Emailing public libraries in the UK and Europe.
Lists of hundreds of library websites, including telephone, fax and email contact details for major branches are available for both the UK and Europe. A list of over 5000 links to public libraries worldwide is available on the UNESCO website. (Almost half of the links are to libraries in the USA.) A searchable list of names and email addresses for librarians in the UK used to be available - but no longer! Other useful links include (for the USA) www.publiclibraries.com.
The UK's 'ask a librarian' service used to be a link to an on-line service - again it seems to have changed for the worse. For enquiries needing local knowledge, use a local library - and email them directly using the link above!
Some libraries are more forward than others. Most eschew pictures of female staff on their websites for fear of attracting 'stalkers'. A few give photos and names as well as email addresses for individuals. As with filtering "pornography", there is no consistent policy across the UK. Library users in the UK have complained that websites freely available in many areas are blocked in others.
Page of Camden Library as she appears in a charity calendar. Library staff paid £750 for
a 500 copy print run and put the calendars up for sale for £4 each. It has since
been reprinted at least three times. Diane Bowman, a senior librarian who organised the
project said "I just asked staff
if they would like to do it, and I was amazed - they couldn't wait to get their bras
off..... Lots of men have been looking at them but not all have bought a copy, which is
The head of Camden's Library Service said "This calendar will challenge the stereotypical image of librarians as well as promote the creative and positive spirit of staff."
Email addresses for Devon libraries.
Almost uniquely amongst UK public libraries, those in Devon will usually not divulge their email addresses (and hell will freeze over before staff photos are published.)
However, with the upgrade of DCC systems to Windows XP addresses for most staff follow the pattern email@example.com and those for libraries follow the pattern firstname.lastname@example.org Therefore, most addresses can be guessed. Addresses for regional library managers are on the DCC website.
Librarians are generally helpful and if you send the same query to a number selected at random from around the UK, you can sometimes obtain useful responses within hours. To find your nearest library in Devon, simply use the DCC website. To create an email address, for example for Sidmouth library, try email@example.com
Some of the easiest sets of email addresses to use were those of Devon (before the change to XP), and neighbouring Somerset, both of which used reasonably logical two or three letter abbreviations. Some of the most tedious to use include those recently created by Gloucestershire County Council - for example, try typing firstname.lastname@example.org. Why not email@example.com instead?
Library website design
The team of Sheila and Robert Harden at Richmond-on-Thames library who for years have compiled lists of library websites (see the UK and Europe ). There would be many contenders for the worst library web site - many suffer from being part of a larger site with the overall layout obviously having been dictated by 'the powers that be'. Even finding the library section within large County Council websites can be a challenge and even then, finding email addresses (if any are given at all) seems akin to a game of 'hide and seek'. Even worse, access to some library sites is obscured behind links to 'lifelong learning' or 'continuing education'.
Where money is no object and social inclusion the priority, outmoded libraries have been replaced by 'ideas stores'. An expensive makeover to 'social inclusivity centre' would probably enable yet more public money to be spent! Examples include Bow, packed with the latest computers - and (to judge from some of the website content) people who cannot use the English language properly. The principal lesson of these expensive experiments is probably that if you throw money at a community project you can hardly fail to attract support. However, there is little prospect of a sizeable number of UK libraries being replaced in a no-expense-spared revamp in the near future.
As with so much in the rush to computerise the UK library service, websites seem to have been created without (in many cases) anyone having sat down to think what would be most useful for library patrons. Lack of basic uniformity of site design, and especially a simple opening page, means that inexperienced users may be disadvantaged. For example, if one was to accept the proposition that a sizeable number of users might wish to know where their local library was, its opening hours, the contact phone number and/or email address and how to get there, how many sites give EASY access to this information directly from a clear and uncluttered index page?
Also, demonstrating skill with an expensive web design programme (for which Gateshead must get full marks) is arguably a poor substitute for a simpler but far easier to use site if its prime use may be for casual enquiry. The Gateshead site is so cluttered that basic information can be difficult to find. However, for sheer boredom and only a few photographs, try Coventry Library Service (and many others).
There is plenty of guidance on the web for design of library websites, for example from Australia! Sites from the USA highlight good and bad practice - maybe UK libraries will catch up one day. In the meantime we await the deliberations of senior library managers who, by attending numerous conferences over many years, may someday experience a revelation. Maybe they need a good book to help them......or a few more websites.
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