Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Site 13: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

July 22, 2008

"Glasgow -- it's the real Scotland. Edinburgh, it's Disney Scotland." -- Dr. David McMenemy, Information and Library Studies Professor

True story: Glasgow is possibly the greatest place on Earth. Now, it's probably not the most beautiful (unless, of course, you're partial to industrial city chic and ever-present gray clouds -- and this in summer). But Glasgow librarians, if they are anything to judge the city by, are great ambassadors with their wit, their passion for the profession, and oh yes, their shortbread cookies.

(These Scots, they sure know their way to our graduate-student-starved hearts.)

We begin the day at the University of Strathclyde (second institution to teach library science in the UK, currently the largest library science master's program in the UK), with PowerPoint presentations, discussion, and tea. The main topic at hand being: the devolution of the library profession in the UK -- fairly heavy stuff at this hour in the day. But the Scots, in addition to many other admirable traits, they do know their caffeine.

This devolution process, as Dr. David puts it, is an attack of the profession and has lead to a crisis of confidence for librarians. Deprofessionalization affects us all directly, personally. With less value placed on higher education and training, librarians as trade workers weakens the quality of library candidates, individual libraries -- their scope and function, as well as the services provided to the public. With librarians receiving less pay, or cut-backs in job opportunities (especially for school media specialists, where in the UK, are not required at every school), the public is also given the impression that yes, librarians are not professionals, nor need they be. And so, UK's librarians, and Scotland's in particular, are trying to regain their footing. How to remedy and move forward in the field poses problems -- and hard choices to make.

It's no easy answer, and not one that a single PowerPoint can solve. It's a discourse, truly, and an honor to be included in the discussion, as Americans offering up our own opinions and experiences.

PhD Candidate at the University of Strathclyde, Christine Rooney-Browne, is writing her dissertation on a topic that can only bolster the status of UK libraries: The Traditional Role of Public Libraries, measuring performance by social as opposed to economic value. Her methodology is a daunting prospect -- attempting to measure what is generally thought to be unmeasurable. How do we weigh social merit?

In her research, Christine tries to go beyond statistical analysis, and to discover value outside of standards ways. She incorporates the use of open-ended questionnaires, one-on-one interviews, and focus groups, to name a few. Her goals are to remain on a personal level, to forge personal connections; to gain insight into the social impact of libraries, creating dialogues with users is a necessary step, in order to gather a richer set of data.

Going further than Scotland, and the UK, Christine's study sampling is international, centering on five distinct groups: rural, urban, indigenous, developing, and natural disaster. Her research is already empowering, an effort to promote global understanding, communication. Her use of real models grounds her research into something that can be applicable to real life library situations. Rather than basing decisions altogether in theory, tangible evidence of the worth of libraries will indeed help the cause.

Adding to the PowerPoint excitement of the day, another cultural shock came up in Alan Poulter's presentation: Forensic Readiness for Local Libraries in Scotland. A library's use policy (specifically in regard to internet use) was something emphasized time and again in previous library courses; in the UK, the need is just as pronounced, the critical difference being that user tracking is not only allowed, but an area where improvements are continually being made.

It's shocking -- I spent the first few moments dazed after hearing that logging and monitoring is a library practice here. In the US, so much emphasis is placed on intellectual freedom, the privacy rights of all users. Library records are cleared everyday, and librarians surely do not examine the sites visited.

I do find it interesting, however, the implementation of computer devices, and deciding whether to settle on random log-in or general log-in tracking (zeroing in on users whose web activity raises red flags). I do see the point that Alan makes, of course, and hearing the kind of sites -- and what goes on on those sites by library users, on library computers, is sickening. But the issue of privacy is so close to the heart of American values, it's hard to take a step in Alan's direction. If the constant "CCTV is in operation" signs didn't creep me out, the fact that librarians are monitoring me as well is much too Orwellian for comfort.

It's food for thought, in any case. How we construct librarianship, internationally, is in places so different, but we have the same basic goals. We want to provide the public with the best possible service. We want and expect of ourselves a certain degree of professionalism -- to be educated, recognized, and treated as professionals.

Information and Library Studies Postgraduate homepage
Speaker -- Dr. David McMenemy, professor, academic page
Speaker -- Mr. Alan Poulter, lecturer, academic page
Speaker -- Ms. Christine Rooney-Browne, PhD candidate, academic page

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