Category Archives: central

3M Cloud Discovery Station at SacLib

There was a small launch ceremony complete with ribbon-cutting, demo on the discovery station and an iPad by the 3M rep, and SacLib staff standing by to assist patrons with getting the app and downloading their first 3M Cloud titles. One of the attendees won the drawing for a Nook HD –  grin as wide as a mile.

I remember visiting the 3M booth at ALA in New Orleans two summers ago when the company was just about to launch its cloud e-book service, and thinking that 3M had taken every torturous procedure of OverDrive and made them simple. Certainly, our patrons thought so today, as they downloaded the app voluntarily during the demo and proceeded to borrow e-books at once.

I have to say I’m a fan of this new e-book platform. Library patrons can read on their phones, e-readers (except Kindles) and tablets (including Kindle Fire), and there’s even an option to read books on their PCs. It’s plain which titles are available now for checkout because of the big green Check Out button, and returning e-books early is a simple click of red Return button. Titles sync among all of a patron’s devices. Audiobooks are  apparently in the works as a future enhancement. But most importantly, 3M has an agreement with the publishers who pulled their titles from OverDrive, and those popular works are again available through 3M in digital format. Win-win, for sure!


Library Furniture: Planned Obsolescence

It’s finally, probably, going to happen.  A few years ago, a new branch manager wanted to eliminate the fortress-like reference desks built to accommodate several librarians in favor of a much smaller desk and roving staff. Things didn’t pan out then, due to staffing & finance issues. The discussion has been revived, now that we are open fewer hours.

Librarians are an interesting lot: trained to provide resources exploring all sides of an issue without prejudice so the patron can select what is relevant to his thesis, we are genius at coming up with arguments on all sides of desk-less roving, clouding the bottom-line issue: how to provide the best customer service – without actually stating an opinion or being able to justify it.

I fall into that trap often outside of work. When there is more than one acceptable way to perform a task, I have to stop myself from getting bogged down in the minutiae differentiating one way from another.  Picking one is just too simple – it might not be the best way! And so, the waffling and start-overs never stop.

Is it better to stand behind a desk looking hopeful, or to carry a laptop and wander the floors, ready to offer our expertise to those looking lost? Given today’s collection of patron interactions, I’m ready to vote for the desk. One guy pulled out a handful of Tootsie Rolls and  gave me detailed instructions for shaping shaping them and chopped nuts into a facsimile of feces. He seemed genuinely amused, thinking about the reactions he’d gotten from his “victims” when they found it.  Another asked a colleague for a date. Having a barrier between me and them may not be all bad!

I didn’t attend this morning’s staff meeting due to a class I was teaching, but I heard there were several issues that created sticking points.  I am looking forward to hearing what my colleagues will propose as an implementation plan.

What Gets Used in the Reference Collection

One of the exercises in the Revisiting the Reference Collection class was to track use of the collection for a week. I wrote down every title that appeared on the reference re-shelve truck for six non-consecutive days. In addition to the expected use of Bibles, dictionaries, paranormal and drug books, I saw unexpectedly high use of the auto books: illustrated guides to historic cars and drivers. Because such a small part of the collection was used on the days I checked, it would be worth running the survey for a month or longer to get a more complete idea of what is useful to our community.

A factor not covered during the class is that Central is the back-up for the other 27 branches in the county and for other partner libraries in other counties. Factoring this in would definitely affect what we keep and what we lose from the reference collection.

Now I need to summarize my thoughts and insights and share with the branch manager and reference staff. I got the clear impression that the instructor’s agenda was to let most of the reference collection circulate and keep only a small (20 titles) core collections in reference. I certainly agree that we have much in the reference collection that could circulate, and we have more that is old and should be withdrawn. Our public, like the constituents of other libraries, is finding more info online – indeed, many governmental organizations are ONLY publishing online now, so there is nothing to shelve. In order for us to remain relevant, we need to spend our very limited resources on materials and services that are useful to our public TODAY, and not try to maintain a library that supports the nostalgia of staff.

Where Old Books Go

I’m weeding half of our reference collection. I now realize I’ve come down on the far side of a fence. It divides those who think public libraries should be archives of books and arcane finding aids from those who believe public libraries should be repositories of information and information-finding tools in all formats, taking full advantage of easily-updatable and portable electronic formats.

Looking at all the old, one-of-a-kind books I am removing from our collection, I feel a nostalgia for the sweat equity I put into learning about print sources: the hours spent examining indexes, introductions, scope notes, imprints, editions. The getting-to-know-you feeling that comes from that initial “handshake” with a book. In another time, these tomes were useful and used. Today, the bindings are worn, the print is faded, the knowledge contained inside updated in other sources. They are superseded. I’m weeding them. The shelves look empty, but I feel good that the books that are left will be used more, now that the outdated volumes are gone.Books like those I’m weeding have a place – just not in this public library.

Research libraries still exist on college campuses and as private institutions. I use them myself, and am grateful for the librarians that had the foresight to know which books would have lasting value for researchers. Those old books will always have a place to call home, complete with book sofa, like this 1867 document in the New Orleans Historical Collections.

Excel Required to Excel

Who knew! We’ve offered this class before and got a reasonable response. But the current MS Excel class, with room for 14 people, has more than 50 additional people on the waiting list! And the calls keep coming! We are adding two extra sessions to handle those on the waiting list.

A recent informal poll on our Facebook page shows that upgrading job skills is really important in our community. That probably explains the interest.

We now have an opportunity to offer instruction in Excel and other Microsoft programs through Oasis. Microsoft provides the instructors’ and students’ manuals, for both long (12 hour) and short (2 hour) classes. Therefore the amount of staff time needed to prepare for the classes is dramatically reduced. We are just beginning to receive and become familiar with these materials.  Stay tuned.

Running Telephone Reference Like a Branch

What has a physical location, professional and paraprofessional staff, a budget, a print collection including periodicals, dedicated computers, an e-mail account and a skyline view?

Telephone Information Service (aka TELIS or TEL) is a centralized service located at Central Library and staffed by Central staff.  Our 27 branches have unpublished numbers; the only way to actually TALK to anyone at the library is to go through TELIS.  There, staff provide library hours, renew books, update expired cards, reset PINs, place holds, provide instruction in the use of our web site, databases, and downloadable media, register people for programs and answer reference questions.  Thousands of transactions each month pass through the phone lines. Most callers are thrilled that their needs can be met in one call, right now, even if their branch happens to be closed.

I’m currently in charge of making sure the service runs efficiently, buying the materials it needs to answer questions, and training staff to answer the variety of questions that our callers ask.  This means that Circ staff needs to learn to answer simple reference questions (directory information) and Ref staff needs to learn to handle issues with patron accounts (claims returned, billing issues.)  It also means I need to turn in IT service requests, order supplies, and post publicity for system public programming.

In practice, TEL operates like a branch, but I don’t supervise any of the staff answering phones.  All the fun without many headaches!  My point in bringing this up is that we are shifting our service model one more time at the end of this month, and I’m re-thinking the mission of TELIS as it intersects with the library system’s model for service.   We have a number of newer staff who weren’t here during the indoctrination period 20 years ago, and have questioned the decisions behind some of our policies and procedures as expectations and abilities changed over time.  We may end up with a completely different idea of what good telephone service looks like!

Flamout in 2010

Spent an interesting afternoon chasisng down information we used to have in print materials, only to find we don’t, any more.  I didn’t think it would be this hard to find crash test and other ratings for a 2010 Dodge Avenger, but we don’t have a current subscription to the print serial and Gale didn’t have any useful articles that I could find. Houston, we have a gap!

Other colleagues have commented on the aggressive weeding project we’ve undertaken over the past year, and now year two of the project is beginning.  The last time I’ve seen so many empty shelves at Central was 19 years ago, when we were unboxing materials from storage and putting them on the shelves.  At that time, there was, in fact, LOTS of stuff that needed weeding after spending 5 years in boxes.  But over time, our collection development/management philosophy went head-to-head with the Internet and online resources and lost, and our materials budget was hamstrung by the assessment tax that could not be used for Central Library at all.  So now, it’s time to weed again, and there’s almost nothing left of the strong reference collection we used to have.

Bottom line, the person who asked about the car got a less-than-adequate answer to the Avenger question.