Sunday, December 31, 2006

Management is broken?

It seems that the end of the year has brought several management is broken posts. Librarian in Black, Meredith Farkas at Information Wants to Be Free, and Walt Crawford at Cites and Insights all have some good tips about library management and how we can generally improve library services. I particularly liked Walt's comments as it aptly identified most managers problems. You can't do everything:

"What Do Patrons Want?
That question comes up repeatedly in blogs and elsewhere. There are no easy answers, given the basic confounding factors:
Ø The patrons of each community are unique.
Ø Very few patron communities are homogeneous; different patrons have different wants and needs.
Ø Patron desires and needs change over time, and those needs they believe the library should fulfill are influenced by previous experience with this library and other libraries.
Ø There are no ways to gain complete pictures of patron wants and needs. Feedback mechanisms providing more than anecdotal evidence are expensive and clumsy—and they need to be continual, since the makeup of the community and tools available to the library continue to change.
None of these says it’s hopeless or that librarians shouldn't keep as much in touch with patrons as possible. They do, I believe, argue against knee-jerk “whatever patrons want” reactions."

Knee-jerk reactions are plenty. I once had someone suggest we go back to stamping due dates on books. "We have a receipt for that", "Yes, but I always lose my receipt, stamping the book is so much easier." "You should have a magazine rack for the magazines that are discarded." "Where can we put it, there isn't the space?" "Well, I am not leaving here until you do it!" and my recent favorite "You should have a light box for artist hanging out in the library making sketches" "These are quite expensive and not really where we want to spend our money."

I find myself waffling on decisions between how I can improve library services, but without causing too much strain on staff. Just because a patron wants it, doesn't mean we should do it.

However, going too far one way or another is bad. Let's look at Walmart, their model is to totally focus on the customer. Provide the lowest prices, even a $1 cheaper and you will make more money. They can slash their prices at the cost of their employees to point of people who work there hate it. If I try to create great services for patrons, the strain on staff can result in losing good staff. Sure Meebo is great, it is easy, it is simple, who will man it? If I add an extra piece that looks great, but its fluff, staff are not exactly happy.

If I go too far on the other end with staff saying no drinks, no cell phones, no this, no that, services suffer. As in Meredith Farkas' post:

"The second time, I dragged my husband there. We browsed the stacks for a little while and found again that there really was not much for us there (and I have pretty diverse tastes in reading). Then my cell phone rang and I got shot a nasty look from one of the women at the desk (and I don’t even have a loud annoying ring tone — mine just rings). So I sprinted out of the library and that was the last time I’ve been in there. It’s rare that I go into a library feeling like a little kid in a store full of glass figurines, who doesn’t belong there and is afraid of doing something wrong, but some libraries still do that to me. And geez, if they do that to a librarian, imagine how members of the community feel."

No cell phones, no this no that signs are unwelcoming to patrons. However, the signs are there because someone made a reason for it. How many times have you been in a library where there was an annoying cell phone ring, or someone who shouted their inappropriate conversations? A recent Unshelved cartoon (with a full discussion on LiveJournal demonstrates a definite annoyance at that. It is difficult to manage a group of people with different tastes, opinions, and perceptions of how a library should be.

Libraries try to provide the best service to a unique group of people. Patrons' opinions are just as abundant as staff members' opinions. Who is correct, and what is the best choice is the difference between good managers and bad managers. There are a million great ideas, but only a few will be really effective for your community. We can create a bookstore model with great displays and effect no change in circulation or usage, it just looks nice. We can complain to our budgetary authority that we can make no more changes unless we get more funding, which is usually a guarantee that you won't get your funding.

Sometimes, no one is happy, which is why I have a Fix-it Friday section, and sometimes everyone is happy, which is why I have a Successful Saturdays section. You will never really know if you are a successful manager or not since everyone has a new great idea that you are not doing. I always think the fable of The Stonecutter It is easier to be the person chipping away at the mountain of administration to get what you want rather than to be the mountain that is chipped away at.

I think the top reason people start blogs is to find an outlet to complain about the world around them. Most of the library blogs I read talk about how this or that can be improved. That is great, but I wonder how much of that is going to the right people. If that was channeled into changing the thing you wanted to change, such as at your library, it might be better to go that direction than to post it on a blog.

It is also best if you don't like something to tell administration about it or effect the change you want to see in your library or in your own organization. You don't have to be in administration to make the changes you want to see. If something is broken, anyone can fix it if they take the time and have the will to do it.

Another year over

This year was an active one for me. It is nice to think back on your accomplishments to see the improvements that you have made.

New Computers
We started this year with 11 Gates computers from the 2001 cycle and 4 thin clients. We also had to sign people up to a computer by clipboard. With a $30,000 Capital Improvement Project from the city, and a $26,400 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we have 30 brand new computers with all the works, plus a time management system that signs people up for a computer and kicks them off when their time is up. We also received an additional $12,000 grant from the local Indian Reservation, but those won't be installed until next year.

Automation of Services
Usually automation is nothing to brag about, but if done in the correct way it can improve services and reduce wait times. Our Friends group purchased a new 3M V-1 Self-check unit. It still is not at 80% of our check-out, but we are getting there. We also automated our phone systems to call people for holds and overdue books. This saved a huge amount of staff time and stress. We also automated our inbound services too. Before, people just left a message and whenever a staff person got to it, that book was renewed, now patrons can do it themselves in real time. We also automated the computer sign-up.

Grant Writing
I was able to secure several grants. We were awarded three grants at a total of $75,000 for more computers and a bookmobile.

Public Relations
The library got on the map during our annual report. Our report on our adult literacy accomplishments got the front page of the local paper with an outpouring of tutor support. The local United Way is duplicating our program to our surrounding communities. With a little luck, we will have the same Adult Literacy/ESL program throughout the county. We hit the front page of our local paper three or four times.

I started the city's first adult literacy program in eight years. We will also add an ESL Component and bookmobile services. A recent interview process over the summer identified key needs for Spanish speakers. The resulting change in collections, services, and programs has brought an increase in usage from this population. Something our library has never been able to accomplish.

New Library
We passed our bond and we are already in the process of planning our new library. We will also expand our current facility.

New Databases/Electronic Resources
We have expanded our databases through agreements with the state library, our county consortium, and expanded our own budget. This also includes the purchase of Rosetta Stone that teaches English and Spanish. It does this online and you can do it from home! I revamped our website so that it looks like an actual library information portal. We will be rolling out a host of mobile services using library 2.0 concepts.

We have an increase in circulation, walk-in business, reference questions, database hits, and program attendance. This last June all of our service skyrocketed higher than expected. We have a host of well-behaved teens using our library (middle schoolers too, just not as well-behaved) and even have our own teen group.

AND I started this blog to talk about it all. It has been very cathartic to write about the bad stuff, that didn't work out. It has also emboldened me to try new things and MOST importantly, to brag about myself.

For those who read my blog and subscribe to it, thanks for reading and have a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Successful Saturdays: The New Library

With our successful bond election, we will build the first library in 31 years. A brand new facility, planned with our own staff, and working with a local high school as a joint-use facility. A successful bond election can go to your head. It is an affirmation from the public of the job that you are doing. If it was a general city bond, it would be one thing, but since the library question was separate, a 66% approval rating can make you feel quite invincible in your decision making. It is so exciting to begin to plan for the library.

We are planning new bookmobile services, a new library, and a renovation of the existing library. We will have everything brand new in four years. Just a few years after that, we will plan for a new main (25,000 square feet plus) library. I have only been running my library for about two years and it is exciting to see the fruits of my labor so quickly.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fix-it-Friday: Three Librarians equals Seven Opinions

Most people do not realize that the major problem with the field of library science is one of making a decision. A friend of mine once said, "If you put three librarians in a room, you will get seven different opinions."

Librarians, library staff, and library directors often have problems making decisions mostly because of the nature of our profession. Every reader his/her book is a daunting task. This is what makes the digital future like in the Long Tail so amazing. If you could offer everything, then you would not have to decide on purchasing one book over another, you can just make everything available and then everyone will get their individual book, song, or movie.

However, we are bit off from libraries providing that. In the mean time, we are stuck in committees trying to make decisions over minor matters and making big deals out of it. What should the Marc number be, should we put the CD that came with the book inside the book, or separate, what happens if we let patrons in and they destroy all of the books? It becomes analysis paralysis.

As a manager, it is important to keep staff on task and not bogged down with such decisions. Sometimes committees can be formed, but that is a sure way to slow down a process. I find it best to gather all the information, create a document, then let staff adjust it so they can give input. Otherwise, you will spend hours, days, weeks, months, even years creating a document and getting things done.

1. Identify the problem (is it REALLY a problem?)
2. Determine its severity (is this a crisis, or a back burner project?)
3. Gather information (first person information is very valuable, it lends weight to your final decision and more importantly, allows you to make a better decision)
4. Talk to other people (your staff, patrons, your vendor, other libraries, what are they doing?)
5. Make a decision as to the action plan
6. Create a procedure (update procedures)
7. Put people in charge of it (sometimes that is you)
8. Set its priority
9. Monitor the progress of the project
10. Adjust as you go.

Procedure manuals are always good things, just remind your staff to use good judgment, and talk to them afterward when they do. Reward them if they did a good job, with a thank you to start, provide explanation if they didn't. Don't criticize them if it was something unexpected that they could not handle. You can always coach them to think more critically about a situation.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Successful Saturdays: The Future is bright

May you get what you wish for is a curse and for good reason. You say to yourself, "If I were in charge I would solve all these fines for patrons, more money for science fiction, and I would re-arrange how the whole library is laid out."

Since I have been in charge, I have been able to change many things with the result being increased usage from the public. I introduced public art, collection expenditure by circulation, programming to need, a strategic plan, new policies, re-aligned staff and space, over $100,000 in grant awards, over $100,000 in capital improvement projects provided by the city, and additional collection space.

The usage of my library has gone up dramatically. We were able to get a bond package together as a result of our success. Our bond passed by an overwhelming margin, allowing the library to grow, not just in our current facility, but also become a library system.

The next 18 months will be the most exciting in my career. We will build a new branch, expand the current branch, possibly buy land for a third site, or work with another division of the city to build a multi-generational site with a library in it.

In the next 10-15 years we may have 4 libraries as opposed to the one we have now. I have the opportunity to build a whole library system almost from scratch.

It is very scary, but so very exciting and awesome. It will be amazing to see what I can do with this place and this community.

We just had our first meeting designing the new library, plus we just hired a technology consultant that will create a floor plan for the expansion of the current facility. Less than a month after the bond passed, we already have hit the ground running. We even have the layout of how the new library will look and where it will go. Better yet, library staff, our Library Advisory Board, the High School Board, and the general public all took part in the decision-making. I will post about that experience separately.

Our bookmobile service will start in a month too. It is so exciting to see all these changes and to know that what you are doing as a manager is driving it. We will have the first branch library in our vicinity, we will double our library space, our staff, our collections, programming space, and computers. I am all a buzz with the possibilities. This was the reason I got into this business, to affect this type of change. I couldn't be more excited.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Fix-it Friday: Too Much Success

There is such a thing as too much success. It typically comes when all of your plans have succeeded. You did your strategic plan. It worked! You are getting all these new people getting library cards, checking out materials, using computers, using the library, and talking about how great it is!

Unlike a business, a public library, or any government entity, will experience a gap in service, between the success and the money. You realize that you are really successful, but then you realize you don't have the space, the computers, the collections, or the staff to sustain it.

You must trust that your library will receive the rewards of the success. Hit all of your budgetary authority, general public, and key figures with everything you have measuring the great success, especially when that success is in an area dear to some of those stakeholders. It will not always happen. When it does, it is great! When it doesn't, it makes staff very frustrated. Trust the system, because by denying a successful library, they are denying what their community wants. I have read it over and over again, about communities with no libraries, who demand it. One can see it in areas like Johnson Ranch, Goodyear, El Mirage, and Mesa, Arizona. There will always be a demand for library services, but never enough to go around. Things will turn around; one must always be vigilant to stand one's ground, to get what the community wants.

Here are some tips to make your library a priority in your community:

1. Find out what your budgetary authority prioritizes (Whether that authority is City Council, County Supervisor, Dean, whomever.) Anything they could possibly prioritize is an aspect of library services: education, economic development, workforce development, small business assistance, literacy, technology, fiscal responsibility, can all be demonstrated library impacts.

2. Create a Strategic Plan to help you find out not only the budgetary authority's priorities, but the community's priorities. You find that most of the priorities are the same. The more people you get, the more voice the library will have in the community.

3. Get advocates- sure you need more money, space, staff, and resources, but you it will always be you who asks. You need to get other people to ask as well. A request from the President of the Chamber of Commerce will go father than yours in many cases. (Plus the budget authority will see that person more often, making it harder to say no to them.)

4. Demonstrate impact in any which way you can. Typically, you need to send in reports, or demonstrate some sort of progress on library services. This may be the only time you can demonstrate the impact of library services. Make it clear, clean, and precise. Try to use as little data as possible. (Of course I don't always follow that, but the eyes of non-library people will glaze over if you don't.) The human impact is more powerful than data alone.

5. Advocate- Indoctrinate patrons, your staff, anyone who will stand still for five minutes. Every conversation is a segway to a conversation on the need of library services, even with those who have a complaint (especially a complaint).

6. Be flexible with your services. When we did our strategic plan, we didn't get any new staff or resources, but we were able to prioritize services and re-allocate staff to those needs. With some staff training, you can create adult literacy programs, teen programs, lifelong learning, and technology programs.

7. Find the need and make it public. When you see a huge need that you are servicing, make sure everybody knows about it. Contact the local newspaper, other new organizations, talk to community leaders, important people, and make sure no one turns around in your community without seeing it.

8. Market your library services, create email lists, rss feeds, podcasts, a running library news section in your local newspaper, magazine, and anything else that will reproduce print or talk to your audience. If something new happens at the library, EVERYONE should know about it. When our library broke 20,000 circulations in one month for the first time, we found the person who checked out the 20,000th book, gave her a goodie bag of library items, called the local newspaper photographer, and the picture was in the paper.

9. Engage the community- Put your services in your patrons' hands. Electronically or physically, they need a reminder that you are there and to know where they can find you. Outreach programs, books by mail, bookmobile, just get out and about and let them know you are there. They can perform their genealogy research from home by going to your website. They can repair their vehicles with the library's help, or learn a new language. Find services that will blow their minds. I will always remember something David Keeber, Director of the Sedona Public Library, told me, "People need to wake up and see the library like Mecca. How do we connect today?"

10. Thank them for their patronage. Our community passed a bond and we thanked them in the library's weekly news bulletin, in the newspaper, via email, and the website. The best signs I have seen are for the Chandler High School Bond. They placed signs advertising "Vote Yes" for the bond, and then when the bond passed, they placed a thank you sign on all of those signs. That makes you feel warm and fuzzy. It feels more personal.

Monday, October 09, 2006

MySpace is no longer cool, but it is a communication tool

This recent report from ComScore, More than Half of MySpace Visitors are Now Age 35 or Older, as the Site’s Demographic Composition Continues to Shift states that more people 35 and older are using MySpace and that the teen demographic has dropped 12% in a one year period. Once sites like MySpace, Xanga, and the whole social networking thing got around to the mainstream media all the teens left the building. They are no longer cool.

However, I see this is as the absorbing of this type of communication into the mainstream. Teens check it out first and it is cool because you are the first, plus it is this big secret. Once Mom finds out and gets an account, it is lame. What eventually happens is that these social networking sites became mainstream communication devices. Instead of using email or chat, they use MySpace and Facebook. It is a better communication device anyway because it looks like you are talking to a person not jdumb63. It seems to be the next evolution of communication among people in general.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Successful Saturday: Are well-behaved teens an oxymoron

Successful Saturday: Are Well-behaved Teens an Oxy Moron

This successful Saturday will focus on the library's success in attracting teens to the library without gaming, without offering special programs, and without doing anything but having one group at the library meet monthly.

A typical problem with teens is that they get into trouble. Libraries will actually try to avoid them because they destroy things, are too loud, and general annoy everyone, including the staff. When I first came to my library, we never saw any teens. We had some programs for them, mostly aimed at middle schoolers with very little success. We had a grant to set-up an E-Mag program which was an online website teens could create on their own. The product was fine, but it quickly fizzled out. By the time I came on board, the program was a program in name only. We wanted to attract teens and make the library a place for them to go and congregate. I looked to strategies to get them in the door and went to the local high school. At the time, the library still had its old Gates computers and only had 11. When I went to the High School and saw what they had after school it was shocking. They had dozens of computers all lined in a row, fast and up to date. There was no way we could compete with that, so I gave up on it.

When the library performed its strategic plan, one of the big needs of the community was to provide activities for teens. We decided we needed to provide recreational and educational opportunities that were open ended for teens to drop in whenever they wanted. We also said we would dedicate at least 10% of our computers to this population. We had a vague plan, but it was in the direction we already knew we needed to go.

We provided programs that summer for teens. We had game nights. We bought and Xbox and a Playstation. We had competitions and for a while the teens were showing up and playing the games and getting involved, then it stopped. For one month we had great participation, but then they just stopped coming. In the end we found out that we could not keep up on the gaming end. The demand for games was beyond our budget. We could not get the best and most desired games fast enough. We decided that we were not yet at the level that we needed to be in that area, so we tried a different approach.

Our Youth librarian created a group of teens that would meet once a week until they decided on what meeting day was best. They came up with their own name SPARC, Students Participating in an Advisory Reading Committee. It was just like a Teen Advisory Group, but we just did not call it a teen group. Never call anything a teen if you want teens to come. In my community, the Boys and Girls Club wanted to create a teen club where teens could hang out. After getting feedback, the number one complaint of theirs was that if you call anything a teen something, we will definitely not come.

After meeting with the SPARC group for some time, they gave us ideas on what books to buy, what graphic novels to buy, and what types of things they wanted to see on the computers. In the end, they wanted good material to read and a hands off approach on the computers. They did not want something specifically geared for them, but just to be allowed more freedom on the computers. Don't block MySpace or chat, let us use the computers in the way we want them and trust us. So we did.

In our first quarter of this activity, we found circulation in the Young Adult Sections go up 40 % and computer usage go from dismal to 28% of the collection. We dedicated 20% of the computers to the teens, but then decided to let them go where they wanted and to just perform the roving reference to make sure everything was ok. So all the numbers are up, but what about the behavior, had I turned our library upside down with unruly teens yelling, talking on cell phones, causing problems? The answer was no. They were well-behaved and good and showed an active interest in our collection, our computers, and the library itself. The library is a hang-out place. On Friday's the High School lets out early and by 1pm, all the High Schoolers come down to the library. Most people would have been scared. The funny thing was that yesterday a City Councilman came into the library to sit and check things out. He was down were most of the teens were and I was surprised to see him when I went downstairs near the end of the day. He said, “I was surprised by all the activity and all the teens. I see a lot of teens on MySpace, but they are all so well-behaved. They don't act unruly or cause problems. I know they use MySpace, but they are probably just talking to their friends and doing what teens do. It is great to see them here, this is a great place for them.” To have both the teens act that way and to have my councilman see it was perfect.

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.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Cracking the Code or a Fix-it Friday Fix

I did not post my weekly Fix-it Friday yesterday and not because I have run out of problems, far from it. I was just not feeling well so I didn't post. So today you just get me bragging about myself with the absence of putting myself down. If I do that too often my ego may get out of hand.

Anyway, last week I spoke about problems with my library's ILS. I had problems writing code into the system because there was complicated code to learn on top of proprietary code that I did not understand. To resolve this problem I went to a larger county system that had the same ILS and asked their advice. They provided it, but recommended that I do not touch any of the systems unless I have a training server. That way if I screw something up, I am not putting it out there live and breaking something. Right now, we are in the process of purchasing and installing one. After playing with the technology and having some good results and some bad results, I was going to take his advice and not try anything.

However, one of our server's crashed while we were in the process of creating a back-up server. So now we just have the server that replaced it with no hopes of getting a real live back-up for a little while. I decided that instead of waiting for the new installation, I would try a few new things I was playing with. The fun thing about technology these days is that to solve a problem, all you just have to do is to search for a solution on the Internet and people have already posted their free code solution. If I couldn't create code to do what I wanted, I could embed the code of others to get what I wanted.

So I made three significant changes right away. I changed the theme of the page to a modern theme. This is one of the easy features in the ILS, just pick one of five themes and you can make your page different from the others. I had made a change a few months ago just so my page would not look so generic, but it still did not help. The modern theme I chose this time was very plain, just white with very little color, but it worked well if I was going to make changes and it matched with our city webpage. The next thing I changed was placing the library's name on our catalog (no we could not do that before!). We were able to manipulate the system by creating a new image, then saving and naming that image the same as file that already exists. That way, I was able to change the vendor's label on my page to the library's name, plus I added a little background for color. As long as the pictures size was similar in size, it works great.

The change to white and the image change had an immediate effect. It made the site cleaner and we finally owned the site. The next steps were to put a calendar of events and possibly a photo slideshow on the site. I had been playing with Google Calendar for some time and created an account just for the library. I set up a Gmail account with the library's name, then created the calendar. The new features in Gmail are great and you can set up a calendar, excel spreadsheets, and put other files online so that you can share them with others. I set up a calendar and placed all of the library's events in the calendar, plus included all third party programs that were not library endorsed, but were held at the library. Originally, I had thought of just creating a link to the site on the library's catalog page. The problem with that is that it would take users away from the page instead of searching for books. However, Google Calendar has an embed feature when you go to the manage calendars feature. I just went to my calendar, clicked on manage calendars, clicked on my calendar, and then clicked on calendar address for html. This would have created a link to the calendar site. However, I also so a configuration tool in which it would provide a embed code you can place on your website. I copied the code and then pasted it in the portal page. IT WORKED! I was able to see the library's entire calendar of events on the catalog page. I also copied this in the events page. The training from the county library helped me find what file to place it in.
The calendar of events was a big problem for us for many reasons. One, many library staff did not have access to a live calendar because we are on different systems. They could see the calendar on the library's city webpage, but it is difficult to navigate (mostly because we can't control the content that much, but that is changing). We had to provide a paper copy and then they posted it downstairs to see it. Now, they can go online like everyone else and see the calendar in real time. They can even print it out!

After cracking the placement code, I was able to do even more with the page. I added a Flickr slideshow. I used this code here to embed a flickr slideshow on the portal page. It is really neat because it has the same functionality as going to flickr and playing a slideshow. It does all the same things, plus it does not say flickr on it. It just has the show. This works particularly well when you get into trouble placing company names on your site. It also does not link to your flickr, but keeps you on the webpage. Now we have a nice library tour on the portal page. I will probably add this to our events section and show all the library events in the loop. You can point to a particular set in flickr for your loop. Very neat!

Lastly, what is the library's catalog portal without books? One of the problems we had with the portal was the rotating book image. It was a nice feature, but we had absolutely no control over it. The problem was that is showed images from BookSense's bestsellers, but it showed hardcover, paperback, and mass market paperback. Since it just does an ISBN search, we could have that book, just not in paperback and it would not reveal that we had the book simply because we did not have that edition! This caused many problems as patrons sending in requests for books we already had. So we had to create our own links using another trick borrowed from the county library.

Our library subscribes to Syndetics Solutions enhanced content, which provides book images, book reviews, and many other items that searchers find useful when selecting material. Very nice! We found that we could manipulate the data that was in the catalog code for the book image. When you go to the catalog, you can right click on the book image, this will give you the image location and by adding a src img= (insert syndetics tag here) and then place html for the search for the book around the image, you can get the image with it tagged so when you click on it, you search the catalog for that book. So we could control the book image! Each week we put out a top ten list in the local paper. This week was top ten mystery and we could place the image for each book in a row at the top of the page. I was very boisterous so I added a row for top ten fiction, juvenile fiction, young adult, and more. I tried to do DVDs, but many of the catalog records don't have images for the DVD records. Even stealing the images from other sites would not yield an image in the system. It must be tied just to their code. I will probably figure that out and I am very excited about the prospects of controlling the site. Think of all the possibilities, we could now link a webcast, podcast, even sample music from the site! Now that we have control and I have cracked the code, there are a million things I could think of doing to the site now, it is only a matter of time, how exciting!

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Successful Saturdays: A catalog fix or I found what I was looking for

As I was posting about catalogs this week, a funny thing happened to me. A patron complained that our catalog was horrible and that she could not find anything. What was she looking for? Integumentary System Information! The Integumentary system is your skin, hair, nails, and sensory system. Could you find that in your catalog? Probably not, search for it on the internet, the first hit answers enough for an essay. However she was instructed to find the information from a book. If she did not talk to a librarian, she would not have found her information. We had a Merck manual she could check out so she found what she was looking for. Sometimes you can solve a problem, but you can provide a fix that solves a part of the problem. Today's Successful Saturdays will cover how we improved the catalog through authority control and raised our successful browsing rates.

I had mentioned in the last post our implementation problems with our new ILS vendor. However, most of our problems with the catalog records were problems of neglect. We have had several different people catalog in our system with no formal training. This process has left the catalog a mess with some records just having and author and title, and some just having outdated information. To attempt to fix this problem we underwent a major weeding program and then performed an authority control.

The weeding ended up finding records for books that no longer existed and with the aggressive weed, we were able to get out all of the bad records. However, we still needed to fix the records that were still in the system, and this is where the Authority Control comes in.

Try to get funding from your authority and explain to them how Authority Control works. I am not sure how I phrased my proposal, but it ended up getting funded. Through my research I had discovered that the library had never undergone an authority control. In fact, a project attempted several years ago failed because all of the bids came in way over budget. I was able to fund my project fully by examining the costs of other projects and gathering information from vendors and other libraries. I was able to budget $5,000 for our project. In my proposal I explained that patrons will be able to find information they are looking for faster without having to contact staff. Patrons who cannot find information in the catalog will often turn to staff. If the patron had more successful searches, they will be able to find what they are looking for without having to rely upon staff to find their materials.

We have a way to track our catalog usage and successful searches. We do a survey during the last week of each month asking two questions. Did you have a good or excellent experience? Did you find what you were looking for? We always had a high good experience (in the 90% happy mark), but the successful searching was always low (in the 80% successful mark). We simply have a form at the desk and the patron just has to chicken scratch yes or no in both categories. If they feel the need to comment, there is a space for that too. After reviewing this information, I made the gamble that if we had authority control, the patrons would be directed to the right materials and the successful search rate would go up into the 90% mark.

I had attended a program on authority control at the last Arizona Library Association conference in the fall. I took my two catalogers as well. I understood the concept behind it. Authority control provides searches with the best terms to be successful. It will direct patrons to records that have the correct search terms from the incorrect term. For instance if I were to search for “bubblers” it would direct me to the agreed upon term, fountains. Another example is with the author J. A. Jance, some call her Judith A. Jance, some J.A. Jance, but we have to agree on one otherwise you will have a whole swath of records under J.A. Jance that may not be found because you did not use the correct search terms. I don't think my catalogers understood the concept the way the program was presented, but explaining it as I did above made it more clear to them. This is by no means an easy process. Next came writing the RFP.

Ever write an RFP for authority control? It is like writing another language. The City Attorney was asking what all the letters and squiggles were. Looking back I was surprised it was funded at all. Luckily when all of of my bids came in they were all under my budget mark.

The project began easily, give the company a sample, they provide it back and you make corrections. The funny thing about this project was that we had never done an authority control, so we HAD NO AUTHORITY RECORDS. Most of what the company ended up doing was changing our bibliographic records so that they have an accurate subject heading and information. It would be further backed by an authority control record that would re-direct patrons to the correct subject and book. Getting our records sent out and returned was not a big problem. Reloading them into the system was. It took six weeks to reload all of the records and then double check for errors. We still had some records that ended up being funky, but overall cleaner updated records. A lot of work, but would it pay off?

We completed the project at the end of May, we awaited our surveys at the end of the month. The catalog re-directed patrons and did what it was supposed to, but I had said that the successful searches would go up. In both June and July our circulation went through the roof, jumping 20 percent in both months and still hovering at the level for August. And the surveys? In the last two months we had a 98% successful search result. Very successful indeed.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fix-it Friday: Your Portal to Nothing Or a Prisoner to the system

To cap off my thoughts on the catalog and where it is going, today's Fix-it Friday will cover my struggle with the catalog.

Before I became the Manager at my library, I was a librarian. For a time, the former manager retired and with troubles getting someone hired, we had no Manager for three moths. During that period, we had to select a new Integrated Library Service (ILS) vendor and implement it. We ended up select the same vendor we had and just upgrading the software, mostly because it was the cheapest one and also because we knew all the staff. We also were only allocated $80,000 for our Capital Improvement Project, which also forced to buy the cheapest one.

The obvious lesson is that you should allocate more enough for your highest bidder and get the software that is best for the library as opposed to doing it on the cheap and being stuck with something that will take years to rectify. I was just happy to get an ONLINE catalog since the previous one was DOS. I remember asking them in my interview, “Where is your catalog.” The reply, “Oh we are stuck in DOS.” DOS what the heck is DOS you mean that stuff that was on my computer when I was like in elementary school? I remember afterward being a little confused about how that worked and then I used the catalog after my interview and it was indeed a green screen with green letters. (The Horror!) It was not available on the web so of course you could not access any databases unless you used the computer specifically for it in the library (and they were wondering why it got so little use.)

Getting the library online was a major goal of the library and mine. Once I was hired I realized that they had made an attempt to go online the year before, but it did not get funded. I was never sure why. The worse part was that the county library system was already online. They had been online since 1998 and this was 2002. The city could have easily paid to get in with the system. The major costs of upgrading a system, cleaning up the DOS, and all that fun stuff could have been partially paid by the county, with their help and expertise guiding us. I never knew why we never did that, but my hunch is that it came down to politics and control. The ironic thing is that when I did a TechAtlas technology assessment it recommends investigating joining our catalog with the county or with other libraries in the area, doh!

So we began implementation with no one in charge and just myself and another librarian. Both of us had been on the job for six months and the third librarian, the youth librarian, had just quit. Essentially we had no organizational memory of how things worked. Implementation was rocky, but it worked all the same. We still did not have web access within the first three months since we did not give our city IT in on the project early enough. Once enabled it worked fine, however we soon learned of a consistent problem with web access, we could not control any of the content.

We had accomplished our goals, online web catalog, check, better way to catalog books, check, ways to access databases from home and within the library, check, but we were stuck with the vendor’s name on the top of the webpage and this fresh out of the box look for several months, and now years.

We used to have the catalog search function as the first page you see when you went to our catalog. It was very boring and not useful unless you just wanted to search for books. We changed it to the “portal page” so that users could see we had databases, show our top ten lists, and provide information on the central page. We took several trips to a larger library system that was able to manipulate the system. We crashed the webpage a few times since we had no back up. We attempted to make changes to pretty up the main page. After many attempts, training sessions, and requests for help, we were still stuck with this blank page. The ironic thing is that it states “Your portal for more information” and immediately after that a big white blank space, right in the middle. It’s like having a library with nothing in it. I go online and read about Library 2.0 and all these functions, and I can’t even get events or library information in that spot. I realized too late that I couldn’t manipulate the data on this page because if I change it and screw it up, the ILS vendor will charge me through the nose to change it back. I don’t have the knowledge or the expertise to change it and the system is very strange to work in and manipulate. However, I do see this same page across the country with the same fresh out of the box feel. The vendor has provided many Library 2.0 items; book images, patron account management, RSS feeds, more intuitive search functions, a google-like search page, and a search by popularity. However, most of the neatest Library 2.0 functions are beyond my reach because I don’t know how to use their system or change the information. I have to have the knowledge of the code or software PLUS knowledge of their propriety software that only a hacker or someone totally dedicated to the project could do. So I am stuck with a blank page and am a prisoner to my ILS. I need to pay someone to fix this J

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Catalog File Resources

From the LITA Blog I pulled this post, Cataloging Transformed: From Traditional to Emerging Models of Use June 30th, 2006 by Jennifer Smathers

What I learned from this is that the catalog needs to look and work more like Google and Amazon. Ideas from here I am passing on to my ILS vendor. We already have images from the books and videos provided by Syndetics Solutions (with reviews and excerpts), and I think Baker and Taylor does something similar. We can sort and limit by format, call number, or even popularity. I did a training session with staff on all the ins and outs on how to manipulate the catalog. However, even wit expert manipulation, we won't get better searches without a "search within the book" feature (like Amazon) or a feature that searches the book's index and looks for frequency of the search terms and ranks by frequency as it relates to the index. Maybe this is why Google is scanning all these books, so that they are indexed and searchable. I think that we have marc records with subjects; we only had so much space. Now that the format has changed and there are fewer limitations, we need to put the index frequency ranking in our records. I would also like a feature that corrects misspellings or can re-index faster. This file is a wait and see what the big libraries do.

The next file is A "Next generation" library catalog, which discusses how to make the library catalog better. Treating the catalog page like a separate webpage instead of a database hit is a great idea to combat the invisible web and findability issues. Another a part I liked was the ability for fans to write reviews like Amazon. It sounds great and I passed this on to my ILS vendor. However, not enough people would comment I would suspect. We have to think about why people write reviews and part of that reason is ego. It is a status symbol to be a top reviewer on Amazon or to be a significant poster on major forums or blogs and especially on wikipedia. People are making themselves instant experts because they have a hobby. We would have to have a way to engage these groups in order to get posts and comments which is where library 2.0 comes in. Multiple user reviews rounds out the perception and interest of the book. Many great bibliographies come from user fans, another way to harness this intelligence would to link to user lists of similar books or topics.

Dave Pattern's weblog provides results from a top five additions to the catalog for findability (I have edited the post to provide what he did, and then added my comment on how the catalog my library has compares:
Number 5 - Other Editions (if you sort by title you will get all books, audio, video and more with the title next to each other.)

Number 4 - Keyword Suggestions
(Nice to provide similar words, kind of works like authority control)

Number 3 - Similar Subjects
(Nice to provide similar words, kind of works like authority control, our catalog puts this on the dashboard beside the search results
Number 2 - Also Borrowed
(Like Amazon's also purchased, our catalog just sorts by popularity)

Number 1 - Spelling Suggestions
(Like Google)

Great suggestions the last two definitely need looking into.

User Centered Cataloging
Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records pull all comments reviews and different editions of a title all in one place. User comments helps identify the book using terms the public uses. Also get fan favorite comments, like people not liking James Patterson's Big Bad wolf or one of J. A. Janice’s series.

(Quoting from, Librarian in Blackwho is quoting from Steven at LibraryThing:)
"As one wrote on the blog, Isaac Asimov's Nightfall the short story collection, is distinct from Nightfall the novel and from Nightfall One. " (Just LiB here) Do libraries know that? Does Amazon? Wow! How can libraries and our ILS vendors leverage this kind of mass effort?"

After reading this we requested Syndetics Solutions to help provide a user comments section. Getting fans to help with collections and reviews helps everybody.

Best post about catalog future that is user centered

OLA Super Conference

post here
Presenter: Beth Jefferson, BiblioCommons

Post covers an ALA conference. Read the whole thing then save it. It covers all the ways we can interact with patrons using the catalog. It covers the items I have already mentioned with much greater detail. Much of it help solidify my thoughts on how to help patrons find books without necessarily using the catalog.

And lastly, from the techsource blog,

"How OPACs Suck, Part 3: The Big Picture
by Karen G. Schneider
A wonderful post (one of three parts) that does a thorough breakdown of the problems with OPACs, "First Literalism: The OPAC Is a Citation Index
One major problem is that the online catalog is merely a citation index. It doesn't index the book itself—only a mere handful of terms in its metadata. As librarians, we're accustomed to this. But our users aren't. The user of tomorrow grew up in a full-text world. For that user, the limitations of the online catalog make no sense."

Indexing the entire book and sorting by frequency and relevancy sounds good to me.

That's what I am reviewing for now. Next post will be Fix-it Fridays on my catalog.