LibLink: Mark Pack – The Lessons from Beethoven String Quartets for Modern Public Services

Over on Discussion Point, our very own Mark Pack has penned an interesting piece discussing how public services can be reformed to meet changing circumstances. And yes, the piece really does successfully use a Beethoven string quartet as its starting point – but you’ll have to go and read the whole article to see how.

In the meantime, here’s an extract:

There was a period in the early 1990s when politicians, including many on the centre-left, were enthused with the idea of rethinking the purpose of public services in such radical ways as David Osborne and Ted Gaebler’s book Reinventing Government became the must-quote book of the time. Its time came and went, without even all the deficit-fuelled talk of needing to rethink public services having revived it.

The lessons are however still applicable – even more so in fact, thanks to the greater financial pressures now than in the early 1990s and also thanks to the greater opportunities that the internet presents for doing things differently.

Take one very simple example: the public library service. Generally libraries in Britain were innovative at getting in computers, access to databases and then the internet. Libraries have changed their purpose from book repositories into a much wider source of services.

But the thinking has also stalled. When nearly all teenagers have a portable device oh so frequently in hand and in ears that can play sound files, is getting them to a physical building to pick up a printed object the local course? Or should it be more about getting audio books onto those devices?

The duplication costs of audio files are tiny compared to those of books, and it is not hard to imagine a policy mix of getting some of the very best narrators to commit to a grand program of turning out of copyright literature into an unparalleled audio library – aided by a modernising of copyright law to free up some of those texts lost in legal limbo or frozen away for unreasonably long periods of time.

In fact, if you were creating a mass literary service now, would you start with printed books in locations people have to travel to or would you start with digital?

You can read Mark’s whole piece here.

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  • Matthew Huntbach 4th May '11 - 11:59am

    I have been a university lecturer for over 20 years, and my observations are that the rise of the internet has meant a drop in crucial skills of the sort which involve patience and concentration. Students now look at you aghast if you expect them to read and comprehend a whole BOOK. Twenty pages of detailed notes seems to be too much more many of them – they prefer just to look at the summary highlights on the PowerPoint slides they insist on having.

    You can have the book on-line if you like, but the idea that we can do away with books and go back to the days of pre-literacy is daft.

  • Old Codger Chris 4th May '11 - 11:11pm

    This old codger is a fan of IT and its benefits.

    But Matthew is right. If we can’t persuade young people to get on their bikes or the bus, take themselves to the library and spend time in quiet study, Matthew and his fellow lecturers will be bashing their heads against the proverbial brick wall.

    In my area, and I’m sure in many others, the public library cooperates with primary schools in providing activities to catch ’em young and get ’em reading. Of all the services offered by libraries it’s this, above all others, which must not be cut. Successful learning requires sustained concentration.

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