libraries in both traditional and emerging media.
We are yet in the early stages of developing power collaborations. We need interoperability based on standards, best practices, and compatible work processes. Our constituents need common expectations about library services. It won’t do for a user to encounter a radically different experience in going from one library to another. Working in library silos will not lead to easy-to-use or effective services.
There are fiscal tensions. Communication, cooperation, and collaboration are not cost-free. Experience has proven that these costs can be substantial. Many cooks in the kitchen may lead to compromise and bureaucracy, potentially inhibiting creativity and innovation. Thus, we must be strategic and selective in how we work together. However, while we players in the library community must work together and keep one another informed, we are not suggesting some kind of mega-coordinating central organization.
We are eager to continue our efforts to communicate through existing channels. We invite libraries, nonprofit library organizations, and researchers to submit information and reports about their digital efforts to; DCWG will use what has been provided to create posts for possible inclusion in American Libraries’ E-Content blog, the central communications mechanism of ALA’s DCWG.
There has been progress. Since the second American Libraries supplement on ebooks and digital content was published in mid-2012, four of the Big Six publishers—Hachette Book Group, Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster—have initiated pilot library ebook programs. It’s true that these outcomes are far from ideal, but they are steps in the right direction. Home-grown endeavors within the library community continue to blossom and expand, with the seemingly tireless James LaRue, director of Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries, leading the way. But we must be realistic: In this time of exploration and experimentation, not every development will be in our favor and not every new initiative or project will succeed.
Let us remind ourselves of library values, which are at the core of our communities of practice. Librarians are among the most trusted professionals in society. Our mission remains critical, as evidenced by the numerous library supporters across the country who continue to stand with us. Technological advances provide, at least in theory, the potential for much improved library service in a world increasingly dominated by profit-driven information providers. For everyone’s sake, we must figure out how to convert this theory to practice by strategically pooling and leveraging our strengths.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Home to the Homeless

Libraries offer refuge and support to those in need and help foster a new community approach to homelessness
Z! Haukeness from the Shine Initiative—a nonprofit based in Madison, Wisconsin—keeps a prominent profile in a glass room in the middle of Madison Public Library, where he and a coworker spend 30 hours a week helping patrons find housing and jobs and apply for food stamps. Some people come just to talk through hardships, he says.
Just before 9 a.m. on a Tuesday in Madison, Wisconsin, people line up on the corner outside Madison Public Library, waiting for the doors to open. Some of them have spent the night on nearby street benches or on the pavement near the building. They’re ready for a soft chair and dry air.
“First in, last to leave the library,” says Jane, describing herself and her homeless community. “It’s our routine.” Jane, who prefers not to give her last name, says she’s classified as chronically homeless.
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development defines a chronically homeless person as an unaccompanied individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for one year or more or has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years. More than 610,000 people are homeless in the United States on any given night. Nearly two-thirds live in shelters or transitional housing, and the rest are unsheltered.
Jane says she didn’t start coming to the library until she became homeless. Now she’s drawn to it for many reasons; it’s one of the few places she can go where it doesn’t matter what she wears or whether she has money. She’s entitled to the same services and treatment as the person standing next to her in a designer coat.
The American Library Association (ALA) maintains in its “Library Services to the Poor” policy statement that it’s crucial for public libraries to recognize their role in enabling poor people to participate fully in a democratic society. The library has to serve as a uniquely egalitarian place. Moreover, library staffers have a duty to look out for the needs of poor and homeless patrons and strive to provide relevant services.
That’s a complex task for librarians who already face a number of challenges.
How do you make the public library a welcoming place for everyone when not all library users (or even staff members) feel comfortable around signs of homelessness? What if a homeless patron needs professional services beyond the library’s capability to fulfill? Madison Public Library and several other public libraries have come up with practical, innovative solutions.

The library allure

According to Partners Ending Homelessness, there are three patterns of homelessness. Situational homelessness can occur when someone loses a job, gets evicted, or suffers a particular financial or health crisis. Episodic homelessness differs in that it stems from patterns of behavior and can have multiple causes, including depression and domestic violence, and is more common among women and families. A third group—chronically homeless people—comprises less than 18% of the total homeless population.
Librarians who work with homeless populations should understand the different types of homelessness, says Ryan Dowd, former director of the Hesed House, a homeless shelter in Aurora, Illinois. Dowd says chronically homeless people typically present the most challenges for libraries. Homelessness for them doesn’t stem from poverty alone but from poverty combined with the lack of relationships or support systems.

“If you think about the variety of issues that face the homeless, in many ways they’re not connected to society,” says Jill Bourne, director of San José (Calif.) Public Library. “The library may be the only place where they can go to be connected. It can be a lifeline.”
"The library feeds my soul and my mind," says Dorothy Sterling, pictured here at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago. As a homeless patron, Sterling says she relies on the library to check in on the day's events.
“At the library, you can get on the computer and find out what’s going on in the world,” says Jane in Madison. “If Obama’s going to Zimbabwe, I know.” She also spends time online searching for jobs and affordable housing. The library not only helps her connect with the world at large but also helps her disconnect from aspects of her immediate surroundings.
Most homeless people don’t sleep by themselves on the street, according to Jane. They sleep in a community, often in the same spots, and it’s never safe. “Here there are boundaries,” says Jane, pointing to a computer pod at Madison Public Library. “Those people have their own section of the table. That’s their own space. That’s gold.”
Other homeless patrons come to the library because they need support services and aren’t sure where else to go. Nearly one-third of all chronically homeless people suffer from a mental illness, and about half face substance abuse problems, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In his work at the Aurora shelter, Dowd noticed a high incidence of autism among homeless populations. Many people with autism spectrum disorders experience sensory sensitivity, which may add to the appeal of a library; they find a peaceful refuge from the noise and glare of the street.

Day-to-day challenges

Chicago Public Library posts policies online that prohibit sleeping and other behaviors sometimes associated with the homeless community. These include loitering, panhandling, bathing in the bathrooms, carrying in large or multiple bags, and offensive hygiene. Complaints from patrons have prompted other libraries to adopt similar policies.
But those policies pose unique challenges to homeless people. Homelessness is an exhausting lifestyle, says Dorothy Sterling, a homeless Chicago Public Library patron. Those who live on the street typically carry everything they own with them, and they’re afraid to fall asleep for fear someone may steal their belongings. “Most of the homeless, we walk all night,” she says. “Your body just shuts down. And I haven’t found a library yet that will let you be when that happens.”
Patrick Molloy, director of government and public affairs at Chicago Public Library, says the library enforces its policy against sleeping because of safety concerns. “It’s difficult to know if something could be wrong,” Molloy says. “The librarians will wake people up to ask if they’re okay.” Unless the behavior is illegal, he says the library gives patrons a second chance to follow library policies before asking them to leave. Patrons are then welcome back the next day.
“We always want to be open and welcoming to all,” says Anne Haimes, interim director of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System in Georgia. “However, we do need to make sure that everyone who comes in feels safe and comfortable.” The challenge for libraries is finding that balance. Haimes says for her library system, keeping a strong, flexible code of conduct helps.
And success can hinge on the word “flexible.” Many homeless people are victims of a shrinking social safety net, says Rene Heybach, senior counsel at the Law Project of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Libraries need to address signs of homelessness in a nonstigmatizing way, she says, and look for ways to “make room under the public tent.”
Heybach helped craft legislation for the Homeless Bill of Rights, currently adopted into law in Connecticut, Illinois, and Rhode Island. The bill takes aim at city ordinances that ban activities such as sleeping and loitering in public spaces—activities inherent to homelessness. Such laws criminalize the existence of homeless people, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
Among its protections, the bill states that homeless people cannot be denied access to public spaces solely based on their housing status. That’s a point to consider in regard to library policies, such as restrictions against carry-in items. Because of their housing status, homeless people may not have a place to store their bags and therefore can’t enter a building.
The best way to ensure open access is to keep an open dialogue, says San José’s Bourne. “Make it about sharing a space.” If a patron comes in with an oversize item and it’s blocking the corridor, San José Public Library trains its staff members to work the problem and not be too rigid about rules. They’ll ask, “Could you possibly fit that under here so people can get by?” she says.
Bourne says she’s also careful to ensure policies are broad enough to implement across the library’s entire user base, which includes university students. Students will often nod off while studying for exams, making a ban on sleeping impractical. Unless staffers can enforce policies consistently among all library patrons and not only the poor, they risk profiling based on poverty.
“We used to have a set of policies that read like the Ten Commandments,” says Bob Harris, recently retired director of the Helen Plum Memorial Library in Lombard, Illinois. At the advice of a security consultant, the library now sticks to one main rule: If you’re doing something that interferes with someone else’s use of the library, it’s not allowed. “Anything else? You’re probably okay,” says Harris. Unless they’re snoring, dozers go undisturbed.
When patrons complain, it’s usually not the presence of homeless people that bothers them, says Harris. “It’s the perception that they’re dangerous.”

What libraries can do

Many public libraries are working to overcome these misconceptions and break the public stigma of homelessness. It takes research, networking, and some ingenuity.
Leah Esquerra (right) is a social worker at San Francisco Public Library. She helps provide support to homeless patrons who gather at the library.

Know your homeless population

The Annual Homeless Assessment Report compiled by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development provides statistics by state as well as local planning bodies. School districts are a good source of information too, since they’re required to count and report on the number of homeless students. Other places to gather research include local food pantries, churches, community organizations that target services to the poor, homeless shelters, and transitional housing facilities.
The most knowledgeable source is, of course, homeless patrons already in the library. Not everyone will want to talk, but those who do can provide insight into why they visit and what additional services they would like to see the library offer.

Form a provider web

While canvassing for information, libraries should look for potential partnerships: service providers that can address the needs of their particular community. A San José study found that 60% of the homeless people in the city suffer from one or more disabling conditions. The library doesn’t have staffers trained to handle those issues, so they built relationships with agencies that do.
“Because libraries are the day shelter in a lot of cities, we have to find a way to knit together services,” says Bourne. Libraries can take a leading role in starting that conversation and building a consortium of service providers vested in helping the homeless.
In Lombard, Helen Plum Memorial Library trustee Kris Johnson convened several community forums at the library to discuss ongoing issues relating to homelessness. Every Tuesday, the homeless shelter near the library hosts a shelter night, and the neighborhood sees an influx of homeless people. Many would wait in and around the library until the shelter opened its doors at 7 p.m.
At the forum, the village president, board members, and representatives from area churches and organizations talked about how to improve the situation. Now, a staff of community volunteers hosts a movie screening at the library before the shelter opens, serving popcorn and cocoa donated by Johnson.

Bring resources in-house

Once, when homeless patrons needed help with personal problems like addiction or domestic abuse, libraries could offer only a referral and direct them someplace else. That’s not always effective, since many homeless people suffer from low self-esteem and have difficulty trusting, says Dowd. Other agencies may have failed them before, so they could decide it’s not worth the risk.
But the public library is different. It already has the trust of the homeless community, many of whom stay at the library all day. “It’s like a home,” says Sterling. By bringing resources in-house, libraries can help ensure homeless patrons have access to services critical to their welfare. 
In 2008, San Francisco Public Library became the nation’s first public library to hire its own, full-time psychiatric social worker, according to Michelle Jeffers, chief of community programs and partnerships. Soon after the social worker started, the library hired four health and safety advocates (HASAs), each of whom were formerly homeless themselves.
HASAs help promote services to the poor, including a resource fair that the library hosts in partnership with Project Homeless Connect. Every month in the library’s auditorium, agencies set up booths offering resources and services geared to the homeless, such as eyeglasses, vaccines, shoes, and haircuts.
Public libraries in other cities, including San José, Madison, Philadelphia, and Salt Lake City, also have social workers in-house. Z! Haukeness from the Shine Initiative—a nonprofit based in Madison—keeps a prominent profile in a glass room in the middle of Madison Public Library, where he and a coworker spend 30 hours a week helping patrons find housing and jobs and apply for food stamps. Some people come just to talk through hardships, he says.
One hardship of homelessness, the inability to bathe, has caused ongoing problems for public libraries. San Francisco Public Library now has a possible solution: mobile showers. When a local nonprofit, Lava Mae, began retrofitting former city buses with private showers for the homeless, SFPL staffers lobbied to have one parked outside the central library. Open to all, the free showers would include soap, shampoo, and towels.
Lava Mae’s founders are looking to expand their model to other cities, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Create welcoming spaces

During the planning phases of Madison Public Library’s recent building renovation, director Greg Mickells met with several social service agencies to discuss how to make the library a more inviting and functional space for all patrons, particularly Madison’s homeless community.

The new facility features workspace for 10 different social agencies like the Shine Initiative, as well as redesigned work areas for patrons. Unlike computer banks where people sit in rows, the library’s work areas look more like pods: clusters of three computer desks with partitions spread throughout the library. This arrangement provides more privacy—a valued commodity among homeless patrons.
Madison Public Library's central library created work areas that look like pods: clusters of three computer desks with partitions. This arrangement provides more privacy, a valued commodity among homeless patrons.
Librarians can also expand their collections to include materials on poverty and homelessness, and make sure everyone has access to checking them out. ALA recommends removing restrictions to owning a library card. “There are a lot of educated homeless people,” says Sterling. “We like to read and to learn.” She adds that she arrives at the library as soon as it opens to surf the web, and attends the library’s free seminars on issues relating to consumer credit and the law.
Some libraries allow patrons to use a shelter address when applying for a library card. About 2% of all the cards that Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System issues are courtesy cards for people without a permanent address, says Haimes. Of those, 95% go to homeless people.

Offer targeted programs

After learning about a program at the Dallas Public Library called “Coffee and Conversation,” SFPL’s Jeffers says colleagues decided to try the idea. Homeless patrons gather to share experiences and struggles and talk about why they come to the library. An informal coffee klatch can help stir up ideas for a host of other programs.
Another good source is ALA’s toolkit, “Extending Our Reach: Reducing Homelessness through Library Engagement.” The source contains a list of programs of interest to homeless people, such as mortgage or rental assistance, help applying for government benefits, and health programs.
Libraries like Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System also offer free GED classes on-site that draw unemployed or underemployed people who may be experiencing episodic homelessness. A report from the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness shows nearly 50% of homeless parents are high school dropouts. Obtaining a GED can offer the pathway to gainful employment, and for some, a way off the street.

Train staff

“When you see a homeless person, you see the bags and the raggedy coat, [but] you don’t always see the human,” says Harris of Lombard. “I try to look directly into the person’s eyes.” He says he learned about the importance of making eye contact and other tips from Dowd’s YouTube video, “A Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness.” It’s now required viewing for all staffers at Helen Plum Memorial Library, which serves a large homeless population.
The video offers some insights into what it’s like to be homeless and can help foster sensitivity toward related issues. Dowd recommends treating homeless people no better or worse than anyone else; they don’t mind rules so long as they’re applied fairly. “[The] catch is how they’re enforced,” he says. Underpinning all his advice is one principle: Show respect.
“People just don’t understand being a homeless person,” says Sterling. “If you respect them, they’ll respect you.”
That simple concept isn’t always simple in practice. Each person in the homeless community has a story about how he or she got there. Some of those stories include abuse, mental illness, and posttraumatic stress. As a result, homeless people can often feel cast off from society.
Libraries can work to change that. In addition to providing vital resources, library staffers can engage their communities in better understanding the issues surrounding homelessness. But they can’t do it alone. Working with other advocates and social agencies, libraries can create resource-rich spaces where homeless patrons feel welcome, intellectually engaged, and connected with their communities.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Ebook Discovery

Finding the library/publisher sweet spot
Libraries and publishers are in the business of connecting readers and authors. Bestsellers make up the majority of traffic in public libraries, but how can libraries, publishers, and others in the ecosystem team up to help readers discover the best fit for their tastes?
This is the brass ring that supports a diversity of thought and reading experiences, creates markets for more authors to survive and thrive in their profession, and elicits the joy of finding a new title for a reader. It is also a clear way for librarians to further demonstrate their professional value in a world of information abundance. Ebook discovery through libraries was the theme of an American Library Association–sponsored workshop at Digital Book World (DBW) in New York City in January 2014. I joined a talented team of presenters—including Nora Rawlinson from EarlyWord, publishing consultant Maja Thomas, and Wendy Bartlett from Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library (CCPL). We had two goals: increase awareness of how libraries support discovery and brainstorm new opportunities to enable discovery through libraries. It was a broad-ranging conversation about the physical and digital assets libraries can mobilize, and we flagged several issues for further consideration and development. Because the DBW session was geared to a nonlibrary audience, the following summary supplies arguments that librarians can use to demonstrate their value in the 21st-century reading ecosystem. It will also serve as a jumping-off point for exploring how libraries can enhance their resources and foster new partnerships.

Physical assets

Many libraries begin developing young patrons’ reading habits early with lap-sit and storytime programming. Summer reading programs and promotions like Teen Read Week encourage reading for pleasure, while adult literacy efforts ensure that millions of people will become confident readers. Creating a love of reading is vital, particularly as almost one in five people recently reported not reading a single book in the past year, according to the Pew Research Center. Literacy is one factor, but gaming, social media, and streaming video increasingly compete for people’s time and interest. On average, library users read 20 books in a year, compared with 13 books for nonusers.
Libraries are often characterized as physical places that offer information access, but in a deeper sense they encourage information discovery. Our 16,400+ public library buildings, for instance, are “discovery centers” that remain indispensable as many brick-and-mortar bookstores close. The Codex Group, for example, has found that while book purchases are frequently made online, most of these buyers discover the titles elsewhere. Maja Thomas emphasized this message during the DBW panel, pointing out how library displays and programming promote books—including publishers’ backlists—and help build the fan base for genres and authors even more successfully than online retailers.
A physical space in the digital age serves as a hub where people can connect with physical collections, librarians, and their neighbors. Public libraries host more than
3.75 million programs in a year, attracting nearly 87 million people. Library programming supports cultural and civic engagement and exposes people to print materials and digital media on such themes as Women’s History Month and the anniversary of the March on Washington. Library spaces also give patrons opportunities to use technology and build digital literacy skills. Technological innovations are continually emerging, and libraries play a role in extending their reach beyond early adopters.
Digital displays promoting new e-titles, QR codes linking to book reviews, or public events connecting readers with one another and authors (in person or by videoconference)—all of these physical and virtual resources make libraries a third
space of discovery beyond home and the workplace.

Digital/virtual assets

Library “virtual branches” are an increasingly vital complement for people to connect with information and resources whenever they find it most convenient—including when the physical building is closed. New York Public Library, for instance, now draws 22 million web visits in a year, the second highest of any city agency. This continues to grow as libraries expand their reach with social media and seek greater integration across platforms to improve usability. Library websites are the most common transaction point for circulating digital materials. In 2013, six libraries exceeded 1 million digital checkouts through OverDrive. CCPL has seen its digital circulation grow from 35,000 to 806,000 in three years’ time.
Wendy Bartlett and Nora Rawlinson shared some examples of libraries that are actively expanding their digital services.
  • Libraries are partnering with distributors to improve ebook browsing, checkout, and reading on a range of devices all within a library catalog entry, rather than force a patron to visit a vendor site. CCPL patrons can now read book samples right out of the catalog, which could account for a 25% increase in circulation in January 2014 over the previous year. Baltimore County (Md.) Public Library also reports an increase in circulation as a result of its catalog integration work with 3M.
New “discovery layers” break down silos and feature the kind of displays that grab users’ attention. Rawlinson contrasted the Chicago Public Library website before and after implementing the BiblioCommons discovery system to show how the library is better equipped to feature new or award-winning titles and staff picks.
The user experience is also the focus of ReadersFirst, which in January 2014 released its Guide to Library E-Book Vendors, rating how well each vendor makes the ebook experience seamless for readers and responds to library needs through software enhancements.
Noted as still missing from the library mix are the ability to integrate and offer easy access to book trailers and other online extras like reading guides or coloring-book pages for young readers.
  • Another example of a digital analogue is a portal that serves as an online “reading room” for kids and teens. This online space leads them directly to youth titles, bypassing adult titles and their covers. These materials are still included in the main digital library for anyone to browse for ebooks across the collection.
  • Library content must be easily accessible via mobile websites and apps. Geared for smartphones and tablets, mobile-ready access points have helped improve the process of downloading digital content. Library app collections become a fast channel for promoting titles and other library resources and services.
Two library services recently recognized as cutting edge translate the physical browsing experience into the virtual realm: the Orange County (Fla.) Library
System’s (OCLS) Shake It! mobile app and Scottsdale (Ariz.) Public Library’s Gimme! mobile website and search engine. With each shake of their device, OCLS readers get recommendations from across the catalog, check availability, and place a hold on or download chosen materials. Gimme! asks readers to select from a menu that includes “gimme a clue” or “gimme liberty or gimme death” to retrieve staff-selected titles that range from The Face on the Milk Carton and self-published ebooks to Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly.
  • Social media technology is a growing part of the mix, with Pinterest and Facebook playing major roles in promotion and community engagement. CCPL, for instance, hosts a weekly “Night Owls” session with a librarian “talking books” with readers. Harris County (Tex.) Public Library encourages discovery through its “Book of the Day” feature on its Pinterest account, as well as compiling and sharing staff picks.

Librarian expertise

Library staff members are at the intersection of the physical and the virtual. Recent research from the Pew Research Center found that people see librarian assistance as a top library resource. In addition, the DBW audience clearly valued the expertise and reach of thousands of librarians who work in public, school, and academic libraries.
Librarian readers’ advisory both uses and goes beyond digital algorithms to ensure that the right title finds the right reader at the right time. Cuyahoga County, for instance, offers two customized, online readers’ advisory options: 3 for 3 and
Read Intuit. In 3 for 3, readers share the last three books they read and liked, and librarians suggest three more. Read Intuit digs more deeply into reader profiles with questionnaires tailored to adult, young adult, and kids’ titles. Customized lists of titles are then emailed to readers and placed in the “my lists” section of their online library accounts.
Both Bartlett and Rawlinson talked about using digital advanced reading copies (ARCs) from services like Edelweiss or NetGalley as a discovery tool for librarians. Combined with advance reviews from publications like Booklist, ARCs allow librarians to test-drive, order, and promote new titles before they are published. These services also help drive traffic and conversations on Rawlinson’s EarlyWord website; the recently launched LibraryReads website corrals readers’ advisory library picks.
Book awards that range from Caldecott to Printz to Carnegie recognize and expose high-quality writing to readers of all ages. ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Teen Book Finder app increases the visibility of these award-winning titles.

On the horizon

The publishing and lending ecosystems continue to blur lines and roles. More authors are self-publishing. Libraries are building their own digital content distribution platforms and even taking on some local publishing roles. Amazon lends ebooks to its premium subscribers, and we can imagine other players will introduce similar options to their product mix. While Simon & Schuster is the only publisher currently requiring that a purchase option be included with library lending, “buy-it-now” options for patrons, as well as other commercial partnerships, could provide some compensation or credit for libraries that connect authors and readers. Partnership opportunities—with indie bookstores and digital start-ups—likely will abound for the nimble library. At the same time, serial subscriptions and mobile reading apps will again challenge how we acquire, expose, manage, and build our collections.
Data and privacy
Customization and location-aware recommendations are increasing popular services that demand personal data. How will libraries both protect and leverage patron data that we manage or that may be in the hands of third-party distributors?
Some libraries are beginning to allow patrons to opt into personalized offers and recommendations by turning “on” their circulation history to library staff.
Other data-related questions that arose in the DBW session included analyzing turnover rates more closely, gaining a better understanding of how long a patron will wait for a title and whether a patron will return to the library collection after an extended wait, and finding out how readers engage with books—something that circulation stats alone can’t tell us. What data can help us better serve our readers or make us more valuable to commercial vendors, and what is the trade-off? These questions swirl around Big Data usage in general.
One theme from the DBW session could be seen as a complement—or a challenge—to librarian expertise. Bartlett and Thomas talked about the value of patron-driven acquisition. Readers can bring titles to the librarian’s attention that might otherwise have been missed—the classic benefit of crowdsourcing. “This is an example of the way the world has dramatically changed: Instead of top-down decisions, user desire can bubble up and influence purchases,” Thomas noted.
Crowdsourcing can also be a driver for discovery. Users often want to share their passion for a book by developing their own book trailers for the library website or inserting reviews or user tags into library catalogs. Suggestions from DBW included encouraging patrons to develop and share their lists of favorite books, asking them to describe two emotions they felt on reading a specific title and share this somehow with other readers, or examining the reading lists of other community members for ideas on acquisition and programming.


The DBW session ended on an optimistic note for opening a new front for discussion among librarians, publishers, and others around ebook discovery. Rawlinson and Thomas noted that publishers and librarians live in separate worlds, often driven by conflicting forces. Could further conversations about improving discovery build productive new bridges? Promoting discovery appears to be a rich vein for librarians to mine as we hone our expertise and publicize our value in the 21st century.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Long Nights Build Library Use

Greg Landgraf
Therapy dogs at Marymount University's Hannon Library
The idea of an all-nighter might not hold much appeal past a certain age. Many librarians, however, are using all-nighters to build an enthusiastic audience of student users through the Long Night Against Procrastination.
One student at Crozet Library, a branch of Jefferson-Madison (Va.) Regional Library, left a remarkable thank-you note with young adult librarian Allie Haddix about the library's Exam Cram event for high school students: “Because of the services that you have provided, I will study hard and efficiently, get good grades, get into the best college, and change the world.”

The European University Viadrina in Frankfurt, Germany, created the Long Night Against Procrastination (LNAP) in 2010. Since then, it has spread among university writing centers and, in many cases, libraries worldwide. Other libraries, including school and public libraries, have started holding events that, while not formally connected to LNAP, have similar goals.
More than 100 students (20% of the student body) attended the Long Night Against Procrastination hosted by Waldorf College's Hanson Library and the Waldorf Writing Center.
The specifics of these events vary, but the core idea is the same: Students gather in the library to study or work on projects late into the night, while library and writing center staffers offer assistance in research, writing, and proofreading, and sometimes professors volunteer their time to provide assignment-specific aid. Many events add snacks, relaxation events, planned study breaks, giveaways, and other nonacademic activities into the mix.
But even at LNAP and similar events that have those extras, productivity—in a supportive, community atmosphere—is central. At Crozet's Exam Cram, the library stayed open late exclusively for high school students over seven days. “There was one group using dry-erase markers to write equations on the glass walls, and they had filled the whole wall with equations,” says Haddix. “It looked like they were in college.”
LNAPs get enthusiastic response from students. Perhaps most dramatically, the Long Night at Waldorf College’s Hanson Library (held in partnership with the Waldorf Writing Center) in Forest City, Iowa, attracts 20% of the student body. Since it began in 2013, "every time one of our student ambassadors gave a tour in the library, they'd mention the Long Night as a hallmark event," says former director (and now head of Hardin Library Services at the University of Iowa) Elizabeth Kiscaden.
These events can serve a valuable outreach function. Waldorf's staff marketed the event at the college's field house and brought in many students who hadn't previously used the library. "It helped to break down library anxiety, getting them in and showing them that it's a welcoming environment," Kiscaden says, and now many of those students are return customers.
Meanwhile, at Brandon (Manitoba) University's Robbins Library, the hours of the Long Night helped the Academic Skills Centre reach a new audience. "The Writing Skills staff who were here were able to help students who couldn't come in to see them during regular hours," says university librarian Betty Braaksma.
In some cases, these events have helped libraries build bridges around their campus. For the Feel Good Finals program at Loyola Marymount University's William H. Hannon Library in Los Angeles, the library worked with the campus recreation department to offer massages in the library and to share the cost of bringing in therapy dogs and meditation programs. Since then, an on-campus pub operated by the recreation department has reached out to the library about sponsoring a trivia night. "I don't think we'd have been on their radar if we hadn't built this connection through Feel Good Finals," says Outreach and Communications Librarian Jamie Hazlitt.
Petaluma (Calif.) High School's Cookies and Cram event lasts for a few hours after school and includes both librarians and teachers helping students in the days before finals. "It's amazing to see a teacher sitting at a table helping two or three kids with a question. Then suddenly there will be a group of kids who aren't necessarily from her classes talking to her informally," says teacher-librarian Connie Williams. "It's a really positive experience for kids to know they can come up to any teacher and get their questions answered, and I know the teachers love interacting in that way." —Greg Langraf is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Winning the Space Race

Expanding collections and services with shared depositories

The Washington Research Library Consortium, with Facility Manager Tammy Beck Henning at floor level.
Academic libraries face immutable space problems. On most campuses, library shelf space is finite and even shrinking. Gone are the days when a proactive library director could argue successfully for a library expansion to house more books. 
Still, the books keep coming: Even with increasing numbers of e-journals and ebooks, US college and university libraries collect more than 25 million print volumes every year, on top of the more than 1.1 billion print items already held, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics’ Academic Libraries 2004. Where are these books getting shelved?
To alleviate the space crunch, libraries have increasingly turned to library depositories. Libraries originally used high-density depositories primarily for less-used materials. In the age of learning commons and makerspaces, many of them now find that high-density shelving can no longer be restricted to older or less-used materials. Some send substantial numbers of newly acquired volumes directly to an offsite facility, often because they are relatively arcane materials that are still of value to the research collection.
Witness the almost 62,000-square-foot Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago, which features a domed reading room at ground level, beneath which is a high-density facility capable of holding 3.5 million books, retrievable by robotic arm within minutes of a patron’s online request. “We believe that having materials close by enhances their use,” said Judith Nadler, the now-retired university librarian who oversaw the Mansueto Library’s conceptualization and construction since 2006, in a May 18, 2011, University of Chicago news feature, "Mansueto Library Creates New Space for Thought." She described the design as "a bold statement of importance, of centrality."
Of course, most campuses do not have the luxury of available land on which to build on-campus repositories. Libraries are also joining together to share high-density facilities to support their print collections in mutually agreed upon nearby locations. Of the estimated 75 North American high-density facilities, at least 15 are shared by multiple libraries. Lorcan Dempsey, vice president and chief strategist of OCLC Research, predicted in his blog July 5, 2013, blog post, “In seven years’ time, say, a large part of the existing print collection in libraries will have moved into shared management, with a reduced local footprint. The opportunity costs of locally managing large print collections which release progressively less value into research and learning are becoming too pressing for this not to happen.”
By far the largest shared depository, the Research and Collections Preservation Consortium (ReCAP), which opened in 2002, holds more than 11.5 million volumes owned by Columbia University, the New York Public Library, and Princeton University. The consortium began ​as a way to share the costs of providing optimal preservation conditions for the partners’ extensive research collections, according to Executive Director Jacob Nadal. He touts a benefit of the arrangement: “a preservation environment five times better than conventional library stacks for a fraction of the cost.” ReCAP provides hundreds of daily physical and digital deliveries to partner libraries and readers around the world.

The story of offsite shelving

In the 1980s, the University of California system and Harvard University opened specialized library depositories. Since then, high-density shelving facilities have become a standard option for academic libraries worldwide. The approximately 75 North American facilities currently house more than 80 million volumes and in many cases hold a significant share of a library’s total collection.
These types of facilities are designed to save construction and operating costs by housing a very large number of volumes in the smallest possible floor space. Most of these follow the “Harvard model” in which volumes are grouped by size and held in trays on shelving that can be 30 feet high or more, and are often located off campus to take advantage of less expensive land. Grouping volumes by size allows each shelf to be filled to its maximum capacity with no wasted space above or below, and no reserved space as is required in traditional library shelves arranged by call number, which must allow space for new volumes to be inserted. Typically a Harvard-model facility will contain multiple long rows of shelving in a single large room (or “module”) for a total of 10,000–15,000 surface square feet (which can hold as many as 2 million volumes).
Facilities can be expanded by appending new modules. Each module has environmental systems and controls to maintain low temperature, humidity, and lighting to better preserve the books, usually in better conditions than the campus library provides. Facility staff operate mechanized order pickers that can traverse the rows and rise even to the highest shelf for adding new trays or retrieving requested volumes. These facilities also include a separate processing area for staff to accession new holdings into the facility (sizing, traying, updating inventory control database or library catalog) and to fulfill requests (charging to library or end-user, packing for delivery or scanning for electronic delivery).
Automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) are also in frequent use. Developed first at California State University, Northridge, and now at many others, these facilities are designed to house a high percentage of the library’s volumes on campus and to provide retrieval and delivery by a robotic mechanism. Like the Harvard model, ASRS depositories use long and high shelving rows designed for shelving density and not for human browsing. In the ASRS, the robotic mechanism is connected to the library’s online catalog and request system: When a book is requested, the system automatically dispatches the appropriate arm to retrieve the bin where it is being held. From that point a staff member extracts the requested book from the bin to deliver it to the waiting requester.
Library depositories offer a trade-off between cost-effective shelving for ever-growing collections and more difficult access to the volumes held there. To compensate for reduced availability of volumes in a high-density facility, libraries need to ensure that the volumes can be discovered through metadata and delivered to the requester in a timely manner. On-campus ASRS facilities are designed to deliver volumes within minutes. Offsite facilities frequently offer onsite reading rooms, scanned delivery of articles or chapters, and daily or more frequent delivery of physical volumes.
Most often regional shared depositories have been developed by existing library consortia or university systems. 
  • The University of California’s Northern and Southern Regional Library facilities were developed at the direction of the Regents of the University of California to house materials for the universities in the north and south of the state.
  • Five Colleges Inc. in Massachusetts, an educational consortium established in 1965, established its shared Library Depository by agreement with Amherst College to use part of Amherst’s modified Harvard-model facility housed in a former Strategic Air Command bunker.
  • The Minnesota Library Access Center, a program of Minitex, houses member library collections in an underground cavern built beneath the main library of the University of Minnesota during library construction.
  • Ohio boasts five Harvard-model facilities originally mandated by the state legislature and now administered by OhioLINK.
  • The Washington (D.C.) Research Library Consortium (WRLC) operates a Harvard-model Shared Collections Center for its nine member libraries.
In other cases, partner libraries forge new relationships specifically to achieve a shared library depository.
  • PASCAL (the Preservation and Access Service Center for Colorado Academic Libraries) is shared among the University of Colorado, Denver Health Sciences Library, Auraria Library, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
  • The University of Texas system and Texas A&M University opened a joint library depository in 2013 designed to hold more than 1 million volumes.
  • The Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University are planning a new shared library depository, expected to be operational in late 2015.
Libraries that share facilities define that policy in a number of different ways. Sometimes libraries offer a landlord/tenant arrangement such as the agreement between Duke University, which owns the facility, and neighboring North Carolina libraries in the Research Triangle. At ReCAP, partners share only the physical space and operations staff, with volumes separated into different rows that are reserved for individual owners like a condo. At WRLC (which also operates a shared library catalog across its nine members), holdings of all members are fully intermixed throughout the shared facility. The Five Colleges Library Depository in Massachusetts offers subscriptions to its journal titles held at the facility, so that its subscribers are, in a way, also sharing the facility.

Sharing collections across systems

Regardless of the original arrangement, libraries that share offsite shelving facilities almost inevitably begin to discuss sharing the holdings themselves. Even high-density facilities ultimately face space constraints and often enact policies to restrict duplication. Plans to prohibit duplicates in a shared facility often lead to discussion of shared ownership or stewardship, because partner libraries that are prevented from relocating volumes to the shared facility by the no-duplicates policy need the assurance that they will have access to the offsite volume already sent there by another library.
That was the case for WRLC’s Bruce Hulse, director of information services. He says that during planning for expanding the shared facility, library partners discussed “if we were sharing our individual collections or creating a shared collection.” If sharing individual collections, then each partner would have the ability to make a series of separate choices, which, in the end, might not make the best use of the shared facility. But viewing the book repository’s contents as a single shared collection would require true collaboration, he says, and could produce the best collection for the group as a whole. “The resulting decision to share stewardship went a long way toward convincing university administrators to provide financial support for facility expansion,” Hulse says.
While ReCAP historically has emphasized support for individual collections at the shared facility, ReCAP partners are also considering some major changes. Says ReCAP Executive Director Nadal, “Our next major initiative is to turn ReCAP from a shared operation into a shared collection, giving each partner full access to more than 3 million additional items and providing a foundation for collaboration on major collecting efforts in the years ahead.”
The collaboration between Georgia Tech and Emory University in Atlanta “aims to develop a shared collection between our two institutions, both retrospectively and prospectively,” says Catherine Murray-Rust, Georgia Tech’s vice provost for learning excellence and dean of libraries. “One of the ways to get there is to start by solving our space problems collaboratively through a shared facility.”
The relationship between Georgia Tech and Emory has led to one of the more dramatic collection decisions: In the first case of its kind, Georgia Tech plans to relocate almost all of its print collection to the new shared facility (a decision that may be facilitated by the fact that Georgia Tech’s academic programs emphasize technical and engineering fields that are well-supported by digital resources).
To provide access to its mostly offsite print collection, Georgia Tech will institute twice-daily deliveries of print volumes from the new facility about six miles away, plus on-request emergency deliveries, electronic delivery, and an onsite reading room. Even more important, Murray-Rust says, is that delivery service from the shared facility will be integrated with delivery between all Emory and Georgia Tech library locations, so Georgia Tech faculty and students can have easier access to all materials available through this partnership. As Murray-Rust puts it, the goal is “to make up with service for what some faculty believe is taken away.”
Shared library facilities sometimes form the basis of “shared print programs,” an evolving term used to describe agreements in which libraries explicitly commit to retain certain holdings over the long term, either on campus or in a library depository. The goal of these programs is to ensure preservation of certain defined holdings, which allows other partners to deselect their copies if necessary. Several shared library facilities have enacted retention agreements for their holdings, including the “persistence policy” at the University of California Regional Library Facilities and a commitment at WRLC to retain print journal volumes held at the shared facility until at least 2035. The new facility at Colby College will enable Colby to retain hundreds of thousands of monographs as part of the Maine Shared Collections Strategy. Indiana University’s Auxiliary Library Facility, formerly used only for IU’s collections, now serves as the central repository for the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) Shared Print Repository of journal volumes shared by 10 CIC member libraries.

Appeasing concerns

For libraries operating high-density facilities or shared print programs, one key issue is how to appease the concerns of faculty and students who see books being removed from the stacks. Librarians view relocating books or relying on other collections as an unfortunate necessity, given the continuing acquisition of new volumes that must be housed within a finite amount of campus book space. Faculty and other researchers view those steps as unnecessarily draconian solutions that reduce the value of local collections. Perhaps the best way to bring these two world views together is to agree on a shared goal: Neither librarians nor researchers want libraries to stop acquiring new books because they have run out of space, and both want researchers to find and use any volume they want, wherever it is located.
In the meantime, high-density library shelving facilities will probably continue to grow—both new facilities and expansions of existing ones. Some libraries will be able to make the case that an individual facility is required, while more frequently they may join with others to divvy up the costs of a shared facility.
And as libraries increasingly consider shared print agreements—spreading responsibility for collections among multiple libraries—existing and new library depositories will play an important role as the primary sites for long-term retention and delivery of vital print volumes.

Friday, October 03, 2014

12 Ways Libraries Are Good for the Country

By Leonard Kniffel
Americans love their libraries, and advances in technology have multiplied the ways in which libraries enrich the quality of life in their communities. Whether they are in an elementary school or a university, a museum or a corporation, public or private, our nation's libraries offer a lifetime of learning. To library supporters everywhere—Friends, trustees, board members, patrons, and volunteers—American Libraries magazine offers this gift of 12 ideals toward which librarians strive as they provide comprehensive access to the record of human existence. It will take all of us, in a spirit of pride and freedom, to maintain libraries as a living reality in a free nation through the 21st century.

1. Libraries sustain democracy.

Libraries provide access to information and multiple points of view so that people can make knowledgeable decisions on public policy throughout their lives. With their collections, programs, and professional expertise, librarians help their patrons identify accurate and authoritative data and use information resources wisely to stay informed. The public library is the only institution in American society whose purpose is to guard against the tyrannies of ignorance and conformity.

2. Libraries break down boundaries.

Libraries of various kinds offer services and programs for people at all literacy levels, readers with little or no English skills, preschoolers, students, homebound senior citizens, prisoners, homeless or impoverished individuals, and persons with physical or learning disabilities. Libraries rid us of fences that obstruct our vision and our ability to communicate and to educate ourselves.

3. Libraries level the playing field.

By making access to information resources and technology available to all, regardless of income, class, or background, a public library levels the playing field and helps close the gap between the rich and the poor. Libraries unite people and make their resources available to everyone in the community, regardless of social status. There are more public libraries than McDonald's restaurants in the United States.

4. Libraries value the individual.

Libraries offer choices between mainstream and alternative viewpoints, between traditional and visionary concepts, and between monocultural and multicultural perspectives. Library doors swing open for independent thinking without prejudgment. Library collections and services offer the historical global, cultural, and political perspective that is necessary to foster a spirit of exploration that challenges orthodoxy and conformity.

5. Libraries nourish creativity.

By providing an atmosphere that stimulates curiosity, libraries create opportunities for unstructured learning and serendipitous discovery. As repositories not only of books but of images and a wide variety of media, libraries offer access to the accumulated record of mankind with assistance from professional staff delivering these resources through the physical library, the web, and outreach services.

6. Libraries open young minds.

Children’s and young adult librarians offer story hours, book talks, summer reading activities, career planning, art projects, gaming competitions, and other programs to spark youthful imaginations. Bringing children into a library can transport them from the commonplace to the extraordinary. From story hours for preschoolers to career planning for high schoolers, children's librarians make a difference because they care about the unique developmental needs of every individual who comes to them for help.

7. Libraries return high dividends.

Libraries offer big returns to the communities they serve—anywhere from $1.30 to $10 in services for every $1 invested in them. Strong public and school libraries make a city or town more desirable as a business location. Americans check out an average of more than seven books a year from public libraries, and it costs them roughly $34 in taxes—about the cost of a single hardcover book.

8. Libraries build communities.

People gather at the library to find and share information, experience and experiment with the arts and media, and engage in community discussions and games. No narrow definition will work for libraries. There is the community of scholars, the deaf community, the gay community, the gaming community, and countless others, each with its libraries and specialized collections. Libraries validate and unify; they save lives, literally and by preserving the record of those lives.

9. Libraries support families.

Libraries offer an alternate venue for parents and their children to enhance activities traditionally conducted at home by providing homework centers, parenting collections, after-school programs, outreach, one-on-one reading, and early literacy programs. Like the families they serve, libraries everywhere are adapting to meet the economic and social challenges of the 21st century. In libraries, families find professionals dedicated to keeping their services family-friendly by offering a diverse selection of materials to which people of many backgrounds can relate.

10. Libraries build technology skills.

Library services and programs foster critical-thinking skills and information literacy. Nearly 100% of American libraries offer internet access and assistance with problem-solving aptitude, scientific inquiry, cross-disciplinary thinking, media literacy, productivity and leadership skills, civic engagement, global awareness, and health and environmental awareness. Library patrons search for jobs online, polish résumés with word processing software, fill out applications, research new professions, sign up for career workshops, and look for financial assistance. Public libraries serve as technology hubs by offering a wide range of public access computing and internet access services at no charge to users.

11. Libraries offer sanctuary.

By providing an atmosphere conducive to reflection, libraries induce a feeling of serenity and transcendence that opens the mind to new ideas and interpretations. In the library we are answerable to no one. We can be alone with our private thoughts, fantasies, hopes, and dreams, and we are free to nourish what is most precious to us with the silent companionship of others who share our quest. Libraries are places where computers and databases provide superior access to information and they offer an atmosphere of light and textures that beautiful architecture and design foster.

12. Libraries preserve the past.

Libraries are repositories of community history, oral narratives, and audiovisual records of events and culture, and when these local resources are digitized and placed online as digital libraries, communities and cultures thousands of miles away can share in the experience. Libraries and information science and technology enable us to communicate through distance and time with the living and the dead. A library is a miracle kept available by the meticulous resource description and access that is the work of the librarian. Libraries preserve the record and help their patrons make sense of it in the Information Age.

Friday, September 26, 2014

What libraries do for us – and me

Libraries' huge contribution to children's literacy is threatened by swingeing cuts across the country. Where is the outrage?
Schoolgirl in Antrim library
'Libraries are an equaliser, providing access to books, librarians and a safe environment for all.' Photograph: Paul Faith/PA
'A city without a library is like a graveyard." Those were the words thatMalala Yousafzai, the inspirational Pakistani women's rights activist, used to open Birmingham's new £189m library this month. A poignant statement, considering the continuing tide of public library closures announced recently.
To paraphrase a famous scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian, what do libraries do for us? Well, they introduce many into the world of literacy and learning and help to make it a lifelong habit; they equalise; they teach empathy and help us to learn about each other; they preserve our cultural heritage; they protect our right to know and to learn; they build communities; they strengthen and advance us as a nation; they empower us as individuals.
I myself wouldn't have my lifelong passion for literature, would never have become a writer and certainly wouldn't be the current children's laureate if it hadn't been for visiting my local library as a child.
While I appreciate that in these austere times all local authorities are seeking to make savings, there is surely a strong argument for library services, and in particular children's library services, to be ringfenced against such cuts. Indeed, the 1964 Libraries Act states that every authority must provide a "comprehensive and efficient" library service, and that the government's duty is to investigate when there are serious complaints that this is not the case. Yet this government has not once seen fit to intervene, not even in Gloucestershire, where nearly half the libraries were scheduled for closure, and Herefordshire, where swingeing cuts to the public library service were initially proposed.
Recent figures from Public Libraries News show that nearly 105 UK libraries have either been closed or left local authority control since April 2012.
Last week Sheffield's city council announced plans to keep only 12 of its 28 libraries open, unless community groups come forward to run them. In the past few weeks Moray council has voted to close seven out of 15 branches. Sefton libraries are due to close a number of their branches. Not to mention the Lincolnshire libraries' cuts that have seen further public outcry, with plans proposed to keep just 15 out of 47 libraries open
In August, when there was a danger of Jane Austen's ring leaving the country, the culture minister Ed Vaizey was quick to intervene with a temporary export bar as the ring is deemed to be a "national treasure" that should be "saved for the nation". I would argue that our public libraries are just as much of a national treasure as Jane Austen's ring and yet I have seen no such outrage from Vaizey at their closure.
In these times of increasing government emphasis on children's reading and their resultant educational attainment, surely the closure of public libraries, reduced book spend, limited opening hours and the compulsory redundancy of librarians have had a direct and negative impact on this aspiration? Only last week the Institute of Education released a study that gave yet more evidence that reading for pleasure between the ages of 10 and 16 improves vocabulary and boosts attainment in spelling, and also maths. Reading was found to be even more important for children's cognitive development at secondary school than the influence of their parents.
Libraries are the best literacy resource we have. For children they provide an equaliser that allows everyone access to books, story-telling sessions, homework clubs; expert librarians who give non-partisan assistance and advice regarding books; and warm and safe environments within which to discover and explore the world of literature. Libraries switch children on to a love of reading, with all the ensuing benefits, and can make them lifelong readers. Without them, literacy may increasingly become the province of the lucky few, rather than the birthright of everyone.
• This article was amended on 23 September 2013. An earlier version said that Medway council had confirmed closure of seven out of 15 branches. Medway has no plans to close any of its 16 libraries. The article also said swingeing cuts to the library service were initially proposed in Hertfordshire. That reference should have been to Herefordshire.