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.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Newspaper: As economy dips, Fox Valley libraries have 'banner year'

Patrons seek out more free services

By Ben Jones • Post-Crescent Madison bureau chief • December 28, 2008

As the economy gets worse, there's one place where business just keeps getting better: the public library.

Several Fox Valley library directors report circulation and patronage is up, driven in part by job seekers and people with tightening entertainment budgets ... [read full story]

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tasha Talks Tech @ FVLC

Our good neighbor Tasha Saecker, Director the the Menasha PL, did a presentation on libraries and technology at a recent Fox Valley Library Council meeting. For those of us who couldn't make the meeting, she posted her PowerPoint on her Sites & Soundbytes blog -- thanks, Tasha!
Technology And Libraries
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Future of the Internet

The Pew Internet & American Life Project has released "The Future of the Internet III", a non-scientific survey of anticipated trends. Key findings reported by the Pew:
  • The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020.
  • The transparency of people and organizations will increase, but that will not necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness.
  • Voice recognition and touch user-interfaces with the internet will be more prevalent and accepted by 2020.
  • Those working to enforce intellectual property law and copyright protection will remain in a continuing arms race, with the crackers who will find ways to copy and share content without payment.
  • The divisions between personal time and work time and between physical and virtual reality will be further erased for everyone who is connected, and the results will be mixed in their impact on basic social relations.
  • Next-generation engineering of the network to improve the current internet architecture is more likely than an effort to rebuild the architecture from scratch.
My inferences for public libraries:
  • we need to pay serious attention to mobile computing
  • more people will expect social web features as a norm
  • we'll stay caught in the crossfire on intellectual property issues
  • informal self-directed education will remain important
  • we'll need to be creative in developing information delivery channels
It's worth looking at full report details.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Seasonal thoughts: joys & concerns

[originally written Nov. 22 and published in the Winter '08 issue of the Fine Print newsletter]

At this writing, we are past the City’s budget adoption, coming up to Thanksgiving and looking forward to the challenges of 2009. In this season, I’m finding a lot to be thankful for and many challenges to anticipate. We were dramatically reminded in the recent national elections that democracy doesn’t come easy, choices are hard, and you can’t take government for granted. is is just as true of the local government decisions, which may not happen on the grand scale of national politics, but are more accessible to direct citizen involvement.

Thinking particularly of our budget, I’m thankful:
  • for the work of many people in funding library operations for another year, including the staff, Library Board, Mayor and Council;
  • for the support of our Friends and Library Foundation;
  • for the thoughtful support of local institutions: the League of Women Voters, the Post-Crescent newspaper, and Appleton Downtown, Inc.
  • for community members who spoke up at the public hearing on the budget, and were eloquent about the importance of library service in our community;
  • for others who called, wrote and contacted their alderpersons on behalf of the library.
The most hotly debated library item in the budget is also one of our biggest challenges in the new year. After a study this year documented space and design problems with our current facility, 2009 will feature a project for program design to lay out spaces for a new or remodeled library,
giving us some good cost figures and maybe even concept drawings. is study is funded by the City and our Foundation. But whatever the result, we know we are years away from any major facility changes. is brings me to the challenges of 2009:
  • doing a thorough job of space planning and program design that will help inform future decisions;
  • beginning a process of community fund-raising -- because we need to accept that some private dollars will be essential to moving any project forward;
  • seeking ever more effective ways to work with our Foundation and Friends;
  • meeting ongoing service needs with the facility we have, seeking new ways to be more cost-effective, environmentally responsible and efficient
  • continuing to develop technology, training and volunteers as means to support staff and services;
  • telling our story to the community, to help people understand library issues for future decisions, as well as make the most effective use of the services we offer.
A final concern is an occasion for both thankfulness and challenge: after 27 years here at APL, including the last 12 years as Assistant Director, Barbara Kelly is retiring. As a volunteer, part-time staff, professional librarian, computer geek, supervisor and administrator, Barbara has done amazing work which has shaped this library over decades. We will greatly miss her. She is a leader not only in our library, but in our community, and the statewide library community. We are in the process of hiring a new Assistant Director, but Barbara cannot be replaced.

[Barbara's final "BiblioTech Topics" article reviews some of the changes she has seen and facilitated.]

Friday, December 12, 2008

More valuable in tough times

And we thought we were busy back when the economy was good!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Modern City, Modern Library

This 1978 slide/tape presentation was originally produced by Ross Stephen of the UW-Oshkosh Library, with photos taken in late 1977. Our staff, particularly AV Librarian Colleen Rortvedt, converted the slides to video and Children's Librarian Ellen Jepson re-recorded the narrative -- nice work!

Viewing this makes you appreciate that though we have space needs and concerns now, things are not as desperate as they were then.

The coolest thing you can't see

A story in BBC News highlights the launch of a multimedia digital online library for Europe. A joint effort of more than 1,000 organizations including the British Library and the Louvre, the new Europeana will include "more than two million books, maps, recordings, photographs, archive documents, paintings and films." The site will be presented in 23 languages.

Unfortunately, this is such a great idea that the site was overwhelmed by users: 10 million hits per hour. The site is now down for a few weeks being re-tooled for higher capacity.

And I thought our library had bandwidth issues.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Library, thank goodness, will not be shushed

An editorial in the Oshkosh Northwestern lifts up the planned remodeling of the Oshkosh Library, fourteen years after a major expansion. The paper notes:
The Oshkosh Public Library's overseers have a vision and action plan that not only combats the loss of patrons to the latte-brewing retail bookstores of the world in the good times, it also will strengthen 106 Washington Ave's standing as thee community crossroads in this city amid the bad.

The next piece of the physical and philosophical transformation begins on Dec. 15, and it's a great move for Oshkosh. Libraries are easily bullied if not shushed in tough economic times. "Just not as essential – we're in a recession," bloviate the most shortsighted of critics. But tough times call for reinvention in our public institutions. Stagnancy is exactly the wrong thing to prescribe.

Among the features planned for the current remodeling are moving periodicals, comfy furniture and social areas to the first floor and moving books to the second floor to create quiet study space. This will pave the way for planned future improvements including:

  • first floor as digital nerve center
  • more self-checkout stations (freeing up staff to help patrons)
  • tech center
  • small-group computer lab
  • café

Great plans, and not unlike what our community study this year told us we'd need. But we also need more space to work with and Oshkosh had already dealt with many of their space, security and meeting room problems in their last remodel.

I'll look forward to visiting the reconfigured library. Congratulations to our neighbors for taking this step!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gaiman on free speech, freedom to read

One of my favorite writers is Neil Gaiman, British ex-patriate author of Sandman, American Gods, Stardust, Coraline, and many other magical works. On his blog today, he publishes an impassioned defense of free expression in a thought-provoking essay "Why defend freedom of icky speech?" For many years, Gaiman has worked to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and has called freedom of speech "the most precious, magical, and wonderful thing that anyone ever came up with."

Gaiman posts a lengthy and well-reasoned examination of the need to protect even speech we may find distasteful. Recommended reading. Excerpts:
I loved coming to the US in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was paramount. I still do. With all its faults, the US has Freedom of Speech. You can't be arrested for saying things the government doesn't like. You can say what you like, write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it. I loved that I could read and make my own mind up about something. ...

Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom to own material that you believe is worth defending means you're going to have to stand up for stuff you don't believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you don't, because prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one person's obscenity is another person's art.

Because if you don't stand up for the stuff you don't like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you've already lost.

... that's what makes the kind of work you don't like, or don't read, or work that you do not feel has artistic worth or redeeming features worth defending. It's because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and because you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.
Some nations imprison people for self-expression, like the Burmese blogger recently sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for lampooning the military. We can be thankful for freedom of speech as one of our American national cornerstones, but can't take it for granted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

King Corn - film discussion

You are what you eat, and we need to talk. Next Thursday, Dec 4 at 6:30PM, we'll have a screening of the documentary film King Corn, and discussion led by Dr. Dubear Kroening, Associate Professor of Biology at UW-Fox Valley.

From the PBS blurb:
Behind America’s dollar hamburgers and 72-ounce sodas is a key ingredient that quietly fuels our fast-food nation: corn. In KING CORN , recent college graduates Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis leave the east coast for rural Iowa, where they decide to grow an acre of the nation’s most powerful crop.

Alarmed by signs of America’s bulging waistlines, the filmmakers arrive in the Midwest enthusiastic about their new endeavor. ... Ian and Curt are increasingly troubled by how the abundance of corn is helping to make fast food cheap and consumers sick, driving animals into confinement and farmers off the land. Animal nutritionists confirm that corn feeding can make cows sick and beef fatty, but it also lets consumers have fast food at low prices. As feedlot operator Bob Bledsoe says in KING CORN, “America wants and demands cheap food.”
Here's the trailer for the film:

Marketing Your Library Final 1

Here's a SlideShare presentation developed as a grad school class group presentation, and published online by Michael Stephens. Although it's developed for a fictional community and has some idealized academic aspects, it would be a good springboard for real world discussions, particularly with regard to electronic marketing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I finished baking the corn muffins, so ... a few seconds for reflection. Beyond the immense gifts of food on my plate, a roof over my head, friends and family, I'm thankful for:
  • having a job
  • the opportunity to do meaningful work, and the many joys of public libraries
  • a society that values the freedom to speak & read
  • having excellent co-workers -- staff & volunteers
  • people that support the library
  • people that use the library
  • people that offer constructive criticism
  • a day off
Hope everyone has a great holiday!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Love a (Christmas) Parade

Kids, staff, family, Board members, even a dog and an Alderman. Thanks to the Boldt company for the truck and the help from staff and volunteers, thousands of people saw our float as we rode and marched in the Appleton Downtown Christmas Parade. It's great to hear kids yelling "yay, library!"

Book sale - recycling the collection & donations

Good things about the Friends' fall book sale:
  1. it recycles used materials for fresh users
  2. it raises money to support library services
  3. it makes books available cheaply
  4. it's a community event
  5. it's done with the hard work of dedicated volunteers

Monday, November 24, 2008

Greening the library

Library Journal had a provocative article in the Nov. 1 issue, "Global warming's library challenge", calling for immediate plans and actions. Our library has several times partnered with a local sustainability group to offer programs and discussions. But talk and programs are not enough. We've made substantial strides to recycle and conserve energy, but that's not enough.

We need to be intentional; at the very least, an awareness of sustainability concerns should inform our purchasing and planning. Writing in the September issue of Shambhala Sun, Thich Nhat Hanh noted:
If we continue to live as we have been living, consuming without a thought to the future, destroying our forests and emitting greenhouse gases, then devastating climate change is inevitable. ...

The Chinese, the Indians, and the Vietnamese are still dreaming the “American dream,” as if that dream were the ultimate goal of mankind—everyone has to have a car of their own, a bank account, a cell phone, a television set. In twenty-five years the population of China will be 1.5 billion people, and if each of them wants to drive their own private car, China will need 99 million barrels of oil every day. But world production today is only 84 million barrels per day, so the American dream is not possible for the Chinese, nor the Indians or the Vietnamese. The American dream is no longer possible for the Americans. We cannot continue to live like this. It is not a sustainable economy.
Potential areas for "green library" discussion, planning and action:
  • energy use in current operations
  • building & construction plans
  • library supplies & products used
  • service implications
  • disaster planning
  • cost savings
  • program planning
  • recycling
  • collection development
All kinds of libraries need to step up and engage the issues; there are many resources listed in the LJ article. Maybe we're not going to put solar panels and wind turbines on our roof, but we still need to get staff at our library talking and working.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The last word on "Twilight"

OK, maybe not the last word, but with the release of the movie this weekend, this video featuring two of our teens is timely. Nice job by both of them -- Ryan also represents teen concerns as a representative to the Library Board.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Library Reformation: 95 Edicts You Should Nail to Your Library's Door

Brian Simon, Director, Verona Public Library & Nathan Deprey, Director, Osceola Public Library, gave an interesting presentation at last week's Wisconsin Library Association Conference. Their list is online, and even if you don't want to nail it to your door, it's worth reading and discussing.

Example theses:
2. Above books, subscription databases, story time or ready reference our service is undertaken to improve the community we serve.

55. Libraries have traditionally changed slowly which has created a level of stability. Stability is a good thing except when it is threatened by becoming obsolete. Libraries need to innovate, or at least be up-to-date. Libraries must be more nimble to change.

62. Budget knowledge should be conveyed to as many people as will hear you. Use Friends or Library newsletters; discuss with library staff, elected officials, and other stakeholders in the communities you serve.

75. It makes a greater impact when someone learns that the library helps: conduct market research for a local business, improve ACT scores, fix a car, teach people to read, or provide access to online classes, rather than learning the library offers 16 databases, 66,000 books, or 15 Internet accessible computers.

Cell phones redux

The terrific online comic strip Unshelved hit library cell phone use last week:
Used by permission.
After a spirited discussion at last May's Library Board meeting, our Board upheld staff practices of maintaining our second floor (reference, nonfiction, public Internet) as a cell phone-free zone, while allowing cell phone use on the first floor (circulation, children's, periodicals, media, fiction) and lower level (meeting rooms). This seemed like a workable arrangement -- and a reasonable compromise between those who feel they can use their cell phone any where and those who feel no one should be allowed to use cell phones in the library.

Our practice acknowledges that cell phones are part of people's lives, even at the library, but also that some library users have an expectation of being able to read or study undisturbed. It doesn't eliminate enforcement problems -- there are always some inconsiderate people like the guy in the strip -- but it does manage the situation responsibly. The Board asked us to further study the situation and report back in November. Our Assistant Director, Barb Kelly, presented the following at yesterday's Board meeting.
  • Most staff feel that we have found a good balance between the needs of people with cell phones and the needs of others for quiet. Staff did express concern that there were some good reasons why people might need to use a cell phone on the second floor – mostly having to do with the public access computers there and the possibility that someone working on one might need to consult work or school, etc. The sign expressing the rules for the computer lab includes language that allows staff to make exceptions in such cases. Very few exceptions have been requested or made.
  • We considered whether there might be space on the first floor that could be made off-limits for cell phones. It is our opinion that this would be very difficult to do, and would not accomplish the desired results of creating a quiet area on that floor. There are really no areas on the first floor that are isolated from the main spaces, and it would be very difficult for staff to enforce any such rules.
  • In our recent surveys, 4 people out of 320 results from the in-house survey, and 3 out of 141 online surveys indicated they wished cell phones be banned. That is not a very high percentage, especially given the publicity around the issue.
  • We did feel that our signs could be improved. They were all just a little different, having been created at different times. We re-did all of them using the same colors, fonts, graphics, etc. but mainly retaining the language we were using. We have added a sign in the elevator, as some people who never used the stairs did not see the signs there. And we also put signs in the restrooms on the second floor, as people fail to realize how much their voices carry.
  • We laminated all of the new signs so that they would hold up better and not become shabby as quickly. We will replace them in the event are defaced or worn.
  • Generally, the language on the signs becomes more specific and stronger in tone as one moves from the first floor to the second where cell phone use is prohibited. The sign at the front door is meant to inform people of our rules. The signs in the stairway and elevator instruct people to take action to turn off or silence phones. The signs on the second floor are firm about the rule.
We feel, as you concluded at the May meeting, that this is more of a cell phone user behavior issue than a cell phone issue. We think current practice is properly addressing the concerns.
I appreciate the thoughtful work by Barb and other staff on this issue. Board members had one suggestion: add other languages to the signs. Good idea -- we're on it!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Community space

It's freezing outside, but Alex Kahler and his "Big Brother" Chuck Lewis enjoy a quiet Scrabble game in the green library atrium.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I'm sitting in the City Council's budget session. The Council just voted to leave the next phase of our building study in the 2009 budget. Assuming they don't change their minds later tonight, we'll be working on an RFP for program design next year.

The Mayor, Alderperson Baranowski, and several others were eloquent in their supporting remarks. Even several alderpersons who wanted to take the study out of the budget praised the library's importance, work and staff, only questioning the timing. In the end, 10 of the 16 voted to keep the item in the budget.

addendum: the above was posted three hours ago from my cell-phone, since I can't get wi-fi in the Council chambers. Nothing changed for the library in the meeting, which lasted until about 12:30 AM. Thanks to all the Council members who voted for the library, and to all those in the community who supported us. Thanks, too, to the Post-Crescent, which lent its editorial support and was johnny-on-the-spot with an online article, "Appleton library planning escapes budget cuts", posted by 9:30 PM while the Council still debated golf and trash collection issues.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Branding & marketing 2.0-style

Jeff Scott of Casa Grande Public Library made some good references to presentations from Internet Librarian 2008. He particularly highlighted Greg Schwartz's Branding: not just for cows anymore and Digital Marketing from Aaron Schmidt & Sarah Houghton-Jan.

As we become more dependent on technology not only to provide service, but to make people aware of services, we need to be attentive to the many strands of the web that connect to our libraries.

We have opportunities & skills to influence how people see us online, and the responsibility to engage our communities. Jeff highlights some points...

From the Branding presentation:
  • Have a Homebase
  • Own your username
  • Aggregate your lifestream
  • Join the Conversation
  • Follow what others are saying about you (Twitter)
  • Be Authentic
And from the Digital Marketing presentation:
  • Make your library website two-way
  • Show up in searches whether they are library directories, search engines, wifi finders, community sites, library thing local and community sites.
  • What are people saying about you? Search social sites to look for reviews.
  • Find Local Blogs and intereact in a human way.
  • We're experts too, library staff can show up at answer sites.
  • Push the information out: newsletter software, email addresses, etc.
There are some real confluences in these two presentations. This seems to me to create opportunities for a lot of staff to be involved. Marketing needs all hands on deck. So one other presentation caught my eye: Organization 2.0 from Rebecca Dysart. Noting that "Collaborative & connecting technologies are changing the entire concept of where an organization starts and stops", Dysart explores some of the impact of new technology on organizational structure: how we get the work done.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Project Play @ WLA

I'm missing the state library conference -- durn it. But I'm glad to be able to follow some things on the WLA Blog. One presentation I would've enjoyed was the one about Project Play. Not surprisingly, however, Beth Carpenter has nicely blogged the presentation. The whole thing's worth reading as a nice summary of the program, but the slideshow and video are great for a quick overview.

Check out the full post -- lots of great links. Thanks again to Beth, Joy and Stef!

Speaking up for the library

In a week when it seems the world has been focused on our national political scene, I'm reminded of Tip O'Neill's statement: "All politics is local." Municipal politics are the most direct, visceral and accessible, where you can chat with your elected representatives every day, and where they personally know a substantial number of constituents.

Eight days after the November general election, our Common Council will adapt the 2009 City of Appleton budget. This presidential election may have been historic -- heck, when not wearing my library hat, I was involved in some of the state and national races. And we may do a City budget every year -- but I've been stressing more about our local issue than the state and national ones. Our library has a lot at stake.

The issues are not around our operating budget, but on a couple of capital projects: beginning conversion to RFID security and doing program design work for a expanded or new library. RFID got taken out of the budget by Council committee. The next step on a building project got left in --but there are some alderpersons who want to take it out, feeling the timing isn't right.

Last night was the Council's public hearing on the budget, and six people spoke up on behalf of the Library. Some I expected, and some were pleasant surprises:
  • Terry Bergen, Library Board President
  • Dennis Hultgren, Appleton Library Foundation President
  • Sharrie Robinson, Friends of Appleton Library Board member and library volunteer
  • Tim Hoff, banker and President of Appleton Downtown Inc.
  • Carolyn Mewhorter, League of Women Voters President
  • Michael Potter, member of Appleton Downtown's Economic Development Committee and the City Planning Commission
I'm grateful to them. They all spoke passionately and eloquently on the importance of the library to the community, encouraging public/private partnerships to meet community needs, and the timeliness of our concerns. We hope the voters and their representatives agree.

Our stakes are high: I'm hopeful, but not optimistic, that they might put back RFID, but it will be a long process to implement and we'd like to realize the benefits to our patrons and cost efficiencies sooner. But our building issue is bigger, more long-term, and more time-critical: if the Council takes the building design work out of the budget, it makes it nigh unto impossible to begin fund-raising, and effectively stops the conversation for a year.

Barack Obama on libraries

No matter what any of our personal politics are, Barack Obama will be our next President. And so it's good to re-read what he said about libraries when he addressed the American Library Association conference June 27, 2005.

Among other things, he said:
More than a building that houses books and data, the library has always been a window to a larger world - a place where we've always come to discover big ideas and profound concepts that help move the American story forward.

...libraries remind us that truth isn't about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.

And so the moment we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold into a library, we've changed their lives forever, and for the better. This is an enormous force for good.

Reading this speech might help us understand what the library community might expect from our next President. And it might help remind us of what people expect from us, and why we do this work.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Teen Book Talk Videos

Our awesome YA staff and teens strike again! Check out our Book Talk playlist on YouTube.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Candidates debate

We had over 100 people attend tonight's State Assembly debate.

The Post-Crescent streamed it live. Thanks to the League of Women Voters for cosponsoring and running the show -- and to our two candidates, Penny Bernard Schaber and Jo Egelhoff.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Going to the candidates debate"

I know everyone is getting burned out on the election, but we are pleased to be co-sponsoring a debate for assembly candidates at our library. Quoth the Post-Crescent:
57th District candidates will debate Thursday
Appleton Post Crescent - WI, USA

APPLETON — The public is invited to a 57th Assembly District debate from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Hosted by the Appleton League of Women Voters at the Appleton Public Library, the debate features candidates Jo Egelhoff, a Republican, and Penny Bernard Schaber, a Democrat.

Both are from Appleton and are seeking the seat vacated by state Rep. Steve Wieckert, R-Appleton, in Tuesday's election.

The library is located at 225 N. Oneida St.

The Post-Crescent will cover the debate live on
I'm glad we're doing it, hope we get a good turnout -- and I'm looking forward to seeing how the Post Crescent does live coverage.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Building study moves to next step

Well, Saturday was our budget hearing, and it went mostly OK, and the paper told the story, mostly accurately. The next stage of our building study, preliminary design & cost estimates, was approved by committee and now goes to the full City Council on Nov. 12.

There was a bit of a misunderstanding that has led some people to assume the Council killed out building study. Not so, but they voted to delay starting work on an upgraded RFID security system.

I'd recommend the Post-Crescent article, with a grain of salt: there's a lot of good information there. Unfortunately, due to what I think was a misunderstanding, I got misquoted on the issue, and that led to a slightly sensationalized headline:
Appleton Public Library proposal may stall out due to financial crisis
By Steve Wideman • Post-Crescent staff writer • October 26, 2008

APPLETON — A $107,000 first step toward preparing for a new Appleton Public Library could see a one-year delay amid aldermen's concerns about starting a major project during the global economic downturn. ...

Library Director Terry Dawson said approval of the $107,000 was necessary to prepare for a new library, estimated to cost $30 million to $40 million, as recommended by consultants in July to meet library space needs.

The amount the committee voted to delay is for the first year's work on a new security system -- a good idea and useful, but hardly necessary to prepare for a new library. It would be really good to have RFID conversion completed and operational before we get to any new space. The sooner we do it, the sooner we start seeing long-term savings. But it's a multi-year project in any case, and it will be a number of years before we get anything very different with our building.

Neither would I presume that it will be a new library -- it could be a remodeled expanded facility. And I wouldn't put a price tag on it yet. The figure quoted are two that we've heard, but that's one reason we want to do some design and cost studies next year: we should make some decisions and get better information.

My concern with the misunderstanding is that I've heard from a number of folks concerned that the City Council has pulled the rug out from under our building study. On the contrary, we were hoping to do a short-term project (RFID) that would have some service efficiencies and dovetail with a long-term project (a new or remodeled building). We can still do it, though if we wait still another year, the dovetailing gets progressively trickier.

But the next phase of the building study is still alive and pending Council approval Nov. 12.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Library 2.0 makes good neighbors

I see that the Lester Public Library over in nearby Two Rivers, WI has gotten some well deserved attention as part of a presentation by David Lee King. Several of the slides hold up the 2.0 resources developed by Lester staff. Kudos to Director Jeff Dawson & the good folk of T'rivers!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You've got a Friend

This is National Friends of Libraries Week. Here at APL, we have been blessed with a terrific Friends group. I sent the following to our staff, our Board and our mailing list:

The Friends of Appleton Library (FOAL) are holding a membership drive Oct. 21-25. Look for a Friends member at a table near the circulation desk. They will offer the opportunity to become a Friends member and show your support for our library. New members will be entered into a drawing to win a basket of goodies including chocolates, gift cards from CSI and Harmony Café and more! Everyone is welcome to purchase the brand new canvas tote bags sporting the APL logo for only $8.00. The table will be staffed on Tuesday through Friday from 2:00-6:00 pm and on Saturday from 1:00-5:00 pm.

Why join FOAL?

The Appleton Public Library needs friends – and the Friends need you!

FOAL demonstrates commitment & support for the Library, by providing:
  • funds to support library programming and marketing
  • political support and advocacy -- FOAL helped the library get its current building, supported the 1996 expansion, and continues to work for future improvements.
  • many volunteer opportunities & support for volunteer efforts
  • assistance with library programs
  • sponsorship of the annual “Give a Child a Book” campaign, providing thousands of books as holiday gifts to children in low-income families
  • support to the FOAL/Frank P. Young Scholarship, educating the next generation of librarians
  • support and appreciation for the APL staff, with an annual holiday breakfast and other assistance
  • a large membership in the Friends send a message to elected officials that the community supports their library
What do you get out of it?
  • The feeling of knowing that you’re part of the library’s work – supporting community, families and education
  • The satisfaction of positive civic engagement – working together with others to make things better
  • A perk for FOAL members: exclusive access to a “Preview Sale” at the FOAL Used Book Sales in May and November.
  • New Lifetime members get an attractive and useful new canvas tote bag sporting the APL logo.
Annual dues to join the Friends are tax deductible
  • Individual membership: $10
  • Family: $25
  • Supporting: $35
  • Life membership: $100 (one-time payment)
Checks should be made payable to the Appleton Library Foundation with a note of FOAL membership; stop and talk to one of the Friends this week or mail your membership payment to the library.

Please consider joining the Friends today! FOAL has supported the Library since 1975; we need and value your support and participation! See

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Making the catalog easier

Our friends at the Outagamie Waupaca Library System come up with useful information for one of most Frustrating and Frequently Asked Questions. This will make our already terrific InfoSoup shared online catalog easier to use by helping you access your account and other functions even if you forget your PIN. Nice!

Phishing Scams in Plain English

Common Craft scores again! This one should be mandatory; sophisticated users may know it already, but this is a great presentation of a problem that manifests among library public access Internet users, as well as in our work and home email accounts.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Budget 2009: what's happening with a new library building?

We had a facility study earlier this year, which concluded we ought to have a new library building. But a consultant and the Library Board agreeing about what we ought to do is only a beginning, and not even close to resolving the political decisions that will be needed.

Some people have congratulated me that we'll be getting a new library -- thanks, but that's premature. Many people ask about a possible building project:
  • when will it be?
  • where will it be?
  • will we remodel or build new?
But it's too soon to say much; most of these decisions are still years away. We're trying to keep things moving forward, and the next step will be decided in the 2009 City of Appleton budget.

In their 2009 budget request, the Library Board asked for funds to do preliminary design work next year -- the estimated cost would be $75,000, and the Appleton Library Foundation has generously offered to pay $25,000 of that amount. The Mayor's Executive Budget, including this request, was published on Oct. 1 and is now in the hands of the City Council. The Council will hold a public hearing on Nov. 5, and vote on the budget on Nov. 12.

Dealing with building concerns is a long-term project:
  • this year we studied service needs and community priorities vs. current space, including focus groups, surveys, interviews and public meetings; the report, accepted by the Library Board in July and available here, concluded
    • we need more space (138,000 sq. ft. vs. 86,000 current) and it needs to be better designed for the 21st century
    • we should have a single building and not add branches
    • we should stay in the downtown
    • a newly designed structure would be more efficient and best provide for future library service needs
    • remodeling and adding to our current building is possible, but we cannot add without substantially increasing our footprint -- the building footings and structure will not permit additional floors
  • So what's next? We have a five year capital request before the Council, though we're only looking at funding for next year.
    • 2009 -- preliminary designs, drawings and cost projections-- based on space planning and features
    • 2010 -- site selection & site cost projections
    • 2011 -- site acquisition
    • 2012 -- final schematic designs & cost projections
    • 2013-4 -- construction
  • This is not just about space: it's about service delivery & efficiency
  • It's too soon to talk about location -- until we understand more about costs, and are ready to commit to a piece of real estate. And you don't pick out real estate until you're ready to commit.
  • We will not do anything we can’t afford – we know that Appleton is conservative and careful with regard to debt; major expenses are years away and won’t be approved until we’re ready
  • We hope to raise substantial private dollars to help, but we need to demonstrate City commitment to donors.
The other useful component of our budget request is for RFID (Radio Frequency Identification: $107,000 requested for 2009), a short-term building block toward a long-term solution, improving security and circulation systems, offering:
  • Better efficiency
  • Better security
  • Long-term savings will be greatest if we can add a substantial automated materials handling system, preferably in an upgraded facility designed for more efficiency
We're moving forward deliberately -- not quickly -- some of us might wish it were faster, but we need to be fiscally responsible to make this work. We just want to continue moving forward.

You can read our actual five year capital request for the building here and the RFID project here.

Budget 2009: overview & operating budget

The Library, like other City departments, submits a budget request for the following year in the summer. Ours goes through our Library Board, and so already has a level of citizen input and oversight. During July, August and September, the City's Finance Department goes through all the budgets with a fine tooth comb, the Mayor makes tough decisions, and an executive budget is published in early October. The City Council's Administrative Services Committee will hold hearings on departmental requests on Oct. 25, there will be a public hearing on Nov. 5, and the Council's budget adoption is scheduled for Nov. 12.

So the Library's 2009 budget request is now a matter of public consideration. I think we've submitted a pretty frugal budget, but we expect that the Council will take a hard look and ask us tough questions: that's their job. We hope that the Council will agree that we're being frugal and that our library continues to provide a good value; and we hope that the community will support us and let their Council representatives know what they think.

Some (boring but important) numbers & statistics:
  • Over 1,600 people a day use the library -- so far this year, an increase of over 13,000 people through our doors compared to 2007
  • Over 64,000 more items circulated in 2008 than this time last year (up 7%) -- we circulate more than 4,000 items per day
  • Holds/reserves filled for our patrons up 13% from last year
  • More than 26,000 people have attended a library program for adults, children or teens -- up 47% from last year
  • Volunteer hours are up 13% from last year (we have almost the equivalent of two full-time staff in volunteer hours)
  • Meeting room and studys have been used more than 1,600 times this year -- up 8%
And some 2009 budget numbers:
  • Library revenue projection up 4.38%
  • Total library spending up 1.29% (not including any cost of living salary increases)
  • Total library operating budget up 0.59%
  • Library materials budget - no change from 2008
  • Library staff - no change from 2008
So our bottom line is that we're doing a lot more work without a lot more City property tax support: a good value for the community. Circulation, always our biggest output number, has increased steadily for years, while the City funded staff has actually decreased a bit. For next year's request, we held the budget line, but managed to put a bit more into our underfunded training account. The Mayor trimmed about $30,000 from the Library Board's request, in materials and equipment, and while it's less than we felt we needed, we're OK with those cuts.

Additional revenues from our Foundation and Friends & the OWLS system, along with technology and volunteers, are keeping us afloat, but we have to keep looking for more long-term solutions to stay efficient and meet service needs. One example of operating efficiencies: we're working with our system staff on a new method of creating the slips we need when routing items that we loan to other libraries or send back to after our patrons have used them. If we can shave one second off each transaction, it will save us hours every month.

For interested citizens, hobbyist accountant or anyone with a lot of time, the City budget is available at our Reference Desk, or you can read the Library's operating budget request here. More information about capital budget request, including the library building -- coming soon to a blog near you.

Job posting: leaping tall buildings optional

I am sorry (and a bit envious) that my colleague and friend, our Assistant Library Director Barbara Kelly, will be retiring in January. Barb has been here for 27 years, starting as a volunteer and working her way up to Assistant Director. Along the way, she has accomplished many terrific things, and has provided considerable professional leadership not only to our community, but to all of Wisconsin. In retirement, she will continue that professional involvement and intends to stay active with the Wisconsin Library Association, the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation, and Fox Cities Online. We'll miss her ongoing involvement here.

But that also means we're hiring. Job posting follows...

Assistant (Deputy) Director

Appleton Public Library, an award-winning library with a reputation as a leader and innovator in library services and technology, a member of a strong public library system, is seeking a creative, experienced professional to help take us to the next generation of library service. The City of Appleton is located in the Fox Cities of East Central Wisconsin and is frequently listed among best and safest cities to live. The library’s city budget is supplemented by a foundation endowment and supported by a strong friends group. The library is developing a new website and in the early stages of a planned building expansion or relocation. This position coordinates library operations, services, technology and human resources and offers competitive salary and benefits. This position requires considerable experience in professional library work, including at least five years of supervisory management experience, a masters degree in Library Science from an ALA accredited library school, or any equivalent combination of experience and training. If you are interested in applying for this position, please fill out an application at the address below or obtain an application on-line at; for full job description and requirements see Applications accepted until December 31st, however initial review of applications will occur on November 13, 2008.

Human Resources Department/6th Floor
100 N. Appleton Street
Appleton, WI 54911
Phone: 920-832-6458
Fax: 920-832-5845
Equal Opportunity Employer

Monday, October 13, 2008

The downside of self-checks?

In today's Post-Crescent, columnist Jim Olski wrote a piece:
Talk is cheap, so why does it keep disappearing?

After taking a copy of Charles Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend" off the shelf, I headed to the checkout counter at the Appleton Public Library.

I placed my library card on the automatic checkout gizmo and placed the book on top of that. A piece of paper printed out and, by golly, the task was done.

"They've got this almost perfected," I thought ...

Gosh, sounds nice. But Olski is not writing to praise the library, but to deliver a jeremiad on the loss of conversation in an automated world. He goes on to say:
I mourn the passing of one more human interaction, the friendly chat while checking out a book.

Sure, it's a big library, and we must be efficient, but the inevitability of progress comes with a cost, and here's what I think it is: The niceties of civil discourse among nodding acquaintances tempered our conversation among strangers, so that we didn't always meet so angrily as My Side and The Other.

Add the librarian to the bank teller and the gas station attendant.
And I get it. The library is about building community, and that means creating opportunities for conversations -- among library users as well as between staff and patrons. Right now, about 25% of our checkouts go through our five self-check machines. Some studies of the library have called on us to increase that percentage number, in the name of added efficiency. We're recruiting volunteers to help teach people how to use the self-checks (and the volunteers will talk with people).

But in looking for more efficiency, its important that we keep that human interaction -- and we have. Olski's concerns notwithstanding, we keep our desk staffed, and no-one is required to use the self-check. Full service checkouts always available.

I responded:
Jim -

Interesting ideas, but two reactions:

1) There are always at least two people working the Appleton Library checkout, because computers are lousy at solving nonstandard problems and giving you human interaction. We agree: it's too important to lose!

2) If the budget and staff would increase as fast as the use, we might not need self-check machines. But they can't. Our circulation last month was up 68% over our circulation in Sept. 2000. Can you imagine your taxes supporting a 68% increase in library staff in 8 years? Efficiency is a mandate, not a choice.

But we still have people for you to talk with, if you're willing to wait in line, and the library works in lots of ways to increase community conversations.

I haven't read "Our Mutual Friend"; how was it?

I'm not necessarily a fan of automating things that can be done with personal service, but I am a fan of continuing to provide good library service to a growing community. Sometimes that means figuring out how to do more work without more staff.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"We're number 1...or number 50...or in the top 10% or" ?!?

The annual HAPLR rankings have been released, prompting a spate of local press coverage in communities where the libraries found enough HAPLR justification for bragging rights. I don't begrudge any library being able to show reasons why they're good. It's a challenge to find ways that quantify the positive impacts public libraries have in their communities. But we have to keep ranking systems in perspective. I sympathize with any librarian who may be criticized for having low rankings, since ranking systems have built in biases.

HAPLR, which is Hennen's American Public Library Rankings, has been published for years by Tom Hennen, the Director of the Waukesha County Federated Library System here in Wisconsin. I've told Tom since the start that I'm not a big fan of his rankings, which are based on national statistics gathered by the Public Library Statistics Cooperative. The reason I don't much like them is that I believe they emphasize circulation of popular materials and totally disregard library programming and electronic service delivery. I've written about this in the past ("Innovators suffer under HAPLR", Jan. 2007)

In the October issue of American Libraries magazine, Tom posts a spirited defense of his rankings. He makes a good case for why it's important to use input measures as well as output measures, and how weighting numerous factors in a complex formula helps paint a complex picture. The new Library Journal ranking system looks interesting, though it has not yet published rankings. The LJ system intends to include programming (a strength here at APL) and public workstation use -- just about the only objective technology measurement we've been able to agree on as a profession.

It's hard to predict whether APL will fare better or worse in the LJ rankings. I know that we have very few computer workstations relative to both population and demand. That doesn't matter to HAPLR, but it will in the LJ rankings. Most importantly, it matters t our patrons! Any ranking system will reflect some arbitrary choices by those designed it.

For the record, our library's scores in the latest HAPLR:
  • raw score 762
  • percentile 90%
Rank relative to other Wisconsin libraries:
  • in our population class #1
  • of all libraries #50 (of 381)
  • of public library system resource libraries #7 (of 16)
% scores of libraries in the area
  • Neenah 94%
  • Menasha 96%
  • Oshkosh 90%
  • Appleton 90%
  • Kaukauna 80%
  • Kimberly/Little Chute 67%
  • Brown County 81%
These are all pretty good scores, which is fine because these are all good libraries. Is Menasha the best library around here? Maybe -- it depends. Like a lot of statistics, I find the trend lines over time more interesting than a single year snapshot. The most important point is that measurements and rankings are arbitrary.

A few years ago, I visited a top-rated HAPLR library and I was expecting to be blown away by a paragon of library service. I found a relatively run-down and messy place and felt confused. But it had a lot of tourist use with a small permanent service population, driving up all the per capita outputs heavily weighted in HAPLR, and it had a lot of donated materials, substantially reducing the cost per circulation. Ya gotta love statistics.

Each community is the measure of its own library.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Democracy is coming to the U.S.A."

As the election season winds down, many of us are thinking about politics and the electoral process. As in so many things, public libraries have a role in helping people stay informed. This function may never be as popular as John Grisham novels, or the latest popular DVD, but it's one of the most important things we do.

As James Madison 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.

Most of this happens indirectly: people read what they want, and it's our business to have books and periodicals that cover all sides of the issues. But here's a bit of what we're doing directly this year:

  • Registering voters: library staff is deputized to do voter registrations, and we've hosted several visits from League of Women Voters registration teams
  • An updated set of Quickref page of useful Internet links to election and political information -- our Reference staff has found some of the good stuff out there
  • A bibliography on the Electoral College
  • Library programs and community meetings, including
    • Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson (pictured), discussing "Impartial Judiciary" and concerns about judicial election campaigns [co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters & the library]
    • A candidate forum for Assembly candidates [co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans]
    • A debate between Wisconsin 57th Assembly district candidates [co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters & the library]
    • A presentation and podcast on the Electoral College by Lawrence University Professor Arnold Shober [sponsored by the library]
As Chief Justice Abrahamson noted in her presentation, it's up to us as voters to pay attention and check facts. That's one of the things impartial libraries are good for. We also have good stories, and Justice Abrahamson recommends John Grisham's The Appeal as a good illustration of the problems when politics intrude too far into judicial elections.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Web Search Strategies in Plain English

Oh, Commoncraft, you've done it again! More good instruction from the people who "make complex ideas easy to understand using short and simple videos." Thanks to Carpe Hootem for the tip.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Connecting writers and readers" -- Book Festival to return

The book festival is coming back. Today's Post Crescent has the story:
Second Fox Cities Book Festival set for six-day run in April 2009
The sequel to Fox Cities Book Festival 2008 is due out this spring. [read full story]
The will be many needs and opportunities to donate or volunteer time. Our library is proud to participate, with other libraries, schools, organizations and individuals. Featured authors next year will include:
  • Samantha Chang
  • Sherman Alexie
  • Michael Perry
  • Sandra Kring
  • David Giffels
  • A. Manette Ansay
  • Elizabeth Berg
  • Philip Gulley
  • Simon Armitage
  • ...more to come...
Watch the Book Festival website for more information.

Banned Books Week: pornography or teachable moments?

I appreciate attention to Banned Books Week from our local media. Today's Post Crescent features the following story:
Appleton Public Library still faces challenges
It seems surreal now that the federal government tried in 1932 to stop U.S. publication of James Joyce's 'Ulysses.' ... [read the full article]
Reporter Susan Squires did a nice job with the story: we had a good conversation; she did her research, brought in the perspective of Family Friendly Libraries and even interviewed author Chris Crutcher. Thanks to the Gonzo YA Librarian for cluing me (and the Post Crescent) into Crutcher's passion on this issue.

Thanks also to two of our Library Trustees for helping me develop perspectives: Ron Dunlap for the importance of identifying "teachable moments" for parents and children, and Liz Truesdale Witek for how a video on a Brazil exemplifies this.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banned Books Week: let's get cynical

The sometimes annoying Annoyed Librarian writes:
Yeah, it's hard for people to get hold of a Harry Potter book, and I'm pretty sure Catcher in the Rye isn't available , either. And forget Huckleberry Finn. You can't find that darn thing anywhere, because it's been "banned." They've all been "banned"! Banned books, indeed. Enter the alternative universe of the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom, where we are always on the verge of totalitarianism because some rube in Bumflap, GA doesn't like gay penguins. Be sure to check your intellect at the door, though. Otherwise it's hard to take this stuff.
and one of her commentors, the Chatty Librarian, responds:
I'm as cynical as anyone about stuff like this usually, but I'm now living and working in a library in Egypt, where our collection doesn't hold all these banned books because, well, they're banned.

It's not stuff like Huck Finn and Harry Potter that doesn't get through, but anything that appears to be critical of the president-for-life Hosni Mubarak or otherwise offends the Egyptian censors.

You certainly won't find Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses on our library's shelves either.
Exactly. Maybe the Banned Books Week organization overstates the case, and maybe not. Just because free access to most materials may common, it does not mean we can take it for granted. We're within a lifetime of James Joyce's Ulysses being banned in the U.S., and only admitted to this country after a landmark court case. It's worth remembering and discussing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Banned Books Week: one author's story

Most challenges to materials in public libraries are not about restricting access to ideologies, per se. The more frequent rational for challenges has to do with protecting children. A case in point...

Chris Crutcher is a therapist and child protection advocate, a former teacher and popular young adult author. His books have won numerous awards, including:
  • California Library Assn's 2005 St. Katharine Drexel Award
  • Writer Magazine's 2004 Writers Who Make A Difference Award
  • Margaret A. Edwards Lifetime Achievement Award
  • NCTE's 1998 National Intellectual Freedom Award
  • ALAN Award, 1993
  • ALA has named eight of his books as “Best Books for Young Adults,”
  • four of his books appeared on Booklist’s Best 100 Books of the 20th Century, compiled in 2000 – more than any other single author on the list
But it's also true that his books have more than once been on the annual list of most challenged titles. On his website, Crutcher prints lengthy excerpts from his critics and challengers and his responses. It's all interesting reading, but I find two of his statements especially interesting:
I stand for the right of parents to forbid their children to read a particular book. Someone in my old line of work will make a hundred fifty dollars an hour when those children come as twenty and thirty year old adults trying to deal with the power struggles of their childhoods. I don’t like it, but I stand for that right. I don’t, however, stand for the right to decide what other people’s kids read.

I’m also not interested in entering into the free speech/intellectual freedom argument wherein one side says we have to keep our kids safe by censoring what they see and the other says it’s fine for any parent to censor what his/her own kids read, but not fine for them to make those decisions for all parents. We either believe in basic intellectual freedom or we don’t. We either believe in our own abilities as adults to help our kids process tough information or we don’t, and not many minds are going to change regurgitating those arguments.
As a public librarian, I believe in parents and families. As a parent, I did my best to help my kids with the tough issues, and I believe in supporting other parents. It's not my job as a librarian to pre-empt those family decisions.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Books Week: what the heck are "banned books?"

"Banned Books" is somewhat of a misnomer, because what is generally meant by the term is actually "challenged books." Many books are challenged -- or asked to be withdrawn from libraries -- though few are actually banned. This is an area where type of library is significant, as the public library vs. the school media center vs. the school curriculum are all very different. Indeed, there is seldom a mention of banned books in university or corporate libraries.

The American Library Association's website notes the distinction between banned & challenged books, but also notes that they do not own the name. Banned Books Week is sponsored by a consortium. From the website:
Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association, the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, and the National Association of College Stores. Banned Books Week is also endorsed by the Center for the Book of the Library of Congress.
ALA also notes there is no movement to change the name because "a challenge is an attempt to ban or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group." ALA maintains lists of frequently challenged materials, year by year. From 1991 to 2007, the following titles appeared on the most annual lists:
  1. The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier (12)
  2. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou (10)
  3. Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck (10)
  4. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson (9)
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain (8)
  6. Alice Series - Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (7)
  7. Forever - Judy Blume (6)
  8. Scary Stories Series - Alvin Schwartz (6)
  9. Fallen Angels - Walter Dean Meyers (5)
  10. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling (5)
  11. It’s Perfectly Normal - Robie Harris (5)
  12. The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger (5)
You should be able to find all of these in our catalog and on our shelves.