Saturday, May 24, 2008

Library directors can get obsessed with the numbers

I was reading an article that has been circulating through the library world, Hartford Public Library: a study in bad behavior. The article describes the various illegal acts that have been occurring in the library with total disregard from the library administration.

A troubling discovery is that the library director removed the security gates simply because they did not go with the new layout of the library. The gates were also not working properly, but that is no excuse to remove them completely. Furthermore, illegal acts have been routinely ignored. In fact, the article seems to indicate the library director encourages people to avoid calling the police. In the end she justifies her decisions based on the numbers. The library is getting heavy use, isn't that what we all want?

There are many statistical tricks for library directors to boost their numbers. One of them is to remove restrictions: removing barriers such as fines, security gates, and not having or not enforcing behavior guidelines in the library. No need to upset anyone and make your library look bad or provide someone with a bad experience at the cost of looking unfriendly. However, the long term costs are dramatic. People will not want to come into the library as they would perceive it as dangerous and out of control. Furthermore, books and materials that state "in" on the catalog are in fact not really there, leading to further frustration and lowered use. They say they have it, but they really don't. Nothing good is ever in, again, leading to a decline in usage. I've even worked in a library that didn't require ID in order to obtain a library card. You can imagine the non-return rates.

What troubles me the most is the lack of a behavior policy and the amount of illegal activity nobody does anything about. Library staff shouldn't have to engage with someone who is committing a criminal act. They shouldn't have to deal with overwhelming situations which they alone have to handle on a regular basis. It leads to low morale, and in worse situations, bodily harm. Police officers are trained to deal with these situations. If a situation suddenly changes, then a staff member must find a way to minimize the situation until the police arrive. Of course, they must do something. There is an obligation for staff to be proactive in preventing and stopping these types of issues, but not on their own, and not if the situation is overwhelming.

Stats go up because of good service, good collections, and fully functioning computers. That, plus marketing, will lead to an increase. It is not necesssary to remove all restrictions and rules to increase usage. We can't have an unsafe environment in which patrons and staff are afraid. We cannot hemorrhage money through lost collections. In the end, the short term gain only leads to a long term loss.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Conference a go-go

I was reading Meredith Farkas' post about speaker fees and conferences Is This How We Encourage People to Contribute?
It’s sad that someone who is talented and enthusiastic about contributing to the profession is getting a bucket of cold water thrown in his face. He has so much to offer the profession, and yet, he is being discouraged not only by his own library, but by the organization that is going to make money from his contribution. While I do understand not paying residents of the state to speak at a state conference, those people should at least be given the privilege of not having to pay for the pleasure of hearing themselves speak. Free registration on the day you’re speaking should be a given at any conference.

It seems to be a big issue with library bloggers as so many of them present and some of them are even keynote speakers. The argument is that if they are adding to the profession by presenting at a conference, why do they have to pay registration fees? Why do they have to pay at all if they are only going to present?

My argument is two-fold. First, most associations are so poor they can barely pay for the conference, let alone waive fees. If they didn't organize and find a way to pay for the conference, there would be no conference. You can argue about setting up unconferences, but even those need someone to organize a location, food, and resources.

Second, if the library has such an amazing person on their staff where they are being invited to speak, then the library should pay for it without argument. Libraries on average need to beef up their training budgets so that they can offer to pay conference fees, travel, and room and board. What does that say for the library if it cannot even honor its stars? Worse, what does it say for the profession if we cannot develop our own innovators?

The best libraries are the ones in which all of the staff have gone or had the option to go to conference. My library is a bit small, both on size and on training budget, but I am going to try to get more funding to pay for conferences. I will try first to pay for registration, then work up to travel, and then to lodging. I think I can establish it if I am creative enough. It is so essential that everyone have the ability to attend major national conferences. Many here go to the state conference, but national is a big deal. It is a way to feel connected and not so isolated. It is particularly necessary for a smaller rural library to do that as we are the most susceptible to isolation.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Leadership vs. Management

I have been following the seven part series on Leadership Turn that discusses the difference between a leader and a manager. Most of this dialogue is taken from the book Learning to Lead and other books by Warren Bennis. The thing that bothers me about this discussion is the comparison with a manager. Why make this comparison? A manager is not a leader by default, but it is easy to make that assumption. (The point of the article IS to make that distinction, but I think it furthers that mythology of manager as leader or hopes to have the manager think like a leader.)

Anyone can be a leader; a manager is a job description. Often there is discussion on who is a leader? What is a leader? The reality is, anyone can be a leader. A leader must simply influence others to do something. If you write something and someone is influenced to do something, then you are a leader. If you give a presentation or talk, and it influenced someone to do something, you are a leader. Many librarian bloggers are leaders because they inspire others to do things, to try things, to change their thinking and make things better. Why do we get so stuck in combining management and leadership? Another wrinkle is when a manager does act as a leader. They attempt to create an innovative environment. This has its problems. The words of a manager are taken seriously, sometimes too seriously, and the cry to innovate or to be innovative becomes an order instead of something that is inspired. In management, if you tell someone to do something, they may not be inspired to do that thing.

However, if a manager is a leader, they can influence and inspire someone to do better. The problem lies with manager as bossman telling you what to do, rather than manager as leader stating, "I believe in what you are doing". If you have a vision to make things constantly better, others should do it without asking. They should think of those solutions on their own. If they are truly free to make decisions, then they lead the way. You just follow (as the quote goes, "As for the best leader, the people do not notice their existence. To lead people, walk behind them" --Lao Tzu) In the end, if you have a truly innovative environment where people come up with change on their own, then all you have to do is give them extra money when they need it, and negotiate resources when it goes beyond their ability or scope.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Public Access Computer Problem

Since the 1990s, public libraries have provided computers with Internet access. The introduction of this new service has brought more people into the library and more people using all of the library's services. It is a great and vital service for communities around the world. One problem that libraries have is that they don't keep up with these machines, neither in replacing old machines, providing critical software, or providing adequate bandwidth. Bandwidth is something that I have written about extensively. Fast, reliable Internet is one of the most important services a library can provide. Furthermore, the web 2.0 revolution has resulted in more patrons using bandwidth hogging services like watching and uploading video and photos.

The Trouble with Computers
The main problem I have with public access computers is that we don't often look at what that service really provides. Late last year, our bandwidth was terrible. We knew from June forward that we had to expand the bandwidth and after some work in finalizing our e-rate appeal, we were able to secure funding to upgrade.

The other problem we discovered was that critical free programs were not being updated regularly. Flash, shockwave, and windows media player all needed to be updated. Patrons couldn't even watch the latest news videos because it was not upgraded. In some cases, it impacted videos for school work.

Internet Explorer needed to be upgraded to 7.0 as many services began to state that programs would not work properly without the upgrade.

We needed to upgrade Open Office and also try to provide Microsoft Office suite on all of the computers. I prefer to have both since patrons often have file formats that are not compatible with Word. A problem I discovered was that most people bring in files on Word Perfect, since most computers sold have Word Perfect already installed, but not Microsoft Word. It is possible to set Word Perfect to save as a Microsoft Word file, but most patrons don't realize the difference until they cannot open their file at the library.

Lastly, not all of the computers had the same drives in them. Some had floppy and some had Cds and some had both. Due to a snafu when we ordered the computers when we upgraded all of our computers, we received some that can only fit one drive at a time. To solve this, we began selling flash drives. Flash drives are as simple to use as a floppy with our computers, and they were a big hit and solved a big problem for us.

Before all of these changes:
  • The bandwidth was so slow, patrons could barely check their email.
  • They couldn't watch video effectively (due to both bandwidth and lack of updates)
  • They couldn't fully utilize all critical programs
  • They couldn't save their files to a disk in the same way.
What the Future Holds
The experience has taught me that public access computing is very difficult with most libraries. Many libraries are not even going this far in providing their service. The way I see it, we are competing with a home computer. If a patron gets fast, reliable Internet at home, they don't need to use your services. That's a good thing, but we should provide the equivalent at the library so that there is no disadvantage. My belief is that we should attempt to make the public access computer as close as possible to a personal computer. That's when I read this post from Swiss Army Librarian. They are switching from Internet Explorer to Firefox. In my technology plan, it was suggested to do this, but we were rebuffed for security reasons. Swiss Army Librarian posted their solution:
The reason we are switching is a simple one - Firefox is just cooler. It lets us have more control over how the browser functions, and lets us offer more tools integrated right into the browser. Better for us, better for patrons.

Here’s a list of the customizations we’re making:

Add-OnsPublic Fox - this is designed to make Firefox a public web browser, as opposed to being used and customized by a single, private person. We’re using it to lock down add-ons, preference, about:config, and a few other things, as well as control what file types can be downloaded

Menu Editor - also for the control freak in us, this one lets us remove menus from the tool bar (we’re getting rid of bookmarks, help and history)

Greasemonkey - one of my favorites, this lets us embed custom coding on webpages, such as a link from Amazon to our catalog, and helpful links on our catalog’s “no search results” page (more info on those on our Tech Tools page)

Add To Search Bar - this fun one lets us easily add our library catalog right to Firefox’s search bar. The other searches we chose to include are Google, Yahoo, Amazon, the Internet Movie Database,, Wikipedia, and Merriam-Webster

IE Tab - For all of those “Best viewed in Internet Explorer” websites, this one lets you toggle back and forth between the Firefox and IE rendering engines, so IE-only pages and scripts will load in Firefox

Image Zoom - just like what it sounds, this adds zoom controls to the right-click menu, to make images bigger and smaller. This one is most useful to patrons who get emailed digital photos at 1024 x 768 resolution, which is too big for our screens. This lets them zoom out so they can see all of their grandchild’s face at the same time.
The top problems with firefox was the customizable nature of the program and pages that only work with IE. This solves both of those problems. There is more written, go read the entire post.
These are services we always need to assess to provide the best service. If you have your own IT, or work with a larger organization's IT, build a relationship with them so that you can start this conversation. I recently purchased 10 laptops through a grant program. We weren't going as far as to do the laptop check-out program that Alachua County Library is doing, but I wanted to make the laptops as close to a personal PC as possible. We set up an automatic log-in, we set up the user as a power use, and we even allowed programs to be downloaded and minor changes to be made. We still used the windows security toolkit and most of the usage will only be used under direct supervision (like our teen group or on the bookmobile with wireless Internet). In this way, we can provide a great service that is similar to someone's "at home" experience. ACLD does this with their laptop check-out:
Although ALCD had installed the Fortres disk-protection program Clean Slate on hundreds of desktop machines, Fettes' staff decided that this application was too restrictive for the laptops, partially because Clean Slate does not allow users to update Flash or Java platforms. The staff were resolved to offer patrons wide open access to these powerful laptops, considering in particular the needs of gamers who download plug-ins to play resource-intensive programs.

To protect their investment, Fettes' staff began experimenting methods to restore a laptop to its original settings with partitioning software and the disk-imaging program Norton Ghost, ultimately arriving at a solution that was both fast, easy, and smart.

“They played around with it and found that they could actually create a ghost image, put it in a hidden partition, and using a flash drive with a run-time version of [Norton] Ghost on it, they could actually redo the C: drive within three to four minutes between each use,” said Fettes.
Fettes added that this restoration system not only helped protect patrons' privacy, but the ease of this solution allowed non-technical staffers the confidence to turn the machines over with little effort.

“All they had to do was basically insert the thumb drive and we set it up to boot off of USB,” Fettes said. “They essentially turned [the laptop] off, put in the thumb drive, turned it on, and [the C: drive] rewrote itself. And then it beeped at them when it was done.”

A Public Computer as a Personal Computer?
It wouldn't be as easy to do this on a public access computer. However, I think every library should try to make their computers as close as possible to a personal computer. In my opinion, there should be standards for libraries to follow so libraries have the same programs available on their computers and should be able to easily replace bad computers. Once there is a standard interface, the image can be ghosted and shared. Furthermore, libraries should provide back-up computers for when their computers break or are inoperable. We are attempting to have four always available with the same set-up ready to go. If one breaks beyond what we can do, we should be able to replace it until the heavy assessment and repair work performed by IT. We should have a relationship, a service level agreement like this one. We should have the ability to always assess that service and be able to have a plan to improve it with the fast-changing tide of technology for the ease of use and the betterment of our patrons.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Employee Management

This was the second presentation I did for the Mountain Plains Library Association Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. This one covers Employee Management. Enjoy!

What would a 2.0 Library look like: MPLA Presentation

Thought I would share this presentation I did for MPLA (Mountain Plains Library Association). It is on slideshare so you may not be able to view it if you are looking in a reader. I have also included audio in the presentation. This was inspired by a post I wrote in the Fall of last year. I hope you enjoy it.