Category Archives: reinvention

Creating Challenges

When I worked in the Hawaii State Public Library System as manager of the Molokai Branch, the community “newspaper” was a wall of 3×5 cards on the outside of the Post Office. There was no home mail delivery (nor business delivery, either,) so everyone had to make the trip into Kaunakakai at some point in order to buy groceries and pick up their mail. The Post Office was the perfect place to post news of births, birthday parties, softball league schedules, yard sales, babysitting requests and offers, reminders to vote, library programs … and deaths.

Reading the Post Office wall was how I learned that Maui Community College sent instructors over during the spring and fall semesters to teach continuing-ed courses. Over several years, I took IBM BASIC, Human Relations in Business, Personal Income Tax Preparation, Beginning Accounting, and Introduction to Economics. Nowhere else I have worked has there been such affordable classes for working people.

California also has rich continuing-ed opportunities for library employees via Info People, and I have taken my share of their courses. They have helped me keep up to date with new library technology, new ideas in e-reader support, new ways of looking at a reference collection and measuring its use. I’ve taken many of their how-to classes as well: how to design public computer classes, how to create screencasts, how to negotiate vendor contracts, how to catalog software.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a course that I know will challenge me because it’s in an area I DON’T deal with every day. That’s why I jumped at the chance to take a series of courses made available by Sacramento City College that will lead to certification in online instruction. I can’t wait till the March 31st starting date!


Three Quarters Through the Semester

Challenge #1: The textbook from 2009 stresses as important standard works reference titles no local libraries can afford to buy. Oh, we used to have them a few years ago, but tight times forced us to make hard decisions. In many cases, libraries have either dropped the subscription, substituted an e-resource, or allowed old editions to remain on the shelves.

Challenge #2: Since 2009, people’s information seeking habits have changed drastically. Mobile devices have proliferated, allowing people to be online on demand. Many questions that would have been brought to the reference desk are being self-answered by searching online  instead. The kinds of questions that are now being brought to the reference desk are tech questions about e-book downloads, music downloads, photo uploads, and how to establish a free e-mail account in order to fill out online job applications. Enquiring LIS students want to know: Will there be jobs for us after graduation?

Challenge #3: With all the changes that have occurred over the last 3 years, what will librarianship, and especially reference services, look like in the next 3 years? There’s no end of talk about embedding in community businesses and organizations, creating partnerships, outreach, social media and virtual reference. The general last-gasp consensus is that libraries will endure, and there will always be books of one sort or another, but that the services will be transformed. Libraries are now becoming “maker spaces” and providing a supermarket for non-traditional library services, such as passport application processing, self-publishing, continuing-ed centers with classes in Office software and job seeking skills.

Really? for this we need higher education? I feel like a buggy-whip manufacturer in the new age of gas-powered automobiles.

So why bother learning about reference interviews and how to “read” a book in 5 minutes in order to know its content and be able to show people how to use it?  Am I teaching a new generation of buggy whip makers? What skills should those entering the library field have?

I’m not the only one to be writing about this – we’re all going through an identity crisis right about now. The profession is changing, and traditional librarians are becoming obsolete. We need to stop tossing straws in the wind  and start asking people what they expect from the library. And then give it to them.

11/27: Michael Stephens carries this further in his article in Library Journal.

Polling Your Public

I’ve been responsible for two twitterstreams this week: @saclib_central for my library, and @saclib for the library system. It’s hard enough keeping up with one account; two almost did me in. But thinking about bargaining agreement impasses and the declining role of traditional librarianship in public libraries led me to ask a question of the twitterverse: What’s important to YOU about the library? How can libraries truly demonstrate their value to their communities?

Back came the responses: Go where people gather: out in the community. Attend events, set up a booth at the State Fair, advocate for remote and in-house services. Become more visible. Tell people face-to-face about our services and programs. Offer value-added services such as classes, workshops and programs.

It used to be that everyone knew the value of libraries and felt guilty if they didn’t use the materials and services libraries provide. People used to find out about programs because they used the library regularly in person. Today, many take advantage of other online and remote sources and services, and are less likely to drop in. That means we do need to take our message into the market, so to speak. That also means that people who do not visit the library don’t know about the way we have kept up with the digital times, and are stunned to find out how our materials and services have changed.

The observations from our twitter followers are telling. They are telling us we’ve got to change, too, and not sit on our swivel chairs and bemoan the backwardness of the government agencies that control our budgets, and the ignorance of our patrons, who support us with their tax dollars. Whose fault is it that they are ignorant? What are we going to do about it?

There’s An App For That …

I just completed another Infopeople online class, “There’s an App for That“.  (Who would have thought I’d ever be REQUIRED to play in the app store!) This was a challenging class on two fronts:  time and critical analysis.  We students downloaded and examined apps on our personal mobile phones and tablets, and shared our opinions and reviews on a private Posterous blog set up by the instructor.

We looked at apps in four categories: e-book readers & news, productivity, library web sites & mobile apps, and creative & reference apps.  We discussed how our reading and news-gathering habits have changed over the last ten years, and speculated on the future of library services in the next few years.  We compared ways to capture web sites and save them for offline reading on a mobile device.  Sometimes it was a leap to apply what we were evaluating to actual library service. The apps seemed to be more suited to helping librarians use their time and their devices more effectively.

I can, however, see the value of knowing about apps in a reference sense, and being able to refer patrons to an appropriate app when needed.  Keeping up with app reviews is no problem for me – the app store is now my favorite department store – and knowing that our database vendors are now producing apps will help us sell their content to reluctant users. We already have Mango and EBSCO,  and we also use Boopsie so patrons can use our catalog and account services on their phones. I don’t think I would have spent the time analyzing apps for content and usability, were it not for this class, nor would I have considered creative uses for apps in delivering modern library service.  Time well spent!

Where Old Libraries Go

Father-in-Law called this afternoon to ask if I’d seen the article that said libraries all over the country were being changed into community centers where people could go to learn things. Odd that he should bring that up now, since it kinda ties in with the underlying premise of the Infopeople course I’m taking, Revisioning the Reference Collection: “[libraries] exist … for the community that the library was built to serve. … We have to evaluate the collections and services of our own library on the basis of how well they meet the needs of our parent community.”

Currently, those needs include assistance and skills related to self-help legal issues and finding jobs, including getting an email address, becoming conversant with Microsoft Excel, finding and filling out employment applications, and creating and filing resumes. Oh, and faxing service! (Who the heck still wants materials faxed?) In my experience, those who are seeking that kind of help have not been regular library users, and so they also need a refresher about library cards. A typical exchange:
“Yeah, I need to go on your Internet?”
“Our public computers are on the 3rd floor. You will need a library card to log on. Do you have a Sacramento library card?”
“Um, I think I used to have one a long time ago. Can you look me up?”
“Sure thing! Let me see your photo ID. … Hmmm … I guess it has been a while! Are you still living at …”

And once the library card issue is fixed, off they go to the 3rd floor, where staff now learns they are “computer-illiterate”, have no email account, and will need a lot of coaching to be successful at the particular online task they’re working on today. Add to that the certainty that they will probably not be able to accomplish it all within the time slot, and that they are completely unprepared to save their work on a flash drive so it doesn’t get wiped when the computer refreshes for the next user. Multiply this by about 5 people per hour times 8 hours per day … and it’s easy to see how someone could infer that libraries are now learning centers for the “computer-illiterate.”

The funny thing is that libraries have always seen themselves as learning centers – albeit for self-directed learning, not for technology classes. Library staff has become the tech guide for a whole class of people that used to be confident and capable, and now feel hopelessly out of their depth and behind the times. What’s changed is what people are coming in to learn. And it’s not available in the reference collection.

There are still students working on assignments, but there are also many authoritative reference resources online that are more up-to-date than our dusty reference tomes. Students can use these resources from home and school, those without a computer or internet connection can use the library’s equipment and wifi. And so, I can no longer justify spending unholy amounts of money on print resources that will be outdated next year and need to be replaced for an additional unholy sum.

A colleague and I are going through my library’s reference collection this summer, removing the deadwood and making recommendations for what to let go and what to replace. I’m hoping that the class we’re taking will reinforce our mandate to provide the resources our community needs, instead of preserving the outdated tools of the past.

The Future is Now!

E-books are HOT in Sacramento right now.  It seems like every adult just got – or is getting – an e-reader, and many non-residents are driving into town to get their Sacramento libary cards so they can take advantage of our e-collections.

E-books are hot at ALA this year, too, and one of the most eye-popping sessions was “The future is now: e-books and their increasing impact on library services.”  It looks like there are two movements converging: libraries buying and circulating e-book readers, and the provision of DRM-free e-books that can be read on many devices.

Jamie LaRue contends that “the bullet has gone into the brain of established publishers; we’re just waiting for the body to fall.” This is based on stats he presented showing that established publishers are producing only 7% of published e-books now. With the proliferation of self-publishing venues like Smashwords, it’s easy to get your e-books into the hands of buyers without going the agent/publishing house route. He suggested that one scenario has libraries buying the entire output of an e-publisher, and just deleting the titles we don’t want to keep.

Chris Harris gave a brief overview of the available e-readers, and then Brewster Kahle and Peter Brantley talked about Open Library, which buys e-books (rather than licensing them) and makes them available for loan to the public through participating libraries.

California libraries will soon be participating in Open Library through the advocacy of the California State Library. This will probably put a lot of pressure on publishers and other e-book vendors, and ultimately make the experience easier and more intuitive for patrons who are all thumbs.

Library Ideas, LLC seems to be taking this arena seriously. Freegal is their music download service, and they are just launching a new product: Freading, which will make e-books available the same way its music is: unlimited simultaneous downloads of both new and older titles, but with the DRM that manages the check-out period.

My perfect e-book experience: the titles are discoverable either from within the e-reader or the library’s catalog; they are always available (no hold queue); downloading is simple and can be done from any device; the checkout terms  are clear, and the title can be transferred to multiple devices during the lending period. If I don’t like it, or if I finish it early, I can return it any time during the lending period.

I do not own a dedicated e-reader; I do, however, read e-books on my iPhone during my morning and evening bus commute, and on the iPad while reclining in the La-Z-Boy. I have Nook, Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Bluefire, FreeBooks, and OverDrive apps installed on both. I don’t like to buy books, because I rarely read them more than once, so if publishers, vendors, and libraries can get it together to create a model that works as well as lending print copies, I will be in e-book heaven!


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!