Jacqueline Geekie, the CILIP Information Literacy Group’s Public Library Representative, offers her thoughts on the recent Sieghart panel independent report on public libraries.
I have been reflecting on the Sieghart Report and how this fits in with my roles as Information Literacy and Learning Librarian for Aberdeenshire Libraries and as the Public Library Representative on the CILIP Information Literacy Group.
I agree that libraries could and should play a major role in rectifying literacy standards, however this requires partnership working with local providers, and not just in the library environment. Library staff will need to be trained to have the knowledge and expertise to provide this support.
I would welcome the creation of community hubs and helping individuals to become digitally literate. This is an important role for libraries, enabling people not only to get online access, but also to be information literate and be able to use the information they find online. Libraries are a natural gathering place for people who have no access to technology or the internet at home. For those working in public libraries, the reference to the Welfare Reform Agenda is clear and, as Universal Credit is introduced throughout the country, this will surely increase. This report calls for the “recruitment and training of equally high calibre personnel for the future”. I would echo this and state that this would be vital in order for libraries to provide the type of support required.
It is an age-old problem that, when people are shown what libraries provide and what library staff do, they are amazed that libraries have moved so far, but we need to keep promoting what we are doing to our users, non-users, funders and policy makers. Libraries would then be better placed to receive the “appropriate recognition, support and publicity about their role”. In turn, we need to be relevant to as wide a group as possible to ensure we are providing the service that is required. At times we have tried to be all things to all men with a limited budget, and that doesn’t always work and difficult decisions need to be made.
One of my favourite phrases in the whole report is: “The 21st century librarian will need to be more of a community impresario with digital and commercial expertise.” Yes, but also have the appropriate training to develop their skills, and this will require time and investment.
So am I now, or will I become, a community impresario? I am not sure, but what I do know is that we have a vital role in helping and supporting people to find, evaluate and use information in all formats. With the increase in information technology in our lives, everyone needs more information literacy skills to be able to wade through all the information that is being created every day, and public librarians should grab that role with both hands.