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Do League handbooks have a future?

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This is another posting prompted by Bill Blackburn asking me for my opinion on a development that concerns him. His latest email to me brought up the topic of handbooks and in particular the disappearance of the hard copy of history and instant access to the League rules. This is what he wrote:

Happy New Year Jeff. For many, many years I have bought copies of handbooks from, BCGBA, Yorkshire, Huddersfield and the Veterans Leagues, but most seem to have given up publishing them, except for Huddersfield Vets. Whether Covid was to blame I don't know? Do you think the advent of the internet is in some way to blame or is it due to lack of interest? I know to produce one is time consuming and somewhat costly, but it served a purpose and was one way to give our various sponsors a bit of publicity.

It was also handy to have a copy in your bowling bag when a rule was disputed. What are your feelings? Bill Blackburn.

Bill is right of course the hard copy of a League or organisation's history and playing records is fast disappearing but I am not sure that I have an unbiased view on this. I have spent 45 years of my working life working on computer systems. The last 30 years of that time in the NHS introducing computerised technology to a service that, in the main, resisted change and opposed the disappearance of the paper copy of anything. Never under estimate the power of the clinician in opposing any change.The doctors are a very powerful body. But even there things are changing with the current generation of doctors now expecting to use computer systems in almost everything they do. That change is spreading to all areas of life including bowling.

Also being the Secretary of the Winter League where we state that 'we are working towards a totally paper-free environment' and have never produced a League handbook, we don't produce paper copies of any meeting records and use email extensively to inform clubs and individuals of all league matters. All our records are on this website using the links on the top border menu on every page.

The problem is where the information that has always been available in the annual paper update is not being provided elsewhere. Lets look at Yorkshire CCGBA where I have been critical of their performance over many matters over recent years and their lack of communications with the bowling community struggling to protect a dying sport.

I haven't had a paper copy YCCGBA handbook since 2019 which includes the last records of the 2018 season. The YCCGBA website contains no record of the history of all the competitions they organise, in fact it contains no updates on anything since August 2021. Where previously the handbook included the competition history dating back to 1893 there are no records since 2018. Where are the updates for the last four years? Probably in the heads and on bits of paper in some filing cabinet of an aging and over-stretched organising body. But it is worse than that as there is nowhere that I can find that shows a record of the destination of all trophies and competition winners ever. So where does anyone go to look back to see who did what and when? This is most disrespectful to the competitions, the winners and sponsors and shows a total disregard for the legacy of such competitions.

I know that the COVID years have impacted greatly, but the records should not rely on someone working that out in 50 years time. The likely legacy of today's administrators will be the lost history of an organisation that oversaw all bowling matters for over 120 years.

Bowling leagues also have a responsibility for preserving, maintaining and making available the history of their competitions. Previously the updated handbook would ensure that this was acted upon but where is that history now? Our premier local bowling competition is the Huddersfield League and they are an example of what a number of leagues are doing by using Bowlsnet as a place for retaining the history of those leagues. Again my last Saturday League handbook is dated 2018, there may be more recent ones that I am not aware of but where is the alternative record keeping?

The Huddersfield League uses Bowlsnet to record its history. I am a big Bowlsnet fan. It is a wonderful reactive system provided by a bowler with a bowling administration responsibility but its prime role is as a results-reporting system. It is not a system well suited to retaining and providing easy access to an organisation's history. It has been developed and maintained by a gentleman called Steve Blaymire at a very modest annual charge. The Huddersfield League's records in the History section end in 2019, again nothing for the past 4 years. Who is taking responsibility for the past records? OK you can probe back in the Bowlsnet system year by year to produce some of the competition results but not all are in there.

I also have to question the wisdom in relying on a system supported by a retired one-man individual operation. Should anything happen to the developer then I worry that we will lose more than just a results-reporting system.

It seems inevitable to me that the paper records will continue to disappear as our sport gradually dies and the apathy over its future spreads to all aspects of it. A computer version can be the answer but only if the organisations responsible for those records take the option seriously. There is no evidence to suggest that they are doing that, quite the opposite in fact.

Don't just ask 'Do League handbooks have a future?' but ask does bowling have a future because this will influence the preservation of the history of our sport. I fear that the answer to both questions must be an emphatic no. No doubt a crown green bowling computer game will replace the actual physical activity over time to satisfy the next generation of armchair-dedicated sports people.

My answer to Bill suggested that the paper handbook will inevitably disappear along with many other paper forms including newspapers. Properly introduced the computerised alternative can be a wonderful replacement providing easy access to the history of any sporting organisation. People nowadays increasingly expect to find their information on the internet and they expect it to be up-to-date and easily accessible.

The biggest problem with a hard copy handbook is the moment it is printed it becomes out of date. Some things change. A fixture programme changes, a club rep stands down or changes address or phone number or a league official moves on. Such changes can easily and swiftly be updated on a computer system but the hard copy has to wait 12 months to become an accurate tool once again.

The Veterans League to their credit provide both means of record keeping but even they are changing. Their new format and reduced content handbook is now called a Bowling Diary with most of the historical information now sidelined to their website. But it can only be a matter of time until the paper copy disappears as well but that shouldn't create any shockwaves if they continue to feed their website with the same information.

My response to Bill's question of 'Do handbooks have a future?' is an emphatic no for a number of reasons but that is no excuse for the irresponsible action of some organisations in discarding the hundreds of years of history that their predecessors carefully administered.

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Jan 08, 2023

computers are a wonderful invention and the world as we now know it will grind to a halt if computers break down. I had an alarming example of this in my working life. But computers must be maintained and kept up to date. Jeff , you mention the health service. This is an example where computer systems are not good with some of them not connected to one another.This is a source of frustration to the front line and other staff and is a reason why the “admin” in the health service is not good.

And so the days of the handbook are limited and we will all be able to find out anything we want by going online providin…

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