Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking back at 2008

Looking back in reflection on an eventful 2008, it's difficult to pick out just 10 things as most significant, so I have no "top ten." Here's a selection of significant items from my perspective. Some of the items on the following list are inter-related, some are examples of broader areas, and several point the way to 2009 activities.
  1. Building study - this one took up a lot of time and energy, but felt like a watershed. About 1,000 people gave input and the final recommendation was to consider a new library building. This was carried forward with more planning to be done in 2009. along the way there were surveys, public meetings, TV coverage, newspaper stories (and debates in online forums). But lots of people are thinking, talking and planning for the library's future and that's a good thing.
  2. Fox Cities Book Festival - we held the first ever book festival in our area in conjunction with our annual community read, the culmination of years of planning and even more years of dreaming. We were touched by the vision of poet Ellen Kort and the hard work of many people. The Festival marked a huge collaborative effort, was a howling success -- and plans for next year's fest are well under way.
  3. Changing of the guard - after 27 years at APL, in jobs ranging from volunteer tour guide to Assistant Director, Barb Kelly is retiring. Barb was a pioneer in many respects, as a leader in reference and library technology. We'll miss her. We've hired a lot of good folks in the past year, and every one of those jobs is important, but a vacancy for an Assistant Director happens seldom and the position holds a lot of responsibility. So we put a lot of work into our search and hiring process to find a successor. Our new Assistant Director will be Colleen Rortvedt, with experience in circulation, reference, audiovisual, young adult services and library technology. In her twelve years at APL, she's done work in policy and planning, built collections and web pages, and worked with the community to help set up Harmony Cafe and to lead the effort on our Hmong Resource Center. We expect her to hit the ground running.
  4. Print management - it was a huge project to replace our public computer printing and photocopiers with networked multi-function devices. It was months of planning and contract work by many staff led by Barb Kelly, and more technical details than I could appreciate. But the end result is better service, fewer hassles for staff and public and an end to people ripping off our "honor system" printing. With Internet printing replacing traditional photocopying as well as a chunck of magazine and pamphlet circulation, this was an important step. At year's end, the new system seems to be working well and is more than paying for itself.
  5. Rearrangement - creative work by staff has kept an increasingly crowded facility flexible and responsive. We continue to weed heavily, but also consider the impact of online resources in retention of periodicals. We continue to tweak arrangements: moving children's paperbacks to wall shelving; creating a seating area for tweens; moving bound periodicals to reference --allowing for growth in fiction; adding public access Internet stations. We were also able to add a number of power strips to tables and carrels to accommodate laptop users and plan for some lighting upgrades.
  6. Growth in library use - use continued to grow in many ways, including overall circulation, door count, program attendance, meeting room use, and electronic resources. Despite increasing Internet workstations, we often see waiting lines, even on slow days. Some of this is doubtless fueled by the economy with people less able to buy books & DVDs or maintain high speed Internet service at home, and simultaneously needing job and communication resources. But we have been seeing continuous growth for several years.
  7. Children's program attendance - while there's been almost across the board growth in services, the number of children reported attending library programs has grown by 60% this year. There are several reasons, but the biggest is work by the Children's staff to increase the number of programs, making more time choices available, and less crowding. Increased community emphasis on early literacy means more awareness of the value of library children's programs, and we keep seeking ways to collaborate.
  8. Materials policy - it's been several years since we had revised our materials policy, but the increased use of media materials and the increased role of resource sharing were both significant. Our revision incorporated new, more explicit methods for public challenges to materials, involving the Library Board and providing for increased community input while working to ensure intellectual freedom.
  9. Community support was a huge factor for us in many ways, from the many folks who got involved in the building study, to those who spoke up for the library at budget time. The League of Women Voters, the Post Crescent and Appleton Downtown Inc. all took pro-library stands.
  10. FOAL & Foundation - our Friends group and our Foundation have been some of our most important supporters for decades. This year, the Foundation adopted a new long range plan and we hired a consultant to work with both boards to explore the feasibility of merging the two groups. At year's end both groups had approved exploring a merger. This will, we hope, create a stronger, more efficient support organization with a higher community profile, more effective for advocacy & fund-raising.
  11. Volunteers - the growth in volunteer hours has been phenomenal, thanks to an open-minded and flexible staff and our Foundation-funded Volunteer Coordinator. Shelving volunteers helped staff keep things moving through our sorting and shelving area even in our busiest times. We've become reliant on volunteer help in several areas, as we can't count on property tax- funded positions to grow at the same rate our use is growing.
  12. Washington Square - this neighborhood improvement effort is beginning to bear fruit, with better communication, heightened awareness, new outdoor furniture and staff and volunteers from Appleton Downtown helping by patrolling. We still have work to do, but there's a renewed commitment to making the neighborhood "clean, safe, and friendly." The library building doesn't exist in isolation, and the neighborhood is safe, but we need to make sure it feels welcoming to everyone.

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