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8 January 2011

Beyond the echo chamber

This is the first post on this blog, which I would like to use for a personal view on professional issues, plus probably a few random jottings.

I've just been looking at Libby Tilley's post about the libraries@cambridge conference 2011 which prompted a few thoughts. I was particularly struck by the afternoon talks, all of which were excellent sweetmeats in a Gaiety Selection Box opened up by Andy Priestner.

They appeared to reflect three types of process : Institutionally driven eg Affiliation, libraries@cambridge and the music pilot; Grassroots initiatives eg Cam 23, Teachmeet, Community learning and Freshers' Fair, and Grassroots initiatives moving into institutions, eg ebooks@cambridge and librarians in training.  (I appreciate I've missed out a few of the talks here as I'm simplifying).

The Grassroots initiatives were being carried out with enthusiasm and imagination following a "Just Do It" mantra.  In comparison the Institutionally driven services and processes seemed so much more staid and worthy, tackling challenges on a far broader scale with the usual scant resources; while those on the move between the two states are trying to retain their initial enthusiasm in moving to their new environment. (I wonder, is it a co-incidence or not that the two initiatives in transition between the two states were both started by the Colleges?)

I am sure this all fits A Guru's model of enterprise and development.  What fascinates me is that at the top of the food chain it seems we have an image which is years out of date.  We are bound together through online services but are hierarchically structured without  the necessary policies and decision-making bodies to place us at the heart of teaching and research, and with a great internationally renowned specialist research library being seen as the natural administrative body for a wide and disparate group of independent, locally accountable libraries.  Meanwhile ad hoc enthusiasts are pushing our expertise creatively in flat, teamworking structures outside the established boundaries, accountable to themselves and their followers.

This leaves us with several challenges ...

How do we all keep abreast of the different Grassroot initiatives?  How much time can any individual librarian give to them?   If you are one member of a library team of one-and-a-half  people, how do you arrange your working week to accommodate new ideas while fulfilling the requirements of those who pay your wages and wrote your job description?

How do we develop a consistent body of knowledge for all library staff?  What *should* we all know about?  Web 2.0? Cat and class? Enquiry services? Teaching skills? Digitisation? Special collections?

How do we bridge the knowledge gulf between those who direct library policy and what is going on at grassroots level?  Who has a grip up there on what is going on? (The discussion about communication between librarians which emerged from Cam23 is pertinent here).

The efforts of Grassroots teams working together across institutional boundaries clearly show what can be achieved with very little expense and tons of commitment.  We as individual librarians must continue to state our case professionally ad nauseam but there is a limit to what we can do at our level.  Let's hope our achievements are valued, encouraged, celebrated and communicated in clear, effective advocacy at the highest institutional levels so that we can break out of any echo chamber.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't and haven't put it better myself, there seems to be an ever-widening chasm between the enthusiasm and modern approach of the grassroots initiators and the apparent lethargy, inaction and disinterest extant in the more trad channels.

    I was astonished and not a little angry to hear that one speaker in the afternoon session thought that the advent of federalisation could and should be identified as the catalyst for the grassroots successes of the past year. I saw this as a desperate, pitiable and flawed assertion.

    So pleased to see that you're blogging again.

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