Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fix-it Friday: There's NOWHERE TO SIT or all dressed up and nowhere to grow

This Fix-It Friday will focus on the library's lack of space.

Once upon a time there was a little town. The women of this town decided that their community needed a library, so they built one with their own hands out of stones they found in the desert. When the library opened it had dozens of books for the community and the townspeople were happy.

As time went on, the little library was too little for the community. The little town founded by a train station did not have enough room for books.

“To the rescue!” the local boy scout group cried. “We will donate our small building for the library.” And so the town expanded its little library to three times its former size! Now there were more books for the community, and the townspeople were happy.

As time went on, the little library was too little for the community. The little town founded by a train station did not have enough room for books.

“Build us a building!” the townspeople cried. So the town did. They built a new library from scratch and a new city hall and a new police station. It was great! The library now had space for more books, places to sit, and many new things and the townspeople were happy.

“We are out of space!” the townspeople cried. The library again was too small for the townspeople need to learn and to read, but the town had no money. “What are we to do?” the town leaders said. We need to find a way to make space for our community. “I have an idea!”, a library director said, “We can play musical buildings.” The High School was moving out of the school and over to a new facility, the city hall building could move to the old high school, the library could move to the old city hall, and the senior center could move to the old library. It's perfect! “It will cost a lot of money.” some people said, but the town needed the space and so they played the game.

The townspeople were not happy. “The library does not have more space, yes we are using a bigger building, but there is less space for books, what are we to do?” The library had to get rid of books to fit into a bigger building. No one knew how it could have happened and did not understand why. “We need more space”, the townspeople cried, but the town leaders wanted a new police station, and a fire station and other things. A library would just have to wait, the town leaders said.

No we need a new library! There is no room for books that I like, there is no space to sit and to think, the people are poor and they need the help, don't put our needs down the sink.

So the town leaders said, if you want a new library you will have to tax yourselves, you will need to vote on a question that determine the fate of your library. Will you vote to build your library? Will you spend your hard earned dollar, like you have done in the past, to build a new library or two that will last? The question is posed to you on election day, don't let the library go astray, one question is the one you can trust, to vote for a new library or bust.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Digging for Archives

Arizona Republic Article on Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building

"With the turn of a shovel today, Arizona is finally on the way to protecting the priceless and irreplaceable records of our history.

It's the groundbreaking for the Polly Rosenbaum Archives and History Building, which will have state-of-the-art facilities to store and repair our heritage.

And what a heritage!

Pictures of Geronimo taken by famous Tombstone photographer C.S. Fly. Files from the precedent-setting Miranda case. The state Constitution. A complete set of mug shots of prisoners held in Yuma during territorial days. The meticulously labeled photo collection of the state's first governor, a window into the early 1900s with the walrus-like figure of George Hunt in virtually every picture.

These records are far more than a time capsule. They're vital for resolving a wide range of modern issues, from water rights to citizenship.

For more than two decades, studies have recognized that the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records lacks the space and climate-controlled environment to care for this critical documentation.

Thousands of boxes of records are stored under conditions that leave them vulnerable to heat, humidity, insects and rodents.

Veteran legislator Polly Rosenbaum was a leader among the Arizonans who pushed the archives project through a series of ups and downs in budgeting and politics worthy of the old "Perils of Pauline" movie serials. She herself loved coming down to the archives to research Arizona's past. It's too bad that the project she so passionately supported, which so fittingly bears her name, didn't get under way until now, three years after she passed away at age 104.

The archives building, at 19th Avenue and Madison Street in Phoenix, is due for completion in mid-2008. "

Monday, September 18, 2006

Technology Nobody Uses: Are you buying it just to be cutting edge?

In the last week I have read three different analyses about online digital materials. My library is at the cusp of jumping into this format. However, these items give me pause (along with many other library user interfaces that are not popular and don’t meet user needs).

From Techdirt we find that most music listeners are not really downloading their songs from online music stores. Most of the users are just burning them from CDs so they can avoid Digital Rights Management problems. Your library comes in when they offer music CDs for check-out as opposed to online content. It is easier for someone to come in, burn a music cd from your collection than to download it from your website (or ANYBODIES website). How big is the market of downloadable music? Not as big as you think. I know Itunes is a loss leader but FIVE PERCENT?!!

The article:
iTunes May Not Be That Popular, But It Serves Its Purpose A new analyst report says that just 5 percent of the tracks on the average iPod are bought from iTunes -- a figure that really shouldn't be all that surprising, given that Apple intended it to be a loss leader to sell more iPods. People are still buying music on CD, and they're still using file-sharing networks, illustrating two realities: first, that the mere existence of digital distribution doesn't mean people will overlook its shortcomings and flock to it in droves; second, that despite the availability of free music, people are still paying for it. Digital music sales offer some benefits over buying CDs or other physical media, but for many consumers, the lack of playback restrictions on music ripped from CDs and the benefit of owning something tangible outweigh the convenience and minor price savings legal downloads offer. (end of snipped piece, read more at the link above.)

Here is another article on online audio content. Again, online audiobooks show steady increase, up a whopping 3% in two years!

APA Surveys: Audio Growth Continues

by Shannon Maughan
The Audio Publishers Association has released findings from two new surveys on audio sales and audio consumers that shows another gain in sales in 2005 and the increasing popularity of the digital audio format.
According to the sales survey, total spending on spokenword audio rose 4.7% in 2005, to an estimated $871 million. As expected, sales of downloadable audio are showing steady gains. Downloads represented 9% of total audio sales last year, up from 6% in 2004. Another obvious trend is the continuing decline of sales in the audiocassette format. Cassettes comprised only 16% of total sales last year, down sharply from 30% in 2004, indicating the inevitable fade of this technology. Additionally, member publishers indicated that they produced fewer titles in the cassette format in 2005. (end of snipped article)
Of course on both of these above issues, no library online audiobook/music vendor has provided a downloadable format that works for all music players. If all the music works for windows and is in mp3 format, and everyone has an ipod, who is going to use it, especially if you cannot hack it?
Another issue is e-books. No one has agreed to a standard e-book player. There are a dozen different format and no player in which you could read the item without hurting your eyes. Even then you would have to pay $500 to get it.
Another article from the Washington Times about the non-use of e-books and the problems that have arisen with it:
E-books unplugged
Start of snipped piece:

“Ms. Schroeder says that a few years ago, publishers were anticipating a surge in e-book sales. "We built it, and they didn't come," she says, speaking of consumers.
Part of the reason for consumers' hesitancy is the difficulty in finding an appropriate reading device. Mr. Bogaty refers to new e-book reading devices, such as the Sony Reader or IRex Technologies E-Reader but says the preferred platform in the United States is a personal digital assistant (PDA). In the future, he speculates, cell phones and PDAs will combine features in one electronic device with a larger screen and better resolution, which would be more conducive for e-book reading.” (end of snipped piece)

Start of another snipped piece, same article:

“Before e-books can truly hold up in the mass market, however, the industry has to agree on standards regarding digital rights management, known as DRM, for consumers to get full use and accessibility from their e-books.
Jonathan Smith, a graduate student at Catholic University who works as the electronic resources assistant at the university's library while he pursues his degree in library science, recently confronted one of the problems caused by the lack of open standards in the e-book industry.
After purchasing and downloading an electronic textbook to his computer, Mr. Smith realized that his e-book couldn't be transferred to another, more accessible reading device such as his Palm Pilot.
"DRM is the largest barrier," Mr. Smith says, referring to the lack of e-book popularity. "Open standards would help across all [reading] devices."”

(End of snipped piece)

I thought that because I worked for a semi-rural library that we were behind the curve in offering these services to the public, but the market isn’t here yet. I would see these items as services bigger systems are providing through their central library, but it seems like this market is still pretty small. Digital Rights Management seems to be the biggest problem and for libraries to provide this information, it would require heavier than usually since it expires after so much time and most of the vendors do not provide services compatible to all formats.

I guess we will see what happens, but I feel better about not being able to offer these services yet.

AZ Library News: Library seeks youths' poems for contest

Library seeks youths' poems for contest

Tucson Citizen

Youths are invited to submit poetry for a Tucson-Pima Public Library contest in which the winners will read their entries at a special event featuring renowned poet Maya Angelou.
The contest begins today and ends Oct. 7.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Smartest Card Campaign or Don't leave home without it

This Successful Saturday will focus on the library's Smartest Card Campaign both last year and this year.

I love the idea of library card sign-up month. There is tremendous growth going on in my community and getting these new citizens engaged and coming into our library is very exciting. I love thinking of new ways to promote getting a library card. My ideas are limited by funding, so we can't give away a bike or an Xbox 360, but we can do things that help get the library's brand out as well as getting patrons engaged in their community.

Last year we purchased 50 canvas bags with the library's name and brand on it. We told patrons, the first 10 patrons that sign up this week will get a bag for Library Card Sign-up month. I called the Mayor and he came out to get the first bag. I explained the process to him while the photographer from the newspaper snapped our picture. It was a really great promotional tool. What I liked most about it wasn't that it increased patron participation, or that it was a great promotional item that ran in the paper with pictures, but that I can always see those same patrons who signed up for a card that month carrying around their bags. What a great promotion, they identify themselves with the library now. They carry the bag in the library, outside the library, they are walking billboards for the library and the fact that they had such a great experience getting a card, they will start talking to other people who notice their new bag. Granted, we could not do this every year, but it was great brand recognition AND it made believers out of our patron who spread the word about the library.

I think the biggest promotion over the summer for library cards was requiring patrons to get a library card to use our public access computers. New library cards doubled from almost 400 to 1000 patrons a month. We ended up running out of cards in August because I misjudged how fast these cards were going. We usually order 2500, but we had to double the order because of the participation. This created another problem for us. We were issuing so many library cards, but our cards were UGLY. They were a throwback to pre-credit card days. An ugly cranberry color with just the library's name in black with a space for the patron's name and a place on the back to adhere the barcode, YUCK! I had planned to upgrade the card when our vendor called us. He said that it was costing us more money to print these cards because it used out-dating machinery and would we consider upgrading our cards? It offered a new card, credit card sized with a keychain extra card for the same price we were paying for our current cards. What a great deal! Of course, it made me think, if we are so out-dated that our vendor is telling us to upgrade, we definitely need to do a better job of keeping up with the times.

I ended up designing the cards myself, using an image of the library with a sub-image with the library's entry sign in the corner. The barcodes come already on the card and the library's hours of operation and website are on the back. Everyone was so excited when they came in. All the staff instantly changed and upgraded their cards. As a promotion, we told patrons that we would waive the replacement fee for a new library card if they wanted to upgrade to the new cards. Another way the library's brand can be spread by customers. The library''s card has the city symbol, the name of the library, a picture and sign, plus the library's website, hours of operation and address. It had none of those things before, pretty sad. Patrons are all asking about the new cards and how to get one. New cards issued will go even higher for this month and we are extended the promotion into October.

The biggest goal of our library is to get all these new citizens into the library first. Getting them engaged in their community by using the library is the best first experience anyone could have. They see all we have to offer plus services and a webpage like ones they are used to in bigger cities. We are even getting them to spread the word by using library bags and library cards, and we did not even have to give away a bike.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: Technology Training or providing more for patrons than you do for staff

This Fix-it Friday will focus on meeting the needs of your patrons, but failing to do so for your staff.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the library is going through major transformations in providing technology for our patrons. We are making attempts to bridge the digital divide and knowledge gap so that our community produces a competitive workforce and informed citizenry. We will more than double the amount of public access computers at our library and provide all the latest software to meet user needs. If you go to any public library in Arizona now, libraries that have received Gates Grants have all these new sleek black computers, lots of RAM, they can do almost anything. It is fantastic! What strikes me as funny is that we are trying so hard to make sure our patrons are trained to use computers and then providing them with the latest technology, but we are forgetting about doing the same for our staff members. The realization hit when you stand back and look at all these beautiful new machines, and then turn around and see these old white clunky dinosaurs with TV type monitors. You have a back to back comparison of the latest technology versus the 1990s technology. Yikes!

The problem with computers for staff is that we have to rely on the city’s schedule. They will replace all of the computers on a three year cycle. Cities and libraries don’t have the advantage of a Gates Grant or applying for any grant that just covers administrative overhead or basic infrastructure. No one wants to fund a grant like that, just the same as not many people would vote for a bond to renovate their own city hall building. The funding agency should be able to cover its own internal matters. So as a library, we forced to sit back and wait for our city IT to move its own infrastructure into the 20th century when the citizens its serves are moving at the speed of light. I guess that is good and self-less, but it doesn’t feel good for those who work for the city and don’t get the same attention.

We are doing the same thing with training opportunities. We have this great line-up of classes and programs for the public. It teaches them information on financial literacy, information literacy, and all sorts of literacy type stuff, but we are not doing the same things for our staff. We have technology classes twice a week to teach basic computers, internet, email, and even e-bay, but we are doing the same things for our own staff. Granted, they have this basic knowledge. When they first came on board, we taught them how to use our Integrated Library System, we taught them how to use the internet and the basics of a computer, so these same classes are not needed. However, we still need to teach and re-train basic computer and catalog concepts. What we really need to do is transform our staff into computer techie people so that they can trouble-shoot and assist our patrons more readily. The problem with this is that only I and one other person really have those technology skills to teach. We need to teach our staff how install and un-install programs, how to troubleshoot simple computer and internet problems, we need to teach them basic IT things so that they can provide some sort of triage before calling in the cavalry (IT). The problem is that I have to squeeze time to make this a priority. I need to sit down and write a manual and teach it. We are in the process of forming our technology plan and I am writing the manual, but all these concepts will take forever to teach all of them.

How will I ever find the time to teach them especially when we are so thinly staffed most of the time? All of the technology manual concepts will be forever changing. That was one of the reasons we stopped teaching our computer maintenance class, it is too complicated and takes too much time to keep up on the concepts that are needed to help ourselves and our public. The only training opportunities are over an hours drive away and we can’t afford to send everyone to the training. Usually, it is not even library specific. I am looking into using several techniques to help our staff become naturally inquisitive about technology. One of the problems is that they don’t want to touch anything on the computer. It is too intimidating. I need to break the habit and get them to learn concepts on their own. My plan is to develop a library technology manual, some of it will be developed with the help of Webjunction and some from our Library Technology Plan Consultant that was funded by a Library Services and Technology Act from the Arizona State Library Archives and Public Records. (I try not to use acronyms) I also plan to use some Library 2.0 training concepts. I am using a modified 43 Things concept I found from the Information Outlook, February edition called 23 Things. I am planning on creating incentives for staff to learn on their own. Just don’t want them to get spoiled and then not want to do anything unless they get a cookie. That is always a tough line to walk. I hope the plan works, it seems like it is working over at Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County County (PLCMC). I will keep my fingers crossed.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Spanish Language Outreach or Ingles Sin Barreras

This Successful Saturday Post will focus on our Spanish Language Needs Assessment and how we rolled that assessment into our strategic plan.

In the spring of last year, I attended a conference sponsored by the Arizona State Library. The program was on Spanish Language outreach. My library had just completed our five year strategic plan; I was struck by how similar and easy the program is to that process. It simply involved knowing community leaders and talking to them. I already had a list from the strategic plan, but that was not enough to get a group together for a full blown planning process. I first sat down with key leaders in one- on-one interviews. I was not sure how much participation I would get, but after interviewing the first leader, I had a list of over 20 people to contact.

Not everyone had the time to interview with me, and some did not believe I would follow through on the promise of services to Spanish Speakers. Certainly there were politics involved as well. When I began my research, it was in the midst of the rallies against immigration legislation. I have read news stories of fotonovellas being challenged in Colorado, and stories of prop 200 requiring I.D. to vote and for government services. To combat this, we were very careful in how we described this population. We wrapped these services into our adult literacy movement. We stated that if businesses wanted good and productive employees, then learners needed to have opportunities to learn in their own language, as well as have the opportunity to learn English. Both would provide a more productive workforce, which is always good for business.

When the surveys were completed, we worked on incorporating the following actions in our strategic plan:

Strategic Plan for Spanish Speakers

Goal: To reduce barriers to literacy, language and obstacles to increased quality of life.
Objective: To increase literacy resources available in the library.
1. The Library will dedicate 3% of its collection towards literacy resources. Half of which will include resources for Spanish speakers wanting to improve their English Language skills.
2. The Library will dedicate 3% of its collection development budget towards purchasing materials in Spanish for adults and youth in all formats.
3. The library to develop a core group of tutors that will assist in teaching and preparing English Language Acquisition Courses and develop outlets in which to practice the English Language.
4 .Identify, apply for, and secure at least one grant dedicated to establishing an Adult Literacy Program that focuses on English Language Learners.
5. To develop bi-lingual signage and information on the library’s website, pamphlets, signage, and to provide other community information in Spanish.

Goal: Increase lifelong learning opportunities that enhance the quality of life for our growing community.
1. Provide workforce development, educational, and financial programs in Spanish. Programs need to have the following topics
     a. Financial, Home buying
     b. Tenant rights, better housing opportunities
     c.Provide knowledge about available resources in key areas
     d. Know your rights/legal services
     e.Workforce Development (how to get a better job, develop skills)
     f. School based, filling out FAFSA, educational opportunities, scholarships
     g.Translation services (come into the library and provide assistance with forms,
        requirements, simple translation of what they need)
     h. Adaptation to American Culture (to help parents mostly)

Goal: Provide a community space that meets the interests of the citizens of the City
Objective: Continue to develop, hold programs, and provide space that highlights cultural diversity.
1. Have cultural programs celebrating holidays important to Spanish Speakers
2. Mexican Independence Day/El Grito de Independcia (Sept. 16)
3. Annual Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros (last Saturday in April)
4. Cinco de Mayo (May 5)
5. Los Dias de Los Muertos (Nov.1)
6. Las Posadas (Dec. 16)
7. Dia de Reyes (Jan. 6)

Group Priorities:
1. Provide space to service Spanish speakers whether in the library or throughout the community.
2. Bi-lingual services
3. Information Kiosk for Spanish services
4. Provide programs and information for Spanish Speakers throughout the community
5. Bookmobile to promote services
6. Informed about what Spanish Language Services are available in town
7. Need English Learning kits like Ingles Sin Barreras, other kits
8. Citizenship kits
9. Work with successful organizations to provide resources

We plan to roll out the plan this week with bi-lingual library brochures and website at the city's first Mexican Independence Day Celebration, followed by a Home Buying seminar in Spanish. The following week, we plan to advertise the same resources to the elementary school and the high school English Language Learners/Migrant student programs.

The best part is that even before we have rolled out this program, Spanish language material circulation has shot up. We plan to roll out Rosetta Stone for our public access computers in October (web-based). The biggest sign that we have already demonstrated progress? We recently purchased multiple sets of Ingles Sin Barreras for English acquisition, citizenship, and computer education. Everything was checked out and it continues to circulate again and again, along with the general Spanish language collection. The word was already out that we were a resource for the community. It didn't happen with a massive marketing campaign, but by word of mouth and connecting with the right people.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: All dressed up and nowhere to go or stuck in the middle with you

Today’s Fix-it Friday will focus on technology and finding a balance between an agency that bridges the technology gap and one that creates barriers. (note this posted late, sorry)

Our library is at a turning point. We have provided sufficient technology to meet the needs of our users. Space issues are planned to be resolved by bonding for facilities, followed by more staff. We are currently considering more technology to help save staff time and more convenience to patrons until this happens. In all services, the library must meet the lowest common denominator for service. It cannot push too much technology on the public; otherwise it creates the same digital divide it has sworn to bridge. We keep looking at making the next step in technology to provide content online. However, with much of the population still unable to afford a computer and Internet access, E-books, downloadable music, and even electronic databases are a problem. In the past, if we did not have enough modern computers, how can we take away a paper product and replace it with something that requires a computer. If we could not provide access to these electronic resources ourselves, how can we expect our patrons to.

In a previous Successful Saturday I documented how we solved the problem of new and updated computers and adding additional computers. We recently received another grant for more computers which will give us one computer for every 1000 people in our legal service area. That is higher than average and great progress. We have solved the problem of basic needs technology-wise and patrons do not often have to compete for computer time. Our next dilemma, where do we go from here? We can provide more and more databases for the public so that they can meet all their information needs from the library's website, at home or at the library. That is the first step.

Databases are great, they save the library money, they provide the same information one can find in a book, but multiple people can the same information at the same time. Sounds great right! You still have the problem of the lowest common denominator. Who is going to use this product on average and will they have the technical ability to use it. A case in point, we went to a product called referenceusa and stopped ordering phone books out of state and stopped purchasing some business directories which ended up saving the library $4,000. You would think it was a win-win, saved money and provided greater access, but not completely. When the library participated in its Master Plan, one of the focus groups came up with the problem that the library was pushing too much technology too fast. We got rid of reference materials that were being viewed everyday by patrons thinking they would easily migrate to a digital format. However, instead of just going to the book and getting their information, they had to learn how to use a computer. This is the problem with today’s transformation of library services, we are creating a barrier of learning how to use a device to access the same basic services patrons are used to.

For databases, sometimes libraries have no choice. We must go digital because that is the only way the information is being distributed. Government information, directories, and reference books in general are being placed in databases online. We created computer classes, but many people will simply refuse to use the computer. So, we ended up getting dinged by a number of patrons because we caused more problems than we solved. We did end up getting them to use the databases and referenceusa is one of our highest used databases now. It took a long time to get there though for our core users.

Databases have become standard fare now, we still need to be careful in purchasing the expensive databases to replace the expensive reference books. The problem is providing services in the area of e-books, audiobooks, music, and movies online. The funny thing is that I keep hearing about Digital Rights Management and the problem with purchasing these items online and stripping that out of them. Now the library is going to purchase some for their patrons with even more of the same stuff? Not sure if that will work long-term. The worst problem is the e-book.

There is no set standard for e-books, no format to be downloaded that everyone agrees to. You can go to project Project Gutenberg or other online sites and download free e-books, but not in the same format to read it in microsoft reader or adobe acrobat. You would have to download the text file and read the raw text, or put it in a freeware software program to allow it to be read by either the reader or adobe. That's not even the problem.

The whole concept of the book is that it never required any type of technology to use it. You just needed to learn how to read. Now with music, audiobooks, and movies it is generally accepted that you need to have some tech savvy to get these items to run, but never with books. Are we really expecting patrons to use a laptop or PDA to read these books. What do we tell the patron when all of our books are e-book, sorry you will have to buy a $500 computer to read that instead of the $20 you are accustomed to? That definitely seems like creating a technology divide to our patrons instead of bridging it. It is something to keep in mind as we progress online and provide services to our patrons from the web 24 hours a day, we still need to serve the patrons that walk through our doors and use our “traditional” services like reading books or storytime. We can move to a format and sacrifice our core users for the technology end. We need to bridge the divide, not create one. And if we are providing virtual reference that patrons find difficult to use, or if we provide books that patrons need to purchase a computer to read, or put music, audiobooks, and movies online with so much digital rights management that patrons cannot watch them, then we have failed in taking the right steps forward in technology. It goes back to the rules of library science, save the time of the user, much of this technology does not save anyone anytime. We have to find a way to provide these services that patrons are getting from other places and expecting it from us, but still be the same library that patrons are using.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Hiring First Rate People or Excellence is a Moving Target

Today's Successful Saturday will focus on hiring good librarians and how what is defined as good changes.

The ultimate question of any librarian fresh out of school is what do libraries look for when they are hiring. There is no right answer to this question and unfortunately many good librarians don't get hired because they are just not the right fit for the organization. As an administrator, sometimes you wish you could hire two or three people from the list, but alas there are only so many jobs. One time I was very lucky and I could hire two people at once and they both turned out to be a great boon for the library. I have also had openings where I could not believe we could not find one good candidate. Since I began as manager at my library, the pool of candidates have gone from anemic to a horn of plenty. I can open almost any job and I know that I will get many good applications. The close proximity of a great library school also helps, but even the paraprofessional staff pool is very diverse and talented. It can be very difficult to choose when you have several people that can do what you need them to. That is where the situation of the library plays a factor in the final decision.

The situation of the library can be the greatest determinant as to whether you will be hired. If the library is under transition, they may be looking for more experience, if the library has had the same administration for some time, they will just be looking for someone who can do the job in the description the best. I have been in both situations where at one point I needed someone who knew what they were doing since I didn't, and at other times I could hire the smile and train the skills. The latter is what I would usually prefer since it is easy to train skills, but it is very difficult to train good customer service. Even the delivery of a reference question can determine whether the patron had a good interaction or a bad one. I have witnessed the exact same question answered by two difference people and the delivery from the person with good customer service skills, particularly when bad news is delivered, it the critical difference. If you cannot find the answer or need to refer a patron, good customer service tells the patron that you did all you could and they appreciate that. Treating a patron less so tells the patron I don't have time for you, don't bother me. You can send this staff member to customer service training again and again makes no difference, they just can't change their personality. So if you are a manager and you can handle it, you should try to hire staff with better customer service skills than training.

Before I became manager, I was on the hiring committee for our new youth librarian. Our manager was leaving the position while we were in the midst of our ILS conversion. We also had an extremely high turnover rate with librarians and some general staff. Considering that situation, we would most likely hire someone with experience. We did not really get many great applications, and of those almost no experience. We ended up hiring someone without their Masters in Library Science because she had experience as a youth librarian, the only one of the bunch. Considering the library was about to be put into a tailspin with no manager and what would eventually become a year of having really no one at the helm, choosing someone with experience that could sustain existing programs was the best choice. After the mess that was at the library with the ILS transformation, having no one in the leadership position for a year, she left for a different library in the same county. She left for less money too.

Back to square one, only this time I was the Manager. I had to hire two positions within a six month period. I had to hire someone for my former position and then the youth librarian resigned a few months later as I mentioned. I ended up hiring two fresh recruits almost straight out of library school. Both had no experience as librarians at a public library. After some time at the library, I felt that I could hire two librarians that were fresh out of school with fresh ideas. Our first year with no manager left the library in limbo with no direction, the second year resulted in having to hire two new librarians where we already had a hire turnover rate. A lot was riding on these two librarians since we had to completely change the course of the library and move it from the 1980s into 2005 and neither had any experience.

What they brought was ingenuity, passion, and drive to their jobs and the library. They were dedicated to making their library the best it could be. Our adult librarian came on board in the midst of our strategic plan right in the middle of our winter visitor season, our busiest. The youth librarian came on board about one week before Summer Reading was to begin. This is the worst time a youth librarian can come on board because they have to hit the ground running. Both librarians changed the way we did programming and ordered materials for the library. They were both good customer service people and they immediately made great relationships with our patrons. The most often compliment that was mentioned to me was the great selection and the great programs both put on. Both of their collections were flying off the shelves. Their great programming and collection development led to a doubling in participation in programming and a 20% increase in circulation.

We are getting a large influx of patrons from bigger cities with bigger library districts. Normally, these patrons would expect lesser service since we are a smaller system. Surprisingly, it is not the case. Patrons are noticing that they can get the same level of service from bigger cities because we have great employees who know what they are doing. One great compliment came from a patron, she had come from one of the best systems in the state and mentioned how it is great that she can find such a great selection for her children and that she can always find a great read at the library. She specifically mentioned both librarians as doing a great job at selecting materials and helping her with her questions.

It didn't come from years of experience, but creativity, drive and passion for the job. That more than makes up for experience.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: Ahhhhtomation or press 0 to get angry

Today’s Fix-it Friday will discuss automating your services and the problems they create.

The use of technology in a library has many advantages to save your library staff time, stress, and deal with the lack of staff to meet user demand. It is typically a reactive program instead of a proactive program. As demand goes up and you can’t keep up, buy some technology and have the users serve themselves just like the grocery store. Check-out your own groceries, your books, renew your own books, go online and user our services. These work great for people in a hurry or are technology savvy. In most urban environments, it is not a problem. However, in a small or semi-rural community, people can’t figure it out, and then they get very angry at you.

In the August edition of American Libraries, the latest Will’s World column derides the use of automation as a way to solve problems. He would rather speak with a person. Well, wouldn’t anyone?! The problem is that when you do a cost analysis, it is much cheaper to buy a piece of technology and have IT come fix it when it breaks rather than employing a person to make everything friendlier and easier. No one looks at automation and thinks this would be great customer service. What the library is trying to accomplish it to push simple tasks to the users so that staff have more time to handle the more advanced tasks. However, simple is a very, very relative term.

About a year ago, the library employed a phone tree, an automated phone notification system (telephony), a self-check machine, and a little before that put up our catalog page which further allowed automation. Of all of this technology, it was the phone system that caused the most problems. We simply could not afford to call every patron for their hold or overdue book. We hold books for seven days, but by the time we were able to contact the patron, they only had three days to pick up the book! So our policy had to be changed to three days even though in the system it gave them seven days. We also could not pick up the phone because our philosophy is to serve the patron in front of you first. So patrons were leaving angry messages left and right with much of the time, they just wanted to know when we were open, or where we were. The first thing we did was implement a phone tree.

The gigantic revolt from the phone tree was heard around the world. People complained to the city manager, constant messages were left on phones complaining about the system. To this day there are still complaints, but we have no choice in the matter. It is either they can get a phone tree and get quick information through the phone tree, or leave a message and wait for someone to call them back sometime next year. As a result of the revolt, we were forced to make 0 the first option so that patrons knew they could press 0 to talk to someone. This of course did not alleviate anyone’s problem. We still can’t answer the phones unless I hire a secretary or remove someone from the front desk when we have a 20% increase in walk-in business every month. We stuck with the phone tree. We further exacerbated our patrons by changing all of the city’s phone extensions. We just added a zero on the end of the extensions. However, patrons used to working the phone tree ended up dialing three numbers instead of four. For some reason, it always took them to our Spanish language prompt. They did not appreciate that. (However, on a side note, it does let them know how difficult it is to navigate in this country if you cannot speak the language. I mentioned this in a previous post how it is vital for our economic development for employers to get monolingual Spanish speakers bi-lingual.) We ended up having to bounce the calls to increase our pick-up chances. When someone dials “0” they get the circulation desk, when they cannot pick-up, they get the reference desk, when they can’t pick up it goes to me. The thought process here is that someone should be able to pick up after that, and if I even can’t then they know who to complain to when they leave a message. This didn’t solve the problem, but I could usually smooth things over with the patron by the time they got to me or my voice mail. Of course, we made the problem worse with our telephony system.

Our telephony system makes outbound calls with an automated voice. It tells the patron it is the library and they have books on hold or overdue and to pick them up. People hated this as well. They of course wanted a warm voice on the other end telling them that they have a book on hold. A personalized service, just like Cheers where everyone knows your name and what you read. So of course, they hated that as well. “I don’t want to talk to a machine I want to talk to a person!” Again, we can’t afford the time for staff to call people to pick-up holds. It took 4 days to get to call the person and that left them 3 days to pick up the book instead of 7. No one had enough time to pick up their books. Again, there was a revolt, but they got used to it. Until I can get more staff, I can’t afford not to automate. However, automation causes you to push your staff costs onto IT. Staff time is never really saved unless the technology never breaks. Don’t we wish it wouldn’t? Customer service is lost with patron talking to machines instead of people. No new revenue for the city means any new staff for me, usually not the highest priority anyway. Until I can hire another person just to do this or reduce face to face time with increased telephone coverage, there is not much I can do. I don’t think anyone sees automation as a solution; it is just a way to get by with what you have. Some things works, like our time management system for our public access computers, but like I have said in the past, self-service only works when the patron really, really, wants to use that service. If not, it is simply a barrier and a reason NOT to use the service.