25 November, 2009

The Big Issues Seminar

Storytime at Epping Plaza - outreach to all

The Big Issues Seminar was held at the State Library last Monday and featured 3 keynote speakers.

Tom Bentley, Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister, has an interesting background in education policy in the UK. He has written a book called "Learning beyond the classroom" and he highlighted the role that libraries can play in lifelong learning. He spoke about the need to recluster education and learning in a broader community network and saw the potential of public libraries as third places for young people.

Patricia Faulkner is the Chair of the Social Inclusion Board. She described their focus so far as being on those with locational disadvantage, jobless families with children, children at greatest risk and measuring social inclusion. Patricia urged us to become involved in aggressive outreach to these people, they are unlikely to be library users and it is necessary for the library to go where they are.

Bill Thompson is a technology commentator for the BBC. He described this current period in human history as a time of profound change and transition, equivalent to the beginning of the agricultural revolution. He talked about the role of libraries in a pervasively networked world and the library's role in ensuring that people don't get left behind. It is not so much access to pcs they need now as the ability to be skilled in using online services and accessing online information.

The two common themes that emerged from the day were:

1. The library as hub or 3rd place to close the digital divide, for the learning agenda of Tom Bentley, the social inclusion of Patricia Faulkner, and the possibilities of easing across the transition for Bill Thompson. This is the connection point, the hub, where people can become empowered, the place where people can become literate in digital and print.

2. The ability to remain relevant to the over served as well as the under served. Every community needs a public knowledge space where all can contribute and have a common meeting ground. There is a need for libraries in affluent areas too as hubs for old and new literacies.

It was a very interesting day.

11 November, 2009

Books and reading

Jung called it synchronicity - when things came together, and that happened to me over the last couple of days.

On the excellent Bookshow on Radio National on Monday, Ramona Koval interviewed self styled bibliophile Rick Gekoski who has written a book called Outside of a dog. The book's title is inspired by the Groucho Marx quote: 'Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.' Rick Gekoski is a former Warwick University literature professor who became a rare-books dealer.

In an amusing and clever interview he described how he had a house full of books - thousands of them. When his first marriage ended acrimoniously, his wife claimed the books as part of the contents of the house, which she was entitled to. He said he was shattered for a long time and wondered how he would cope without these books around him, but came to the realisation that it was reading that was precious, not the act of owning books. ( Aside: a good plug for public libraries!)

Yesterday at the State Library we had a wrap up session on the Bushfire Relief Project - and especially the Rebuilding Book collection project. We were talking about how difficult it would be for book lovers, one lady showed a photo to one of our staff of her extensive collection that she lost in the Black Saturday fires. The program that has been offered to people, to replace particular items and also provide new books, has been very much appreciated by the 200 people who were part of the first program, and no doubt by the many people who will be able to choose their own books from the 28,000 items that will be shipped to affected communities - to libraries and relief centres. We have had some wonderful stories - one was a small boy who couldn't get to sleep because every night his dad had read the Hairy Maclary stories to him, and they had been destroyed. We were able to get a replacement set and sent them up to his school where they were presented to him.

Books are such an integral part of many people's lives, it is hard to imagine not having them around. How do you think you would cope if a vengeful wife or a natural disaster deprived you of your books?