ASSOCIATES (vol. 7 no. 2, November 2000) -

Where Were You?


Jim Jackson
Book IT Project Coordinator

So where were you on 24th June this year?  I was in London, but at the same time I was also with lots of other people throughout the UK and the rest of the world. The reason for all this is that the Book IT project has come, succeeded and gone by.

The Book IT project first saw the light of day in an article for 'Associates' in November 1998, called 'A Time to Celebrate'. Kendall Simmons helped greatly by providing web space and help, which is what I needed at the time. Book IT was an idea for a support staff-led project to show the world that his/her library was so novel that no one had thought of it, or dared to! The article that follows is a quick look into the past, and then a look forward to the future for us all.

Back on 17th July 1998, Guy Daines from the Library Association wrote to all Branches and Groups and asked several questions, based on the theme of 'What are you doing for the year 2000'? This request was wide ranging and sought any ideas to run with the forthcoming celebrations of 150 years of public libraries, and, of course, the new millennium.

When I presented a concept idea to the National Committee for Affiliated Members Group on 28th January 1998, it was to try and link all members together on the same day under the same theme. Muriel Mitchell and I agreed to look at the possible development of this idea, which no one had ever attempted before.

What a lot has happened since then!! Not only have we learned a lot as a committee, but we also hope the original concept of enabling our members to take part in an event that they could call their own has reached everyone. The idea of Book IT was to show how clever and talented the Affiliated members were, given the chance they could organise and promote an event that would not cost their managers huge sums of money. From there, we formed a close partnership with the British Film Institute, and from there, we developed links, via library staff, with various theatre groups, who offered to try and help books come 'alive' to readers.

There was unexpected support for the project when BBC listeners voted Shakespeare as the 'personality of the Millennium', a good omen it was hoped. After several articles on the Book IT project were published, and the LA Record also mentioned the project, libraries across the country took up the idea and developed it their own way.

By the end of May 2000, libraries across the country, and the world, were preparing for 24th June. For the first time, links between library staff, library stock, computers, and the World Wide Web came together; libraries from the Isles of Skye to Redruth in Cornwall were all taking part. Local press were invited to attend events, such as the ones taking place in Lincolnshire Council Libraries. The British Film Institute (BFI) proposed a grand finale for the project in London, at the National Film Theatre, with a showing of the 1935 version of A Midsummer Nights Dream. There would also be a lecture before the showing. I had arranged with BBC Knowledge for them to have something on their Web site about the project as well, under BBC Bookcase, and by then the Book IT project interactive web site had expanded to eight pages, with lots of sites linking up. The finale at the NFT was a great success, with three members of the Book IT project attending, as special guests of David Sharp from the BFI with more press photos, and a group of strolling players outside the NFT promoting the event.

I cannot in all honesty say that this whole project worked without any arguments and the occasional row. Perhaps this has been part of the 'steep learning curve' you always hear so much about, or perhaps it has even been part of the 'conflict' between 'professional ' and 'paraprofessional'. Although I think conflict is the wrong word, perhaps it is better to use the word 'difference'. When an idea is first thought of, it needs inspiration, but inspiration on its own needs some organisation and management. Therefore, when the two different groups work together it can cause friction, as both need each other, with one being as important as the other.

Now here is a look to the future and what we should try and do to enable our members and library staff in general. One of the first things that struck me about this project has been the development of e-mail as a means of communication. Previously, e-mail was often restricted to certain people within an organisation. Access to a machine was difficult and getting a user name and password even more difficult. Now we have the arrival of web-based e-mail via companies, like Hotmail and Yahoo. Library staff could send and receive e-mail without lots of problems over network protocol. With most UK public libraries having access to the Web, staff could access e-mail! Not that this in itself has not got its own problems...ublic PCs often have the public using them so access can still be a problem, as is the necessary 'time'.

Now that we have connected our staff, what we need to do next is train them to use this media and get them qualified. In Eugope we have the possibility of the European Computer Driving Licence qualification. Have a look at the syllabus at URL: There are other sites, but this is a good start. This site reports a qualification that is accepted across Europe the same as any qualification, but based on your knowledge of computing and presented in seven modules. There is also the Information and Library Service NVQ, see the LA Web site at I know we all have busy lives one way or another and this will take some commitment, from you and your employer, but it is well worth it.

Having made a commitment, why not consider joining your national association for library staff, whether it is the Library Association, (UK), the American Library Association at URL: , or the Australian TALIA Techs at URL: After joining, take part, be active, put forward your ideas and projects for consideration. This is where planning policy starts its life, and this is what ends up affecting you!! You never know if you could end up on a national committee, or even representing your country at an IFLA event, or writing for 'Associates'!

So what has come out of all this support from the BFI and the BBC and Library Association? I hope that it has heightened the awareness of the Affiliated Members Group, the talents of its members, and their resourcefulness, to various line managers and librarians. These are changing times for us all and we need to show how much we need to be valued as part of a service. We do not want to be excluded but included in changing organisations. Our opinions and ideas are often based on practical experience, rather than theory, but there is a place for us in decision-making. There is still time to look at some of the web pages. I recommend you start at and follow the links to other sites. A final word from one of you - ' I was amazed at how many times I have seen 'Midsummer's Nights Dream, in one format or another, pass across the circulation desk', and this is what it has all been about, library stock and library staff.

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