Death and sloths

Do you want to play a game?

If the answer is yes, read on. If the answer is no then you are a miserable sod and I salute you.

This game is called the Deathbed Game and it is really depressing so you might want to lace your cuppa with gin or arsenic before we continue. To play, you get yourself all cosy and think happy thoughts about cheese, sloths and rainbows. Look at this sloth’s secret smile. He doesn’t care that people are talking in the silent zone.


Then CRASH BAM SPLAT imagine you’ve been hit by a car/punched by a monkey/fell off a cliff…

Sorry, I don’t know what you expected this game was going to be about so if you need to cry, please get it over with now – I mean, you’re dying so you don’t have that much time.

Now imagine you’re lying in that hospital bed and don’t worry, in this game you look really glam and have on a nice lacy nighty like you’re Beth from Little Women and everyone you love and think is sexy are at your bedside telling you how great they have always thought you are.

But here is the crux of the game – if this happened right now, would you be happy with your lot in life? Hopefully this isn’t really depressing because you’re alone and your best friend is a balloon.*

Usually you can use this game to figure out where you are in life and what you want to do. For brevity’s sake let’s skip the mushy stuff (ooh I have so much love in my life blah blah) and look at the career highlights.

All being well, you won’t be dying any time soon. (This is the point when I really hope nobody does get hit by a car or poisoned by arsenic and I don’t get sued. So please look both ways when you cross the road.)

So if you had your whole life and career and played the game for real, what would you like to look back on? The reason I ask, is that I knocked up a list of library problems we are facing and I was wondering whether (as new library professionals?) we should tailor our career to fight for a big cause, work on something smaller or should we not even begin to tackle these problems without first looking after ourselves?

Is it our responsibility to pick up a gauntlet and work tirelessly to make the library world a better place or does the future basically suck and we’ll be lucky to just get a job? Is it enough to do your job as best you can for the people you are helping right then and there? Bet you wish you had poured that gin now don’t you. It’s ok, just look at the sloth again instead.

I know it’s not as simple as looking at the list, picking something you fancy, and dedicating your life to it. Who knows, you might get a job and get put on a project that you suddenly realise is really important. Or you might take a job looking at something you really want to fight for and find out it is soooooo boring (and if that thing is copyright issues then it sucks to be you.) Or you might be working in libraries to save up for your second career as a pirate.

If you have not yet seen the 2014 announcement of the Longitude Prize then praise the gods, you are now about to find out more…! The prize offers £10 million for the best solution to six global problems (environmentally friendly flight, sustainable food, non-resistant antibiotics, a paralysis ‘cure’, clean water access and dementia care improvement) and is announced on June 25th.

So I don’t have money or any incentives to offer anyone – unless you want me to come to your house and use all your dishes and leave without washing them – but I think the idea of challenging people to solve global crises is inspiring (not a word I like to use) and as librarians we are already working towards the solution to many of our problems. sometimes radically. So far I have seen a lot of hope for the future (ugh sorry this is so revolting) and if there is some sort of apocalypse I reckon we’ll be well placed to survive amongst the stacks, using the folios as blankets.

I guess I just don’t want to die without having really tried to tackle something major (and knowing my luck I’ll eat a dodgy sausage roll and die within the week).

So here’s the list of problems I came up with. Some are tangibly solvable, some will become obsolete, some are really small and some are just plain depressing. It’s like the seven dwarves of the library world. I do like to think of this list 100 years in the past and 100 years into the future. Although actually I guess the 1914 librarian had a bit more on their plate…

1. Lack of space – if the number of students increases, where are we going to put them all? We’ve already squeezed them into cupboards and under the stairs.

2. Free desks – what is the most reliable way to tell people where free desks/pcs are in real time?

3. How can we make people like e-books? This is a post for another day, just got to get my ranty trousers on.

4. And how can we make e-books better? Cheaper?

5. How can we make everything better and cheaper? Like holidays and spaceships…

6. How can we deal with a lack of storage space? If we solve this, it will probably be with Ikea’s help

7. How can we cope with the increasing demands of each new generation? Goddamn kids.

8. And as these new students pay more, should we be offering them a better value for money service? Can we? Knee jerk reaction – no, let’s flog them all grrrrrr

9. What can we do about our dwindling funds? Anyone who wants to start robbing banks just email me at

10. How can we stop local libraries being closed or staffed by volunteers?

11. How can we create jobs for people or ensure that qualified people are doing qualified jobs and getting compensated properly (good luck with that one)

12. What can we do to make the library qualification worthwhile? And bloody cheaper.

13. What can we do to make copyright issues easier, implemented across the university/library/school/hospital and how can we make them less zzzzzzzz

14. What can we do to help distance learners? Possible solution – teleports!

15. How can we better support online lectures/virtual learning/ (MOOCS)?

16. How can we (should we?) educate people about their online privacy? This is so scary and has turned me into a crazy person like a Ritalin-hooked Bart Simpson in his tin foil hat.

17. How can we encourage more social media engagement? How can we use it better?

18. How far should we be digital librarians? Is it better to know code than cataloguing?

19. How can we get students to take responsibility for their library accounts?

20. How can we stop books becoming overdue? (Guys, the answer must be robots.)

21. How can we ensure as many people as possible are information literate? What would this entail?

22. Should we only care about these issues and libraries in our own country? In the West? What about libraries in the developing world and how could we help?

23. Open Access – how can we make it a reality?

24. How can we ensure children are reading?

25. How can we bake enough cakes to feed every librarian and information worker in Britain?

26. Will we ever find out what metadata really is?

So there you have it, not comprehensive by any means but by the time I hit the twenties, I was so depressed I was chewing my own leg off. Or maybe I should be inspired to do something?

Obviously, lots of these problems are being discussed, worked on and solved right this very minute. Does anyone have any more problems to add to the list? Anything you are trying to solve right now? I’m still finding it difficult to solve the problem of how to go for a run whilst simultaneously sitting on the sofa eating cocktail sausages.

*my childhood friend was a fish balloon called Derek the Fish and I loved him even when he was an airless aluminium bag.


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