The Professional Librarian and the evidence base

library shelvesMany readers of the LIS Research Coalition blog will have seen (or at least seen reference to) the recent KPMG report. This has generated some controversy within the libraries sector, and beyond. The report criticises the current model for spending on public services and advocates a “Payment for Success” system, which – it claims – will increase productivity and reduce costs across the whole public sector by changing the way services are funded to focus on the delivery of results.

The report singles out libraries as an area of public service facing funding challenges, with library usage declining and the cost per unit for lending a book becoming more expensive than the wholesale price of buying the book. The authors suggest that an appropriate solution would be to follow a North American model, whereby libraries are staffed by community volunteers. The report claims that such a move could save large amounts of money on “over-skilled paid staff”.

Needless to say there has already been a significant reaction to this section of the report. Former poet laureate and current chair of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Sir Andrew Motion, calls the plans “foolhardy, outlandish and potentially catastrophic” in a response for the Guardian. He goes on to stress that: “Good libraries, like good anythings, need expert people working within them. Maybe there is a role for some aspect of volunteering but all the central stuff must be done by people who are qualified to do it…”

CILIP has also been quick to outline the benefits of public libraries managed by professional staff at their web site and has launched a campaign asking for clear, compelling “one-minute messages” to promote the library and information community’s activities. School librarian Nicola McNee has responded to this call using Twitter and the #CILIP1 hashtag to challenge others to outline what they do and why we need skilled professionals working in our libraries. The response to her call has been analysed by Brian Kelly on the UKOLN Cultural Heritage blog.

Radio 4’s The World This Weekend probed the issue in detail and usefully highlighted the importance of looking at the end result intended by having a library in the community, with libraries described as being the “National Health Service of the mind”. You can hear the debate here.

Whilst the report forms part of the run up to a public consultation it seems to have support from the new government. Once again we are reminded that it is only with a robust evidence base that claims such as those made by KPMG might be refuted. The LIS Research Coalition was established last year to facilitate and strategic and coordinated approach to LIS research. One obvious way of developing the evidence base is for LIS stakeholders from across all sectors – and particularly those involved in practitioner research – is to work with the LIS Research Coalition. At the end of this month there is a great opportunity for us to gather together to achieve this at the forthcoming LIS Research Coalition conference on Monday 28th June at the British Library Conference Centre. Here we will be able to discuss the issues in more detail and set the future agenda for adding to – and exploiting – an evidence base the demonstrates the value and impact of LIS. The deadline for signing up to attend the conference is Friday 18th June, so you will need to be quick to secure one of the remaining places.

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