Discussing e-books on BBC Radio Ulster Saturday Magazine

You never know where a blog posting will end up — on the back of my praise for Libraries NI making available e-books for loan via the Overdrive mobile application, I was asked to participate in a discussion on BBC Radio Ulster’s Saturday Magazine programme, presented by John Toal.

The panel included Helen Osborn (Director of Service Delivery, Libraries NI), author John Bradbury and yours truly.

Helen argued that this service has the potential to increase the number of new users, as well as adding value to the many reasons why current users go to their library.

John prefers the tactility of a printed book, and to browse his books physically, while I argued that I used to be this way with my music, but now enjoy the convenience of having a large library available to me anytime, electronically.

I did confess that I had to get over the irrelevance of page numbering in e-books, but this took me two minutes and I don’t think about it anymore.

But for me the most important point wasn’t weather you read a printed book or e-book, but that this additional service by Libraries NI should encourage more reading, in itself.

Our 15-minute conversation went very quickly. We all could have easily talked about this topic for much longer!

[Originally posted at Mr Ulster: http://www.mrulster.org/2011/07/discussing-e-books-on-bbc-radio-ulster.html]

Allan LEONARD is a peacebuilder. I do this through my personal and professional vocations, with learning, exploring, and reporting. My specialism is the politics of Northern Ireland, whose people and land I love and where I have made my home. I believe in the power of the arts for conflict transformation, through vision, sound, and performance. I work for a shared society and a #sharedfuture Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

  • babyface finlayson

    It is good to see this though it needs a bit of publicity. I suspect most library users are unaware of it.
    Also I believe it is not compatible with Kindle.

  • socaire

    Weather this helps literacy or not remains to be seen 🙂

  • @babyface finlayson It appears Kindle no, but Android and Sony tablets, and Apple devices and Blackberries, yes

    @socaire “Weather” indeed.

  • NI libraries, the story so far.

    The strategy is therefore to create super libraries, restructure the staff but with no staff losses, and close downsmaller branch libraries. In sum we will still have a library service but we will have to travel, especially bad news for children (and their parents) and the elderly.

    And you sort of understand where they are coming from. Libraries are always in the front line of intended cuts, after all schools, hospitals etc are much more important aren’t they? So budgets are reduced, hours are cut, staff not replaced , less stock purchases smaller libraries close, and usage declines without any deliberate strategy of cutting.

    Me, I’m a little more sceptical. It seems to me that the outcomes of the planned strategy and the impact of cuts are one and the same. Fewer libraries with a concentration on super libraries.

    So let’s now look at some facts and figures.

    Northern Ireland Library Service spend £31m a year as follows 51% on staff costs, rates and rent 10%, maintenance 3%, equipment 2%, stock 11%, PFI 12%, corporate costs 7%, Other 4%.

    There are nearly 700 FTE equivalent staff in over 900 posts with over 450 part time staff. Less than seventy of the staff are professionally qualified librarians.

    There are approximately 110 libraries and approximately 60 of these have five or fewer staff (remember most are part time.) There are 18 mobile libraries for the public and 10 for the housebound. you can see where the cuts will fall.

    And now let’s do a little thinking and generate some ideas

    Libraries have not always been publicly funded indeed some of our best known stores used to have subscription libraries eg Boots, and of course our best known library is the Linen Hall. The modern day equivalent would be a video shop.

    Number two why not contract out the library service. It has been done very successfully elsewhere with more stock, longer opening hours and less cost.

    Next. As of now only 11% of the £31m budget is spent on stock i.e. just over three million quid. Why not abolish the public library service and spend the £31 million on giving every household in the country a £40 book voucher every year allowing each householder to buy ten books at average book prices. Many households would simply donate their book vouchers to schools and churches and overnight you have instant well stocked public LOCAL libraries in every hamlet

    Number four. Why not operate the public library service like Lovefilm.com and order them via the internet with delivery the next day by post.

    Number five.With the advent of e books, the majority of us can download our books.

    Number six. And this is really really contentious. Why not keep our existing library service. Here’s how. By making use of volunteers to replace staff who leave for whatever reason. A rough rule of thumb is 10% turnover of staff a year. Staff are the most expensive base line cost. As the employment of only 70 professional librarians proves, you don’t in the main need professionals you need gate keepers, shelf stockers and book minders. And with volunteers you get to keep the existing library network, you can even add more locations in schools and churches. You get longer opening hours. The existing library staff get to keep their jobs. You know it makes sense. Everybody benefits.

    The key point about a public library service is accessibility both in terms of opening hours and location. The solution is volunteer staff. Don’t let the library management succeed with their strategy of retrenchment inside super libraries whether by design or by a thousand cuts. Ditch the strategy and if necessary the Chief Executive, her salary alone would buy 25,000 new paperbacks. Keep the libraries open.

    Remember nearly half of our libraries are under threat.

  • babyface finlayson

    Fair play for coming up with a few ideas. My problem with most of your suggestions is they don’t seem to allow for the idea of libraries as a public meeting space. I think it is important that those on the margins of society, people with mental illness, those who are homeless and just the sad and lonely, have somewhere to go and interact with others. Many elderly people living alone would be isolated without their library. Or should they just ride around on the bus all day?
    If we followed your ideas to their natural conclusion we could just download our books directly to a USB port behind our ear.
    Volunteers may well have a role to play, though it is a bit denigrating to library staff to dismiss them as shelf stockers.

  • Hello Babyface

    My preferred option is the maintenance of the status quo by integrating volunteers and not replacing salaried staff. Over time baseline costs are reduced and more is spent on stock, the social fabric is enhanced, and lifelong learning is once again back on the agenda.

  • babyface finlayson

    Agreed. I would not want to see libraries run by volunteers alone, which seems to be the David Cameron vision.
    Also I see I called you Alias. My apologies.

  • Extract from the Guardian

    “Libraries will increasingly rely on volunteers and community groups, with more books distributed from shops and village halls, according to a report released on Friday from the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

    The report monitors the progress of 10 pilot projects established by the year-old Future Libraries Programme, including Bradford’s book borrowing points in shops across the city; Hertfordshire’s plans to expand in co-operation with adult social care and children’s centres; and the money-saving combined libraries service proposed by several London councils.

    Suffolk plans to recruit members of the public on to boards of governors running its libraries, and Northumberland and Durham are trialling ebooks for older people and children.

    Options for ensuring libraries’ survival in the 21st century include running them in partnership with the private sector, charities and other councils; integrating with community facilities including churches, shops and village halls; or providing services including health centres and police surgeries in existing libraries.”