Alison attended the first LISDIS (Library and Information Science Dissertations) Conference in Huddersfield on Saturday 14th November 2015. She’s kindly reported on her experiences for us. Alison is a new school librarian at Bolton School, known locally as “Hogwarts.”. She previously worked as a library assistant in the public sector, and prior to that in marketing. She’s on Twitter as @alisoncaller and blogs (mostly about chartership) at www.unchainedschoollibrarian.wordpress.com
On Saturday 14th November I attended the first LISDIS – this included a variety of presentations by LIS graduates of their unpublished MA dissertations. I also had the opportunity to network with enthusiastic, intelligent, mostly new Librarians (and a couple of tutors). The tutor from UCL was surprised that I was neither doing a LIS degree nor a recent LIS graduate and said that he was impressed that I was attending as part of the Chartership process.
Actually I found the presentations very interesting and whilst I’m unsure that I can apply them all specifically to my work as a School Librarian, they did solidify some of my feelings about the profession.
There were several presentations about cataloguing and classification. The significant findings were to do with equality of access. Sarah Hume’s presentation ‘Wine, Witchcraft, Women, Wool:Classifying Women’s studies collections’ was about how Dewey/Library of Congress classifies women’s studies (primarily that it doesn’t have numbers to do so). The second presentation by Lizzie Sparrow was about ‘The Provision of Lesbian Fiction in Public Libraries in Scotland.’
On both occasions their findings demonstrated that not being recognised (either with a classification number or with a tag of Lesbian fiction) left the customers feeling less valued and was ‘extremely dis-spiriting’ (Lizzie Sparrow). Specifically, the latter thesis found being given an identity on the catalogue helped with ‘a sense of identity, validation, connection and learning about themselves and others’. It was particularly helpful for women/girls in the process of ‘coming out.’
I found a connection between these two presentations and a third about “La Femme Bibliophile”: women as book collectors in an age of bibliomania. This presentation by Lucy Saint-Smith gave a fascinating glimpse into the 18th century world of aristocratic ‘Lady’ book collectors. They were primarily ignored by male bibliophiles – indeed one dismissed his female counterpart as basing their collections upon ‘the decorative and sentimental.’
I felt that there was a correlation between the women’s studies’ lack of classification and the lesbians non-inclusion in the catalogues. These female bibliophiles were elusive but interesting figures now and excluded in their own lifetime.
Ian Clark’s presentation ‘To what extent do community libraries address the concerns of the digital divide’ was a very powerful and spirited session about the use of volunteers in community run libraries. Whilst I ‘know’ that volunteers are only helping because the see no other alternative to their local library shutting, Ian demonstrated exactly how pushed into a corner these people can be. It begged the question ‘Is it better to close than to provide a partial service?’
He also passionately illustrated the differences (primarily socio-economic) between a volunteer library being run in a rural area and an urban one. He found that in the rural area the community group were expected to provide a business plan, they also received donations and money from their parish council and even had cash reserves. As a contrast, the urban library was in a deprived area where volunteers actually came from a distance to help. The lack of home computer access meant there were queues out the door at weekends by schoolchildren wanting to do their homework. They were completely unsupported by their local council who removed part of the computer suite and had told them that they had to find £70k a year in order to continue to run. Indeed, it was likely that they would have to charge for computer access in the future.
I found it easy to relate to both of these types of libraries as I worked in a partially volunteer run semi rural (and affluent) library and an urban library in a deprived area. Ian explained that his research showed that although the volunteers were doing their best, neither set were actually given training on using the computers and simply had to do their best with the skills that the volunteers already had. This mean that customers were left to muddle through when they did get to access the computers.
In all honesty, this both depressed and enraged me. The LISDIS conference was on the same day as the Speak up for Libraries conference in London and my twitter feed displayed similar tales of the dire straits that public libraries find themselves in. What interested me from the SUFL conference was that Kathy Settle CEO of the Libraries Taskforce (according to Twitter) stated “I have publically said it’s unacceptable to cut volunteers adrift with libraries”. It sounds as if this is what has happened.
The dissertation’s main topic was actually about how these community run libraries perpetuate the digital divide, particularly in areas of deprivation where fewer households than the national average have internet access. I believe this subject is extremely important to our role as librarians. Helping people access and use computers in order to make use of the wealth of information online (at a basic level to be able to fill in official documents such as benefits forms as well as for the economics benefits) is a key part our remit. Of course, the web offers far more than just economic savings; the opportunity for using it for education and socially is just as important and excluding parts of the population feels very wrong to me.
Having attended this conference I now know more about why having collection policies and why how subjects are classified is important. This understanding will be beneficial to me as a professional as I wanted to learn about our ethics and how I can be more ethical in the way that I work. I am going to discuss with my manager whether we should keyword LGBT books on our catalogue separately, although this may happen more naturally when we change LMS in the Spring.
I am also going to keep up to date with the information relating to library advocacy as it is a subject close to my heart as I disagree strongly with the way that so many public libraries are being shut or run by community groups.
Thanks to Alison for her thoughts on LISDIS, sounds like it was a very interesting and useful day! All presentation from the conference, along with Storify stories from the day, are available on the LISDIS website.
Photo credits: Laura Williams