Thursday, December 26, 2013

More Straight Talk #clanoise

I recently wrote an article for the California Library Association Management Interest Group Newsletter LEAD covering the program that I moderated at this year's annual conference. I'm posting it below.

More Straight Talk by Jeff Scott, County Librarian, Tulare County Library

I had the honor to host another Straight Talk program with some of the best library minds in the state, Directors: Jose Aponte of San Diego County Library, Julie Farnsworth of Pleasanton Public Library, Robert Karatsu of Rancho Cucamonga Public Library, Jan Sanders of Pasadena Public Library, and Rivkah Sass of Sacramento Public Library, were captivating as they discussed the trials and tribulation of today's modern library director.

I really enjoy putting this program together. Library directors are always so willing to tell their story and to help others. Often, people can be too intimidated by directors, particularly with a group as prestigious as this one. However, they are all incredibly down-to-earth and willing to help. My thought behind providing this program was that I hoped it would not only inspire those new to the profession, but would also demonstrate how human these directors are; they started out just like everyone else. I gathered some notes from the program which were particularly poignant for me.

Don’t Follow the Crowd

In their own way, each director had advice on being innovative. Jose Aponte said it was important to look outside of the profession, in some cases getting out of the profession for a time to gain perspective. It leads to a different outlook and attitude when coming back. Robert Karatsu said that the only way to know the future is to change it. If we follow everyone else, we will always fall behind; by taking our own path we can create something new. Julie Farnsworth said that those drawn into being a director must possess a heart-pounding drive to do good things. All members of the group reminded us that politics make strange bedfellows. In order to get things done you have to look to the people to make alliances with and put party politics aside.

Say Yes

It's important to look for opportunities, be willing to say yes, and build a culture of the same, according to Rivkah Sass. It‟s important to be fearless and be willing to move backwards or sideways in a career in order to make the big leaps forward. I particularly liked Jan Sanders point when she said, “Dragons be damned” emphasizing the importance of pushing through despite heavy opposition. Robert Karatsu further expanded on this by suggesting it is important to stir things up.

One is the Loneliest Number

All of the directors reminded us that it can be very lonely at the top. It's important to know oneself since the ego will be often bruised. One of the most frustrating things, brought up by Julie and Jan, was how the slightest phrase can be taken out of context and twisted. Rivkah had the best comments on the topic stating that words can be twisted, making you out to be a monster. It's important to have a trusted circle. It's also important to be a good poker player.

The real point of this program for me is to allow library directors to speak directly and honestly about how they got where they are, what others can do to be successful, and where the profession is going. While others may panic during budget cuts and a changing climate, these directors have seen it all. The benefit of this experience can be very calming for those new to the profession or experiencing tough times for the first time. I always appreciate their honesty. Even with the same questions, each time it takes a different tack, the less formal the better. Straight Talk is a straight answer about the library field, past, present, and future.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tulare County Libraries Start New Chapter

A couple of months ago the Visalia Times-Delta featured a great article on our libraries. Unfortunately, it is no longer available on the newspaper's online archive. However, I am currently including it in a project, and have uploaded the article as it appeared in the newspaper, as well as the full text document.

Libraries start new chapter
Bridge to the future built on technology, multimedia, convenience and community
By Kyle Harvey

Excerpts from the article:

"It's an old profession in a new frontier."

For better or for worse, the 21st century has brought a new level of connectivity, accessibility and flexibility when it comes to the gathering, altering and distributing of information, art and ideas. This new information age has contributed greatly to the evolution of the traditional library. Once the guardian of information, libraries are changing, becoming hubs outfitted to organize and redistribute the world's vast wealth of online resources in the formats that are most compatible with its communities' needs and desires.

In Tulare County, librarians have been charged with the task of meeting the needs and desires of several groups of people‚ children who read traditional books but who are also technologically inclined, teens and young adults who consume much of what they read on a mobile device, and older adults, who could be either completely faithful to traditional printed media, or eager learners of their children's and grandchildren's gadgets. But the strategy for staying relevant goes beyond simply adding technology. There has been a concerted effort on the part of our public libraries to re-brand themselves as not only information centers, but also community centers‚ places where learning is social.

A tech-driven tomorrow begins in Visalia today
While community engagement is an integral part of the Tulare County Library's plan for the future, the transition to the library of tomorrow is very much technology-driven. During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the Tulare County Library checked out 20,000 ebooks. While 20,000 checkouts constitutes only about 3.5 percent of total library transactions, it becomes significant given the fact that there were zero e-books being checked out four years ago. Today, Tulare County is invested in three digital library services, the largest being OverDrive, which houses most of Visalia's digital collection.

"December 2010 was the e-reader Christmas," County Librarian Jeff Scott said. "We got OverDrive because it was the tipping point for e-books. It was either get them or get left behind." Getting left behind in the digital age is precisely what Scott says will not happen in Tulare County. Patrons of electronic reading material have a considerable selection from which to choose here. The Tulare County Library boasts more than 32,000 digital titles‚ a number that Scott says is larger than that of libraries in comparable markets elsewhere. "We have a Fresno-sized collection in a Visalia-sized market," Scott said.

In addition to catering to clients who already own and operate their own e-reader devices, Tulare County Library is taking an active role in introducing the latest in electronic reading technology, whether it be Nooks, laptops or tablet computers, to library card holders. Grants have enabled the library to begin loaning out Nooks, which are preloaded with bestsellers and other requests, for guests to take home. The opportunity to participate in workshops and use a mobile device free of charge has helped to spread awareness and increase the library's clients' proficiency with technology, many clients wind up purchasing or being given some kind of mobile reading device as a gift. With older adults who already frequent the library going digital and younger e-reading adults returning to the library for the first time since childhood, the result is an ever-increasing digitalonly clientele that is checking out more and more electronic media every year.

But what does the new media cost? Does it cut into the print budget? Right now, about 20 percent of the $500,000 annual collection development budget is spent on ebooks, leaving 80 percent to traditional print books, according to Scott. In addition, the digital collection has benefited greatly from donations from the Friends of the Library and Tulare County Library Foundation, as well as private donations from individuals totaling $200,000.

How far does a digital dollar go compared to a print dollar in terms of buying new material? Are gadgets making books harder to come by? How far a digital dollar goes is hard to pinpoint, Scott said. To purchase a digital copy of an old novel is pretty inexpensive. And the upside of a digital copy is that even if the initial cost is more than that of a hard copy, it has a limitless shelf life. There are no pages to tear, no binding to come unglued, and thus, no replacement copies ever needed.

The situation is different, however, when it comes to purchasing the latest bestsellers. Each of the big six publishing houses have different, and ever-changing, rules about library usage rights. A digital copy of a bestseller, which may cost $75, is still a good deal if it never has to be replaced. After all, by the time the library purchases several replacement copies of a heavily used bestseller that sells for $15 apiece, it about breaks even.

But the drawback is that the exorbitant initial investment in an online book does not help with short-term high demand. An electronic book can only be viewed on one device at a time. So while it may have good long-term value, the cost of purchasing several digital copies of a popular item all at once is astronomical.

New gadgets are not just for reading. 
Thanks to grants, teens who participate in the awardwinning TCL Teens program will have the opportunity beginning in the fall to check out iPad Minis for the purpose of creating their own personal documentaries with a "Day in the Life of..." theme. The kids will then be trained to edit their footage into a short film. Gunner Santos, 15, a student at Mt. Whitney High School, is an eager participant in the TCL Teens program. "It sounds really fun, showing people what I do," Santos said of the documentary program. "I'm really excited about that." 

Read the full article as it appeared in the newspaper or in a text document.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Straight Talk Panel at CLA 2012 #calibconf

Straight Talk: The Directors Speak featured five prominent directors whose contributions to our profession are quite substantial. The program was sponsored by the Management Interest Group, of which I am Chair, and presented at the California Library Association Annual Conference in San Jose. I was honored to moderate the panel, and excited to assist in providing such a valuable program. It’s inspiring to gather a group of some of the best minds in the library world to hear them talk about their experience as directors and their views on where we are headed as a profession. As busy as this group is, I was amazed that they so readily agreed to serve on this panel. The panel members are Librarian of the Year winners, library management school instructors, and Eureka program mentors, in addition to being inspiring library directors.

Luis Herrera, San Francisco Public Library Director; Rivkah Sass, Sacramento Public Library Director; Patty Wong, Yolo County Library Director; Brian Reynolds, San Luis Obispo County Library Director; and Robert Karatsu, Rancho Cucamonga Library Director, sat down with me to talk shop. The California Library Association Management Interest Group and I gathered questions to ask. The responses were insightful, inspiring, and surprising. It takes a lot to be a library director, and even more to be an inspiration to others. I asked them five questions:

  1. What made you choose the path to become a director?

  1. What has surprised you about being a director?

  1. If you could give someone just coming out of library school one piece of advice what would it be? Keeping in mind that this might affect the path they choose to take.

  1. Given the current trends in technology and funding, where do you think libraries will be in 5 years?

  1. What are some of the most important lessons you have learned as a director?

The Responses
No blog post could possibly compare with having been a member of the audience. For those of you who were not able to attend, here are some of the notes that I gathered as they were speaking. Some of it of course may have been shortened and/or paraphrased. Organized by speaker, from left to right.

Luis Herrera, San Francisco Public Library Director
Organizational citizenship behavior: you are an ambassador to the organization. You contribute to the health of the organization. It's about creating a stronger and healthier organization. You are responsible beyond your job. If we are going to thrive, we need to blur our organizational lines. 

We can identify trends to prepare us for the future. The publishing industry will be a big impact on libraries. It also hinges on the consumer. We need to be part of that trend to be part of the future. Staff need to plan programs. Not just what has happened, but something entirely new. E-learning is a great idea working with vendors. Lifelong learning: libraries will be people's university. We are facilitators of learning. Collection management is going to be our one biggest concern. How do we balance media vs. print. We need to be storytellers. 

Political nature of the job- once you accept that you will do a much better job. 60% of the job is dealing with politics. You can broaden the political environment if you do not personalize it. Don't take it personal. You want to be liked, but it is part of a process to believe in what you are doing. You will not please everyone. High tolerance for change. Tolerance for ambiguity. Top down library management is out. Need a bottom up approach. Suggestions coming from the staff can be more accepted than it came from top down. Culture of engagement.

Brian Reynolds, San Luis Obispo County Library Director
You become a really big pebble. What you do or don't do matters. It affects everyone. Need to be compassionate and common-sensical. People are relying on you to be steady. Do you have what it takes to deal with difficult people and stay sane? You have to have that. 

We serve too small of a community. We only serve a small part very well. Need to convince half of the population that we matter. Not to look at just libraries, but also look towards the community.

Acquire and attain good staff. Create working additions that provide that environment. Don't let people know you are doing that. It is a political minefield over time. To improve morale, better to go after the bad staff rather than praise the high achiever. You have to be willing to fix it. 

Rivkah Sass, Sacramento Public Library Director
It's okay to make mistakes. We'll only get better if we make mistakes and own up to them. When you make a mistake, know how to fix it. Admit your mistakes. There are people who will not like you.  She used the Winston Churchill quote, "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."

Directors need to be optimistic about libraries. Well-educated community members over 50 are coming in running our programs as volunteers. Embedded community inside our libraries helping us solve community problems. Libraries that will thrive will not be wallpaper. Use our community in ways we never thought of before. It's the talent and skills that our community will give to us. Eureka program is a great harvester of our future. Convergence of community technology and people, with the library as the nexus. The library is the place that will help them learn what they want to learn.

Everyone has a set of strengths. Don't be afraid to hire someone with a skill set that you don't have. Different skill sets make a whole.

Patty Wong, Yolo County Library Director
The Director job is very unstructured. Need to go beyond the MLS. Getting it and being done is not ok. You need to be continually learning. Continue to grow. Need to make connections outside of libraries. Build community through others. You are responsible for your own growth. Go make the world a better place.

Need to be relevant with our own funding. Can't rely on the same resources that we have always relied upon. Find new sources of revenue and new partnerships. Work with local government organizations. Need to be stronger advocates for our diversity in funding. We can influence policy as a neutral organization. Access to information cannot be just through the smart phone. Internet Access is not as universal as we think it is. Libraries need to be at the forefront. Abundance thinking, not scarcity thinking. 

Directors can have same level of importance as politicians and other government officials. You are that important. It's important to know where your money comes from. Leave your ego at the door. You need to have partnering skills. Surround yourself with people who know more than you do. Team building support is necessary. You just need one more person to stand next to you and you have a team. Bridge builders! 

Robert Karatsu, Rancho Cucamonga Library Director
You are ultimately responsible for everything.
Be creative, do new things. Start a program and then let others borrow.   
We can't get in front of the technology. We can't predict the future. Find the right path. 

Libraries are not silos. We need to create relationships. There are always opportunities to partner with other organizations. As Library Director, he is part of the Emergency Operations Center because librarians have those crisis skill sets. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Librarians Rebooted: ALA 2012

One of the greatest benefits of attending a conference is the encouragement received from other librarians. Currently, most libraries are likely  under so many budget cuts and restrictions that the answer to any new idea is probably "No." Over time, it begins to not only wear on a person, but it discourages innovation. The obvious problem is that we need new innovative ideas now more than ever. We don’t provide better services by cutting; we only do that by innovating.

photo courtesy of Jazzy Wright 
I've spoken at the California Library Association and at Internet Librarian, but it was a special thrill to speak at the American Library Association's Annual Conference. I spoke about our "Job in a Box" program for E-Government in Action - Matching People with Jobs. This is part of our concept "Your Library in More Places" proving that our library can indeed be everywhere, when and where you need it. 

We've been expanding our book machine program for some time. We recently purchased two more machines: the first to be deployed at one of our branch libraries, making it a 24/7 library, and another one near a school, much like our Cutler machine. Because our purchase of the machine was so close to ALA, PIK Inc. asked if they could display our machine in the exhibit hall. It has a new fun design on the side that will hopefully catch the attention of patrons.

Additionally, I participated in the ALA Outreach and Diversity fair for the California State Library's Literacy and Outreach programs. They also highlighted our book machines and other programs to help connect patrons with jobs. 

The opportunity to participate in committee work is another benefit of attending a national conference. I currently serve on the Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) for the Leadership Skills Committee and now also the Human Resources Management Committee. LLAMA is at the forefront of providing programs that will help librarians step into management and leadership roles. To further this goal, LLAMA recently revamped the mentoring program.

National and state conferences contribute to the vitality and development of our profession. Participating in these conferences is beneficial to the individual librarian, but also to the home library and community. This work is invigorating, but one of the keys to maintaining that passion is to find ways to replenish it. Conference is a great way to do that and come charging back with fresh energy! 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Future of Reading: The Barnes and Noble Nook Check-out Project

We recently launched an e-reader project at our library with great success. Barnes and Noble currently has a program that offers support for libraries thinking about circulating Nooks. I wasn’t aware of this project until last Fall during the California Library Association Conference, at which time I was approached by a Barnes and Noble representative about the program.

The Origin: Sacramento Public Library

I first learned about the Sacramento Public Library’s Nook project as part of the "Great in the State" presentation highlighting ideas that libraries could adopt. I was part of the panel there discussing our "Job in a Box" project and book machines. They were circulating the Barnes and Noble Nook to patrons, pre-loaded with books.

A Different Approach to Circulating E-Readers

Over the past several years, libraries have experimented with checking out e-readers, so the concept itself isn’t new, but having the blessing of the organization certainly is. I remember the “wink, wink” approach from other vendors suggesting that libraries could do that and they won’t say anything, but they won’t offer support.

A surprising aspect of Sacramento's presentation was that they brought their own Barnes and Noble representative and she worked with them every step of the way on their project. I was even more surprised to discover that the rep was looking for me at the conference.

Doing More with Less

We aren’t the wealthiest of libraries, but we do have a very healthy and robust e-book collection. Through her research, the rep found that we had the most e-books per capita, per expenditure in the state of California. In short, even though we didn’t have a lot of money, we still thought e-books were important. And they certainly are. Since the e-reader Christmas of 2010, the demand for e-books in libraries has sky-rocketed. We only launched our collection in June of 2011, but the demand was already there. Heavy promotion of our collection, as well as the Kindle compatibility announcement from Overdrive, led to a significant financial contribution to expand our collection. We are in tune with community demand and therefore, we were in a perfect position to take the next step.

Sacramento has done an excellent job promoting its program. I saw them at CLA, the Edgy Librarian, and more than a few webinars. They have also done an extensive job documenting their project ( For a library with our resources, we planned to do the stripped down version.

Our Version of Circulating Nooks

We purchased 30 Simple Nook Touches at around $100 each. We also purchased the Nook satchels that Barnes and Noble sells. The complete check-out kit includes: the Nook, a cover for the Nook, a usb cord, power connection, instructions, all placed in the satchel.

The rules for transferring titles to devices is six devices per book. Therefore, we performed the math- 30 Nooks, five genres, six books per Nook. We distributed the project among the collection development librarians responsible for the genre including:  fiction bestsellers, non-fiction bestsellers, romance, mystery, and young adult. The books would have a normal check-out rate with late fee charges and replacement charges consistent with how we check-out similar materials. Those who check-out the Nooks must sign a form stating that they will accept the replacement charge if they break, damage, or lose the device and any of the parts. The project in general cost around $4,000 to run with 30 Nooks. 

Great Press Coverage, Great Success

We plan to expand the program based on its recent success. We also received heavy press attention for the venture. The local ABC News covered the program and we received great coverage in the local paper:

Visalia's Library to offer e-book readers

The Nooks are coming to Tulare County Library

The extensive coverage resulted in all of the Nooks being checked out in the first two days of the program. We announced the open-house program to check-out Nooks for Friday at 2PM. We actually had people lined up as soon as we opened at noon, waiting to get one of our new Nooks! In the first five minutes, all of our Fiction Bestsellers were checked-out and most of our Non-fiction. Saturday morning, all the Nooks were checked-out, a marvelous success. Our next steps will be an assessment from patrons to see if they liked the format, the titles, and how we can improve the program. The general idea for this kind of program is to introduce our community to the future of reading. They have the opportunity to look at the device and see how it works. It also helps us promote our Overdrive e-book service. In utilizing a relatively cheap and easy to use device, a patron can have access to their reading material 24/7, all provided by their local library!