Sunday, October 28, 2007

Let the public discourse begin...

This is the text of an email sent to the Library staff, the day after the City Council Finance Committee reviewed the Mayor's budget for all departments, and the our local newspaper published an article featuring the request for a library building study
Notes on a Sunday morning...

I know, this should be a day of rest, but I had to go and read this morning's Post Crescent first thing ...

The headline on page 2 states, in impressively large type, "Library space study budgeted." True enough, but the reality is complex and political. We've been asking for a space study for three years. This year is the first time it's been in the Mayor's budget. And now it's in the Finance Committee's budget, on a 3-2 vote, and going to the full City Council for approval on November 14. At that point, it could be removed from the budget by a majority of the Council. Based on the split vote in committee, some of the other remarks from alderpersons, and the media attention, we can expect the issue to arise in deliberations.

The Post Crescent article was actually pretty good, though I don't believe I said that the library is literally bursting at the seems. We're not, although space is getting tight, and we know that the time from a study to any significant change will be measured in years. We also know:
  • we may have enough space for today, but not for long-term needs
  • several areas of the collection are already quite tight, despite increasingly aggressive weeding
  • shelving on top and bottom shelves alleviate some needs but is not ideal for accessibility of materials
  • growth in collections and technology has eaten into floor space and reading/study seating
  • Appleton is growing in size and population, with two high schools north of Highway 41, continued annexation and construction, especially to the northeast and southeast
  • more people from Appleton use libraries in our neighboring communities than vice versa, often citing convenient location and parking as reasons
  • our exit and entryway are not ideal for security: this makes it hard for Circulation staff to monitor and creates problems when groups use our meeting room before or after hours
  • our Young Adult area is very small -- smaller than Little Chute's and much smaller than libraries in Waupaca and LaCrosse, restricting our ability to attract and serve people at a critical age
  • for economy and expediency, our 1996 expansion ignored our 1994 building study's actual recommendations and built smaller than needed for future growth
I really have to disagree with Alderperson Jirschele's comment that this study would be premature because the library needs to first determine a philosophy of service. I think we've done that with our long range plan (on our website at, and we have given a copy of that plan to all of our City Council members. I'll be reminding Ald. Jirschele of that and trying to understand his concern. What we're looking at is not what kind of library service is needed, but what facilities options are best for delivering that service for Appleton in the coming years. Our current building is a response to existing needs in the 1990s, not future needs in the 21st century.

Assuming we get the study approved in the final budget, we will work with the Library Board and the City's Facilities Management Department to make it happen. Most likely this would mean creating a "Request for Proposals" to consulting firms who have experience in studying library building alternatives. Often this includes a team of a library services consultant and an architect. Until we actually get into a study, it's hard to anticipate every possible alternative, but major ones at this point involve:
  • doing nothing
  • remodeling and/or expanding our current building
  • relocating to a new building
  • adding branch(es), either though construction or storefront rental
  • developing a joint library with one or more neighboring municipalities
I think we're very fortunate that our Library Foundation has generously offered to contribute $10,000 to the cost of a study. We've also been talking with the Foundation about soliciting donations to help with any project that might happen. Because of community support, public libraries often are able to get significant contributions for building projects, and I hope this would ease the burden on Appleton taxpayers and help any future library projects go forward.

This will be interesting as we proceed. I hope that everyone on our staff has a sense of what we're doing and why, as I'm sure you'll all get questions. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me or refer people to me.

There were more budget issues, but I think the building study was the big one. Nobody from the Council even asked about the materials budget, so I hope that will be OK. More to come, I'm sure!

There's other stuff to talk about, but enough for now.

Library staff, APL users, etc. this is a good point to leave a comment here...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

1 conference, 4 blogs, 8 bloggers, 36 posts

We had a great Wisconsin Library Association Conference in Green Bay last week, thanks to a lot of good work by many people. I put a post in the blog partway through the week, but there are a lot of postings in four different blogs that I know of. If I'm missing some, please post a comment / link! Thanks to all the bloggers for sharing their experiences:

Michael Golrick / Thoughts of a Library Administrator:
Tasha Saecker / Sites & Soundbytes:
Leslie Farrell / Posterhead
The WLA Blog - with bloggers Beth Carpenter, Joy Schwarz, Pete Gilbert, Nanette Bulebosh, & Amanda Werhane
Thank you all --Wisconsin library folks rock!

Social Digital Global Shift

We need more rocking librarians. This isn't a library song per se, but it puts that 2.0 thang in perspective -- and it's catchy! The redoubtable David Lee King strikes again.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jan Brett visit

They waited for hours, in a line that went around three sides of the library building. Parents were patient and kids were amazingly well-behaved. They were waiting to meet author Jan Brett and get her to sign a book.

For our library, it was a great low-cost program and collaboration with our local independent bookseller, Conkey's Bookstore. It was Conkey's, with their publisher contacts, that plugged us in to Jan's new book tour, promoting The Three Snow Bears. Jan's bus was parked for the afternoon in the library parking lot, so we had the out-of-pocket cost for a few meters. Jan, her husband and her (publisher's) staff did a lot of the work, as did the folks from Conkey's. We gave out about 200 tickets for book signings, and over 400 children and parents went through the library meeting room before the day ended. Conkey's wound up selling a lot of books in our meeting room (a worthwhile exception to the commercial use of the meeting room policy).

In late afternoon, Jan came into the library, was introduced to a receptive audience, presented a donation of several books to staff, gave a talk and drew a picture. Children, parents and librarians alike were captivated, but the best was yet to come. Following her talk, Jan signed books -- and it was a good thing that we had given out tickets so that she was not mobbed.

She was there for hours, much longer than she had agreed on or planned. Yet every child that approached her got the benefit of a big smile, a short talk and Jan's full attention. It was very fine to see a big name writer take as much time as needed to make every child feel special.

It was long hours for our hard-working children's staff, who assisted at every step and worked to keep kids entertained with stories and songs through the long wait, but I hope we see Jan on her next tour!

(Photos by Michael Kenney)

Heroes boost & disparage libraries

Ya gotta love irony. I'm rather fond of the show Heroes, but they are quick to reflect common library prejudice.

Two things in the same week:
  1. a new ALA graphics catalog shows up with a cover photo of a "Read" poster featuring Sendhil Ramamurthy of the NBC series Heroes.
  2. in the latest episode of "Heroes" (10/15/07), as reported on the Library Geek Woes blog
    Teenage Claire wanted to sneak out of the house to meet her boyfriend, so at the dinner table announced that she had to go to the library that evening to work on a research project. Her brother responds, "Duh, Claire, haven't you ever heard of the Internet?" To which she replies, "Well, duh, that's why I'm going to the library. My paper is on how the library is obsolete!"
The depressing thing, of course, is that her family buys this as reasonable and sensible. Presumably viewers are meant to see it that way as well. Perhaps Professor Mohinder Suresh should have a little chat with Cheerleader Claire on the value of libraries! That's more likely to happen than the mainstrema media buying a clue about what we do.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

WLA - learning in person & online

We're in the midst of the Wisconsin Library Association annual conference in Green Bay. It's great to rub elbows with colleagues, meet vendors, have lots of conversations -- some quick, some in-depth -- and of course, go to programs. The conference team and WLA staff are doing a great job as usual.

Thanks to some good bloggers and the WLA website, there are opportunities to learn and talk about the programs even for those who were not able to get here. The WLA blog has extensive notes on many of the programs. Worth watching and following as the website become richer with links to presentations and online resources.