Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Libraries Shine In Tough Economic Times

Appleton has certainly seen growth and stories similar to the NPR report. If our growth this year has not been as dramatic as some places, it may be due to our consistent steady growth for several years, even when the economy was doing well. But we're certainly seeing more growth and record-breaking circulation.

Libraries Shine In Tough Economic Times [4 min 7 sec]

All Things Considered, July 29, 2008 With the economy slowing, many Americans are doing research in the public library. Boyd County, Ky., Library Director Debbie Cosper says public-use computers are always full and people are checking out books rather than buying them.

Thanks to Lawrence University Library Director Pete Gilbert for pointing out this radio story.

Friday, July 25, 2008

7 Ways Your Public Library Can Help You During A Bad Economy

The Consumerist blog had this very interesting post -- check it out! And the comments from readers were terrific as well, with people sharing other ideas of ways libraries help in tough times.

Highlights:

  1. You can get pretty much any book at the library
  2. Yes, we have movies
  3. Kids Activities
  4. Save Money and maybe your life!
  5. Make new friends
  6. Find a new job!
  7. Libraries listen to consumers!
Comments include:
  • And they have databases where you can find investment info, info about a company you might want to work for, and even databases of car repair information.

  • You forgot one of the best ones! Free computers and internet use!

Thanks to Librarian in Black via Carpe Hootem for sharing this.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Turn and face the strain

Some people just can't see the justification to spend money on the library. It's legitimate to discuss priorities for public funds, but some folks just think that we ought to be a 1950s library. Some think we are a 1950s library, only with pretensions.

Sorry. The world has changed and so have we. And things will keep changing, and the library will help people adjust to those changes.

Among assertions I disagree with:

  • it's wrong for the library to provide Internet
  • it's wrong for the library to circulate anything but books
  • it's wrong that there are lots of children in the library -- too noisy!
  • it's wrong that anyone can use a cell phone anywhere in the library
  • it's wrong that I can't use my cellphone everywhere in the library
  • it's wrong that some parts of the library are noisy
  • it's wrong that some parts of the library are quiet
We're not your grandma's library, but we still have the same values, and some new ways to fulfill them. It was way back in 1969 that the Wilson Library Bulletin published the famous "No Silence" sign, indicating a sea change from traditional roles to more dynamic libraries.

Since then, not purely on our own initiative, but in responses to changes, we've changed further. We've responded to changes in technology, and even more, to changes in community needs. Yes, we circulate media, including a lot of DVDs you won't find in video stores. Yes, we provide public Internet, along with instruction and expert assistance in how to use it as well as free wi-fi and value-added databases. Yes, we provide books in many formats, including print, large print, download, audio, audio download -- and we believe books will be important for a long time. Yes, we provide meeting rooms for community groups, study rooms for small groups, and educational and cultural programs for all ages. We educate, inform, digitize,collect and gather. We help children and families learn to love reading. We provide everyone with opportunities to learn whatever they want, and a variety of viewpoints on any issue you care to name.

Despite changes, we're doing what libraries have always done: collect, organize, preserve, and make available the cultural record. And we're doing what American public libraries have always done: providing opportunities for everyone to change their life and improve their choices on their own terms.

They used to call this "the people's university" and now they call it "libraries transforming lives." It's what we do, and the need for it is not getting less, nor is the need for people to come together in community.

Communities that support such efforts are better places to live, work and raise a family.

Revised building cost estimates

Official challenges cost to build new Appleton library
Source: www.postcrescent.com
APPLETON — The city's construction chief says a reported estimate of about $40 million to build a new downtown library is too high. ...
We've been trying to tell people that's it's premature to talk about costs, and have characterized published numbers as estimates, not a plan. Thanks to City Facilities Director Dean Gazza and Durrant architect Jerry Olson, we have a better approximation of potential costs for a new library. The estimate is under $30 million, not the $41 million the newspaper had previously reported -- based on a ballpark per square foot that one consultant reluctantly used.

But even this better number is still preliminary. Until there has been program design, site selection and engineering study to determine site preparation costs, cost estimates will be guesswork and speculation. There are too many unknown variables, and choices yet to be made. We need to keep thinking, talking and asking questions. We should keep taking careful steps forward.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Library building cost estimates

We just sent out the following press release :

July 21, 2008

For Immediate Release
For more information contact:
Terry Dawson, Appleton Public Library Director at 920-832-6170
Dean Gazza, City of Appleton Director of Facilities & Construction at 920 832-5572
Michael Kenney, APL Marketing & Development Coordinator at 920-832-1695


“I am optimistic that a new library could be built for under $30 million,” says Appleton’s Director of Facilities & Construction

The release of a library facilities study final report, commissioned by the Library Board and the City of Appleton, and released July 10th, has caused some misunderstandings related to the cost of constructing such a facility.

“Many in the media keep using $40 million and $300 a square foot,” stated Dean Gazza, City of Appleton Director of Facilities & Construction. “As I noted, I don't think the building would be that high. I am optimistic that it could be done for under $30 million.”

“The estimated cost would be significantly lower than initial projections sited by the news media, based on clarification of square footage expenses,” stated Gerald T. Olson, Director of Architecture & Principal of Durrant Architects, the library’s consultant.

“The dollar figure of $300 per square foot was based solely on a national average that included the more costly East and West coast costs,” said Olson. “When estimating this project, it is advised to stay within the general Midwest to look at comparable costs to Appleton. In my evaluation, I believe the cost of building construction will be in the neighborhood of $180 - $210 per square foot and furniture and equipment will be in the neighborhood of $18 - $25 per square foot,” Olson continued. “Total will therefore be approximately $200 per square foot, or closer to the $30 million estimate Dean Gazza was working with.”

“I’m glad to get greater clarification on these cost projections,” added Library Director Terry Dawson. “The Appleton Public Library is a valuable asset to the people of Appleton, and I hope this more realistic budget number will be seen as more achievable. Re-using shelving and furnishings from the current building would also save costs, as could donations. The next phase in planning, which is preliminary design, will help further refine possible costs,” Dawson concluded.

A copy of the full report is available from the library’s website, at www.apl.org.

Library, Transit & Washington Square: an urban downtown

When we think about considerations for a new or remodeled library facility, accessibility is high on the list. While there are a lot of issues we can consider in the area -- including parking, ADA concerns, bicycle parking, and easy pedestrian access -- one issue that stays near the top is access to our transit system.

In our facility study, our consultants’ report on focus groups noted:

...participants talked about the perceived security problems with the transit center and its users being located between the library and the parking ramp. Some thought that threat kept people from coming downtown to use the library.
This is, unfortunately, an unfair misperception, both of security and the nature of the perceived “threat.” We believe the area is safe, and that any problems, real and perceived, are not due to transit users, nor library users, but to general downtown loiterers. The problem is complex, and pointing a finger at transit users is unjust and unhelpful.

Our current location is across the street from the Transit Center, which is the hub for all the bus lines in the Fox Cities. This is a great asset for our operations, and even if we were to have a new building, I would not want to be too many blocks away from this hub. Our facility study consultants asked members of our building committee and library staff what was most important in choosing a location for the library. One of our key criteria was: “Downtown location ... close to bus lines.” When they interviewed community leaders, Terry Bergen, our Library Board President, said it was important for the library that “you can get there in one bus ride ... every special population and children use the transit center. It’s important for the library to be close to the transit system.”

As the library is part of an urban downtown we do have a neighborhood problem with people loitering, littering and talking loudly, occasionally with explicit loud obscenities and often blocking the sidewalks. This problem is most concentrated on the sidewalk which is outside the library, adjacent to our parking lot and across the street from the Transit Center. This problem was exacerbated a few years ago when a direct legislation referendum banned smoking on transit property, which created sort of a smoking area on this sidewalk and made it into a designated hangout.

Some of the people who hang out on the sidewalk are transit users, many are not. Some are library users, many are not. Some are homeless, most are not. Many are smokers. Many are decent and friendly, if you take the time to talk to them. Some are middle class, most are not. Some are mentally ill, or cognitively delayed. Some have been banned from the library and some have been banned from riding the bus. Some know the police well. Some take their meals at the Salvation Army. Some are there for a quick smoke. Many have no other place to go, but they are hanging out on the sidewalk because that’s where they want to be. All of them are human beings.

It’s upsetting to transit supporters to have problems unfairly laid entirely at their door. It’s upsetting to us every time our staff hears the complaint about people hanging out. It’s upsetting when we get letters from parents and statements from local clergy citing the library neighborhood as unsafe. It’s upsetting when people tell us that they will use libraries in neighboring communities rather than come into an unfriendly environment. It’s upsetting when the women on our staff have to walk through occasionally hostile groups to get to their cars, often at 9:00 PM.

I think the key word in the consultant statement is “perceived.” There do not seem to be actual safety and security problems. There are problems of cleanliness and a sometimes unfriendly environment, but to our knowledge no-one has been hurt or assaulted by the sidewalk groups. People have been forced to walk in the street, and women have been subject to unwelcome remarks and taunts. Though this may not be unsafe, it is unacceptable.

The problem is that people are congregating in a place that was not designed for groups to gather, but which is needed as an effective clean, safe, and friendly passageway for the library. It is not a clean and friendly passageway. We need to give the groups who loiter on the sidewalk a better place to be and to provide effective disincentives for behaviors that create problems for others.

A group of neighborhood stakeholders has been talking for over a year about improving our area. We're working to find solutions to our common neighborhood concerns, including this loitering problem. We came up with the name “Washington Square” as encompassing our neighborhood. Appleton Downtown Inc. has assumed a coordinating role. Participants include many City departments (Library, Transit, Police, Public Works, Community Development, Park & Rec.), Harmony Cafe, the Children’s Museum, Appleton Area School District and others.

There may not be a security threat, but there is a problem. It didn’t develop overnight and we’re not going to fix it quickly either. But we’re working on it.

Bicycles - a good problem

We've received a couple of complaints this summer that we need more bicycle parking. These pictures, snapped outside the library last week, bear out the need. We know that more bike parking is needed downtown in general. We also know that in any planning for changes to the library, bicycle access needs to be factor.

As the photo above shows, bikes are sometimes parked on the sidewalk and outside a fire exit. In summer, we seem to have regular problems with bikes parked outside the doors or in the entryway. We've had more than a dozen stolen bikes complaints the last few years. Ensuring that there are enough places to appropriately lock and store a bike while at the library seems like a real need.

As gasoline prices continue to soar, it's an incentive for more people to ride more often. And that's a positive thing for the health of the community. As library use grows, more people are bringing their bikes to the library. Once here, they need a good parking place. Bike racks, and even lockers, may be cheaper than parking ramps, but they still need to be budgeted somewhere.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brett Favre at the Library?

As reported on a Fox Sports blog, there are "Top 10 Reasons to Believe the Vikings Tampered with Green Bay", and at number 10:

Brett has been spotted at local libraries reading up on Scandinavian American culture.
Now, of course, with respect to confidentiality, we could not say if Mr. Favre had been using our library, but if he were, we would try to recommend useful books to him. F'rinstance, he might find the following titles from our collection interesting:
While I hope these would be useful, I'd encourage him to talk to our helpful reference librarians who can point out many good library resources for tough life decisions.

Thanks to Jamie at Nic Bits for pointing out this story! Thanks to Miss Kathleen for the Viking suggestion!

Friday, July 18, 2008

“Welcome Stranger” - immigrant outreach

Earlier this year, the Urban Libraries Council published a look at public library strategies that help communities successfully welcome New Americans. "Welcome, Stranger: Public Libraries Build the Global Village" is a guide to finding the areas in which libraries can make a difference and identifying programs that turn ideas into action."

I can compare some of our current local activities, even while looking for opportunities:

  • Our library is a member of a local diversity organization, Toward Community, which is holding its annual "Celebrate Diversity" picnic this Sunday. One of the organizers just checked out CDs from the library's collection of world music to play at the picnic. The library & TC have done many joint programs.
  • APL is also active in the Fox Cities Rotary Multicultural Center, which on August 23 will hold their annual fundraiser, "Foods of All Nations" on downtown streets near the library. Contact us if you want tickets!
  • For the second consecutive year, our library will host a local visit by the Consulate General of Mexico, which will help Mexican citizens renew their official papers without traveling hundreds of miles. The visit, planned in conjunction with our Mayor's office and local Hispanic organizations, will be Oct. 2-5.
  • We did some innovative work providing the Prime Time Family Reading program for emergent readers and families in a multilingual format
  • We have developed, and are close to unveiling, our Hmong Resource Center collection. Our staff, working in concert with the local Hmong community, has been doing a great job.
The ULC work "Welcome, Stranger" identifies five strategies for successful immigrant inclusion and community adaptation, including
  1. Understand Local Immigration Dynamics
  2. Bring Sensitivity to Service Delivery (effective promotion using first languages of immigrants)
  3. Build English Capacity
  4. Create Connections to Local Institutions
  5. Encourage Civic Engagement
The ULC website says:
Authors Rick J. Ashton and Danielle Patrick Milam, both of ULC, note, "Using their historic role as strong, unbiased public spaces, dedicated to learning and exploration, they [libraries] are fostering public discussion of the challenges faced by both newcomers and the communities receiving them."
and quotes ULC President Martin Gómez:
"It's clear that the public library has an important and vital role to play in providing essential library services as well as directing immigrants to resources in their new communities"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

LaRue on intellectual freedom

In a blog posting of a response to challenged title, Jamie LaRue writes:

...here's the truth of the matter: not every parent has the same value system...

...our whole system of government was based on the idea that the purpose of the state was to preserve individual liberties, not to dictate them. The founders uniformly despised many practices in England that compromised matters of individual conscience by restricting freedom of speech. Freedom of speech – the right to talk, write, publish, discuss – was so important to the founders that it was the first amendment to the Constitution – and without it, the Constitution never would have been ratified.

How then, can we claim that the founders would support the restriction of access to a book that really is just about an idea, to be accepted or rejected as you choose? What harm has this book done to anyone?

...if the library is doing its job, there are lots of books in our collection that people won't agree with; there are certainly many that I object to. Library collections don't imply endorsement; they imply access to the many different ideas of our culture, which is precisely our purpose in public life.
This is the crux of why librarians go to bat for unpopular titles -- not to endorse any particular writings or ideas, but to ensure free access to a broad diversity of ideas. Thanks to Jamie LaRue for articulating this so eloquently.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Appleton board backs new library plan

Appleton board backs new library plan
Source: www.postcrescent.com
APPLETON — The Appleton Library Board voted 6-0 Tuesday to endorse a consultant's recommendation to build a 138,000-square-foot library in or near the downtown area.
Good article by the Post Crescent -- though there's not much of a plan yet, but a preliminary consensus that a new building appears to be the best way of meeting current & future needs. The Board is asking for the next step, which would be preliminary design work.

There's a fair amount of discussion on the Post Crescent's page on this story, but I appreciate any questions or comments here -- and I encourage people to read the report.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A community resource, not a recreational luxury

In a July 15 letter to the editor of the Hartford CT Courant, David Samuels decries closing library branches as "another example of how the lack of opportunities in Connecticut's urban communities contributes to generational recidivism."

Samuels continues:

Public libraries are a vital source of information for urban residents, many of whom lack the funds to travel outside their neighborhoods to take advantage of library services. Libraries provide people of all ages access to reading materials and computers, which they use for job searches and other vocational and educational opportunities. Closing down the two library branches further compromises already insufficient support services for Hartford residents.

Lack of opportunity is one of the root causes of violence in Hartford. City officials need to create opportunities for its citizens to succeed, instead of continuing to marginalize them.

These are good points. Because our city is contemplating an expanded or new library, many people are rightly worried about costs. But this concern can go too far, as seen in a letter sent to our library board. The letter states:
I can't even fathom the talk of a new library ... we have schools that cannot afford to pay for teachers and pay for programs ... we have gang and drug problems, homeless people and people who can't find jobs ... shame on all of you
Compare and contrast these points of view. The difference is in a perception what libraries are, can do, and what they mean for a community. Schools and police do not have all the answers. Education is surely important and the library works with the schools, but we provide educational resources for all -- children and adults who need them and can't pay. Books, job information, employment skills information, Internet access, all of these are part what of David Samuels calls opportunities for citizens to succeed.

Yes, times are tough, but we know from long experience -- and we are seeing it again -- that in tough times, public libraries get busier. The decision of what to do about the library building will be one for the people of this community and their elected representatives. But I can't be ashamed of the need. I'm proud of what we do. I'm hopeful for what we will be able to do, and the positive difference we can make in the lives of our users and our city.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer reading packs educational value

by Elizabeth Burmaster, State Superintendent of Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction

Summer reading is fun, but there's a special value that extends into the school year. Students who read four to six books during the summer return to school ready to learn.

Research has shown what teachers have known forever: students who do not engage in educational activities during summer vacation suffer learning loss. That loss can amount to as much as two to three months of learning each year. The greatest learning losses are procedural and factual information, meaning children who don't read in the summer tend to start the school year fuzzy on math and spelling. Summer readers, however, return to school in fall more enthusiastic about reading and learning. Many gain a month of learning by staying engaged and involved during the summer break from school.

It really doesn't matter what kinds of materials children read during vacation; in fact, it's better for youth to pick what they like. Joke books, magazines, mysteries, or sports stories-whatever suits their fancy is best for recreational reading. There are no tests or reports. This reading is at a comfortable level to keep it fun. Still, recreational reading develops vocabulary and builds reading speed and comprehension skills.

Wisconsin's public libraries are great for children to select reading material, and the price is right: free. Adding adventure to the reading fun, each year Wisconsin joins 46 member states in the Collaborative Summer Library program, which provides high-quality summer reading materials based on a topic. This year's theme for preschool and elementary students is "Catch the Reading Bug!" Programming for teens centers around "Metamorphosis@Your Library."

Children and teens who register for the Summer Library Program receive a reading record to tally the number of pages, minutes, or books they've read. Many libraries offer literacy games and activities and provide incentives to support reading efforts. This year, in partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, children who meet their reading goals earn a day pass good for one free car admission to any one of 58 state parks, forests, or recreational areas in the state. There is so much to gain by reading during the summer. I encourage all families to visit the library and "Catch the Reading Bug!"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Library Building: "Doing nothing is not an option"

The Post Crescent has a fairly good article on the Library Board Building & Equipment Committee's deliberations on our facility study. The only reason the article is fairly good rather than very good is the difficulty of conveying complex topics in relatively few column inches.

Thus, some people reading the article make the jump that we are committed to having a new building at a specific price tag. There is, as yet, no building proposal, decision or plan. Some people are talking about where to put the hypothetical building, and while it's good to dream, it's also premature.

Our study says we need more and better-designed space, for current and future library needs, ideally a new building downtown. The committee endorsed the study's recommendations, and recommended we budget for architectural program design next year. Program design should further clarify issues, determining in more detail how much space we should have and how that space can be configured to get the most bang for the buck.

In fact, the committee discussed at some length why specific plans and associated price tags might be premature. But people want to have some idea of what we're talking about so we talk about specifics even when they're hypothetical. If we build at 138,000 square feet and if the cost is $300 per square foot, the cost would be in the area of $41 million, but the "if" statements represent many very many untested assumptions. Despite that, speculative numbers make headlines.

A new building downtown might be ideal, but what if we do something less than ideal? What would that cost? What are the trade-offs? It depends on what we decide, and we haven't even committed, as a community, to making those decisions.

What we do know is that the needs are real, and it's not just library staff saying so. Our current space is too small for our volume of use, and ill-designed for current types of use, let alone projected use. In the words of a Library Board member, "Doing nothing is not an option for us."

Our best course can only be determined in a lengthy process involving not just the Library Board, but our elected officials. This is a decision for the whole community -- let's keep talking! Read the report -- share your comments.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Library facility recommendations

We have the final report of our facility study from Durrant -- here's a condensed version of recommendations from the executive summary:

Long-term actions:

  • Construction of a new library about 138,000 square feet in size in the downtown central business district to meet immediate and long range space needs.
  • No branch libraries -- due to increased operational costs of multiple sites.
  • Use “green” building for energy efficiency & a healthy indoor environment. Use construction of a new facility to illustrate benefits of sustainable design.
  • Adequate interior public open space and expanded shelving areas to provide enough space for collections and promote ease of use & staff efficiency
  • Consider a drive-up window.
  • Increase the number and variety of types of technology workstations, e.g. workstations designed for multiple users, workstations with an array of software to facilitate collaborative projects, development of content, etc.
  • More public meeting spaces, designed for extended hours.
  • Better security for collections and allowing meeting room use independent of library hours.
  • More outdoor green space near the library.

Short-Term Actions:
  • Start processing the collection with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to fimplement an automated material handling system (AMHS) and more efficient and effective system of self-service checkout.
  • Begin planning an automated material handling system with a conveyor and sorter to handle returned material.
  • Replace the existing self-service checkout units with newer, smaller, more functional units to alleviate staff workload.
  • Upgrade bandwidth & technology for heavier computer usage and increased need for media-rich content.
  • Replace seating with new, more comfortable seating featuring integrated power and data to support computer use.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day: thank a veteran ... and a librarian.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, we hope it means something more than fireworks and picnics. It's important that we remember the Declaration of Independence, because we like to think our country stands for something more than just the place where we live. We need to approach that thought with humility, because the USA does not have a preeminence on patriotism, nor on taking care of our own, nor on freedom.

What we do have is our own story. And the Declaration is a powerful part of that story. Those great words "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The genius of the Declaration was to state a basic philosophy of freedom, and it was the genius of the Bill of Rights amendments to the Constitution to enumerate many of these rights and put them into the language of law.

Freedom is a fundamental quality of the American public library: freedom of speech, freedom to read, freedom to learn, freedom to decide and think for oneself. Our nation's founders understood this idea, and counted on it. Jefferson said “A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.” And James Madison, defender of the Bill of Rights, said “A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

So as we think about our national story from July 4, 1776 until today, we should be thankful for all of those who believed in and fought for this country and its best hopes. I'm thankful for many veterans and for librarians who are veterans. I'm concerned for our troops who are fighting today.

But in thinking about our story, I know the freedom to speak requires the freedom to hear, and the freedom to write requires the freedom to read. Part of our national story is the story of librarians who put it on the line to preserve our freedom:

  • Trina Magi, who organized librarians in Vermont to work against the USA PATRIOT Act.
  • Jerilynn Adams Williams, who fought removal books from public libraries in Montgomery County, Texas
  • Ruth Brown, who in 1950 lost her job in Bartlesville, OK for subscribing "subversive" publications, including The Nation, The New Republic, Negro Digest and Consumer Reports
  • Jeanne Layton, fired from the the Davis County library in 1979 for refusing to remove Don DeLillo's novel, Americana
  • Joan Airoldi, of the Whatcom County Library System in Washington, who successfully quashed an FBI subpoena that was too far-reaching and neglected patron rights, saying "Libraries are a haven where people should be able to seek whatever information they want to pursue without any threat of government intervention."
  • Forrest Spaulding of the Des Moines Public Library, who crafted the first Library Bill of Rights in 1938
  • The leaders of the American Library Association who framed the Freedom to Read statement during the difficult times of McCarthyism.
The list could be much longer and there are many stories. But on a day of appreciation for our country, I'm thankful for all those who defend our freedoms.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Teaching the catalog with online videos

Staff at our library and at the OWLS system have released three videos this week, using screencasting to highlight new and useful features of the catalog. With a lot of people taking summer vacations, its great that we can "freeze" our holds, so we don't miss stuff we've been waiting for.

Exciting new catalog features allow patrons to "rate" titles and post reviews, a la Amazon. I like it that the catalog is becoming more interactive.

Here are the screencasts. Check 'em out!