What a thoroughly depressing afternoon.
I've just had a meeting with colleagues from elsewhere in the north of England. This is generally a good thing: they're a nice bunch of people; we have interesting discussions; and it's always consoling to know that we share common problems and aren't just festering in our own private hells.
Unfortunately, things are bloody awful all round. We all have to deal with our local lunatics (for some of us it's chiefs and/or reference librarians; for others it's chiefs and children's; or chiefs and branches)(it's odd how often chiefs feature). This is mostly OK, it's part of the game and adds to the gaiety of nations. The new elements of awfulness are part of a wider, nastier picture. We had our blood-letting last year and still have the gaps in provision and vacancies to show for it. One of our colleagues has had three of his colleagues offered early retirement and is covering for his line manager (sounds familiar!); another finds that their new reorganisation means that there aren't any jobs left for 75% of the librarians but those who choose to remain may be eligible to apply for six posts which might arise from phase three of the restructure. One of our colleagues has been retired early along with his line manager and his line manager's line manager and the people who are standing in for him aren't allowed to go to external meetings in case they compromise local confidentiality issues. We're moving libraries into shared premises in the name of co-location but in reality just finding uses for spare capacity in council buildings regardless of suitability of premises or location. Most colleagues have been doing similarly lately. In one case they've reopened as a Community Information Point; in another as a Learning and Information Centre; another as a Community Learning Centre; another as a Community Reading & Learning Centre; in fact anything other than "library." At one library staff are now generic council workers "doing housing enquiries in between stamping out books," something which sounds horribly like something I successfully argued against in other circumstances fifteen years ago.
The discussion lists this week are full of librarians boasting about not getting their hands dirty with stock selection or stock promotion ("we don't need a local library catalogue"). I can't help wondering how successful Tesco or Wal-Mart would be if they gave up bothering about stock selection. And given the central government push of customer choice (however spurious that choice actually is), I can't see the sense in not promoting local stock locally using web catalogues and web sites as aggressively as possible. Mind you, given the choice between a librarian who can't be bothered doing decent stock selection and leaving the job to a supplier I'd go for the supplier every time. And too many librarians don't give two hoots about the quality or accuracy of their catalogue. Perhaps I've been naive all along.
All in all, I'm not convinced I see much of a future for the public library service in all this.