I finally got round to opening and reading an issue of CILIP Update this week, and almost immediately had to put to down again because it made me cross.
At the foot of page 12 appears a small two-column news piece on the sale of rare books from Wigan public libraries (as mentioned previously on this blog). Unfortunately, the whole tenor of this short news piece is that selling off rare books is a perfectly sound way to raise money for public libraries. The headline is 'Rare books raise cash for service', which makes it sound like this is all a jolly good idea, and possibly something other libraries should be thinking of, too. Well done, those rare books...
The text just repeats the council's line that the books had "no intrinsic connection to Wigan". Which is likely true, but doesn't represent the whole picture: "intrinsic connection" is not the only way books can be relevant to a place or institution.
It notes that "at least some of the proceeds [are] set to be ploughed back into the library services": maybe that headline should read "Rare books possibly raise cash for service" then, eh? And "ploughed back" sounds awfully like it's been copied straight from a council news release.
That's really my whole gripe with this short piece. I appreciate that it's a news item, not an opinion column, but it very much feels like lazy journalism - repeating a release from a particular source without giving sufficient thought (or research) to what other opinions there might be. There's no mention of opposition to the sale from the Historic Libraries Forum (who do get a mention in this local paper piece from October), nor any nuance to the writing to suggest that the relevance or value to Wigan of the books as stated is the opinion of the council and not necessarily a fact.
I know that CILIP can't campaign on everything, and I'm not asking them to. But I don't think it's asking to much to expect a professional body to recognise a professionally controversial event and to report on it carefully, accurately and with a bit of subtlety. I wonder now how much I can trust the Update news on sectors and issues with which I'm not so familiar. And I do hope that no heads of service or councillors read this nugget and took away from it the idea that they can sell their old books to make a fast buck, too...
Of course, public libraries are not necessarily the best place for rare books to be, given that there's often little or no resources for cataloguing, preservation and conservation, or access and outreach (Brooke Palmieri comments very interestingly on this point on my first post about Wigan - I recommend a read). But I really think we as professionals, and our professional body, should be trying to make these resources exist, rather than just to report blandly on collection dispersal.