Author Archives: John Vincent

About John Vincent

Contributor to sjlibrarian blog.

Politics …

More of a thought than a full-blown post!! I get fed up with people who say that libraries – or, indeed, anything else much – are not political (in the widest sense, not necessarily party-political), and I was thrilled to read an article quoting John Amaechi, speaking about the Olympic Games, in which he expressed this far better than I can:

“I’m so tired of the Olympics being able to hide behind this ‘we are not political’ banner at the same time as being intensely political … All you have to do is look at the event where they announce who will get the Games. Look in the audience and it is prime ministers, premiers and royalty. I’m sorry, you are implicitly political in nature.”

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“LGBT people and the UK cultural sector …”

I’ve been taking something of a back seat over the last 18 months or so, primarily because I’ve been writing – and the results are about to be published! January 2014 will see the publication of LGBT people and the UK cultural sector: the response of libraries, museums, archives and heritage since 1950


I’m intending to post more here in 2014 – especially about libraries in the UK.

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Is it something to do with the current times …?

I’ve been to a couple of meetings recently where people (who, in my view, should have known better!) have told me that social justice has nothing to do with public libraries – or that public libraries do not have anything to contribute to social justice.

One of them suggested that libraries needed to focus on their “core” service (which, when pressed, he said was book lending and increasing borrower numbers and loans), and that anything else was less important.

Isn’t this a strange argument? I have never quite grasped how someone can differentiate in this way between “core” and non-core services, or why, indeed, this core shouldn’t include social justice.

It would be terrific if a real argument grew up in favour of putting our social justice work at the “core” – and we moved away from seeing libraries in such an old-fashioned way (as I told him!!)

Seriously, this mode of thinking seems to be on the increase, and, as funding for public libraries becomes ever more threatened, there are more & more calls for a return to “basics” – a real danger to community-based approaches, for example.

How do we get the thinking about/understanding of libraries to change?


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Social justice and libraries in the UK – well, England in this case!

Arts Council England (who have taken over responsibility for public libraries and museums from the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council – cut in the “bonfire of the quangos) is carrying out another review of public libraries, focusing on what they might be like in 10 years’ time.

As part of this, they have asked people to contribute guest blog pieces, and I have posted one on “Libraries and social justice” – have a look at this, and the others in the series. What do you think?

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Libraries and the riots

Having introduced myself, I’ve been very quiet! The problem is – where to start?

I thought it would be good to follow on from Ken’s posting about the role of librarians in a world of austerity by looking briefly at some issues here in the UK.

As you’ll know, August saw riots across the UK, and, whilst the analysis of the reasons rolls on (with many a political twist!), a number of issues is coming to the fore, including:

  • The growth in inequality – according to The Equality Trust: “UK income inequality increased by 32% between 1960 and 2005. During the same period, it increased by 23% in the USA, and in Sweden decreased by 12%.”
  • The reality of life for some young people at ‘street-level’ where, according to Camila Batmanghelidjh, “large groups of young adults [are] creating their own parallel antisocial communities with different rules”
and, most recently:
  • “Young people who got involved in August’s riots were more likely to be poor and have special educational needs, government research on the unrest has revealed.” (Children & Young People Now, 24 Oct)
So – what can libraries do?
Quite apart from recognising, understanding and making available a range of information to show that there is more than one point of view,  libraries (and museums) have been starting to respond to needs of their local communities, eg:
  • A “Wall of Love” made up of messages posted in Peckham, south London, following recent rioting, is to be preserved at Peckham Library as a permanent display (according to children’s author Alan Gibbons’s blog)
  • Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham, north London already has an exhibition running, “Broadwater Farm Exhibition – Heroes and Homemakers” (which runs until March 2012), and are now planning a project called “Forgotten Gangs”, which will focus on giving a voice to those young people who are not in gangs, reflecting a positive image for young people in the area.
  • The Museum of Liverpool is also addressing the recent riots with an interactive exhibit in the People’s Republic Gallery that will gather visitor responses to the unrest.
And there’s much more we could do … However, a huge issue at the moment is the level of cuts and closures (more on that in future postings) – I’ll finish this one with a terrific piece of advocacy by Boyd Tonkin, literary editor at The Independent newspaper:
“If it wished to rebuild mutual trust, social capital and motives for hope and change in the riot-wrecked streets of a nation’s cities, where might a truly idealistic society begin? …
I know and have heard all the possible objections to a view of local libraries that puts them at the heart of community renewal. Potential rioters and looters don’t care about them anyway. To enter a library in the first place identifies a young person as part of the solution, not the problem. Feral teens who trash the shops will not take an interest in the library until the day dawns when it agrees to stock top-brand sportswear and flat-screen TVs.
Perhaps, just for once, a sharpened sense of desperation might open political and media eyes to something other than plausible cynicism. If the local library system did not already stand, it would take uncountable billions to build. It serves (or did, until the cuts) many of those neighbourhoods bypassed and shunned by other amenities. Libraries are not schools, or courts, or job centres, or social-services outstations. At their best they embody an ideal of voluntary personal development and civic solidarity that few other sites could ever hope to match.”

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Introducing John Vincent

I’m delighted to have been invited to join the posters on this blog – and here I am just introducing myself.

I am based in the UK, and have been involved in libraries’ work towards social justice for a long time. I have worked in public library services in SE England and Londonsince the 1960s, and now coordinate The Network.

“The Network – tackling social exclusion in libraries, museums, archives and galleries”, to give it its full title, is a network of organisations and individuals working towards social justice. We started in 1999 as one of the positive outcomes of a major research project into public library policy and social exclusion (published as Open to all? in 2000).

Our major activities include the provision of:

  • information on initiatives that tackle social exclusion, contribute to community engagement and social/community cohesion, including publishing a monthly newsletter and a regular ebulletin
  • training and other opportunities for the cultural sector and related local services to explore, develop and promote their role in this field
  • a forum to advocate for partnership approaches to tackling social exclusion and contributing to the wider social agenda.

Although we received a small amount of development funding early on (at allow us to develop our work with museums and archives), we do not receive any external funding – our funding comes from an annual subscription for Network members and income from courses and project work.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work, please visit our website or email me.

As well as the broader social justice area (and how libraries can strengthen their links and deliver provision with other agencies), I am also interested particularly in how we can deepen our understanding of our communities – and hope to reflect some of these interests in my contributions to the blog, especially around working with LGBT people, new arrivals, children & young people in the public care system.

I very much look forward to starting a lot of dialogues!

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Introducing New Contributors to the Blog

When attending library school a few years ago I was surprisingly and naively blindsided by some of the insular discussions taking place in library schools, many of which primarily focused on librarians justifying their continued relevance to one another in the ‘information age’.  Clearly, librarians are being acculturated early in their careers to justify their relevance to one another…. and this lingers throughout the rest of our library careers.  This is something we, as librarians, need to move on from.  If we spent as much time focusing on working with communities of interest, and putting theory into action, we would not have to engage in these internal, ad nauseam discussions.

Last month, in one of her final postings, Devon posted a blog on how academic librarians annoy academics.  This article, to date, has been accessed 3,560 times…

The outcry from both this posting and another from a former college at Halifax Public Libraries has really shone a light on the need to focus future blog postings on the Social Justice Librarian on the issue of social justice – not just for us as librarians – but for the communities we are meant to serve.

Future Directions for the Blog

Over the course of the next few weeks there will be a few new writers on the Social Justice Librarian blog, which will expand the scope of the blog beyond the Canadian context.  I am very excited to let readers of this blog know that John Vincent, networker at The Network in England and John Gehner (previous coordinator of Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force – SRRT/ALA) from Urbana, Illinois have both accepted invitations to become writers on this blog!  In the next few weeks I am hoping that at a minimum you will become acquainted with both of them.  I believe we will all learn from their perspectives – and hopefully, at a minimum, consider the perspectives they bring in our daily work.

Additionally we will be also introducing some guest bloggers – from time to time.

As we all know, the world is continually expanding, while at the same time contracting – so we and many of the community members we work with (or are supposed to be working with) are facing many of the same SOCIAL and JUSTICE issues, regardless if they living in London or Chicago, Vancouver, Lisbon, Melbourne, Mumbai, Abuja or Beijing.

Social Justice is core to librarianship. Once again, to source one of our new contributors – John Vincent -“unless one puts some values at the core of librarianship (such as fighting for social justice), then it’s just an empty box of gadgets – which is why, I think, people get so het up about challenges to their “usual” role – if you aren’t clear what your role is, so you construct one based on professional identity”.

Therefore, one of the main questions which needs to be discussed is – what is the role of librarians in discovering and responding to these external (yes, and at time internal) needs?  We hope to focus future discussions on a wide range of topics and issues including (but not limited to):

  • Critically questioning current approaches and roles taken on by library systems,
  • Proposing innovative approaches which could be tried, adjusted and implemented in progressive library systems,
  • Discussing why and how to address barriers to working with underserved individuals [which by the way could and should also be viewed as a large segment of potential library users], and of course
  • Celebrating best practices [while also acknowledging that each community needs to be responded to, based on their own distinctive needs]…

I hope to leave a profession, in about 30 years, where conversations are happening between library staff and communities… instead of us taking internally created messages to communities – and ourselves – to justify our existence.

~ Ken

Just a reminder – a week from today is UNESCO World Literacy Day – we have a lot of work to do!

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