Tuesday, December 1, 2009

You've got a friend

Over thirty years ago, a group of community-minded citizens got together, determined that their public library should be better. They formed the Friends of Appleton Library (FOAL) and began supporting library programs, working for an improved facility and helping the library develop and grow. FOAL has been helping and giving since 1975. From their beginning, they've provided community to their members, created and promoted programs, and been a voice for our library in the wider community.

The Friends' Building Committee was key in passing the 1978 referendum that led to the construction of our current building. Once the new building was underway, FOAL focused more on program support, and began the FOAL Endowment Fund to create ongoing support for library programs.

In 1985, a group of individuals who felt the need to create more and broader support for the library set up the Appleton Library Foundation. The Foundation undertook a five year campaign and built up a endowment of over a million dollars, with proceeds used as grants for library materials, programs, technology and other innovative ideas. Within a few years, FOAL decided to invest their endowment as a designated fund of the Foundation. Since they began giving grants, the Foundation has given the library nearly a million dollars, while maintaining a strong principle balance in their endowment fund.

With increased support from staff -- especially Elizabeth Eisen, who coordinated volunteers and adult programs -- and a succession of good presidents and committee chairs, FOAL grew stronger, with hundreds of members. They began doing joint planning with the Foundation and helped with fundraisers. The Foundation began funding a library staff person to recruit and coordinate volunteers. The two groups were beginning to move closer together.

In 2008, the Foundation invested their endowment funds through our Community Foundation, leaving their Board with less need to oversee investments. Their new strategic plan called for more collaborations with the Friends. With agreement of FOAL leadership, the Foundation hired Peter Pearson of The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library to conduct a feasibility study of merging the two groups. Pearson's study, in the Fall of 2008, suggested that merger was indeed feasible, provided advice based on the experience of other libraries, and identified several considerations for decision. The two boards continued to discuss the issues, and agreed to hold a joint facilitated planning retreat in the Spring of 2009. The two boards continued to discuss the issues, and agreed on a joint facilitated planning retreat in the Spring of 2009.

Nearly all members of the two boards, including two library board members, attended the planning retreat, and were impressed by the amount of consensus. There was strong agreement on a single statement:

The merger of the Appleton Library Foundation and the Friends of Appleton Library would provide a unified entity which would be more efficient with added functionality, resulting in more resources for the Appleton Public Library – and provide higher visibility in the community and a better utilization of volunteer talents.
It was also agreed the group would work in several areas:
  • Advocate for the library
  • Fund-raise for the library
  • Support programs and services
  • Advise and support library staff
  • Thrive as a membership organization
  • Marketing and public awareness
Deciding that the merged group would be called FOAL, the group charged the two board presidents and the library director with implementing the merger. With generous pro bono legal help from McCarty Law, merger documents and bylaws were drafted and approved by the two groups in the next few months. The initial board of the new FOAL is comprised of all the members of both existing boards who wished to continue, until the membership elects a new board at next year's annual meeting.

After two meetings of the new FOAL Board, they now have: elected officers, a finance policy and budget, an agreement with the Library Board, several committees in place and several in process, and a plan to hire an executive director. They're working on a new logo and thinking about a website, even while several fund-raising events are underway or in planning. It's been a busy time for the library staff, in helping facilitate these efforts, but we're excited and grateful for the thoughtful volunteer efforts of so many good people -- our friends.

Friday, November 20, 2009

10 building project misconceptions

We have a Frequently Asked Questions section on our website addressing library facility issues, but maybe we should refine it with a Frequently Observed Misconceptions section. Here's a few of the things I seem to hear or notice:

  1. It's a done deal - Hardly! If it were, I'd have a lot less work to do. As of now, the City Council's Capital Facilities Committee is reviewing the situation and considering recommendations, but the City has made no decision. The amount of future dollars committed = zero. Are there a lot of people, including the Library Board, the Mayor, and me, who think that a new building is likely the best way to go for our community? Yep. Does that constitute a decision? Nope. A decision is a long way off, and any big changes are years away.

  2. It's a lost cause - Hardly! See above. The fact is that the Mayor and Council have chosen to delay further expenses for at least a year. But committees are still working to find the best path forward and make recommendations. We know our Friends are organizing to plan for some fund-raising, to be ready when the time comes. A delay by Council and a few letters to the editor by opponents does not end the discussion.

  3. It's all about space, so the cheaper space the better - no, it's all about providing library service to the community, as effectively and efficiently as possible for current and future needs. For sure, space is a big part of that, but efficiently designed spaces -- to make the most of our staff and volunteers, better security, better use of technology, and readily accessible low maintenance public meeting spaces -- are just important as square footage. A lot of the discussion in the past year was how to meet increasing service needs without increasing staff. Better design will be a big piece of that.

  4. Branches would be better - Not quite. Branches would be cheaper to construct, offer neighborhood services and the Holy Grail known as "free parking." But branches would be more expensive over the long run, due to duplicated buildings, equipment, staff functions, collections, data services, and the new cost of transporting items among multiple locations. I love branch libraries, but they're not a cost saver: the neighborhood service aspect has to be worth the additional costs they bring. And they do nothing to fix the flaws and inefficiencies of our current building, designed decades ago for 20th century concerns.

  5. You should move into the City Center (downtown mall) -- it's empty. No, it's not. There are a few empty storefronts, but the six floors of City Center West (the Prange building) are full, and the two floors of City Center East (the Gimbel's building) are pretty full. There's not enough room in the City Center for our overall operations, and splitting off any portion, such as meeting rooms, offices or technical services would add to operating inefficiencies and cost more in the long run. Splitting off the children's area or program space would divide families. Moving the whole operation into any other building not designed as a library is almost impossible from a safety engineering point of view. Book stacks are really heavy and require special construction to support them; even if the City Center were empty, it wouldn't make a good library building.

  6. You should just add a third floor to the current building - again from an engineering point of view this is not workable. The foundation footings would not take the weight of a third floor. This building was expandable -- to a limited extent, and we're close to those limits. Without expanding our footprint, we could only add 12,000 square feet -- an expensive band-aid, and five years later we'd be having the same conversation. I'd also be concerned about staffing a building with three stories and a lower level; it sounds more inefficient than what we've got.

  7. Electronic books/Google are making libraries obsolete - community wifi or computer labs would be better - This idea is characteristic of a limited, and flawed, conception of what public libraries are, and what this library is. The Internet, Google and electronic books have changed how we work, and will continue to do so. But libraries have been around for millenia and have evolved with society. We're not a book warehouse, not a computer lab. You can look up information online, but you can't replace our essential function by sitting at home with your computer. We're a community center, a place where people gather. Specifically, we're a community learning center. Paper books are not going away any time soon. Not everyone has a computer with high-speed Internet, and not everyone is proficient in using online resources. We're one of the busiest buildings in town and getting busier. Thousands attend our programs, bring their children, meet friends, ask for help, read, discuss, and learn. Libraries build community, change lives, and encourage the heart.

  8. You shouldn't tear down the current library - some folks seem concerned we're planning this, but no-one has ever suggested tearing down this building. If we don't expand on site, and if this building were not used for other City offices, it could be sold and put back on the tax rolls.

  9. You're planning to spend $40 or $50 million, and the taxpayers can't afford it - No, we're not, and I don't know. The rough estimate to build and furnish a new building would be $33 million or to remodel, $26 million. If the library were required to build its own parking structure as integral to the building, that would be an additional cost. We can assume that private funding will be needed to provide some percentage of the total cost; nationally 25% is pretty typical. And the City cannot tax any more than they normally would to build a library (unless citizens vote to do so in a referendum), so they would have to figure out how to finance it before we go ahead.

  10. With the economy so bad, this is no time to be planning a building - On the contrary, it's a pretty good time to plan, to have the philosophical discussions about what we want and how to do it. You don't have to tell us the economy is bad; our use has grown even faster during the recession. Better times are coming, and when we can afford to go ahead, we'd like to be ready.

Give a Child a Book

Reading to kids is vital. On the Washington Post site last week, there was a terrific column including some big points. Authoritatively:

the single best predictor of how a child will do over 12 years of school is: how much s/he was read to prior to the first day of first grade.

if we want to change America, we need to change how parents read to their children.

This reading requires two-way interaction--lots of talk. So the parents are pushing their children, and all they need to do is read aloud, with joy and talk. Doing this is like treasure and gold for a child’s life and with libraries, does not have to cost either.

Which is why our Friends' Give a Child a Book campaign, now in its 11th year, is important to the future of our community. The library encourages parents to read to kids, encourages kids to read on their own and gives them the means. Putting books directly into the hands of children who would not otherwise get them is a big step, and our Friends group works together with other local libraries to distribute books via the Salvation Army and the Boys & Girls Club.


New books or cash donations may be brought to the library through Dec. 12.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why we fight, part 2 -- words from our community

We've just completed our annual survey, and we seriously consider everything that people tell us -- including suggestions and criticisms as well as statistical totals. In a future posting, I'll address some of the specific suggestions and concerns, and some of the comments about our building.

But some of the statements people took extra time to write really hit home with me -- statements about what we're doing here, and why. The comments below speak for themselves:

  • No matter what age, you can benefit from the library material and opportunities it has to offer.
  • Libraries provide valuable services, especially in these hard economic times as not everyone has access to computers and Internet services.
  • It is one of the important responsibilities of government to provide free public libraries to citizens. It is the responsibility of citizens to provide the support necessary to maintain free public libraries.
  • At this time when the economy is poor, the library provides a needed service to the general public for the right price FREE. Not everyone can afford to purchase books, DVDs or CDs
  • Libraries are important so people can find a quiet place to work and learn. Books are a good imagination builder!
  • Libraries are the life-blood of the community. The public library is and has been my life line for my life experiences. Thank you for all of your work to make APL a place to learn. It is our Right as citizens to have a center that is easily accessible and is RICH of Life and Learning and Fun and Browsing. We, as a Community, are only as good as our Library.
  • Without libraries I don't believe that we could call ourselves a civilization.
  • I am so grateful for the services our library provides - especially now that I am a grandmother!
  • As a teacher, the library is one of my best resources. It also saves me time and money.
  • It's where the poor and lowly can go as well as anyone else.
  • With city, county, state and national parks, free public libraries are the jewels of the republic.
  • I believe the public libraries and public schools are the things that set this country apart!
  • Many people cannot afford Internet access. This evens the playing field, especially for students.
  • Anyone can use the library, rich or poor.
  • A high quality public library is essential to a well educated, informed public. It feeds our nation's youth. It serves all people in our country, not just the ones who can afford it. Andrew Carnegie's vision should be followed. Without free and open access to knowledge, our society is doomed.
  • They are very essential for me as they serve a great part of my social, entertainment needs. I have lived in other states and cities and always considered libraries to be essential.
  • If we didn't have this in our library the community would be far behind in dark ages -- thanks for public library
  • They should remain free & public, welcoming to everyone. The public library is extremely important to the quality of a community.

Why we fight, part 1 -- stories from the state conference

As I'm waiting for tonight's public hearing on the annual city budget, I'm remembering the state library conference held here in Appleton a couple of weeks ago. It was a good conference, with some excellent speakers and programs, opportunities to share with colleagues, and vendor products to review. But I keep thinking about two stories I heard, stories that highlight the importance of what we're doing.

The first was at the awards banquet, where Lynda Barry accepted the RR Donnelley Literary Award, given for the highest literary achievement by a Wisconsin author in 2009, for her book What It Is. She talked about problems in her home life when she was young, and how she regarded school teachers and public librarians as fulfilling parental roles and the public library becoming a home. She told how the public library, as a safe place that welcomed her, offered encouragement and opportunities to learn, had been essential for her.

The second story was told by the staff and library board members of the West Bend Public Library, which this year dealt with some difficult materials challenges -- challenges which had divided the community as the challengers sought to try the case in the media and in blogs rather than before the library board.
The challenges had started with young adult materials, particularly a few titles addressing gay and lesbian issues for teens. When the situation finally came before the board, the public comments were recorded on video, and this video was shared at the conference.

Among the many passionate statements pro and con, there were two that resonated powerfully with me. One was a professor from UW-M who reminded listeners that the Library Bill of Rights was originally developed in our country in response to Nazi book-burning. The Nazis actively worked to make public libraries into institutions of propaganda, communicating only party-sanctioned values. The second speak was a mom with two grown sons, one of whom had grown up suffering discrimination, bullying and uncertainty as a gay teen. She said it would have meant the world to him to simply have access to a novel with characters who were like him and dealing with his issues.

This is why we fight for our public libraries. We need a place for everyone -- a safe, intellectually and culturally nourishing center of our community, a place for opportunities to learn and grow, where people and ideas are welcome. Thanks to Lynda Barry and the West Bend Public Library for reminding us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Library building: where it's at

Many folks are asking about the status of a potential library building project, as the City Council is close to adopting the budget for next year. In brief (with thanks to Library Board President Liz Witek for supplying some of these ideas & words):

  • Some people seem to frame the question as one of space, and the most affordable space. From our point of view, the discussion is not about space – it’s about how to provide efficient 21st library service: well-designed space for current and future needs is one aspect of that.
  • We'll need to meet rising demands without planning to significantly increase staff, and we recognize that the design concepts of the current building are not ideally suited to current and future concerns. We know that operating costs for the life of any building are substantially more than construction costs, and we need to give the most service at the lowest cost.
  • Remodeling the current building is still a viable option, though perhaps less than ideal for long-term operational efficiency. From a structural engineering viewpoint, we can only add about 12,000 sq ft to our existing footprint – no third floor; the building footings would not support it.
  • The Council's Administrative Services Committee has moved Site Selection money set out in the Mayor’s budget from 2010 to 2011.
  • We know it's frustrating for library supporters to be on hold after three years of Library Board discussion, a lot of public involvement, two years of Council-approved studies assessing citizens’ library needs and library facility concerns, and getting two nearly identical recommendations…
  • but we recognize the need to be extra cautious in these difficult financial times,
  • ...and we can use the extra time as a really good opportunity to
    • help the Council and the people of Appleton to assess how and why two separate studies recommended what they did, and to
    • see how library needs fit into the as-yet unpublished Facilities Master Plan for Appleton
    • so we can all reach the best long-term decision for the City.
  • We often hear that potential donors will need a firm commitment from the City before we can mount an effective capital campaign for private funds to supplement public dollars.
  • We're often asked how much donors will contribute, and we don't know. Other communities have funded 25% of capital costs from donors, but we may want to do a feasibility study.
If that's "in brief", anyone still reading is probably glad I didn't discuss it at length, but comments are always welcome!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

APL Book Brigade in competition

At yesterday's statewide book-cart drill team competition, APL's Bookcart Brigade scored an Honorable Mention. Some of us thought they deserved better for their excellent performance, but we might possibly be biased. Nevertheless, they collected a lot of cheers, won a gift certificate from sponsor Demco, and had some fun. We're very proud!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Magic of Social Networks

This was the keynote presentation, from Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, at this year's Wisconsin Library Association conference.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

By the numbers

We're doing our annual patron survey, both in-house and online. I always look forward to the results -- not because I believe that individual numbers have terrific significance, but because I want to see the trends, and read the comments.

We look at all the numbers and comments, but we are aware this is not a scientific survey. Participation by people picking up a survey form in the library, as well as those clicking a link on the website is voluntary. Participants are thus self-selected, and those who take the time probably have a mixture of motivations: some enjoy the opportunity to share their perceptions and participate in a public process, some want to help the library, and some have an ax to grind. Some years ago, we use volunteers to give a survey to every fifteenth person walking in the door. It was hard to find enough volunteers, and harder to dissuade the volunteers from using their good judgment to decide just who should receive the survey, so even then we were not truly random. When we gave up this practice and let survey participants self-select, we noticed little difference in the responses. We were still surveying library users as a subset of the population.

It's worth noting that library users make up a large subset, with about 2/3 of Appleton residents having library cards. We measure some things for inclusion in the City budget, which contains some output measures. But more important to us is watching changes in customer satisfaction with collections and services, measuring the number of people doing other things downtown when they use the library, seeing what they do at the library, and reading the comments. In addition to measuring attitudes, this is a regular annually organized effort to garner suggestions, and we take them seriously.

Web users enter their data directly via SurveyMonkey, and Kathy, our Data Assistant, hand enters the information into another SurveyMonkey from the in-house pages. SurveyMonkey automatically compiles the data and helps with analysis tools -- and it's interesting to see the differences between online and in-person patrons. Online patrons tend to have a lower opinion of the library neighborhood, somewhat unsurprisingly.

We hope we get a lot of responses. If you're a library user, let us know what you think -- we need to hear from you!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Social Media Revolution

We decided this week to put a bit more work into the library Facebook page. I hadn't seen this yet, but this explains why pretty well...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mayor discusses library future

Today's Post-Crescent published an extensive interview with the Mayor: "Q&A: Mayor Tim Hanna talks about future for Appleton Public Library", including such topics as:

  • including the site selection money in the budget
  • whether the site selection money means a project is any more likely to happen
  • if the city eventually is going to need a bigger library or a new library
  • if he has an idea of what the public-private funding split would be
  • figuring out a cost estimate
  • which has to come first, the public funding or the private funding
  • whether the library should remain downtown
  • if the decision could eventually go to a referendum
He included some noteworthy points about the wisdom of having the discussion at this time. A number of people in the newspaper's online forums are denigrating the whole discussion. But I accept that construction is years away and agree with the Mayor's statements:
In fact, in an economy like this, now's the time to do the planning.

It's not the capital costs. It's the operating costs. You can plan for the capital costs.

We've got state levy limits. We've got local levy limits. We've got fund balance requirements. We have built a long list of requirements. So should it go to referendum as long as we stay within the framework that we built and we're not busting the bank and we're not asking to raise taxes significantly?
Some of the main opposing arguments seem to be:
  • libraries are no longer relevant
  • this will require a significant tax increase
  • the priority is to save construction dollars, whether by remodeling or setting up branches
I disagree. Libraries have become increasingly relevant in the Internet age and are important as community learning centers offering equal opportunities for everyone. And Appleton is very restrictive in spending as the Mayor notes: taxes can only go up within strict constraints, whether or not a library is built.

It might be that remodeling would be a better option -- the jury is out. But we absolutely need to keep operating costs in mind, and design not only an attractive facility but one that creates maximum efficiency and lowest possible operating costs for growing service demands. Neither can we just move into [insert vacant building name here], because it's not about space, it's about library service.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Building dialog, some Q&A

Responding to questions asked by Ed Thomas in the online forums of the Post-Crescent:

Doesn't the Library Board have a clue to what's going on, and what the public apparently feels about their grandiose desires? Didn't they get the message?
The Library Board gets messages from online forums (including the Post-Crescent), from their phone calls and emails, from their friends and neighbors, from our elected officials, from library staff, from usage data, from community surveys, from focus groups, public meetings, and cost studies -- among other sources.
Have they taken a realistic look at the economy and state of employment in the Valley?
I think they are very well-acquainted and realistic, partly because of the impact of the economy on library use, and mostly because they are a connected and aware group of citizens. The first question is what's needed, and the second is how to afford it. I think everybody involved accepts the fact that we should not expect some significant tax increase to pay for this. But the fact is that cities build buildings, and pay for them using their debt service. Any amount added to the debt service for the library would have to be affordable within the constraints of state and local rules -- and Appleton is conservative about debt spending and tax increases. Beyond that, private dollars would be needed.
Why not, when it can be afforded, add to the existing building? Oh, it just doesn't fit our needs and programs. Then restrict your needs, and cut programs.
We’re not talking about the library’s needs for the library. We’re talking about the public’s needs for learning opportunities, for information, for meeting places, for cultural opportunities. We’re talking about family-oriented community learning, which this community seems to want and need more of. We’re talking about how to provide that service in the most cost-effective manner.
Why not add to the existing building?
We've always said that this is a viable option. But the preferred option would be a new building for two reasons: operational cost-savings and the opportunity to make a more positive developmental impact. There would be some savings in remodeling, but those would likely not be a long-term savings as a remodeled and expanded structure would be less efficient
You want a new building?
Not necessarily, but as stated above, it is likely advisable as more upfront investment could result in long-term savings, and have a better impact on the downtown and the whole community.
What do you plan to do with the existing one?
The City would have a couple of options. The present building would be a better City Hall than a library, and would address both space needs and citizen access concerns for the City. If located adjacent, a library and City Hall could more readily share some resources. Contrariwise, they could sell it as office space and return it to the tax rolls.
You need more space?
Library concerns are partly about space, and partly about good design for security and efficiency in providing 21st century services.
There are a lot of vacant store fronts around the City to set up neighborhood centers. Have you even considered that as an option?
You bet! It was my preferred option. I love branch libraries – for the community center, neighborly atmosphere they have. But the cold reality is that they are more expensive. The cost to maintain and sustain additional structures, as well as the cost to duplicate equipment, collections and staff functions, will quickly outweigh any savings in construction cost. A single facility, designed for efficiency will be best.
Obviously they would take private, taxpaying, property over for a new building. That is a hidden addition to our taxes.
Not necessarily nor obviously – it could be done on publicly owned land; there are a couple of options. And if privately owned land is taken off the tax rolls, that cost should be considered; no-one proposes hiding it. But now you’re talking about a site selection process, which we’re saying deserves considered open public debate.
Do you remember the School referendum? It lost.
I've been around awhile. I remember numerous referenda that have lost and numerous that have passed. This isn't a school issue.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Community space

Our library provides meeting spaces for community groups as one of our essential services. At Monday's meeting of the Capital Facilities Committee, examining the need for a new library building, one of our Alderpersons questioned plans to include expanded meeting spaces, asking:

"Why should the library incorporate everything for everyone? Why should the taxpayers pay for this when other structures exist? Why did the library provide space for a state legislator's listening session?"
Thankfully, another Alderperson, Michael Meyer, had a good answer, showing a strong understanding of the importance of public spaces in a public library. He said many of the same things I would say.

My answer is that of course we are not incorporating everything for everyone. We are doing specific things for specific reasons, in this case providing public gathering spaces to community groups, educational and cultural presentations, government, and library programs. I think we're doing it for some well considered reasons:
  • It's our mission: "The Appleton Public Library is a center of community life, offering opportunities to learn, know, gather, and grow."
  • Public libraries support democracy and democratic processes
    • we're the new town square
    • we're neutral ground, not on one side of issues
    • we are freely accessible -- the ability to use the library is not dependent on ability to pay
    • we promote free speech in collections and policies
    • we promote access to information -- and public access to government, including legislators, congressional representatives, schools, and local, state and national committees and boards
  • We're a well-known gathering place for all ages -- children, parents, seniors and families -- as well as all socioeconomic groups, all religions, all ethnic groups, all political viewpoints. The library is visibly for everyone
  • We support community groups, through providing resources, information, a place to post public notices, as well as a place to gather
  • Meeting spaces are integrated with library services:
    • we provide library programs, and educational and cultural events, for all ages
    • we provide a great many programs in collaboration with other organizations -- often the schools, but also colleges, the Multicultural Center, hospitals, social service agencies, and coalitions like the Project Promise Poverty group, and MoneySmart Week.
    • we view collaborations and other meeting room use as an opportunity to help people become aware of books,reading, and other library materials and services -- once we've got them in the door, I love it if they walk out carrying a book!
  • Our rooms are heavily used by a broad cross-section of the community: when I looked at several years of records, I found many uses by the local school district and various aspects of government (chiefly local), but also scouts, 4-H, religious groups, the League of Women Voters -- the list is LONG!
  • Use is growing steadily over the long term, despite the fact that we have to turn groups away with no space available an impose limits both on the types of users and number of uses. We have a supply and demand issue and a staff cost to meet the demand.
  • A new or updated building would allow for:
    • Expanded meeting room hours -- available before and after library hours if designed for secure access
    • Permanently set-up rooms (board rooms, lecture hall/auditorium) allowing for increased use with decreased set-up times & reduced staffing cost
    • More use by business, perhaps on a fee basis, if there's enough space available that a sales meeting wouldn't mean there's no space for the soccer club
    • The possibility that we could find donors to subsidize the cost of creating meeting spaces in exchange for naming rights.
The discussion continues...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Books: here to stay

To the Best of Our Knowledge on public radio had a recent segment on libraries, books and reading. They featured Jonathon Rundman's Librarian song, and one of my favorite authors, Ursula K. LeGuin, talking about her essay in Harper's magazine, "Staying awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading."

The essay is worth re-reading. We have noticed here at APL that although the use of media is increasing, more books are being used as well. LeGuin notes:

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.

This is crucial, the fact that a book is a thing, physically there, durable, indefinitely reusable, an object of value.

I am far from dismissing the vast usefulness of electronic publication, but my guess is that print-on-demand will become and remain essential. Electrons are as evanescent as thoughts. History begins with the written word. Much of civilization now relies on the durability of the bound book—its capacity for keeping memory in solid, physical form. The continuous existence of books is a great part of our continuity as an intelligent species.
If I were interested in something like, say, building a library, I'd be paying attention.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Diverse book recommendations

Toward Community: Unity in Diversity held their annual Celebrate Diversity picnic on Aug. 16, 2009. Attendees were asked to write down their favorite books. Though only a minority of folks participated, they came up with an interesting list that reveals diverse ages, backgrounds, and literary tastes. Thanks to Toward Community board chair Kamal Varma for compiling and sharing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Get rid of the homeless"

Heard second-hand from a highly reliable source:

Well, yes, we need a new library. But first, they should get rid of the homeless people.
This is pretty sad, but I'm afraid there are a fair number of people who think this way. It's even sadder in a time when the economy is down, unemployment is up and people are hurting. This is a time when lots of people, including the temporarily impoverished, need public libraries more.

There was a very timely op-ed piece in the New York Times:
Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?
By BARBARA EHRENREICH
Published: August 9, 2009
In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more of it. ...
Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote this piece, provided one of the springboards for our local Project Promise efforts on poverty, when we used her book Nickeled & Dimed for our community read a couple years back. Project Promise believes we can eliminate poverty in the Fox Cities. So is this a way to eliminate poverty? Let's just outlaw poor people -- or at least make 'em stay in places where we never have to notice them... NIMBY -- it's not just a good idea, it's the law!

It's pure discrimination to want the homeless to go away or to use them as an excuse not to support the library. If there are behavior issues that interfere with a good library experience, the staff will deal with them. Some problems at the library may occur from homeless people. Some problems may originate with wealthy people, with mentally ill people, with high-spirited teens or just a regular person having a bad day. We've seen all of these.

We deal with the problem, not with the societal class of the person causing the problem.

The library is for the whole community. We offer opportunities. You can't make it better by denying it to some of those who have the greatest need for our services. It was written that "the poor will never cease to be in the land", and I doubt that meant we should just get them into a different part of the land where we never encounter them.

Fortunately, I don't think most of the community and most of our users feel this way, or we wouldn't be seeing the record use -- from all social strata -- that we're enjoying. But I fear this quiet discrimination, from some in our community, is something we will continually fight. Gandhi wrote that "Poverty is the worst form of violence."

You don't shun or punish the victims. You find ways to give them chances. That's one reason we're here, and whether we every get a new library or not, we need to be true to the goal of providing opportunities for the whole community.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Building with carts and horses

In a letter to the editor in the Aug. 8 Post Crescent, Jonathon Pettit wrote:

Anyone who has searched the stacks or tried to find an open chair only to be "up close and personal" with a stroller can attest to the need for more space at the Appleton library. You also would agree if you had ever had to place a reservation for one of 28 public computers on the second floor.
But he also added:
It seems that the discussion of library expansion has put the "cart before the horse." Debate is framed upon what the architects and engineers want to build instead of what the taxpayer can afford.
In response, a word about discussions, debates and decisions:
  • I think the discussion, and the initial debate, are quite rightly framed on the questions of "what does the community want?" and "what is required to provide good, efficient service in response to long-term community needs?"
  • Thus it's not at all about what architects and engineers want. Architects and engineers design to meet needs expressed by their clients.
  • Members of the community, both directly and through their representatives on the City Council, are quite right to ask Library Board and staff to explain wants, needs and options.
  • The question of what the taxpayers can afford absolutely must and will be addressed before any decisions are made. The City of Appleton has a levy restraint ordinance and is committed to keeping long-term indebtedness at a fraction of the maximum allowable.
  • Cities have to maintain infrastructures, including public facilities. To meet community needs and enhance the quality of life, cities build and maintain streets, storm drains, parks, and buildings such as police stations and libraries. Not all at once, but each in turn as needed and affordable.
  • Nobody is advocating building a library for years yet.
  • Nobody is advocating spending money we won't have.
  • Anything wanted that goes beyond what the taxpayers can afford should be funded through privately raised funding.
So I'll respectfully disagree with Mr. Pettit. I think the horses and carts are lining up just right. But I want to reassure him that this City is a long way from a decision -- and his concerns must be addressed in that decision.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Awesome teens

Today we had the wrap-up party for our teen summer program. Over 300 teens participated in the program (though fortunately for the pizza budget, not all attended the wrap-up), attending programs, writing book reviews, poetry and other creative reactions to YA literature.

Thanks to our Friends and Foundation, we had some great prizes to offer. Winners included:

  • Barnes and Noble Gift card — Alex Reis
  • RC Helicopter — Shuri Rajan
  • Flip digital camcorder — Edreena Sampson
  • Gift Card Variety Pack — Sami Barnett
  • HP Mini Netbook — Alan Bohnert
And at the party teens consumed mass quantities of pizza and snacks, played games and just had fun hanging at the library. As they did all summer, a small herd of teen volunteers kept things together for us, following the leadership of our amazing YA staff. A splendid time was had by all ... and school starts soon.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Conkey's & John Zimmerman honored by City

It will be a sad day for many of us when Conkey's Bookstore closes after 113 years in Appleton. At last night's City Council meeting, Mayor Hanna read a proclamation honoring John Zimmerman and Conkey's for their many contributions to our community. Aug. 13 will be "A Day for Conkey's and John Zimmerman", with a special celebration in Houdini Plaza at 4:00 PM -- I hope there will be a huge crowd!

The poor economy has exacerbated the plight of the independent bookseller. We'll have something seriously missing from our lives when Conkey's is no more.

A standing ovation for the Zimmermans after the proclamation is read.


Mayor Hanna reading the proclamation.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jo says: "Read, read, read"

Writing in her FoxPolitics blog, Jo Egelhoff notes:

Yeah. Ignorance is not bliss

Or “Making a difference – keep at it.” Today’s title is nabbed from a MacIver Institute piece yesterday by Brett Healy:
Keeping informed … is more labor intensive than the days when everyone skimmed their jam-packed daily newspaper in the morning, perhaps another one in the afternoon, watched a half hour of network news before dinner and kept an eye on the local TV news before Johnny Carson came on.

But an informed citizenry is a vital component for a healthy democracy. It can be done. One now just has to work a little harder to come by the information.
That has “FoxPolitics News” written all over it! (Of course, I’m completely biased – but if you’re not a subscriber – it’s free! – subscribe here.)...

... in an atmosphere of more and more government intrusion, change (and hope?) can’t come fast enough. Stay informed. It’s our line of first defense – on which we must base our constant, never-let-up actions for change.
Then she adds in the comments:
'Stay informed' means read, read, read. Listen and watch too. Access credible, well-researched and reported news. Local, state, federal. Listen and question. Read, read, read.
Right on, Jo! I would only add that FoxPolitics News is indeed free, and worthwhile reading, but this freedom is limited to those with computers and Internet connections. For those who don't have their own, I'd suggest reading this and other sources, on- and off-line, at your local library.

It matters less what changes you want than that you take the time to get informed. "Read, read, read." Get a variety of sources and viewpoints, those that bolster you and those that challenge you. Take the time to learn, and decide for yourself.

This is exactly why free public libraries are essential to decision-making in a democracy. Jo and I may differ on some things, but it would appear that we would both agree with some of our nation's founders:
A democratic society depends upon an informed and educated citizenry.
- Thomas Jefferson

Information is the currency of democracy.
- Thomas Jefferson

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.
- James Madison
We must each take responsibility for our own informed decisions, if we are to govern ourselves responsibly. Read, read, read!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Building FAQ

Our library staff has done a terrific job of putting together a Frequently Asked Questions list about our building project. I hope and believe it will answer some of the many good concerns out there in the community. The FAQ is a work in progress and available on our library website.

Nice work, folks!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This really frosts my cake...

The online forums in the Post-Crescent (or any online forum, generally) are not always the place for reasoned debate. In particular, the anonymity of the great majority of those who post using "handles" makes it possible for people to say anything without attaching their names to it --and thus taking responsibility for their statements.

I'll let a lot of the things I read there roll off. I'll usually post -- using my name, natch -- if I feel there are some facts lacking that can be readily supplied. Sometimes I just have to take issue, which is the case when I read statements that appear prejudicial. There were two today:

PSY-OPS wrote:

"yuppy [condo] tennants probably wouldn't like mingling with the library's current daytime clientele."
helpusnow wrote:
"food, clothing and shelter are needs-libraries are wants; because poor people"want" a place to hangout i dont feel a "need" to pay for it"
Without even getting into whether education, culture, opportunity and hope are needs (and they are), I felt obligated to speak out on behalf of both poor people and all library users, and posted the following:
There are those who legitimately disagree whether this is a worthwhile project. But it is difficult to accept minimizing the need by belittling those in the community who may be poor or homeless. Yes, the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the mentally ill use the library.

Many other people use the library in even larger numbers. There are lots of toddlers and babies here every day -- and doctors, housewives, teenagers, senior citizens, judges, business people, students, & mostly just plain folks. It's a place for everyone.

We've had 8,602 people through the doors in the last three-and-a-half days. With this volume of use, this many people, there are occasional problems & all are not solved instantly. But staff and volunteers do a good job of enforcing the basic common sense rule: keep it nice for everybody.

It's a lousy argument to say the library includes people to look down on & thus is unworthy of support.

Terry Dawson

Q&A: Appleton library director discusses building proposal

The Post-Crescent has published a lengthy article based on an interview by Larry Gallup, their Senior Editor for Community Conversation. Larry sat me down with a tape recorder and asked some important and insightful questions.

The Post-Crescent • July 16, 2009

It's a big decision — and it comes with a big price tag. Should Appleton build a new public library, which a consulting firm pegs at $33 million, with up to $7 million more to handle parking, plus the associated costs of a new building?
Advertisement

The Library Board has endorsed the plan in concept — a 140,000-square-foot building, which would be more than 50,000 square feet bigger than the current library and would be better equipped to handle its growing needs. For the plan to advance, the Appleton Common Council would have to approve the next step, which is selecting a site.

Appleton Library Director Terry Dawson has been front-and-center during the analysis and planning process — and will continue to be.

To provide some insight on where the process has been, where it is now and where it's going, we asked him some questions Tuesday. Here are his answers:...
See the full article here. My thanks to the Post-Crescent for giving so many column-inches to a topic that is important to many and will be a difficult public decision.

Monday, July 13, 2009

There's more to design of new library than space

Post-Crescent letters July 13, 2009

In response to the July 4 letter about the proposed library building, I appreciate Mr. Thiel's acknowledgement both of the need for more library space and the wisdom of a single downtown facility.

But I take issue with some of his points, which appear to be in response to The Post-Crescent's report on a brief presentation by architects, rather than considering the full study.

Mr. Thiel's statement notwithstanding, the architects who spent months designing spaces for a conceptual building program did, in fact, include engineering input and look at many alternatives, including four different design options for expanding our current facility.

While expansion on this site could feasibly address most library concerns, it would not likely be the most cost-effective option for library service in the long run. A crucial concept is that current and future needs are only partly about increased space.

Any design should also address functional needs for increased safety and security, accessible public meeting spaces, improved use of technology, automation of operations, fewer service points and generally more efficient use of staff.

Any design should also be as green and sustainable as possible. Dollars invested wisely up front will be repaid in the long term with more usability and lower unit operating costs to provide more service.

With a project of this magnitude and community impact, we should not be penny-wise and pound-foolish. We encourage community members to read the full report, available at the Appleton Public Library, and at www.apl.org. We look forward to more conversation.

Terry Dawson,
Director, Appleton Public Library

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Farm Market Stories & Songs

Miss Kathleen keeps 'em spellbound at the Appleton Downtown Farm Market:Our Children's staff is doing story hours at the market on three Saturday mornings this summer -- and even without the stories, the weekly market is a cure for the summertime blues (part 5).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 4)

For adults, it's beach leisure reading -- I'm currently greatly enjoying the latest Stephanie Plum novel, Finger Lickin' Fifteen. For kids, it's more essential. Here's a New York Times piece that's no news to librarians, but it's nice to hear other people singing our song.

A brief excerpt:

OP-ED COLUMNIST: The Best Kids’ Books Ever
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

Pry your kids away from the keyboard and the television, and give them a book. For ideas, here’s a summer reading list....

In educating myself this spring about education, I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.

This is less true of middle-class students whose parents drag them off to summer classes or make them read books. But poor kids fall two months behind in reading level each summer break, and that accounts for much of the difference in learning trajectory between rich and poor students.

A mountain of research points to a central lesson: Pry your kids away from the keyboard and the television this summer, and get them reading.”

His list is worth checking out. What's on your list of best kids' books ever?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Information overload: the death of reference has been greatly exaggerated

The debate over how we read, perpetuated largely by media insiders, is starting to seem like little more than a distraction from the real problem: We have access to more information than ever, yet we do not know what to do with it. We are desperately information-illiterate.

Danielle Maestretti "Shelf Life: Information Overload", Utne Reader July-August 2009
This is very worthwhile reading, unambiguously concluding:
...media literacy should be a high school requirement, which seems like a no-brainer—10 or 20 years ago, even. For now, it seems that burden is being shouldered by school librarians, which would be a more promising scenario if they weren’t often among the first heads on districts’ budgetary chopping blocks.

For the out-of-school, significant information literacy can be gleaned from public librarians, who are info-literate by trade. Yes, even in this digital age—especially in this digital age—librarians are often the best place to start. They’re at reference desks and Radical Reference (www.radicalreference.info), on instant messenger and telephone, behind brightly colored “Ask a Librarian!” buttons on library websites. They’ll help you cut through the clutter and send you back into the world with a few literacy skills you didn’t even know you needed.
Amen.

This is where I disagree with Toni Garvey's statement that “Reference is not our niche.” Google has won this competition! This is true as far as it goes, but is easily oversimplified. I use Google and Wikipedia, too. But I still use our reference service. Google has drastically changed the reference niche, but hasn't eliminated it any more than television eliminated movies.

This is why our reference librarians are busier than ever. This why experimenting with new information delivery channels, such as chat and text, are an essential part of library service. As more people need and use our public access computers, and as more people try to cope with information overload at home and at work, we're there to help.

We wish that more people knew what we could do -- but on the other hand, we're already pretty busy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting our act(ors) together

Like most public libraries, we depend upon -- and need -- a broad range of community support. And like many, we are lucky to have organized supporters who work to improve and assist the library. At the Appleton Public Library, we are fortunate enough to have both a friends group (Friends of Appleton Library, or FOAL) and a Foundation (Appleton Library Foundation, Inc.). Now the two are on the verge of merging into a single, and stronger, organization.

The Friends have been around since the mid-1970s, were formed to support the library, as well as in support of the need to improve library service and possibly get a new library building. They were heavily involved in political support for the 1978 referendum which resulted in our current building. They created the "walking books" program of delivery to the homebound. They started an endowment fund which supports programs. Currently they have about 250 members, run two book sales each year as their main fundraiser and coordinate the annual holiday "Give a Child a Book" campaign. The provide the library with volunteer and financial support, particularly with regard to programming. They have a grass roots focus and an emphasis on fellowship.

The Foundation was started in 1985 by supporters who wanted to focus on providing broad financial support for any library services which would give our library "the edge of excellence", including materials, technology and marketing in addition to programs. They had a successful five year capital campaign to jump start their endowment fund and make annual grants from a budget approved by the Library Board, according to their Gifts Policy. They do an annual end of year donation request letter and hold an annual fundraising dinner. The Foundation also serves as the fiscal agent for the Friends.

With two wonderful, successful groups, why would we want to change? For one reason: to focus community and staff efforts and library goals and plans. With two groups, two boards, two structures, two sets of meetings, there are areas of overlap and there are gaps. There is a lack of clear public identity as to who is the library support group -- and there's occasional public confusion. There is additional overhead for staff in care and feeding of two organizations.

Public funding is increasingly tight at the same time that library use is growing dramatically. To maintain and grow our services, we need ever more volunteers, ever more private dollars and ever more people willing and able to speak up about the value of the library to decision makers. We need an active community willing to focus on and engage library service needs.

Inspired by a program exploring similar mergers at last year's Public Library Association conference, we started looking at pros and cons of changing. Our Friends and Foundation have been talking for most of the last year and are now looking at a merger agreement. We did a study, conducted by Library Strategies, to identify issues and opportunities. After reflection and discussion, we had a facilitated planning session in which members of both boards rolled up their sleeves and set priorities. The help of an attorney to see to the legal issues has been crucial.

When approved, the new body will be called the Friends of Appleton Library, but will be incorporated like the Foundation. It will be organized like the current Friends, but with some of the Foundation's business structure. And we'll ask everyone serving on both boards to join as members of the initial board of the merged entity. And then we'll need to develop new policies and a new budget.

This has been and will be a lot of work in the short run, but we have little doubt of the long term payoff. The single support group would be able to have a staff, start a capital campaign to help with a new library building, grow their membership and be an increasingly strong voice to recruit volunteers, promote library services and advocate for the library.

We're excited to see what happens next!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Library receives family literacy grant

From today's Post Crescent:

Collaboration between a charity golf event and the J.J. Keller Foundation will mean more than $860,000 for organizations targeting poverty in northeastern Wisconsin...

Appleton Library Foundation: $31,402 for Prime Time Family Reading Program which uses reading out loud, storytelling, and reading strategies to promote higher-order thinking and help the children from low- income families better succeed in school. This is year one of a two-year grant totaling $36,902.
Our children's librarians have done great work to develop & implement the Prime Time Family Reading Time Program -- originally developed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. It's gratifying to see this kind of community support and recognition that family literacy is a basic need when it comes to fighting poverty.

It was a real privilege that the Schmidt Oil Foundation, J.J. Keller Foundation, and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region chose our library to announce these many grants to fight poverty. We're grateful for the grants and proud to be in distinguished company!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Board endorses new building

The report on library facility options was presented by Engberg Anderson architects at a Library Board meeting and in a special presentation to the City Council this week. The Library Board has endorsed the report, which calls for a new library building as a better option for Appleton than an expanded building.

The preliminary report, available on the library website, looks at building design options for either an expansion of the present building or new construction. The Post-Crescent did a nice job reporting on the presentation to Council. I encourage anyone interested in the future of our library to read the report.

This takes the discussion into a new phase. The Library Board has asked the Mayor to consider a site selection process for next year. There's a lot of work and discussion that will need to happen before that decision gets made. A few points ...

  1. The need is real -- and is not one that comes from the staff or the Board, but from the community, the public's use of library services and comparison with best practices in the state and nation. This was substantiated in the extensive community process we undertook last year, with lots of public participation. But I expect we'll need to keep repeating it and justifying it.

  2. The library is for everyone. It's frustrating to hear some people say that we wouldn't have the need, or the library would be worth supporting, if only we kept "those people" away -- and meaning those who may be different. I'll keep on saying it: the library is for everyone. We'll ask anyone to leave if they misbehave or interfere with other folks' library use.

    But we won't deny service to people because they're poor or mentally ill or disabled or speak a different language. This is a public library in a nation founded on equality and freedom. This is a place where everyone in the community can come on an equal basis to learn, to gather, and to create their own opportunities.

  3. One building, downtown - we pretty much resolved in last year's process that branch libraries are not yet the solution for Appleton. Additional facilities will always be inherently less efficient, as collections, staff functions and utility costs get multiplied. Appleton is not yet big enough to justify this.

    And a central library as part of a vibrant downtown works on a lot of levels. We're readily accessible by bicycle and bus. We're within walking distance for many residents and convenient for senior housing and downtown workers. We collaborate with other downtown businesses and organizations. One of the busiest buildings in Appleton, we're part of making the downtown cool, and we're glad to be here!

  4. We want to do the best job for the future of the community. Staff sees heavy use on a daily basis -- not just in the short term, but in the long term. In my 31 years here, I've seen use grow and grow and grow. We need to do it right, not short-sightedly or expediently. Quick fixes tend to just cost more in the long run.

  5. We want to be careful in our decision-making. Many people say, "we can't afford this now -- maybe in a few years." But we're not talking about building now, we're talking about planning now so we can build in a few years, if we can afford it. Whether or not we build a library, our City is fiscally conservative, careful about structuring our long term debt and committed to not having big tax increases. That won't change, and we expect that some private dollars will be needed to make this happen. But it will take a decision by the City to proceed before we can effectively begin to raise those private funds.
Amid rather reactionary responses in the Post-Crescent's online forum, there was this small gem of wisdom:
payingattention wrote:

Rather than rapid-firing comments that have little basis, people should become involved in the civic process so they understand that what gets printed in the paper only skims the surface of the careful work that's been done. There is much more to running the city, library and schools than most people can imagine. In-depth planning is done years in advance and when need is anticipated, it is weighed and thoughtfully considered.

The library is many things to many people. It doesn't try to be a 'one-stop' shop, but it does have state standards to meet and a mission to carry out. Chances are, if you don't live in Appleton or use the library building, you have probably had benefit of the OWLS library system interlibrary loan of items from the APL, without having to drive there yourself.

Everyone knows this is a difficult time to consider spending money, but potential library construction is not expected until between 2012 and 2014. Please become informed and THEN discuss.

The Community Library

I worked for seven years in academic libraries and found it worthwhile and fulfilling on many levels. There was a focus on formal learning and research, knowledge in depth, extensive research tools, and a community of scholars. But it wasn't quite my niche. I was looking for something broader, more encompassing and inclusive. I found it at the Appleton Public Library.

I love the fact that this is a place that welcomes all ages and income levels. e only criteria for using the public library are wanting to be here and civil behavior. We've made it easy because we need to be inclusive. We get the babies and the senior citizens. We get the able, the disabled, the well and the ill. We get the doctors, the judges, the preachers, and the homeless. We get the readers and the watchers, those who walk, and those in strollers or wheelchairs. We serve the nonprofit organizations, the business community, and the unemployed. We welcome everyone to a place which is, if not a community of scholars, nonetheless a community of learning, culture, and communication.

Communities and people need public libraries: places to read, talk, go to a 4-H meeting, a puppet show, or a discussion series on the Revolutionary War. Some of us may do research and social networking on home computers, but we need to physically gather with other humans, to ask questions, explore ideas, discuss and learn. We need to find what we’re looking for, but also to be surprised by all the things that are here and all the things others bring. In a democratic society, it’s vital that we create opportunities for everyone to learn – as each person determines their own wants and needs. And people need books, and will for years to come.

We need to be part of a diverse community, to offer and be part of equal opportunity, to seek the challenges of diverse people and different points of view.

Naysayers -- or those neither curious nor community-minded -- may say the day of the library, especially the public library, is past. Those who are paying attention, those who are engaged in making better lives and learning opportunities for themselves and all their neighbors, and the increasing numbers who use us, know better. That’s why U.S. News & World Report picked “librarian” as one of the top careers for 2009, saying “librarians are among our society's most empowering people.” We’re present – and we have a bright future.

Welcome to your public library. We’ll work to keep it welcoming for everyone.


from the Fine Print newsletter, Summer 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Cart Brigade on parade!

photos from the parade, taken by Michael Kenney:


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 3)

Appleton is proud of having the nation's oldest and longest flag day parade, but today I was especially proud of our library's Book Cart Brigade. After a couple decades' absence from the parade, the library returned with the first appearance of our book cart drill team.

The team was a huge success, drawing applause from crowds along the parade route, and comments on Facebook and in emails. Big BIG thanks to the hard-working team members, led by Ellen Jepson and including Ashley, Autumn, Charisse, Doris, Joann, Kathleen W., Katie, Lynnette, & Vicki B.

Additional support came from banner carriers Meg & Elizabeth, as well as support walkers Elaine, Jared & Colleen. Paul lent a touch of class with his Model A chase & support car. Maintenance staff secured the cart wheels for street use, Marvelous Marketin' Michael made sure we had good shirts, signs & decorations for carts, car and marchers, and was on hand to document, decorate and make sure everything went smoothly. The Library Foundation picked up the tab for out of pocket costs via a marketing grant. Truly, a great piece of teamwork!

The team executes a weave -- photo by Barb Kelly
Public opinions:
  • "so entertaining ... What a stitch! I hope they do that every year. I loved it!"
  • "the best unit in the parade"
  • "You guys were great!"
  • "the highlight of the parade!"
  • "It looked really great!"
  • "Go, Book Cart Brigade!!"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 2A)

Tom Pease performed for about 1,100 kids and parents today, with his message of reading, music, self-esteem, learning and fun. Here's the inimitable Tom, ably assisted by our Children's Librarian Ellen:

Beyond Books: Libraries Lend a Hand in Recession

As seen on the Today Show, June 11.

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 2)

Great programs are underway for all ages. Today, songster Tom Pease is doing three shows, working his magic for children and parents.Staff and volunteers are working hard to organize things for the thousands who will participate in summer programs. Below, three staff people, one summer intern and two volunteers cover the information desk and prepare for the summer teen program.

more info at apl.org!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 1)

We just had the busiest single day our library has ever seen:

  • 2,969 people through the doors
  • 8,601 items checked out
  • 6,608 items checked in
We checked out, on average: one item every five seconds for twelve hours straight! Over 15,000 things moved through our circulation process in one day. When Colleen Rortvedt, our Assistant Director, heard the news, she promptly (and properly) ordered a cake and invited the staff to an impromptu celebration.


We've got a lot of people, staff and volunteers, working hard to make good things happen here. It's important to acknowledge their hard work and celebrate milestone achievements.

This all happened on the first weekday after public schools were out for the year, so a lot of the business was families starting our summer programs. Summer is just beginning: June and July are our busiest months. We're going to work hard -- and have fun!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Book Festival wraps up

Elizabeth Berg, who was the last program of this year's Fox Cities Book Festival, is finishing up in our program area. She drew a crowd of 183 people and we had to scramble to set up additional chairs. A whole bunch of volunteers and Book Festival Board members quickly materialized to help get the chairs out.

That's just the way the whole thing has been -- all sorts of people, from all over the Fox Cities, pitching in together to promote authors, books and reading. It'll be awhile before all the heads are counted and all the evaluations are read, but I'd say it was a howling success. Our library had almost 1,100 people attending programs over the past four days. Michael Perry, our community read author, drew about 1,500 people speaking at every public library in the Fox Cities, plus the UW-Fox campus and in concert at the Performing Arts Center. Our National Library Week door count was 1,868 people a day coming to our building.

But numbers hardly tell the story. The real news was in all the conversations that sprang up, all the connections that developed, all the people exposed to authors and ideas they didn't know before. You get a lot of laughs hearing Sherman Alexie describe his appearance on the Colbert Report, or watching Nikola-Lisa wearing shades, playing the blues harp and doing a rap version of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" -- and then you can talk to people about it.

It took a lot of work, a lot of donations and a lot of hours of volunteer time by a lot of people. Every public library, and a lot of the school and university libraries, in the Fox Cities has been involved, along with many other community-minded folks who work for the joys of books, readers and writers. I'm betting we'll do it again!


photo: Michael Perry @ APL. Photo by Michael Kenney