In his final week with the Scottish Library and Information Council Gordon Hunt talks about his time as Chair of SLIC and current developments in Scottish libraries.
Standing down from my role as SLIC Chair this Friday will mark the end of my professional involvement in the library world. This started at the age of 15 in my local public library on work experience, where the duties principally involved shelving and making the tea.
My tea-making skills won me a part-time job as a relief assistant the following year and I was inducted into the mysteries of the Browne Issue System. For my generation, no library training was complete without the experience of dropping an entire tray of tickets and having to re-file them.
After my degree and more work experience in a museum library I entered the academic library world as a SCONUL trainee at Leeds University Library where I established that cataloguing was not going to be my vocation. Moving on to complete my MA at the University of Sheffield, I worked my way through various jobs before discovering library skills are highly transferable. I moved into widening access to education and recently the fascinating world of grant-making trusts.
Along the way I’ve spent time as Secretary of the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL) as well as being involved with many other sectoral groups. Being asked to take on the position of SLIC Chair was, however, the highlight of my library career. SLIC has been through many changes over the years and, thanks to the dedication of its board members and staff, has gone from strength-to-strength in the past few years.
I have been privileged to work with two excellent Chief Execs in Amina Shah and Pamela Tulloch, who have brought vision and energy to the task of representing the library sector to government and a wide variety of stakeholders and decision-makers.
They have been backed up by a strong team and a supportive board, with the result that libraries are firmly on the public agenda in Scotland and underpinned by a national strategy for public libraries, a strong review framework in How Good Is Our Public Library Service? and funding to support new developments. All this will soon be joined by the new strategy for school libraries.
Of course, SLIC is part of a wider network which makes the Scottish library sector one of the strongest and most effective around. The work of CILIPS, the Association of Public Libraries in Scotland, SCURL, the College Development Network libraries group and the National Library of Scotland, not to mention the passion and commitment of so many individual library staff, combine with our work at SLIC to place libraries firmly at the centre of our communities. In my time as Chair of SLIC, the enthusiastic support of the Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop, has also been enormously helpful.
SLIC has attracted funding to equip public libraries with Wi-Fi and 3D-Printers, develop film projects and support many exciting new ideas which help tp deliver Ambition & Opportunity: A Strategy for Public Libraries in Scotland 2015 - 2020. SLIC Board meetings are a never-ending succession of new projects and reports on the impact of existing work. Success breeds success and the team is busier than ever.
It’s not all good news. Libraries in Scotland are facing challenging times, as they are across the UK. But through the work of all the organisations mentioned above (and apologies to any I’ve missed out), I believe that Scotland is in a far stronger position than the rest of the country. There’s no room for complacency, but in leaving the scene I want to pay tribute to all the exceptional individuals and groups who make the profession what it is, and who keep the focus on the people whose lives are changed by access to our libraries.
I started this blog with a summary of my own library career. I’ve been privileged to work in many different libraries with many talented librarians. Some of the libraries I worked in early in my career weren’t really set up to make life easy for the people who used them, and I’ve been fortunate that my time in libraries has coincided with a shift towards putting the needs of the user first. The design of our buildings and services has evolved to meet contemporary needs. There will always be debate about what libraries should and shouldn’t provide, but within that debate we remain relevant and useful to our communities.
For me, the important thing is that regardless of what services they provide at any given time libraries remain free, safe spaces open to everyone. Where no-one will be judged, or challenged about why they’re there. Where help is available to everyone without a commercial imperative. Staffed by well-trained people with a passion for their roles. In today’s world, they’ve never been more important. I’m comforted as I stand down from SLIC that the Scottish library profession is in rude health and is packed with people who will lead the fight to keep our libraries at the centre of our communities.
I will continue to give my profession as ‘librarian’ because whatever job I do, our profession defines my values and my skills. I’ll always advocate for libraries and enjoy watching the profession grow and adapt as it always has. Thank you to all the wonderful library folk I’ve worked with over the years and to my colleagues and friends at SLIC. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to be part of it.