Moving & Shaking

March 15, 2008

Ever since Library Journal began publishing an annual list of Movers and Shakers, it’s been a joy learning about the rock stars of the library world. Most of them have made huge contributions to the profession and — perhaps more significantly — influenced how the general public perceives libraries. All of them are achievers.

This year’s honorees have just been announced and they include David Lee King and Tim Spalding* — two people I’ve come to admire over the last year or more.** Congratulations David, Tim, and the rest of this year’s class. Considering that past winners include Helene Blowers, Meredith Farkas, Michael Stephens, Jessamyn West, etc., you’re in excellent company.

BTW: I’ve looked over the list but haven’t finished reading all the stories yet. The Library Journal site has the authoritative list, of course, but Jessamyn West’s annotated list is much easier to use: It includes real names!

* That’s Tim in the bottom right corner of the cover.
** On a personal note, I’ve been proud to know several of the movers and shakers from previous lists. They have each showed me nothing but friendliness, cooperation and service — just as they exemplified resourcefulness and innovation in their work. It’s no wonder they succeed.

Panera Fridays

January 24, 2008

Michael Stephens posted a photo yesterday mentioning that he holds his Wednesday office hours at Panera Bread. It reminded me of an effort I made last year to encourage some of our reference librarians to set up a weekly shift at Panera (or Starbucks or Safeway). It seems like such a simple idea to get the library out in the community — visible in a place our patrons are.

  • Talk to the proprietor. I’m sure most would be happy to support a public library in such a simple way.
  • Buy a sandwich and coffee/tea.
  • Prop up a sign “Got a question? Get an answer! I’m a librarian.
  • Turn on your wireless laptop.

A librarian with access to the Internet and the library’s online collection of databases could surely answer most questions on the spot. Difficult puzzlers might be solved with a quick email or IM to the folks back at the branch. Answers could be sent to a portable printer or the patron’s email address.

Busy people might not think of the library in their daily routine. Let’s change that! A consistent reference shift (say, every Friday from 11-3) at a local wifi hotspot could make the friendly librarian at the next table much more visible than the big library building itself.

No one in our library has done this yet because, so I’ve been told, there’s not enough staff to spare and no overall vision for this to fit. (Sigh.) Does it need to be a big, planned project? Can’t we just try it and see how it’s received? Tell the staff you’re going to take a long lunch tomorrow … and do the field research while you’re at it.

My question to readers in LibraryLand: Is anyone doing a “Panera Friday”? Would anyone like to give it a try?

Networking with the 20s and 30s

January 3, 2008

Is your library interacting with Gen Y adults? If not, why not? A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study suggests they are the portion of the adult population most likely to visit a public library. They are also more tech savvy than any other group.

Here’s my suggestion: Use Facebook and MySpace to reach different age groups. During a recent email exchange with librarians talking about teens, I suggested that they aim their new Facebook page at an older demographic. Continue the flashy teen-related agenda on MySpace but change gears and go after the twenty- and thirty-somethings on Facebook. Don’t make the Facebook page a mere copy of MySpace.

“It need not exclude teens, but targeting Gen Y adults might help select more appropriate apps and give 20/30-somethings a place they feel more comfortable with.”

The initial response was hesitation: it would mean lost opportunities to publicize teen events. Besides, it was said, there aren’t many programs and events to highlight for 20/30’s anyway.

That was exactly my point! Let’s become more relevant to them though the social web.

While many 20s/30s are beyond the teen stuff, they aren’t always tied into any college networks or resources either. They are the people a public library might want to find and connect with using social networking. They need it! Job hunting, residence finding, reliable transportation, starting families, the new world of income tax, and money juggling are all issues to them. We have the resources.

I’m familiar with one library that has a marketing plan filled with programs geared toward kids, teens, and patrons over 55. There’s a huge gap there waiting to be explored. Dismal turnouts at past programs for adults usually discourages interest in considering them, but I’d be willing to bet social networking — available from home at personally convenient times — is the key to that group.

Let the library’s MySpace page cater to teens, but develop a Facebook presence that’s fun, attractive, and useful to that neglected decade of library patrons. Would any public library be willing to try it?

Perspective and Context

January 2, 2008

As much as I enjoy new technologies, I still appreciate the older stuff. If not for the creative energy of the people who came before us, we wouldn’t be as well off today. It’s like the old adage attributed to Isaac Newton: We see farther because we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Joseph Janes’ column in the new issue of American Libraries (January/February, 2008) prompted me along these lines today. He used the old National Union Catalog as an example. For twenty years, it was an invaluable resource. Does anyone use it now? I barely remember seeing it in the basement stacks when I was in college. It’s been replaced by WorldCat, a vast improvement. But each new tool builds on the concepts, if not the technology, of its predecessors.

In my online database classes I hold up an old green copy of the 1990 Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature before delving into the much more interactive sources available online today. It illustrates how far we’ve come in a very short time.

Janes offers two reasons to keep the old works in mind. I’d call them Perspective and Context.

  • Perspective is the humbling reminder that “everything ends.” The latest tool always looks great, but don’t expect it to last forever. Even the Next Great Thing will end someday, too.
  • Context. Here’s Janes speaking of the Union Catalog:

“Even though this behemoth had a comparatively brief run, it was useful and we learned from it and moved on. It represents a milestone on our path of innovation and development, which, in the end, is what matters.”

It’s context that motivates me to read history as often as I do. (I even enjoy the history of science – a discipline whose current theories almost always obliterate their predecessors.)

We have no idea where our current tools will lead us, but we may be certain that they  — like the behemoths of Library 1.0 — will become obsolete one day. “All tools end,” Janes says. “The path remains.” I think it’s the context that lets us know where to post the “You Are Here” signs on that path as we move forward with the Library 2.0 world.

Sharing the Bad

December 20, 2007

Meredith Farkas’s blog post a few days ago (Sharing the Bad Stuff, Learning from Failures) was a lot to take in. She was absolutely right: we need to share failures in the workplace. The library community needs to hear what doesn’t work in addition to what does. We need to learn from each other, good or bad.

Expressing the bad isn’t always easy, though. She wrote that “failure isn’t sexy. Disclosing problems isn’t good for your brand.” How true! Transparent libraries are still rare. If you speak on behalf of an organization, you have to watch your tongue. Even if you speak independently, you often feel obligated to err on the side of caution.

As a blogger, I share what interests me. It’s an added benefit if I happen to excite other people about things I’ve found or imagined. I usually write positive stuff because that’s what I want to think about. I’d rather discuss what’s possible than dwell on the negative or complain about office politics. But it is a bit misleading, to be sure. Life is never 100% good and 0% bad. Not everything is wonderful.

I’ve recently had difficulty in my workplace, for instance. A lot of difficulty. Should I share everything? Maybe for the good of the library community, I should. It would let others learn from the problems I’ve encountered. But at what price? I’m one of those “bottom-up upstarts who revolutionized the way things were done at their libraries” that Sarah Houghton-Jan mentioned this week (although I’m not so delusional to think she was referring to me). I championed a tremendous amount of positive change in recent years. In the last few months, however, I hit a wall. Oh, who am I kidding? The wall fell on me. Three times. Sharing the specifics on the Internet might only make things worse locally, but I’d be remiss not to admit there are problems, conflicts, and frustrations.

I still want to produce positive change within my organization. Recent events make that much more difficult, but I’m still hopeful. I like Alan Kirk Gray’s suggestion* of a Library Failures Wiki. It could be a valuable tool allowing us to share common problems. More people might contribute and more experiences might be exchanged if anonymity was part of the forum. Our objective wouldn’t be to embarrass our libraries, after all, but to help improve them. Getting publicly specific about failure isn’t always the best course when the culture in which you work is not yet transparent.

* which I first saw in Meredith’s post

Future of Bibliographic Control

December 13, 2007

A month ago I watched most of the video debut of the Report of the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control and was disappointed by the group’s approach to control what clearly needs to be opened up a bit. Last night I read several responses to the report and was impressed by most of them. I was floored by them, actually. (The library world has such good writers!) If you can’t read all the reviews, at least start with Roy Tennant. His “descriptive enrichment” concept is the way to go. I considered including his closing paragraph here, but using such a short excerpt would be cheating you out of his whole, well-reasoned commentary.

“Speak up” is the new “Shhh…”

November 27, 2007

Interact. Change stereotypes.