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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What a Library Is; What a Library Means

Quite frequently I see students in the library doing–how should I put this?–non-academic activities. Sleeping is the most common one, and also various online hobbies such as playing WoW (or CoH or other MMORPGs), watching videos (I actually saw a student watching the 1984 television version of the Legend of the Condor Heroes once, which made me almost weep with nostalgia), browsing Facebook and other social media websites. The one activity I have to swoop in and stop is eating, as food, including crumbs, stains and leftovers, will attract pests, not to mention introduce unpleasant odours.
While noticing all these extra-curricular activities, I sometimes wonder how students view the library nowadays. Reams of articles, surveys and data have been generated in the library science field on the perception of the library by its users, and I don’t think anyone has definitively come up with an answer. There is usually a gap between what the user of the library wants and needs, and what the library offers. Filling this gap takes resources and we may not always get it right.
The library as a physical space has become increasingly irrelevant for learning and research, as entire fields of information, such as company financials, statistics, indexes and industry data are moving online. However, the library as an entity has become increasingly important–and paradoxically more invisible–as electronic resources need to be reviewed, subscribed to, organized, and presented to users in a meaningful and accessible form. Users may see the “graceful swan”, which is easy access to information they need. Alas, they may overlook all the hard pedaling the swan needs to do under the surface.
So, while I do not worry that the library as a space is taken up by users for leisure activities, I do worry that users do not see and so hence do not value, the fact that librarians work tirelessly to obtain and proffer information that would otherwise be locked away and made available only at a prohibitive cost. So use the e-resources while you have them, students; once you graduate, all the easily accessible articles, statistics, company reports and other online information will be closed to you!

Monday, September 01, 2014

7 Things Freshmen Should Know But Usually Don’t

1. Your library pin is your smartcard pin
You probably know your NUSNET ID, since without it, you can’t access your NUS email as well as the all-important IVLE. But a surprising number of students don’t know their library PINs, which is the smartcard PIN issued during matriculation. The library PIN is needed for checking your loan record, renewing books and borrowing books using the self-service machines, among other things. You can retrieve it here.

2. RBR books can be borrowed overnight
Reserve Books/Readings (RBR) are highly sought after because they are recommended readings for various modules and can be borrowed only for 2 hours. However, few students know that they can borrow the an RBR book overnight just before the library closes and return it within one hour of the library’s opening the next day. For details look here.

3. Most books have a grace period
You probably know that the loan period for books is 14 days for undergraduates and 28 days for honours & graduate students. But did you know there is a grace period and that fines don’t start until the 4th day after the due date? Be careful to read the fine print (6. Rate of fines), as the grace period doesn’t apply to RBR books, 7-day loan books, bound journals and other materials.

4. You cannot renew an item if there is already a hold
Sure, you may know that you can renew books three times online, and you may even know how much extension a renewal gives. But what you may not know is that you cannot renew an item once there is a hold on it. That’s why it is a bad idea to bring books overseas for a long vacation as you cannot count on being able to renew the loan.

5. The proxy bookmarklet is your other friend
Google may be your friend, but what happens if it shows a journal article that requires you to pay? Instead of replicating your search in the catalogue, save time by using the proxy bookmarklet to access the article directly! Do note that the proxy bookmarklet only works on journals that the library subscribes to.
Using Google Scholar or PubMed instead? We have you covered as well. Also check out other useful search plugins that will allow you to access NUS Libraries resources seamlessly no matter where you are.

6. There are easier ways to cite and do referencing
We have quick guides to assist in referencing for various styles. But there are many ways to auto-enerate citations quickly. These range from using build-in functions in the library search engines, databases and Google Scholar, to using standalone citation builders you can find online. You can also consider learning how to use a full blown reference manager like EndNote (you can install this for free as a student or staff of NUS by following instructions in our EndNote guide), as these help you auto-insert citations into your Word documents.

7. Librarians have expertise and are here to help you
While librarians can’t do your homework, we can help you find books, papers and data sets relevant to your research and assignments. In addition, some of us are skilled in patent searching, use of reference managers, bibliometrics and may also have subject specific expertise. Contact your resource librarian today, or come for our orientations sessions to learn about using the library effectively for your assignments!