Conference Reports for the ILA AGM 2018

 The Leighton Library, Dunblane

The Leighton Library, Dunblane

Two delegates kindly kept a record of proceedings at the ILA AGM 2018. This second conference report is by Mhairi Roberts, a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling. Her topic is Provenance and Marginalia in Episcopalian Libraries: Recovering the Intellectual History of the Scottish Episcopalian Church (1700-1880).

When imagining a weekend conference, the prospective delegate does not usually predicate sitting in the scorching Scottish sun, overlooking the Perthshire hills in the grounds of a seventeenth-century library; yet this was the reality for those of us lucky enough to attend the 2018 annual meeting of the Independent Library Association, the second and third days of which were hosted by Innerpeffray Library. On the first day of the conference, librarians, heritage workers, volunteers, students and academics assembled in the shadow of another historic library, the seventeenth-century Leighton Library in Dunblane, to begin a weekend of papers which would celebrate the unique histories of Independent Libraries, their people and the importance of community and collaboration for their future.

People were at the centre of the first paper by Robin Davis, which followed the twentieth-century rejuvenation of the Leighton. Its restoration was a long drawn out process, which relied on the perseverance of people who wanted it restored, and on the local community. James Hamilton continued the theme of people in his emotive paper on the impact of WW1 on the Signet Library, which asked the question “who are the people of the Library?” James refocused the idea of library communities from readers, to the people who worked in the library and cared for it, and the loss of both during WW1. His exploration of the library’s archives revealed that in contrast to the people, the books were one aspect of the library which would not fall victim to the war, due to the determination of the librarian John Minto. Minto relentlessly pursued readers with overdue books, regardless of whether their users were fighting on the western front, or indeed had fallen there. James’ paper demonstrated the unexpected, and unique histories that unfold from researching the past lives of our libraries. The importance of understanding and reconstructing the history of individual libraries was stressed in the next paper by Jill Dye. Entitled “For the benefit of…?” Jill shared her research on the borrowing registers of three libraries; Innerpeffray, Leighton and Orkney. She argued that in order to use the registers as evidence of user habits, it is critical to understand the history of a library, the availability of books, and how access to the library impacted the borrowing habits and choices of users. As a PhD candidate working in collaboration with Innerpeffray library, Jill’s research also illustrated the benefits of Independent Libraries and scholars working together. 

Saturday morning began with remarks by current ILA president Neil Pearson, who reported on his recent visit to member libraries, and the concerns, namely conservation, which were brought up during his visits. In the coming year Neil is eager to recruit more libraries to the ILA and grow the community.

Kelsey Jackson William’s keynote “Bibliographer’s, Book Historians and Independent Libraries” discussed the mutual advantages of collaboration between independent libraries and academics, and the exciting opportunities, growth and future for both, if they work together. Kelsey highlighted the transformative impact of digitisation on how scholars engage with out of copyright texts; the focus on books now goes beyond their content to the book as a physical object. Consequently, the value of independent libraries has only increased as they are rich archives of material evidence, which book-historians and bibliographers would love to work with. Both libraries and academics benefit from access to a different and wider community of people which helps to secure the impact and future of both. Kelsey’s paper brought attention to the importance of the interdisciplinary nature of this year’s ILA conference, as people from different professions had the opportunity to discuss their professional priorities and learn from others; the first step towards future projects together.

The importance of a growing community to Independent Libraries was continued in Sue Clutterbuck’s paper on the Iona Library Project. The library was successfully restored with the aim of benefitting the local community, and now uses its resources to educate and engage with local children and the public, essentially growing its own community through outreach work while having a real impact locally. The benefits of reaching out to a larger community were further emphasised in Ken Gibb and Jessica Hudson’s paper on “Sion Provenance Project: Reaching for the Crowds.” Ken and Jess presented a template for libraries with similar project aspirations and detailed the problems they had encountered when starting from square one. Their creative solution to the problem of identifying a high volume of marks of provenance was crowd sourcing for answers in a collaborative online space (a WordPress blog). With the community aspect the project continues to grow and to become a bigger resource as more people become involved and share their expertise.

After the AGM, attendees had the unique and enchanting experience of seeing a live performance of Linda Cracknell’s play “The Lamp” in Innerpeffray; the library is inspiration behind the play and where it is set.

Sunday morning began with Louisa Yates’s paper on “Gladstone’s Friends,” which offered advice on starting a friend’s group for a library, and the advantages and pitfalls of different models. Louisa demonstrated that a “non-transactional model,” where by friends of the library donate philanthropically and expect nothing in return, is a brilliant way to reach new audiences of people who don’t necessarily read but want to contribute to the library. It can also help foster a global community of friends who want to contribute to the survival of a unique and special library, even if they are too far away to visit.

Next, John Crawford’s paper looked to bring the past ethos of Leadhills Library to the present, and asked the question “Can the historic activity of independent libraries be an example for their use in the present and future?” Leadhills was established on the principal of lifelong learning and mutual improvement, and John detailed the strategic planning and organisation that has went into attempting to bring this learning and skills development aspect back to the library community. The paper highlighted the inspiration we can take from the unique past of our independent libraries to create something new for the future.

The last panel of the conference was brimming full of optimism for the future, and opened with a paper from Helen Williams, from the Library of Mistakes in Edinburgh. The library is a new comer, established after the 2008 financial crash, which inspires its niche collection focused on financial history. The aim of the library is to learn from the past, and to find connections between pat and future to prevent future mistakes. Lynette Cawthra ended the conference with a paper on the inspiring couple, Ruth and Eddie Frow, who founded The Working Class Movement Library, and the exciting future for the library after receiving Lottery Heritage funding. The couple did not just found a library, but a monument to working class people’s drive for improvement, which now inspires Lynette as she collects and purchases new material for the library.

The closing marks from Louisa Yates summarised the atmosphere of optimism for the future. Despite current challenges, institutions are thriving as they find innovative ways to grow, and the ILA continues to grow as new libraries are established and our President Neil Pearson reaches out to invite others to join. Independent Libraries are part of a wider profession and community, and this conference highlighted that by reaching out and learning from each other, they can continue to grow and thrive. The two beautiful locations for the conference only further highlighted the unique experiences independent libraries have to offer, and special thanks must be offered to Honorary Custodian of the Leighton Library Michael Osborne, and to Lara Haggerty, Keeper of Innerpeffray Library, and to the volunteers at both libraries who welcomed us.

Conference Reports for the 2018 AGM

 The Library of Innerpeffray, nr Crieff

The Library of Innerpeffray, nr Crieff

Two delegates kindly kept a record of proceedings at the ILA AGM 2018. This first conference report is by Jessica Hudson, Sion Project Cataloguer at Lambeth Palace Library.

The 2018 Annual meeting of the ILA was this year hosted by the Library of Innerpeffray and the Leighton Library. Entitled Past, Present, Future: the People in Independent Libraries, the general tenor of the conference was one of sharing and collaboration – through networks of librarians and academics, as well as our communities and audiences who help share and engage with our cultural heritage. This year’s speakers represented a variety of institutions both large and small, who delivered talks covering numerous facets of libraries and their histories – reflecting the sheer diversity of the bibliographic community.

Opening with Michael Osborne and Robin Davies representing the Leighton Library, we were told of the strenuous efforts being made to serve a growing network of modern users in an historic building. Looking back over the history of Leighton Library, the hopes and plans for its future were laid out. It was interesting to hear how historic libraries face the issues of modern demand and how this could be achieved, such as shaping the physical structure of the space to accommodate growing visitor numbers and initiatives to engage with the wider community (including tourists). We learned of the struggles of the library’s custodians, not least conservation issues and pressures on a small staff and budget.  Later, we were given a tour of the Leighton Library and saw first-hand both the charm and constraints of the building which opened its doors in 1687.

James Hamilton informed and entertained with his discussion of the Signet Library and its people. “War is no excuse”, focused principally on the (sometimes comic) attempts of the former Librarian John Minto to recall books from the front during World War I or from the bemused and horrified relatives of soldiers. In one story, Minto sent an irate letter to a prisoner of war demanding a book’s return as it has been requested by another reader! Through such tales, we saw how library records can provide intriguing insights into libraries and the figures who help to shape them, for better or worse.  James reminded us of the rich tapestry of individuals who make up the library community, from fleeting visitors and long-term users to staff. In this way the talk linked into Jill Dye’s presentation of her innovative research into borrowers’ records. Comparing three institutions (Leighton, Innerpeffray and Orkney) Jill has sought out commonality and points of deviation in their individual histories, but most critically unearthed fascinating insights into patterns of usage. Through these records a greater understanding of the character and make-up of past library users can be built and how they influenced the library, and vice versa.  For example, Jill’s analysis of the Innerpeffray records reveals that users were (regardless of subject) borrowing mainly new material (i.e. new to the library) preferentially, and the interesting early representation of women readers in Kirkwall (Orkney) Library.

Day two of the conference opened with Neil Pearson (President of the ILA) speaking of his lifelong passion for books. Identifying the challenges faced by libraries, he spoke of his hopes to establish an “across the board initiative” to help members tackle conservation and funding issues by strategizing with the John R. Murray Charitable Trust. Bidding us more “Bibliographical fun”, we moved on to our keynote speaker, Dr Kelsey Jackson Williams (Lecturer in Early Modern Literature, University of Stirling).

 “Bibliographers, Book Historians, and Independent Libraries” offered a rigorous and thought-provoking examination of the trends and academic shifts affecting the study of bibliography and libraries. Shifts, for example, from long-term and sweeping historical perspectives to micro-histories and an escalation in provenance research and material culture. There is, Kelsey highlighted, a particular focus on the uniqueness of the individual in terms of both objects and readers/owners of books.

Knowledge exchange was shown to have major positive implications for independent libraries and a ready response was incited with the proposal of forming networking groups to introduce academics and students to libraries in a bid to promote the readier exchange of information and generate new research by making students aware of the rich resources and untapped treasures hidden in library collections. What can libraries and academics do for each other, was a question loaded with promise.

Sue Clutterbuck’s talk “Restoring and Repairing the Iona Cathedral Trustees Collection” described the projects undertaken to modernise the library. Tracing the library’s history from 563 CE to the present, Sue discussed the work she is spearheading thanks to an £80,000 grant from HLF and the Iona Cathedral Trust (awarded in 2016). Part of the funding agreement was the need to focus not just on conservation of this unique library, but to demonstrate its community value through outreach. The Iona project gives a flavour of the cross fertilization of living heritage and the role of the library – the place of the library within its community and its ability to both deliver content and grow with its people. Sue has introduced several initiatives to raise the library’s profile – through cataloguing the collection to make it more discoverable, to fun and educational activities aimed at capturing the imagination of local school children.

Ken Gibb and Jess Hudson introduced the efforts at Lambeth Palace Library to publicise and promote the Sion College Library collection (which came to LPL in 1996). Through an innovative online crowdsourcing project hosted on WordPress the team are working to not only increase awareness of the collection but to garner support and input from the public to assist with provenance research – from transcriptions to identifications of former owners. These efforts are helping to improve the already rich catalogue records that are being produced. The Sion College Library Provenance Project was relaunched in 2017 and has already received nearly 12,000 views from across the globe and delegates were warmly invited to participate.

After the final talk we had a tour of the sublime Innerpeffray Library (founded c.1680 by David Drummond, making it Scotland’s first free public lending library) and grounds including the chapel which originally housed part of the library collection. After this, delegates were treated to a performance of “The Lamp” by Linda Cracknell a play set at and inspired by the Library of Innerpeffray. We would all like to thank the cast for a very enjoyable theatrical afternoon which proved a highlight of the conference.

Louisa Yates was teaching libraries how to be friendly with her talk focusing on Gladstone’s Library Friends scheme. An eye-opener for many in the audience was the concept of “transactional” and “non-transactional” initiatives – what is being offered and what needs be given in return (if anything at all) to members of Friends’ groups?  What are the abstract or tangible benefits to your scheme and how does this influence uptake? The example of Gladstone’s scheme (revised in line with GDPR in 2018), suggests donations from the public don’t need to be tied to material benefits.  Instead it was strongly advised that it is better to promote the most valuable assets we have –  the uniqueness of our libraries. Privilege comes from supporting the library and helping to carry it forward into the future. Having restructured, Gladstone’s have been able to raise their membership figures from 200 to 2000 as well as pulling in more financial support without imposing financial restrictions (such as minimum donations requests) or incentivising.

John Crawford spoke about the library of Leadhills Reading Society, founded in 1741 as the first working class subscription library. Charting its history including the establishment of the first rules and statement of mutual improvement in 1743 and the closure of the mines in the 1930s, John gave an overview of the peaks and troughs that the library has endured, before moving on to discuss the modern strategy being pursued to keep it in the public consciousness and safeguard the collections. This has included increased cataloguing efforts, publicity drives and the identification of areas that may hold potential interest for study, such as the collection of Bargain Books dating from 1737-1854. In this way it is hoped greater contact with academics can be encouraged.

John concluded by outlining key areas of focus to consider when helping to sustain a library:

·         Research and understand what you have

·         Think strategically and always have the bigger picture in mind

·         Find opportunities to work with like-minded organisations

·         Pursue skills development and take training seriously

Above all:

·         Aim for a culture of continual improvement.

A novel concept for custodians of historic libraries is the establishment of an entirely new library, but this is precisely what Helen Williams has had the privilege of doing with the Library of Mistakes. Housed in Edinburgh, the library was founded to promote the study of financial history and it is hoped that it will one day become the “world’s best business and finance library”. Established in 2013, the library was the brain child of Russell Napier. Through the hard work of Helen and her volunteer, the collection of c.3000 books (which was formally opened to the public in March 2014) is now catalogued and available online via LibraryThing.

From new to revolutionary, our final speaker was Lynette Cawthra, who gave an account the Working Class Movement Library. Ruth and Eddie Frow were tireless and determined collectors who amassed an astounding collection of radical books, which formed the foundation of the WCML.  Originally housed in Ruth and Eddie’s marital home in Talford, by 1987 the collection had swelled to such a size that Salford City Council agreed to support the library and house it (along with Ruth and Eddie) in Jubilee House. This remains the library’s home, but it now operates on a fully independent basis and has seen considerable modernisation to ensure the preservation of the collection. In 2014 the library, in partnership with the People's History Museum/Labour History Archive, was awarded HLF funding to undertake the Voting for Change - 150 years of radical movements, 1819 to 1969 project. The funding facilitates five years’ worth of new acquisitions to enhance the collections as well as supporting vital public engagement works. A positive forward focus to end the conference.

Overall the conference reminded us that together we can not only learn new strategies to tackle issues facing libraries, but work together to sustain libraries and their collections – keeping them as a valuable and current resource ripe for study. Conferences such as this are fertile ground for development and a fantastic opportunity for everyone from librarians to postgraduate students to create connections – both intellectual and social. It is thereby worth urging others to attend similar events in future.

 

Jessica Hudson, Sion Project Cataloguer, Lambeth Palace Library

In the news

April 2016: The BBC featured independent libraries.
The fall and rise of subscription libraries, by Sandish Shoker

Annual Reports

Annual Report of the AIL 2014-2015.pdf

Previous Annual meetings

The Annual Meeting for 2016 was held at Bromley House Library, Nottingham 10th-11th June.

The 2015 Annual Meeting took place at the Morrab Library, Penzance, 12th-13th June.

Other events

Each Independent Library runs its own events including those listed in the categories above. The Events List is not exhaustive and all events listed are subject to change. Please refer to the individual organisation to confirm details and book your place. Where no price is indicated, the cost of attendance is unknown. Contact your local library using the details in the directory for specific information on events.
*A star indicates that the event is restricted to Members of the organisation only

Forthcoming Exhibitions in AIL Libraries

USDAW: 125 Years Strong

November 4-27 The Plymouth Athenaeum

The Union of Shop Distributive and Allied Workers is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2016. The union’s pop-up exhibition reviews Usdaw’s social history and showcases campaigns then and now in the areas of safer workplaces, better conditions, improved pay and fairness at work. The exhibition is free, open to all and offers a fascinating insight into the rights of shopworkers through the years.

www.usdaw.org.uk