Friday, November 18, 2011

Job in a Box CLA presentation 2011 #calibconf

(I am posting the slides and text from my California Library Association conference presentation. It provides a little more detail from when we unveiled the machine back in June. Feel free to contact me for more information.)

Good Morning. My name is Jeff Scott and I am the Deputy County Librarian for the Tulare County Library. Our program is about our Job in a Box. This is a $60,000 LSTA project that would place a Brodart Lending Library book machine in the Visalia and Dinuba Workforce Investment Board One Stops. We fill the machines based on feedback from library staff, library circulation statistics, and job coaches at the One Stops.

Pitch an idea
For those unfamiliar with this new way of applying for LSTA grant, I will provide a little background. The program is called Pitch an Idea. Instead of investing the blood, sweat, and tears over a grant that may not get funded, the state library has simplified the process here. You get a notification that these grants are available and you have one week to write up your elevator talk, develop a total cost, and submit that to the state. The State Librarian, with a group of experts, then makes conference calls with questions about your proposal. If you make a compelling case, your project gets funded. I really like this approach since it saves a lot of time for library staff and it’s an opportunity to be very creative.

What inspired the project? This project was actually one of two we submitted to the state library. For those of you familiar with Pub-Lib Robert Balliot you may recognize the phrase, "There’s a Book for That." That was actually the title of our other project that we had submitted. The idea behind that was that we would place a machine in community centers around the city with a focus on that center’s purpose. For instance, if there was an Art Museum or non-profit center, we would place a machine in there and create a collection based on the users needs. If it is a history museum, we would place a machine in there and have materials relating to museum displays. Lastly, we included Work Investment Board One Stops. After carefully considering the work that would be involved in placing several of these machines in the city and throughout the county all at once, we decided to focus on the biggest need, job assistance.

Segway to partnership
Last year, the State Librarian’s office held a conference to help library directors collaborate with their local Workforce Investment Boards. The Department of Labor had recently instructed their local boards to work with their local community specifically targeting libraries.

De-facto job centers
For many years, libraries have acted as de-facto job centers. We help with resumes, set-up email addresses, and navigate an often complicated online application process. Even though we often receive no recognition (monetarily speaking anyway) for these efforts, it has become particularly critical for libraries to take on this role during our recent recession. We are the safe place to forage in this harsh winter of recession.

The biggest objective for a library to build a partnership with the Workforce Investment Board is funding. When you turn on the news and you hear about job bills that are trying to get pushed through Congress, much of that funding is going to your local Workforce Investment Board. Most of the money that they receive is distributed to partners in the area. Adult Literacy and Job Assistance are two of the key sources of funding. The key to receiving funding is to partner with WIB and put yourself in a position to receive distributed funds. One of the key aspects is to find out more about how your local WIB operates.

Libraries and WIBs are Similar     
WIBs and Libraries work in a very similar fashion. If you were to enter a facility and ask for job services, you would fill out an application, and then be whisked to a computer center. These centers look just like computers in libraries. Some examples:

Computer Labs
There are no time restrictions in the WIB centers. They can actually be there all day on the computers. It’s interesting how reversed this concept can be. Even though a library computer lab does not have to have a specific mission, a WIB center obviously does, yet you can get completely unrestricted time. Customers can go in the center and not do one bit of resume writing or job searching. Furthermore, there isn’t anyone on the floor to help them with the computers. Typically, there is just a security guard available. A typical WIB center doesn’t receive funding to provide this service, therefore, support is minimal. And you wondered why you receive so many job seekers at your computer labs; you are the only one there to help them in your communities.

Job Coaches
Most of the steps taken by serious customers involve Job Keys, Job Coaches, and Placement. A customer comes in and asks for job services. The customer is brought over to the computers and takes a job keys test. This makes an assessment of their abilities. If their abilities are below what the One Stop can support, they can refer the person to other services. Often, the library will see those people who don’t make that cut as they may require literacy skills or someone that can provide technology training that WIB doesn’t provide. Those that possess necessary skills are passed onto job coaches. Job coaches work with the customer to find out more about what the customer needs. If they possess the right set of skills, they can more likely be placed. Those successfully placed at a job provide the revenue for One Stops.

Where WIB makes its money?
One Stops make their money on placement. How many of the unemployed can they find jobs for? They do this very well. For example, a recent grocery store chain Vallarta came into town needing employees. WIB already had the names and abilities of people that would fit right into the job on their rolls. They established the interviews in their facility and helped with all the paperwork. The grocery store was able to get up and running far more quickly with their help rather than having to do all of the work, the advertisement, the placement all themselves.

How do libraries fit in?
Libraries can fit into the funding cycle by searching for ways to partner. The local WIB in Tulare County has an Employment Connect Council that coordinates all job training efforts in the county. CSET, Proteus, and other private contractors all go to this meeting and report. They also get many of the magnets to come in and give a talk about what they are looking for in employees. We were able to become part of this council and talked about our computer classes, literacy programs, and job seeking assistance efforts. After this meeting that the State Librarian coordinated, we got a seat at the table and began discussions on how we can partner.

Gaining a Foothold
One way the library could integrate itself into the One Stop service flow was by providing resources at critical junctures. When a customer came in, the ones that have the highest potential for getting a job are provided a job coach. This person provides guidance and resources. The library can play a very strong role here by providing the needed resource. In the past, we had tried office hours (providing a staff person available to answer questions and help with library services), but we wanted something that had smaller staff time and higher impact. Job coaches often refer their clients to book resources. What better place to get that resource than at the library? However, an easier way to go about it was to provide the books at the point of need. They may make referral to us, but that doesn’t mean we will see that person. This is how we decided on using the Brodart Lending Library book machine inside the One Stops.

Previous Experience
We have had previous experience with these book machines. Last year, we were awarded a United States Department of Agriculture grant to provide library services in poor rural areas. We used the lending library and placed it in the small town of Cutler near a school. The circulation on the machine by children was more than we could have possibly hoped for. The first day we had the machine, the books were almost entirely cleared out. We decided that we can use this as a model to expand future library services with minimal staff impact.

One Stops
We decided to place the machines in the Visalia and Dinuba One Stops. We decided on those two since out of the four One Stops in the county, these were the only two that were run by our library (Porterville and Tulare libraries are run by the city, but there is still potential to partner with them to expand the book machines there).

What needed to be accomplished
The many problems with this plan were manifest. We could place a book machine in the one stops, but who would choose the books? What would happen if they didn’t have a library card? What are all the obstacles that we could face? Furthermore, how could we encourage One Stop Customers to be full library patrons if they didn’t have to come to the library to get materials? What cross training was needed for WIB and library staff so that we can know what we both do?

Our plan was to coordinate the unveiling of these machines with a program that was paid for through the state grant. The grant would pay for cross training of both WIB and Library staff. Furthermore, Paul Clayton, a popular motivational speaker for One Stops, was hired to have the kick-off program in April of this year. Our main problem was how to solve these operational problem between February and April.

The Collection
What material would go in the machine? The library already had a strong test collection that includes GED, ASVAB, and SAT prep, but we had to research the most popular items that would be most beneficial for job seekers.

We surveyed our reference librarians and ran circulation statistics in the areas of 658 (business), 373 (secondary school) as well as other areas. We also asked WIB staff, particularly the job coaches, what type of books we should have. The result was a list of over 300 titles.

The problem that we encountered with this was that even though the machine could hold 300 titles, we wanted to focus on a core list and purchase duplicate copies inside the machine. That way, there isn’t a title that is missed. As you can see from the machine, you can only see what is in the front row of the machine. In the case of job help, it’s difficult to recommend a book if it is buried in the back.

Some example titles would be What color is your parachute?, How to write better resumes, 48 days to the work you love, GED, high school equivalency exam and How to prepare for the ASVAB.

Even as we filled the machine, job coaches approached us on what we were missing. Many of their customers were veterans recently returned from their tour of duty. We ending up purchasing books on how to adjust to civilian life after a tour of duty and what to do next.

Some interesting problems with the collection I will describe in detail later on. One of which was a misunderstanding at one of the one-stops about what should go in the machine. While we had agreed on workforce books, she had thought we should put childrens picture books in the machine. More on that later.

Issuing Cards
Another issue that we had to tackle was what if customers weren’t library patrons. Sure the books were there, but if there is no way to get a library card, then they are useless. After cross training WIB staff we described the problem. Staff were willing to provide library card applications since they often need customers to fill out paperwork. However, they did not have access to our database so it could not be activated in real time. What to do?

Our plan was to create dummy cards that were created with names like OneStop1 so that the WIB staff would have a live card that would work on the machine. WIB staff would issue the card, connect the library card number with the paperwork and fax the paperwork in. We would then create the patron. This worked exceeding well and helped accomplish another goal of the project, getting more One Stop customers to become full-time library patrons and realize all the library had to offer. We also saw a dramatic change in perspective in regard to the library.

We conducted a pre-survey of WIB customers and their perception of the library. We asked them how often they used the library, what did they think of when they thought of the library, and what would make the library easier to use. What we found in the survey results was that the more people used the library, the more they saw the library as other than a repository for books. After three months with the machine in place, we reversed the perception as more WIB customers became library patrons. Whereas only 18% saw the library as a place to get books in the pre-survey, 75% saw the library as a place for job resources and computers after the survey. Even though, ironically, we found a way to integrate library services into the One Stop using library books. Customers found something tangible right in front of them and once they see a small aspect of what they could do, they wanted to see all the could do. Getting a library card at a WIB One stop resulted in more customers becoming full library patrons and utilizing all of our services.

Some things to keep in mind in regards to the machine. The machine can hold up to 300 books at one time. Providing a variety of books in each row will only block the books behind the front book. It’s important to try to find a small selection of the most needed books and provide multiple copies of them. Some of these books can be quite heavy as well. An entire row of a heavy GED book may end up straining the coiling system on the machine. Sometimes it is necessary to use every other slot in placing the books or using two different rows. The Brodart Lending Library can be used with or without a connection to your catalog. If you choose to connect it, there can be issues with the SIP connection dropping that can leave the machine inoperable. We chose to leave the machine offline so any transactions are stored on the local computer inside the machine. The information can be retrieved and then uploaded to our catalog. This can even be done remotely with an internet connection. We haven’t had any issues with authentication, but using the machine in a different environment can lead to some minor problems. Even if you choose to not connect the machine to the Catalog, you will still need an internet connection to the device so that the manufacters at PicInk can trouble shoot or re-boot the machine if necessary. It’s easier to make a connection inside a facility with an internet connection as the One Stops do have. However, even in a remote environment, a sprint card can be enough of a connection to troubleshoot issues with the machine.

You should also look into moving the collection around to add more books and take out ones that aren’t moving. This isn’t necessarily a hot check-out spot since the collection is very specific as is the clientele. We don’t need to check on the machine more than once a month as circulation is low. We check-out around 10-20 books a month at each location.  

Lastly, it’s important to have all One Stop Center coordinators on the same page. Whereas we felt we were clear about what we were doing with the committee that was formed with Library and WIB staff, some people misunderstood. We had a complaint from the Dinuba facility about the collection. We had first thought that maybe the machine wasn’t working properly or we had the wrong books in place. It turns out that she had expected regularly library books, particularly children’s picture books. We explained that the machine was for workforce development materials. She still insisted on getting children’s books and actually tried to work up several rungs on the administration ladder (both up and down) to change this. This kind of issue ties back with general WIB management. While most One Stops are dedicated to providing services to the unemployed, others are not so vigilant about what customers do on their computers (in some cases booking their cruise) and therefore, would prefer to have just general library books in the machines. A further point, an ironic one at that, was that the One Stop was only three blocks from the library branch.

The Results
In the end, we changed the perception WIB customers had of our libraries. We also changed the perspective of WIB staff and administration. Our partnership was highlighted both in the Library’s and the Workforce Investment Board’s annual reports. This partnership now puts us in a position to partner with WIB for future grant projects whenever another Jobs bill is passed. Furthermore, the project in of itself has generated more publicity for the library. It has demonstrated innovative thinking in tough economic times. Furthermore, it’s generated enough interest from our foundation to warrant using the machines for a fundraising campaign entitled "Your Library in More Places". There are many underserved rural areas in Tulare County and we could use these to quickly deliver service that is more reliable and more available than a bookmobile stop. We hope to see these pop up all over the county in the coming few years.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Library Mobile Service without the Apps

There are so many great ways to create a mobile app for the library. With a little know-how and coding ability, the library can save thousands of dollars in the set-up of a mobile destination. Recent presentations have indicated that it is important to minimize content to the most essential parts. It’s great to provide this service. However, I think more often than not, libraries do not have the ability to create it on their own. They need to have a third party developer create an app for them, especially when it comes to the library catalog.

A problem that arises, not just with mobile services, but with digital library services is compatibility. Your library has audiobook services, but it suddenly stops working for iPod Touches, what happens next? Apps are also problematic for this reason, once the platform ceases to support the operating system; you and your patrons are just out of luck. The general business climate with Apple, Google, Amazon, and others in relation to app development impacts libraries trying to get into the same market. When the companies don’t play nice, we suffer the consequences. It has already impacted brand new innovative services.

"Last Thursday saw new app updates from both Spotify and Rhapsody. And guess what? Both listings state that the only change was that the app dropped the subscription link. These streaming music apps are now as crippled as Netflix or the reading apps that fell victim to Apple over the weekend."

"Apple’s new in-app selling rules are in effect, requiring retailers to give Apple 30% of revenues from book sales.  As a result, Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books have stopped selling books through their apps."

"While Google hasn’t yet confirmed that the rule change is the reason for the app’s removal (we’ve contacted them and will let you know if they do provide comment), given changes that have taken place in other e-book apps in recent days, it seems very likely. E-reader software from Kobo and Barnes & Noble has been recently updated, and the links to their respective online stores are now absent from the app."

"Now…I’ve always thought it silly that the app redirected me to the website anyway…shouldn’t an app do EVERYTHING? I guess not…"
(I feel this captures the expectations from most of our patrons, shouldn't an app do everything?

All this impacts how we deliver service.   If a patron used your downloadable audiobook site and it suddenly stops working, they stop using the service, blaming you, not the business environment. We have to look at other options in mobile service delivery.

Boopsie , Bookmyne, Library Anywhere, and LibraryThing for Libraries are three providers of mobile catalog services. (I am open to suggestions to anyone who can point me to others.) The problem with a reliance on apps is the exclusivity of service, but also an unrealistic demand. In the end, we are just as beholden to the technology market limitations just like any business and must be aware of these market trends. 

Some examples beyond the current news includes iPod Touches and Blackberries. IOS 3, which is the operating system for the iPod Touch doesn’t seem likely to receive further support. If Apple continues to provide a new toy for the public and then stops supporting it, we need to be aware of that change. (I know I was directly impacted when some of my apps on my iPod Touch went away after an upgrade several months ago.) Furthermore, RIM is in trouble. Even though they have never been a strong app creator and their native browser was one of the primary weaknesses, in which, Apple set its sites on when developing the iPhone. When it comes to any of these services, asking for mobile apps for the catalog, or other services, what can we expect from the vendor? When will the iPhone app come out, Android, Blackberry?

 It’s the pressure we put upon the vendor that’s put upon us by the public and the market, but it seems we really should be looking at a web based app that can do most of this kind of service. The content needs to be presented more mobile web friendly, not just app friendly. In that way, we can break free of many of these issues and not subject ourselves and our patrons to these problems. I think everyone would just like to take any device, point it at a url, and the easiest and appropriate interface should present itself. Without that it makes our services more difficult. I hope that we can see this alternative for our services including mobile catalogs, to mobile databases, e-books, and more. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

We Need More Competition in the EBook/Library Vendor Market

There are quite a few vendors selling eBooks to libraries. In my previous post, I asked for suggestions regarding all those that are currently available. Of the ones on that list, how many offer downloadable materials from popular authors? It didn’t seem like that many, Overdrive is probably the leader in this, getting materials from most of the publishers that are offering e-books at all. Ingram was doing this too, as will be Recorded Books, Baker and Taylor, and 3M. It doesn’t feel like there is enough competition to go to another vendor if I don’t like the one I have. For databases, I have a pretty good selection of vendors from general content, auto repair, and even languages. I don’t feel the same is true for e-books. Most of this post details what I would hope to see and possible issues with libraries delivering e-books to patrons.

Strengths and Weaknesses
3M’s entry into the market is the first real threat to Overdrive. They intend to provide both e-book and downloadable audiobooks and they have the same agreements with publishers as Overdrive, providing 60,000 titles available at the time of their launch to libraries with 200,000 available within a year. They are also going after Overdrive’s big weakness, the ability to download books inside the library. With 3M's download station (which is much cheaper than I thought it would be), a patron can walk in to the library and download a book more easily than with Overdrive. Honestly, Overdrive’s biggest weakness is the interface and it will be interesting to see if this competition in the market will force them to make it easier. Another aspect is the entry of Recorded Books into the market. Even though they seem to offer only downloadable audiobooks at this point, the service is cheaper and offers another option for libraries. This is the benefit to the consumer, competitors must improve their product to get your business. However, there is another aspect to this market. 

A Problem with Too Many Vendors
If more vendors enter the market, there could be an issue with rights to e-books. I would compare the e-book licensing with the audio book licensing.. Many audio book providers rely on exclusive rights to a book to gain an edge. Recorded Books is one of those vendors. In order to get a book that is exclusive to them, you would have to sign up for a standing order plan. Even though the books are of quality, it’s sometimes not what the patrons want. I end up overpaying for that one book. This practice may carry over into their downloadable audio book service. This exclusivity can breed confusion. 

Currently, most library e-book/downloadable audio books have their own platform. MARC records are available, but it is far easier to go to the platform and find what you need. With vendors have exclusive rights to books; patrons would have to search on multiple platforms just to find the book they want. Libraries, of course, can place everything in the catalog, but that can create a problem of expectation. When a patron searches for books in the collection, isn’t it an expectation that it is a paper book? Current catalogs don’t seem sophisticated enough to make that distinction clear to patrons, and current patron perceptions are libraries=books, paper books. Many vendors would be a good thing, but if there are too many exclusive rights, it can resemble the audio book market (which in a library with physical material, the patrons doesn’t see that).I also enjoyed this brief article about this problem with the future of e-books Alice in Library Land by Iris Jastram that speaks to this issue better than I.

Overall, it's fascinating to see all the changes in the e-book market. What I ultimately hope for is a time where library materials can be received cheaply and easily. When I see a book I want to read, I can get that exact book from my local library instantly. (It would also be nice to do the same for Music, Movies, Games). I hear the Ranganathan Five Laws of Library Science: Books are for Use, Every reader his or her book, Every book its reader, Save the time of the reader, The library is a growing organism. It will be a messy time getting there, but it's really part of a renaissance in reading that's going on now. It's fun to watch the change.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Library E-Book Vendor Discovery #ebooks

I am attempting to gather all of the library vendors that provide e-books. This is a preliminary list of new and established vendors. I've added some brief commentary on those that I have tried. If you know of any that should be included that I have missed, please add them in the comments and I will move it into this post.

The big daddy of library e-books. I've used them in libraries off and on since 2007. They are by far my favorite, have provided the best collections, and have evolved with library demand. (Examples, used to be no iPods, that changed, used to be no Kindles, that will change).

I haven't used this product, but will probably establish a trial shortly.  

Recorded Books One Click Digital
I haven't used this product, but will probably establish a trial shortly. Per Sharon K's observation, Recorded Books is downloadable audiobooks only. 

Ingram MyILibrary
I've used the e-book and downloadable audiobooks. At the time, the e-book didn't allow transfer to devices, which is a big deal for me. My library currently subscribes to the downloadable audio and the stats have been through the roof. It beats Overdrive on the price of the service, and the audio is device agnostic. However, there are some indications that the audiobook portion of the MyILibrary may not continue.  

Gale Virtual Reference Library
Will start using this service next month. Mostly Gale Encylopedias and general reference books placed on the web, downloadable as pdf (either by page, chapter, or entire book) and no Digital Rights Management on the books. 

3M Cloud Library
Completely new service, I am attempting to set up a trial, but I'm sure so is everyone else. Only thing I have read about it in depth is this post, 3M's eBook Cloud Library Didn't Come Out of Nowhere. (The txr page may be what it will look like?)

Recommended by Steven Harris, Director of Collections and Acquisitions Services at University of New Mexico:
Safari Books Online
Books 24X7

Recommended by Greg Schwartz, Library Systems Manager Louisville Free Public Library:
Baker and Taylor Axis 360

That's all I have so far. I'm not including any free e-book sites like Project Gutenberg since I am looking for e-book vendors that provide new content from major publishers to libraries. Is there anything I am missing?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Job in a Box Unveiled

I’m happy to announce the expansion of our book machine programs using the Brodart Lending Library. This post will describe our latest venture and also update our Cutler machine.

Through a new California State Library Program called Pitch an idea, we pitched placing a book machine in two Workforce Investment Board One Stops. These One Stops are places where the unemployed can get job assistance that includes anything including job searching, computer time, job coaching, training, and even job placement.  I am currently on their Employment Connection board for about six months and we have been searching for a way to collaborate to help the unemployed. Tulare County has a 19% unemployment, one of the worst in California, and is one of the most stressed counties in the nation. Any way in which we could collaborate can only help our citizens.

Each machine will carry 300 books with multiple copies focusing on workforce materials, GED Testing, ASVAB, Resume Writing, Cover letter, and career searching. All the materials included in the machines were selected by a group of WIB staff, library staff, and library circulation statistics. There are about 11 different books in the machine and we will receive advice from job coaches on how to adjust the collection to meet their customer’s needs. We have also held cross training with both WIB and Library staff to make both sides more aware of available options for job seekers in the community.  Overall, the program implementation cost about $60,000 for two book machines, two book drops, 600 books, and a paid motivational speaker. 

One of the interesting quirks is that job seekers that do not have a library card can get one from WIB staff. Those interested can get an application and a card, with those applications being sent into the local branch, checked for duplication, and entered into the system. A person can walk in and check-out those books even though they haven’t had a card with us before. We also conducted a pre-survey on library usage by WIB customers and found that many did not realize the library's job resources. Only 18% of participants found that the library was place to receive job assistance, whereas 73% saw us as a place for books, and 21% for computers. Part of this program will work to change that perception and work hand in hand with WIB to integrate the library into the job searching process. 

We also hosted a nationally recognized motivational speaker Paul Clayton speak to WIB customers in Visalia and Dinuba and unveiled the job in a box program.
I would say overall, that the Cutler book machine is getting more usage and will probably continue to do so since it is a less targeted market. Providing picture books to kids just getting out of school is just as easy as if we had an ice cream truck out there. Providing assistance to job seekers who may be frustrated and not sure what to do is a bit harder.  

So far, the Cutler machine averages between 350 and 750 check-out per month. The machine made it through frost, heavy storms and wind, and a variety of other weather and still works. It actually out circs about three of our smaller rural branches and it may be the start of a new level of service to complement our bookmobile services.  We plan to investigate more targeted book collections like this in the future and hope to see what that will bring in new library services.