Tag Archives: Jennifer Higgins

Looking back on #GLTU13: Cornton Vale

27 Jan

Recent events have prompted Jennifer Higgins to submit this guest post, as she explains:

Following yesterday’s announcement that the Scottish Government is scrapping plans for a £75 million prison, I thought I’d return to a draft blog from #GLTU’s visit to Cornton Vale’s prison library, which I initially started in June 2014. Eight months later, my notes serve as a reminder not just of the day itself, but of the remarkable women we met working in Education and Outreach services at Stirling Council whose ‘back-to-basics’  approach places both education and libraries at the centre of prisoner reform.

#GLTU13’s visit to Cornton Vale women’s prison was a timely occurrence following the recent controversy over MP Chris Grayling’s decision to ban book donation to prison libraries. [A decision declared unlawful in December, 2014]. It was with this in mind that a group of librarians travelled to the outskirts of Stirling, flanked by the Trossachs and the Wallace Monument, to meet Liz Moffat, Outreach Librarian at Stirling Libraries and Carol, who helps to deliver that outreach.

Filing through security, and following a prison officer across the grounds, we were greeted by Kaye Stewart, Learning Centre Manager, who described the work being done at the prison around learning and literacy. Kaye’s sincerity about the education of the women she works with at the prison was, for me, one of the most memorable aspects of the visit. She spoke candidly about the learning projects being run at the prison while showing us around the space. She stopped to describe the importance of a recently opened kitchen space designed to teach inmates life-work skills, the ‘Create and Curate’ art project (where inmates were led by artist Brigid Collins), and how the work of reading groups such as Carol’s embodied the impact that reading has for the women who attend. One woman, for example, disclosed to Liz that she had just finished reading her first book having learnt how to read at Cornton Vale.

In the Library, we learned about New College Lanarkshire’s contract to deliver education through a librarian in Shotts Prison rather than, as is the case at Cornton Vale, the prison library being staffed by inmates. Kaye described how the new Grampian women’s prison, and those at Greenock and Edinburgh, have led to fewer inmates at Cornton Vale, now earmarked for closure. With budgets for prison education programmes tightening, Liz explained how it was necessary for Stirling Libraries to negotiate a new service level agreement to supply outreach services for harder-to-reach library users. This allocation of prison funds emerged as a recurrent theme as we listened to how the library is used both as a space for relaxation by the inmates and a site for peer-tutoring and emotional support. Kaye suggested that having a librarian in post at the prison could be considered a drop-in-the bucket in comparison to the overall cost of running a prison. The case for prison libraries being put back on the agenda has arguably been made by successful reading initiatives such as book groups and a Reader-in-Residence project (run for a year at Cornton Vale as well as at Perth and Polmont prison libraries, while HMP Perth continues to fund half a librarian’s post). But the impression conveyed was that more is needed to assist prisoners’ rehabilitation, particularly given the grave social circumstances from which some arrive at the prison and return to after serving short-term sentences.

The group was keen to ask questions about prison library censorship. Liz explained how she adheres to the CILIP rule when selecting library stock: “if it’s in stock, then you can’t censor it.” Nonetheless, ‘True Crime’ was conspicuous in its absence on the well-stocked shelves, although the intention is to protect inmates and newspaper and magazine subscriptions do exist. The ruckus around the UK government’s decision inevitably came to the fore when Liz highlighted the view that the library service (as opposed to donations) should be able to provide additional requests for reading material. The requests Liz receives, like those made in public libraries on any given day, ranged from dream interpretations to baby names to the latest Martina Cole or Patricia Cornwell novel. A preference for female authors in an all-female prison might not have come as a huge surprise although we did also hear about a particularly rambunctious book reading by Alan Bissett in the prison chaplaincy that nearly resulted in the Falkirk author being thrown out of prison.

Of further interest was a discussion around the lack of Internet in prison libraries. Could a list of approved websites not be supplied to give inmates access to online content without compromising prison security? ‘Yes’ was the answer from Kaye, but this idea had been snuffed out by the Scottish Prison Service based on expense. Instead, inmates obtain limited access to digital resources through the prison’s intranet. From a digital participation view-point, this use of ‘white sites’ (Americanised ‘safe sites’) for educational use, appeared to loom large.

With only limited knowledge of how Stirling Libraries are delivering its outreach to vulnerable groups, I had no fixed idea of what to expect from the visit. What I went away with, however, was a fresh perspective of the importance of freely-accessible education for the women at Cornton Vale. I admit to being surprised at the tranquillity of the library and the availability of stock, something for which Liz should be given credit. On the way back to the station, she stressed the importance she places on this as part of her outreach responsibilities. I was struck by Carol’s filial comments about wasted talent and her curiosity to know what becomes of the women once they resume their lives. While working in a number of Glasgow’s community libraries over the past few weeks, questions raised by the visit have stayed with me. How, for example, do public libraries assist in the reintegration of ex-offenders back into society? Although they occasionally appear on the target-user groups within library service development plans, what work is being done to achieve this goal? Just as importantly, is it something that public library staff should be trained to assist with? The relationships with reading being built in prison libraries, exemplified through Cornton Vale’s partnership with Stirling Libraries and Kaye and Carol’s rehabilitation work, might not just encourage ex-offenders to continue a positive relationship with reading on their release, but may also elicit answers to these questions.

Library Camp Glasgow: Jennifer’s view

11 Nov

Picture: Lynn Corrigan

In this guest post, Jennifer Higgins writes about experiencing her first library camp.

I’m a diabolical blogger. Only too eager to attend the latest library event happening in Scotland’s central belt, my vampiric tendency is to gorge on the offerings of the day, internalise them in the darkness of my desk before picking over the bones of half-remembered details a few weeks /months later – and usually in response to an information enquiry that requires further support.

But the outwardly reflective nature of the sessions at Glasgow Library Camp 2014 on Saturday at The Mitchell Library has awakened me out of my blogging somnambulism to share a few thoughts on what really was a brilliant day out.

Proceedings started at 10am sharp, minutes after my hasty arrival. This being the first library camp I’d attended, I’d been pre-warned to expect the unexpected. Nonetheless, it was still quite unusual to be greeted by a chorus of questions from “Do you have a pet cat?” to “Do you play any team sports?” while fumbling through my CILIPS goodie-bag for a pen and notepad. Library bingo had been in earnest play since 9.30am, an excited Anabel Marsh and ever-cheerful Kirsten McCormick (General Services Librarian at the Mitchell) explained.

The ice well and truly broken, Anabel welcomed us all, explaining the concept of the un-conference (a more spontaneous version of the traditional format) and introducing the day’s session-pitch speakers. It was then onto the MmITS-sponsored 60 second soapbox rants covering an assortment of cross-sector themes. I was very apprehensive about standing up to recite a verse I’d penned on the subject of female-librarian stereotypes, alongside three spirited pitches from Sharon Wilson, Karen McAulay and Fiona Hughes, but it was well-received. (Ed: Jennifer is too modest to mention she won the prize!)

The announcement of the day’s timetable saw a glacial surge of librarians move to pick their sessions. I plumped for a combination of four sessions that I could sink my teeth into – either because they sparked my professional interest or addressed a latent development need. Here are some thoughts on each of those four sessions:

Jane Furness, Edinburgh College of Art – Innovative Information Literacy

Jane’s session discussed her work as an art librarian offering visually-orientated information literacy sessions to both small groups of creative students and large lecture theatres. Jane highlighted student artists’ preferences for using hands-on, visual materials (such as the fabulous collection of artists’ books from Red Fox Press she had brought) as part of information-literacy sessions in today’s contemporary digital context. She sought contributions from the group on best ways of expressing information literacy concepts to engage students who often have to produce work rapidly. Some of the most salient ideas I took from the session were:

  • The use of stealth IL techniques such as pop-up library sessions and 15-minute library clinics
  • The benefit of introducing students or school-pupils to the library in advance of the academic session when there are fewer distractions around
  • The development of techniques such as QR codes to encourage students to explore new corners of the library space
  • The discoverability of the ‘hidden’ aspects of the library such as Special Collections.

It was interesting to hear from a school librarian who discussed the difficulties implicit in attempting to teach IL to pupils for whom the idea of going into a library to find something out for themselves (and not to answer the pre-set questions of the teacher) was a completely new concept. How to give enough instruction while also letting learners work ideas out for themselves in the library and get other educators on-board with this idea was one outcome we discussed. The group’s response being that IL librarians need to find their champions who can take ideas to senior educators and represent library initiatives on all-staff Boards and meetings. The benefits of the online use of Prezi, wiki spaces, Glasgow School of Art’s InfosmART and the use of ‘Comic Life’ software for creating subject guides were all held up as successful information literacy tools.

Martyn Wade, CILIP Info – Internet Privacy

In what must be a clear-cut violation of library camp rules, I couldn’t help myself from scribbling screeds of notes in fascination at some of the things I learnt during Martyn Wade’s informative session on the IFLA’s manifesto for a privacy statement (to be released in Spring 2015). I’m really pleased I attended this session as it highlighted an alarming number of gaps in my knowledge and encouraged me to reflect on my previous experience as a public library assistant in the habit of regularly collecting data from the public to join them as library members. It was evident that libraries need to be communicating with their suppliers to avoid breaches of user privacy, particularly when accessing e-books that could feasibly entail the downloading of software that routinely collects personal information that can be shared with other organisations. Adobe’s rights management was cited as one prolific example. The over-riding message was that there’s a really strong role for the library and information profession in privacy matters, not least in our ethical and legal responsibility to protect library users’ information and in communicating what we do with that information. Discussion was had around the need for a distinction to be made between digital skills training (‘here’s how you do it’) and digital literacy training (‘here’s the implications of doing it’). Martyn put some feelers out to collect people’s thoughts on the term ‘media literacy’ as a better means of describing the inter-relationships between different media types and conveying the idea of communication on social media as ‘publication’ as opposed to ‘conversation.’ The term was positively received although mixed feeling prevailed over the recent passing of EU legislation giving citizens the right to be forgotten – does this prevent people taking responsibility for their (online) actions and where does the ripple effect of this legislation stop? Foregrounded were the need for a public interest test when applying this legislation and, related to this, the extent of the FoI Act’s scope to extend to organisations currently evading its jurisdiction. I was grateful for the sustenance of a good lunch however the prevalence of Internet monitoring left a bad taste in the mouth. It’s unpalatable that a lot of what people trust about libraries is under threat from this activity and consultation on the content of a privacy statement is surely an opportunity for all in the library and information profession to comment on.

Karen McAulay, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – ‘Do you practise what you preach?’

Karen’s session took us through her reflective practice blog developed on a teaching artist course she’d undergone as part of her CPD at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, posing the question: do we reflect enough in our daily roles? Thoughts to come out of the session were how to solicit honest responses from library users to facilitate more impactful reflection, whatever form that reflection may take. Although when and how to reflect is deeply subjective the discussion raised a need to share our reflections more widely as a profession and for this reflection to be externalised at both an individual and institutional level. Due to its portability and transferability between institutions, Evernote won hands-down in response to the question of whether any librarians kept bibliographies, although with Martyn Wade’s words still ringing in our ears, there’s debate to be had about the merits of institution-wide endorsement. In other words, as soon as you stop purchasing, you become the product. I was encouraged by the level of reflection the session generated and Karen’s blog-model is a fantastic template to follow. Read her post on the session here.

Annette Thain, NHS Education for Scotland – Cross-network Collaboration

Annette’s session canvassed for ideas to facilitate cross-collaboration in order to produce more evidence-based practice and foster better information-exchange across sectors. She was also interested in how library assistant training could be delivered as part of these cross-collaborative efforts.

Strong suggestions were made for:

  • Increasing the broker role of library services that have pre-established links with the health sector (such as Sandyford Library or the Dementia Services Development Centre at Stirling University
  • Improving opportunities for work-shadow placements across sectors
  • Introducing more guest lectures explaining services to be delivered on university MLIS courses and establishing links between NES and the SCURL Health Group

We chewed over the representation of, for example, public library professionals in presentations at health and SHINE-organised events as well as NES representatives at CILIPS events. Plus, the idea of receptionists and information assistants in the NHS being trained in the resources available through the public library made a lot of sense to me. What resonated most were the interests of other library sectors to be collaborating specifically with the public library sector to reach a wider audience. Yet the localism of service provision for each sector representative seemed to muddy the waters – is the ‘embeddedness’ of sectors a positive or negative thing? As a newly-qualified librarian, I’ve been nurtured on the benefits of establishing library partnerships yet I still harbour a real scepticism about the essential remit of public services being stretched too thinly through private partnership or joining with trusts. However, where public library visits can be driven up and on an agenda as central to the public library mission as wellbeing, surely such public collaborations are to be encouraged. Perhaps it comes down to connections being made by open-minded individuals in different sectors but I think it would be extremely sad for cross-collaboration opportunities to be passed up on the basis that the practicalities were too difficult to tease out. The public library sector could really be showing its value by pushing forward a physical and mental health agenda – beyond the remit of its collection development policy. Making this a reality has to come down to the vision and enthusiasm of the people on the ground…

… something which led nicely onto the thorny issue of training for library assistants. The number of questions raised rather than answers given highlighted the need for more consistent support of LAs and other information workers as members of the group shared varied interpretations of what staff training needs might be and levels of training provision.

And that concludes my reflection on Library Camp Glasgow! For a first attempt it’s been pretty rambling but if events like this wet my appetite for the importance of the profession, then in future, I could be holding up a mirror on the library profession more often. Given the openness and supportiveness of the group and the value of group discussion, I’ll certainly be looking to pitch my tent and importantly, reflect once again. This vampire has seen the light!

%d bloggers like this: