Friday, April 18, 2008

The people who need libraries most use us the least

A quote that caught my eye from the Library Revolution Blog. Emily Clasper covered Computer in Libraries on her blog. This quote (and I am not sure if the first sentence is the presenter and the second is her thought, it seems that way) speaks to the big problem libraries have in serving the public.

Library Revolution » Blog Archive » CIL 2008: Day 1 Keynote: "Education level is a good predictor of library use. Should this make us worried that the people who may be the least likely to use the library may be those who need us the most?"

Education and red-lining
When I read this post, it coincided with a piece I heard on NPR about the anniversary of the Fair-Housing Act and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.
How has the Fair-Housing Act fared? The piece documented how African-Americans were blocked from living in certain areas. This practice was commonly known as Red-lining. Dr. King spoke in this piece and provided an example. "When a black man goes into a realtor's office, the realtor tells him the only houses that are available are in the ghetto. When a white man goes in, the realtor suddenly has more openings in nice areas."

This practice is heavily detailed in the book Minorities in Phoenix by Brad Luckingham. He discusses how Phoenix was populated. It explains why there is a South Phoenix which has a high density of minorities and is a very poor and crime-filled area. The book is 16 years old now, but not much has really changed in these areas. The reason is that realtors blocked minorities from going into any neighborhood except the one designated for them. Then, these areas had all of their resources sucked out of them. With no businesses willing to locate there and no jobs offered, it is no wonder that these areas are as they are. It wasn't always that way, but it was designed to be so.

This impacts libraries as well. A public library exists because no private entity can provide the same vital service. These public libraries can be established in poor areas. In most cases, it is the only vital link for a depressed area to revitalize and for its population to pull itself out of poverty. In some areas, the situation is hopeless so resources like public libraries aren't used as heavily because "What's the point?" That's something serious libraries have to look at. So when I read the first post from Library Revolution, it rings very true. Those who need us most use us the least. I have looked at the stats for libraries in poor areas and the usage is low.

Consistency and equality supersede efficiency

However, the reality is that it takes a disproportionate amount of effort to make the library heavily used again. If the public can see the library's value and understand what it can do, then they will come. Part of that is faith in the library administrators. It is easy to cut funding where there is little use, it's efficient. It is being a good public steward of funds and allocate resources where it is used the most. Those in poorer areas have less usage, more lost books, and more damage to libraries. Low usage means less hours, less funding. How do you turn this around? An administrator must be dedicated to provide fair and consistent services. Consistency and equality supersede efficiency. If we don't put funding where it is needed most, we are not holding up to our true mission of service.

Place a public library in any affluent community and people will be banging on the door wanting to get in. They understand that libraries are power. That they can provide the resources to leverage anything. That the library's resources only lead to improvements to one's self. In a poor area, the people are so depressed, they don't see the need in trying. They must be convinced otherwise. I remember when Tony Garvey of the City of Phoenix Public Library made the decision to provide consistent hours throughout the city. It was a controversial move, but it provided the same level of service no matter where you went. How did she fair?

Phoenix Librarian Toni Garvey Named Librarian of the Year (2004)
During her seven-year tenure at Phoenix Public Library, circulation has increased by more than 100 percent, and visits to library facilities have grown by 26 percent.
According to the latest statistics released by the American Library Association, Phoenix libraries are open more hours per facility per week than almost any other system in the country serving one million people or more.

Librarian of the Year 2004: Toni Garvey
First came expanded hours of service. Every PPL branch, including the central library, is open seven days a week, for 66 hours. This schedule, which provides more hours of service than most city libraries, includes generous Sunday hours. Before budget cuts, PPL offered 75 hours of service a week.

When Garvey arrived, branch library schedules varied widely and hours of service were far fewer. Some branches were open 40 hours, others up to 55. Some opened on Sunday in the school year, others not at all. The fewest hours were often in the neediest neighborhoods.
"It was a fine political message to say, 'We serve everyone equally,'" says Garvey. "In a place like Phoenix, with 13 libraries to serve 1.4 million people, you have to redefine what access means. Lots of hours and uniform schedules are critical to that."

Access also means serving a diverse population. When a librarian visiting a branch in a Hispanic neighborhood found no staff who could speak Spanish, Garvey immediately discovered which staffers had language competencies. She transferred people into branches with gaps and began to recruit people fluent in Spanish. Most remarkably, PPL hired someone to teach Spanish to the whole staff, and now there are basic and intermediate Spanish classes going on all the time, with teaching geared to library situations and vocabulary.

Boost the community
It is true of urban and rural libraries in bad areas. We must provide resources and services consistently to everyone. What message can we send if we don't do that? It is difficult during today's economy to do this. At a time like this, a library's need for additional resources rises. We were able to take advantage of the booming economy. We are building a new library and have money to provide a great opening day collection. We can also continue to purchase new materials and replace damaged and lost materials. It is like the broken windows theory, if we can replace something that is damaged (and in poor areas things are damaged constantly) we can help prevent more problems. It is to provide consistent services that are always available and to be able to boost the community, when it needs us the most.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Billy Pilgrim could not sleep on his daughter's wedding night or an undoing of sorts

Some things cannot be undone, but it is feels good to imagine that they could. I was listening to Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It had been some time since I read the book. I recently downloaded the book from Overdrive.

While I was listening, I hadn't realized that the sequence of the book had been altered. The audiobook is divided into six one-hour parts. As I listened, I actually heard part six instead of part three. It is a coincidence that this happened, since the book itself is snippets of the main character, Billy Pilgrim, slipping back and forth through different times of his life. He becomes "unstuck in time." Time interpreted in the book is one in which we are all stuck, like flies in amber. By listening to the book out of order, it was like becoming unstuck.

It becomes important because in the "middle" of the book there is commentary by the author with a war buddy, much in the same light as the author in the book discussing Billy Pilgrim. More importantly, there was a song on the audiobook. I could not find this song anywhere, but it seemed to enchant me. It speaks to me at a time in my life when I need to hear the idea of undoing something. The reference specifically is one of war. But, the general theme is that instead of destroying something, or having something destroyed, something becomes restored. I am posting the song with this famous quote from Slaughterhouse Five.

Updated, embed not working for song, try here

The text his here:
Billy Pilgrim could not sleep on his daughter's wedding night. He was 44. The wedding had taken place that afternoon in a gaily striped tent in Billy's backyard. The stripes were orange and black. Billy padded downstairs on his blue and ivory feet. He went into the kitchen where the moonlight called his attention to a half-bottle of champagne on the kitchen table all that was left from the reception in the tent. Somebody had stoppered it again. "Drink me" it seemed to say. So billy uncorked it with his thumbs. Didn't make a pop, the champagne was dead. So it goes.

He went into the living swinging the bottle like a dinner bell.

He became slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this :

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed."

Most people refer to this passage as one of Vonnegut's best. It conveys an apt anti-war message and is one of the best examples of Vonnegut's style, and humor used to convey a very important message.

It affected me differently this time. I related to it not as anti-war, but as the undoing of things. Better, a restoration of things that have happened. In war, you cannot take back bullets or restore lives. In life, you cannot change what has happened. Sometimes things don't work out the way they should. Sometimes things go off track and you wonder how that happened and wish it could be undone. It cannot be. However, to read this passage is a reminder of what can and cannot be restored.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More web obfuscation from the Federal Government

From Computerword, via LIS News comes this story about NARA abdicating their responsibility to preserve digital content from the Federal Government. Normally, I would read an article like this and move on. Just another story about how organizations push content on to the web without any concern about access and usability. In this case, NARA prefers to have non-governmental agencies preserve content from the Federal Government.

Agency under fire for decision not to save federal Web content: "'The fact that digital preservation is done by others outside NARA isn't an excuse for NARA to abdicate their responsibility, but an argument that they should be capable of fulfilling it,' he said. 'As members of Congress and federal agencies increasingly move their work online, robust digital archiving will only become more important, so we can understand how our government is performing its duties.'"

However, I have a personal story on federal web content. I once worked in a Government Documents Depository that was 95%. The 95% meant that is collected 95% of the publications the government pushed out. Our library collected information sent to us by the Federal Government, collected information from the State government, and collected information from local governments. There are many valuable and interesting documents in all of these collections. This also one of the most complicated call number systems around. SuDoc, Superintendent of Government Documents call number system categorizes information by agency, not be subject. Each department has a letter, and the numbers branch out to refer to a division. The Department of the Interior is indicated by an I and then a number sequence would follow. I was responsible for organizing the paper collection.

Some of the document put out are very interesting. There are documents that show mining accidents that document what happened with illustrations. I can remember reading one where there was a child involved in a wall collapse. I can see the small child playing by the wall in the illustration just before the collapse. I don't think it needed an illustration. It's burned in my memory now. Some of the more amusing ones were call Preventative Maintenance, an Army document. It was a comic book that showed how to provide maintaince on weapons and vehicles. It was like Archie Comics meets Army maintenance.

Federal Documents were just coming online. MARC records would come in to identify which records would no longer be distributed in paper and then provide a PURL (Permanent URL). These links almost never pointed to an actually document, just the general webpage of the authoring organization. Crazy as I was, I began to look for the actual page for the document and place both the PURL and the url in the marc records for people to find. I went even further and placed these documents online. This webpage doesn't exist any longer. There was another university doing similar work, It stopped updating five years ago. Why is this important? You can't search for this information. It is buried in government webpage. I was also an intern for a government agency and my job was to search for fugitive documents. It is almost impossible to find these documents online.

It takes deep digging at the government agency to get at the information you want. So not only is no one preserving this information, it has been made extremely difficult to find. So when patrons come into our library asking for government services, we say it's online. It is almost a miracle if you can dig it out. This goes back to my post about poor career sites. The government needs to provide an easier way to get information and use services online. NARA shirking its duties is just another example of the Federal Government not taking information distribution seriously. All this information is extremely critical and once again, an agency responsible for distributing that information has passed it to libraries.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Poor Career sites explain problems for job seekers or why librarians spend so much time helping job seekers

This article caught my eye. It certainly explains a great deal about why job seekers have so much difficulty applying for jobs at public libraries. This is something I have discussed in the past and last Summer Library Journal did a cover story on how public libraries are working for the Federal Government providing job and tax information. Apparently, we are also working for major employers that have passed on their job applications to online websites. Those sites, are failing:

Career Sites Fail Job Seekers - New York Times: "According to the research firm, more than 60% of 25- to 34-year-old job seekers rely on the Internet to find employment information, making career sites the second most common source of new hires for large companies. Forrester expects that popularity to increase as Generation X and Y employees begin to comprise a larger percentage of the total workforce. Yet the study showed that job seekers can expect poor performance from career sites across the board.
'Ten of the 12 sites reviewed scored below zero,' the report reads. A passing score on all 25 criteria Forrester examines would be a +25 or higher, with a score range of between -50 and +50. 'Yahoo! Hotjobs fared the best at +10, which is 15 points shy of a passing score; Merrill Lynch fared the worst at =18. The average score across all of the sites evaluated was -8.8,' Forrester reports.
Forrester evaluated American International Group (AIG), Citigroup, Merrill Lynch and The Goldman Sachs Group in the financial services industry. For retailers, the research firm examined JCPenney, Kroger, Macy's and Rite Aid. And for job search Web sites, the research covered, Dice, Monster and Yahoo! Hotjobs.
Common problems across all industries including missing content and functions, flawed navigation flows, illegible text and poor use of space, as well as poor error handling and missing privacy and security policies. According to Forrester, companies need to design career sites with the user in mind and begin revamping by first fixing problems that inhibit site usability."

If you can imagine applying for a job using a computer when the job doesn't even REQUIRE a computer, it easy to see how frustrating the process can be. Some would even suggest businesses do this not just to save money, but to weed out those who cannot use a computer. I can say this, library staff take a large portion of their time helping the public navigate career websites and finding jobs. If those sites were easier, it would be less of a burden on public resources.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Librarians and Directors need to utilize their own services

It is difficult to be objective when looking at the services your own library provides. In any industry, an organization must look at their services and see it from the outsider's perspective. Is it easy to use? Does the service make sense?

For libraries, a problem that I see is the public computer stations. Do librarians actually sit down at one of these stations and try to do what they would do normally on them? Can you check your email? How fast does it go? Don't just rely on a speed test that the computer tells you. Sit down at the computer and try to do what you would normally do at home. Can you do them? Why not? Is it slow?

When we had computer slow-downs at my library I did a simple search on Google. The page itself took 30 seconds to load. At that point I realized we had a problem. The library only offers an hour to the patrons per day. In the study, we found that most patrons could barely check their email before their time was up due to the bandwidth strain. Thanks to e-rate funds, we were able to upgrade the service from 1.5 mbps to 6mbps. It's funny, on the first day of the new bandwidth, I could noticeably hear the clicking of mice (mouses?) and noticed that it was unusually fast. Blazing even. Many people will suffer through bad services since they have nowhere else to turn, but it shouldn't be so painfully poor. I read this post today and it made me laugh:

Tales from the "Liberry" 2.0: Gene FINALLY Poops: "Back when I had dial up at home, it used to be that going to work was my great escape from the slow speed at home. Now that I have amazingly reliable Verizon DSL at home, however, going to work is like sliding into a nice pool of tepid tar."

I think this is the next big issue for public libraries, bandwidth assurance. We need to start budgeting and paying for network upgrades for our t-1 lines. It is great that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave us computers in 2001, then replaced them in 2005, and they even upgrade libraries from dial-up to broadband. However, the next big push needs to be in sufficient bandwidth. The average library doesn't have enough pipe to make the service acceptable. The result is the post from above, it's terrible.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Actually, people like to share books, and it only helps the author

I am quite frustrated with the availability of e-books and the fact that I cannot read e-books in the format and the device I choose. I would love to fill a device with dozens of books and I would never be bookless. (A fear not mentioned in most psychiatric phobia analysis, but altogether very real and frightening.) Even with the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle's ability to store hundreds of books, you would have to purchase them from their store since the format is compatible. These devices don't do well with e-books that have Digital Rights Protection on them. Furthermore, while drm on an audiotrack is easily hacked in a variety of ways, the drm for e-books is remarkable. Just try to google the term adobe reader drm hack and similar terms and you find empty forums and of those, few exist. I understand that the author must be compensated, ABSOLUTELY, but I think they would like their books to be read as well. Afterall, a book more widely read (no matter how it was acquired) puts money in the authors pocket. After all, the first public libraries were formed from bookstores. When the bookstores ran out of copies of very popular books, they would loan them out until new books came in. It helped keep the interest of the reading public and the buzz about the books stoked the demand for the book, rather than drive down demand.

This headline from Techdirt discussing an article from The Times Online gives some hope.

Techdirt: Despite Inflammatory Headline, UK Authors Society Looking To Embrace Free, Not Fight The Internet: "There's a really inflammatory headline and opening paragraph in an article in the Times Online in the UK stating that 'book piracy on the internet will ultimately drive authors to stop writing.' This claim is actually unsubstantiated by history (which has actually shown book piracy ends up helping authors) or, actually, by the rest of the article. Rather than a reactionary RIAA-style response from the UK's Society of Authors, the article shows that the group isn't so much fearing internet piracy, but simply noting that business models need to change."

Now that authors are beginning to understand that they need to find ways to lesson DRM on their books and make them more available, I have hope that we will make a connection in having downloadable e-books whenever you need them (when you are bookless in an airport, but have wi-fi) and the ability to read it on any device. This will be a great service to the reading addicts and will assure that a reader will never be without a book as long as they have an internet connection. Hmm think about that, the internet INCREASES reading instead of decreases it.