Monthly Archives: September 2011

Free Webinar on Working with the Community

Please join us…

OCLC and Library Journal Bring You:

Putting the Public Back in Public Libraries: Community-Led Libraries

Full Description here 

Archive of full Webinar can be found here

Monday, September 26, 2011  1 pm Eastern 10 am Pacific ♦ 60 min.

While public libraries are generally viewed as inclusive spaces, there are large segments of community that do not use them. Beginning in 2004, four large urban library systems from across Canada – Vancouver, Toronto, Regina and Halifax Public Libraries – spent four years working in socially excluded communities, to determine how to make public library services relevant to the needs of underserved communities. As a result, it was discovered that when communities are involved in the identification, development and delivery of library services, there can be an exhilarating effect. Since the conclusion of the highly successful Working Together Project (2004-2008), public libraries from across Canada have integrated community-led approaches and techniques. This webinar, brought to you in collaboration with Library Journal, will discuss the major outcomes of the project and provide examples of how the bringing this approach into library service planning makes libraries even more relevant to local needs.

Presenters: Tracey Jones-Grant, manager of ELL, Literacy and Diversity Services, Halifax Public Libraries; Ken Williment, community development manager for Halifax Public Libraries; and Randy Gatley, community librarian, Vancouver Public Library.

To register go to:


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Libraries and Statistics – What are the Issues?

I originally wrote this in 2008, but never really knew what to do with it?  I am not against the use of quantitative statistics.  I actually quite enjoy doing multivariate stats, although I really haven’t touched it much since entering the library profession.

Using statistics makes sense for libraries.  Statistics provide our funders, boards, and senior administrators with a snapshot of the inputs and outputs occurring in libraries.  I hope to write a future posting which talks about the importance of using the narrative to ensure we are also capturing the impacts and outcomes of library services.

I hope this makes sense.. but here it goes.

Librarians, like most other professionals, have traditionally collected numbers, especially descriptive statistics, as a primary means of measurement, evaluation, and to justify or change current or proposed operations.  While quantitative statistics have served a valuable function within the traditional library environment, there are many drawbacks to using numbers to represent the attitudes and behaviours of patrons.

Using Quantitative Measures

While the collection of numbers is usually viewed as a non-biased methodology for collecting information, numeric indicators have a number of drawbacks.  Quantitative methodology is a deductive approach, where the researcher acts:

  • as the expert who determines the questions used to collect information or data, and
  • questions are usually generated by referring to other library studies (conducting a literature review), or by relying on their own expertise, to determine the concepts to measure.

When this occurs, we as library staff, define the concepts are important to measure. Staff also decide:

  • what questions to ask,
  • how to ask them, and
  • how to measure them.

This process should, but does not always involve, clearly pre-determining the concepts to measure.  This can provide a one time snapshot, or a more long term picture of a social phenomena.

Numbers permits us to test hypotheses, predictions, and causal connections between the measured concepts.  Under specific circumstances the use of statistical procedures allows for sample (e.g. small number of old age library users) findings to be inferred to populations (e.g. all old age users in the library system).

Issue I.

Ultimately, the numeric basis of quantitative research is one of its major weaknesses.  While concepts are asked and defined by library staff, so they can measure them, the use of common terminology is not always consistent.

(Example #1 – After a program library staff may ask the participants what they thought of it through the use of a five point scale: 1=Very bad / 2=Bad / 3=Neutral / 4=Good / 5=Very Good.  One person may have had a horrible time, but only interpret the experience as “bad”, while another might have been mildly annoyed by the person sitting beside them and then indicate their experience was “very bad”.  Therefore, the response depends on the definition the individual places on the concept created by the survey constructor – not how the survey constructor defined the concept).

(Example #2 – The number of library users in one library system can be defined as the number of people that check out books, while another system may measure the same concept based on the number of people who enter their buildings.   Therefore, when numeric data is collected and compared, between branches and other systems, it is very important that library staff constantly ensure that apples are being compared with apples – not oranges.)

Issue II.

By pre-determining the concepts to measure and compare, the librarian is viewed as the expert who knows, prior to data collection, which concepts or variables are important.  This process is very inflexible, and does not provide members of the community the opportunity to provide information about how they see the world, outside the prescribed measurement tool created by the librarian.

Issue III.

By far the most dangerous consequences of the improper use of quantitative statistics occurs when people collecting and interpreting data conclude that the findings are causal or predictive.  With quantitative statistics, the type of number used (nominal, ordinal, interval-ratio) determines which research questions can be asked, what questions can be answered, and what types of analysis can be performed.  For example, people may talk about the “correlation” between concepts, although correlation does not show causality – it is a measure of association – and is much more accurate when occurring between concepts measured at the interval-ratio level (not nominal level data (frequencies or whole numbers) which are primarily collected in libraries).

In addition, small samples should only be generalized to large scale populations, when library staff can tell the sample drawn  is representative of the entire library system (e.g. remember the old age user example discussed above. Survey results of a sample of old aged users can only be generalized to a population of old aged users, if the sample is reflective of the population).    If sample characteristics do not reflect the population, there is a danger of introducing bias into the results, and interpretations – which drive library policy (e.g. only older library users who are highly mobile filled out the survey, since the survey was conducted in winter and those with mobility issues could not come to the branch because of all the snow).  This is a real threat to library systems if done incorrectly, since a small innocent survey – which was improperly interpreted, is relied upon to direct future library services and policies.

~ Ken

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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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