Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Revolution in Seattle has a great article about the departure of the Seattle library director and her legacy in their library building. The story highlights some of the tensions in modern library design and things communities should consider about library facilities.

A few relevant quotes from the article:
architects must do more than create a visually spectacular structure. They must also make sure the building “works.” Is it efficient, comfortable, and able to do the job for which it was intended?

Libraries today are less about the real estate necessary for storing books, and much more about being a public forum — a space for meetings, performances, gatherings, and centers for community communication.

the public is choosing the atmosphere of the new bookstores over public libraries. ... public librarians must create an environment that will attract young children and keep them coming. ... bookstores could empty public libraries if they don't become more inviting and convenient to match the public's busy lifestyles.

...libraries need to respond to changes, not just build to the old models.... libraries offer hope and guidance to new immigrants and provide a place of acceptance in a world that disenfranchises many people.... if we are to attract children of all ethnic origins and their families into new concepts of citizenship as well as the joys of reading, libraries are the place to start.

Libraries today are spaces for meetings, performances, gatherings, and centers for community communication. Future librarians will be pied pipers, organizers of events that expand horizons and arouse curiosity in books and reading.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cell phones: the Egelhoff Escalation

On her excellent Fox Politics site, local political activist Jo Egelhoff published a posting "From Lon Ponschock: Nix cell phone use at the library." Lon is spearheading a movement to have cell phones excluded from the Appleton Public Library. Because Jo's blog is influential and widely read, I had several contacts from Library Board members, and I posted an extensive response. Jo asked me to revise my posting in 600-700 words, and I submitted the following:

700 words

At the next meeting of the Appleton Public Library Board of Trustees, at 4:30 PM May 13, the Board will discuss cell phone use in the Library. The fact that this topic is generating so much heat is indicative of problems both with the current facility and social change lagging behind technological change.

The Library’s Rules of Conduct Policy states: “Patrons of the Appleton Public Library have the right to use Library materials and services without being unduly disturbed or impeded by others.” In a world that sometimes seems to have too many rules, this is a good policy: we don’t want people to get in each other’s way.

But social ambiguities are exacerbated by new technology; cell phone use is poorly socialized, and sometimes may seem trivial. But I got my cell phone when my parents became ill and needed to stay in touch. I get urgent calls from work. Some library users contact employers or others to share information found at the library, and children need to remain in contact with parents. Pay phones are disappearing. Cell phones are part of life and we need to deal with them.

Movie theaters remind audiences several times to silence phones. Our phones seductively remove us from our physical environment and into virtual space. This leads to car accidents and conversations in the middle of movies. Particularly in places where physical neighbors represent no real relationship or emotional investment, we may not notice ourselves being anti-social. This is inconsiderate, but happens too often – especially in airports.

We should keep up dialog and education. Most people are not intentional jerks, but can easily be heedless. Social problems suggest social solutions: “Excuse me, you’re being rather loud; could you please hold it down?” If rudeness does not respond to courtesy, it’s time to call in the authorities.

Courteous folks turn off ringers in shared space and are sensitive to others, not taking phone calls in the theater or in church. Public libraries are different. They aren't spaces where everyone is presumed to sit quietly and pay attention to the same thing, but where everyone is doing their own thing. People talk at the Appleton Library all the time, especially on the first floor, designed as a louder, more social area. In any case, people on phones would be courteous to step away from others, creating some physical space, and keep their voices low.

Library staff sometimes ask people to hold conversations down, control their kids, or take their phone call downstairs. We remind people not to sing along with their iPods. In the scheme of things, we get more complaints about several other behavioral problems than about people using cell phones on the first floor. But we deal with these case by case. We appreciate it if people stick up for themselves: a concern often means more coming from peers than from authority. It’s about community, not rules.

We ask people to silence ringers when they enter the library, keep phone conversations low volume and prohibit cell phone use on the second floor – about half the library and a majority of adult public service space. We think this a reasonable compromise between the many people who want to use cell phones and those who don’t want to have to hear other people’s conversations – even quiet ones.

As our library has become more crowded and has less seating, the problem has gotten worse. In the long run, I would like to see a library better designed to allow separate places – difficult in a big “open concept” building. I love libraries with study rooms, big reading rooms and quiet nooks that feel like living rooms.

Lacking better designed space, what should the Appleton Public Library do about cell phones? To me, a total ban is an over-reaction to a small problem, but that’s the question for the Library Board. As the citizen group charged with representing the interests of the community, they have the governing authority to set policy. This is a tough call, balancing diverse interests and opinions. While Appleton’s current practice is actually pretty typical for Fox Cities libraries and comparable communities around the state, the Board will decide.
Post Script:

Reviewing this, I thought of a few more points, beyond what I squeezed into 700 words. Concise is not my bag, alas.
  • I'm really proud of the job the library staff does working to keep the place nice and enforcing policies where needed. The fact they are able to keep up as well as they do, despite increasing workloads, speaks well of them -- and of most of our users
  • One of the responses on Fox Politics was by a Dave Allen, who wrote that the library is like a church:
    No one would think of using a cell phone in church where reflection and worship is the purpose and no one should think of using a cell phone in a library where worship of thought and research and knowledge is the purpose.
    I like this a lot, even though I have to partly disagree. The library is most like a church in some ways, and I think we do provide places of quiet reflection. Like a church, the library offers spiritual values and transforming power. But the library is also a happening place with live music performances offered at times on the main floor, lots of families with kids, and lots of lively discussions. The research area is where cell phones are banned, but I don't want to go back to "Grandma's library" where everybody gets shushed. I think there's room for the library to meet a more diverse set of needs.
  • It was almost forty years ago that the Wilson Library Bulletin published its famous and highly debated pull-out centerfold, the "NO SILENCE" sign. The controversy is still with us. Art Plotnick, the visionary who masterminded the idea, wrote in 1972:
    ...don't you know, sisters and brothers, it is as a storage place that the library is going to die. For in a world grown - that's right - increasingly raucous and cacophonous, the critical, instant information, communication, and education that the non-elite among us will need to survive will not come from the soft rustle of pages and the quiet stir of thoughts. Save all that for those who have already made it, working in the university libraries, the law and medical libraries, the scholars' archives. But try to sell a people's library on the appeal of slanting falls of light - and, honey, that light got to fall on empty chairs. And then you'll have your silence.
  • So let's make space for some more quiet reading rooms -- by all means. But let's not try to turn back the clock. Whether or not they allow cell phones -- and I believe most do -- public libraries should be places where we can enjoy some quiet, but also be part of an active community. NO SILENCE.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Building slideshow & next steps

Slides from the presentation by Durrant with Himmel & Wilson at the April 23 "Town Hall" meeting on facility needs.

slides 1-44 -- historical context, results of surveys and focus groupsslides 45-93 -- form and function in light of the library mission statement, with a look at relevant trends in library design
The consultants also asked the more than sixty audience members for any particular suggestions or ideas to include in the process, as well as for criteria to evaluate options. The latter is also an assignment to the members of the committee working with the consultants. Library Board and Foundation Board members, a City Council member, and Library and City staff are all challenged to list top criteria by which building design options should be measured. My (preliminary) list:
  1. Functional: designed with the user in mind, the building should work efficiently and provide the staff the ability to work efficiently
  2. Welcoming, comfortable, inviting, attractive
  3. Location appropriate to users with adequate parking & accessibility
  4. Sufficient appropriate spaces for a variety of users: children, teens, adult readers, researchers, large & small groups
  5. Sufficient appropriate spaces for collections with flexibility for the future
Using feedback gathered to date, Durrant architects will begin doing some space designs and then develop several concepts, guided by criteria from the community as well as their own experience and knowledge of library design. They will bring these conceptual ideas to the next public meeting, 6:30 PM on May 28.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Public hearing on library facility needs

We've gotten the first report from our consultant, Durrant and Himmel & Wilson. They conducted two surveys, did focus groups and interviews, and altogether got input from about 1,000 people. About 65 people came to the "Town Hall" meeting to hear and discuss the report. I was happy with the turnout, including public officials from the City Council and Library Board, as well members of the Library Foundation Board, Library friends, staff, and lots of folks who were library users or interested citizens.

The Post Crescent published a pretty good report on the evening: "Increased demand has Appleton library looking at renovation: Space needs may lead to relocation". They reported the major findings as:
  • Completing the second floor with an additional 12,000 square feet is not enough to meet space needs or solve design problems
  • There might be some engineering problems expanding the building to the south, which could also worsen parking concerns
  • Library patrons and staff want free parking.
  • Support exists for creating a cafe within the library.
  • Adult and teenage users want a teen space in the library.
  • Library staff supports keeping the facility downtown, but not necessarily in its current location.
Readers responding in the Post Crescent website expressed some concerns & suggestions:
  • the library is noisy and crowded
  • it's wrong to charge for parking
  • make it like libraries used to be: keep children out of the way, get rid of food & drinks
  • move to the City Center mall
  • move to the old K-Mart
  • move to any large available building around town
My response on the PC website:
Yes the library is often crowded and parts are noisy -- that's rather the point. There are some nice quiet areas, but not as many or as convenient as they should be. Let's not go back to old ways, but make the library building better meet today's needs.

The library would stay downtown, were it up to me. Downtown workers use the library; it's in easy walking and bicycling distance of very many residents & near mass transit, making it available to those without cars. 30-40% of people visiting the library do other things downtown, like restaurants, shopping, and museums. The library and the YMCA are the two biggest downtown draws.

Can you park for free in downtown Milwaukee, Madison, or Green Bay? The library needs to have plenty of parking close at hand for those with limited mobility (seniors, parents with several young children). That and the way the City is growing, especially north, is what fuels the discussion of a branch library option.

For design, libraries have some concerns: bookstacks are really heavy; libraries are built to bear heavier loads than parking garages. The cost to retrofit a building in which footings were not poured to library specs can be extremely high. We should not reject any option out of hand, nor ignore needs for expediency. If we spend money, we should do it carefully. It is not just about space, but designing for use.

It is a little soon to start looking at specific cases. At the next meeting, on May 28, consultants will bring forward three options, and the community can look at the pros and cons of each. After we determine what we should do, we might talk about where -- though staying where we are may well be one of the options. Then it will be up to the Library Board, the Mayor and City Council -- nothing will happen quickly or without lots of public debate. Come on May 28 and lend your voice!

Terry Dawson, APL Director
There were more interesting points in the public meeting than the Post Crescent had space for. We're getting a copy of the PowerPoint from the evening's presentation and will put it online ASAP.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Book Festival: "Books may well be the only true magic"

Whew. The Fox Cities Book Festival, many years in the dreaming and three years in the actual planning, is over. By all accounts, it was a tremendous success. Over 3,000 people attended programs over the three days of the festival proper. That doesn't include lots of auxiliary events, like author presentations in the schools, community read book discussion groups, etc. Our library hosted ten events with attendance of over 600.

People came from over 100 miles away to attend, and some community members were heard to say "Next year, I'll take vacation so I can go to more events."

I'm proud of our collaboration with other libraries, organizations and community volunteers. I'm very proud of the role our library played and all the hard work done by library staff, especially on Saturday, when we hosted eight programs in five hours, with attendance over 300. I'm proud of all the work our staff did to get ready for that day, coming hard on the heels of our very big Alice Hoffman presentation. Thank you, thank you, to attendees, library staff, library volunteers, and the Foundation donors who underwrote our participation.

Not only that, but dang -- it was fun! I managed to catch at least some of several programs. I enjoyed the authors, and enjoyed the community excitement about the value and power of books even more. Alice Hoffman & Naomi Shihab Nye absolutely rock, Chalres Baxter, Ellen Kort, Cynthia Johnson, Minnesota Crime Wave -- you folks were all great!

Now begins the debriefing and post-mortem, as we try to figure out if we can replicate this effort in a year! Here's a copy of letter I received in email:
To the editor:

The people of the Fox Cities celebrated the Fox Cities Book Festival last week from April 16-20, with a spirit of enthusiasm and energy and joy.

It was a great coming together of the many who love and value reading with those who write the books we read. We are most grateful to everyone who helped to make it happen: the committee, the libraries, supporters and donors, volunteers and the authors who came to read and talk to their readers.

It was great fun to hear why authors write as they do, to learn how they choose their subjects, what they want their books to do, and opportunity, for readers to ask questions of the authors, hear them read their own words, and meet authors not yet read, but now, will.

Thank you to those who gave the event publicity, those who sponsored the event with funding, those who gave ideas and suggestions, those who worked so hard and beautifully on the brochures, posters, website, the Post-Crescent and other media.

For those who gave in-kind, such as the books for the children, printing, advertising, time on tv and radio, food, venue space, we say thank you, as well. We ask everyone to go to the website or to your brochure to see the many sponsors and to thank them when you see them.

We especially thank the over 3000 people, from the littlest children to students and adult readers, who came to hear one or more of the 40 poets and writers present throughout the Fox Cities during the week. What a thrill to have so many value the Pure Joy of Reading, the event's theme.

Thank you, Fox Cities, from the Fox Cities Book Festival committee.

Ellen Kort
Leota Ester

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What do I want? part 3 - benchmarks & conclusions

Appleton's first public library: reading room above Pardee's Grocery, 1887

So what do we look for in library buildings? As a reference point, there's a great list published by the Project for Public Spaces, titled "How to Make Your Library Great: 14 lessons from local libraries all over the continent." The details are worth a look, but in summary, great libraries:

1. Offer a Broad Mix of Community Services
2. Foster Communication
3. Showcase History and Information
4. Build Capacity for Local Businesses
5. Become Public Gathering Places
6. Boost Local Retail and Public Markets
7. Offer Easy Access
8. Make the Surrounding Area Come Alive
9. Feature Multiple Attractions and Destinations
10. Are Designed to Support Function
11. Provide a Variety of Amenities
12. Change with the Calendar
13. Depend on Wise Management
14. Catalyze Community Revitalization

Yeah, I know, I'm working on the wise management thing, among others. But a lot of the things on this list speak directly to facilities, and how facilities shape services and use. In some ways, I think it might be easier to make needed transformations, and fire up people's imaginations to get donor funding, with a new facility. But that depends on what the community wants.

But finally, I'll come back to my initial point. I may have a lot of experience in libraries, but what we need to do here is not to develop a facility plan that meets my philosophy, but one that meets the community's service needs for the foreseeable future. The library's long range plan gives us a start, but we need to look further out.

The foreseeable future part gets tricky, because we don't have a crystal ball, but I believe that we missed a bet when we made our last decision in 1994. We got a nice addition, completed 1995-97. But in making the decision to do that project, we opted to do the expedient thing rather than address long term needs.

It's one thing to have a serious plan to do things in phases, and quite another to say "Let's do a little bit now, then we can do more later. We'll do something, sometime. When we can see the clear need. When we can afford it."

That sort of indefinite future is too easy to indefinitely delay, and then you're back at the drawing board, which is where we find ourselves. This time, let's think long term, create a good plan, and then work patiently to make it happen.

What do I want? part 2 - features and options

Appleton Public Library 1900 - wheelchairs and cellphones not welcome!

What does my vision for the kind of facility we need say about our space options? No matter what we do, there are some features I'd highly recommend:
  • meeting room access at times when the library is closed -- civic and community groups increasingly are asking for this and it's a useful feature in many newer buildings -- the lobby this implies would be a great area for an oft-requested coffee shop or cafe
  • a welcoming entry and an exit that offers easy security for materials
  • ready access to delivery, possibly with a loading dock and/or service elevator -- moving materials among libraries has become increasingly important for our users and efficiency counts!
  • places to plug in laptops
  • larger, dedicated space for teens
  • well-lit spaces and displays for a growing collection of materials, including new formats
  • enough computers and enough floor space to put them
  • more meeting spaces and group workspaces, including some flexible spaces, teaching spaces and media production spaces
  • RFID security for inventory control, with automated sorting equipment for returned items
  • a place that looks up-to-date, is colorful, well lighted, and has social places as well as places that invite quiet study and reading for pleasure
  • green design
  • and -- maybe -- a drive-through for pickup & return
What does this mean for our main options?
  • Do nothing
    • Pro: our very cheapest solution!
    • Con: not a responsible solution -- if we ignore demonstrated service needs, we're not doing our job for the community -- we're discouraging learning. We can wait to do the right thing, but we should remember that the 1994 study recommended a significantly larger expansion. We ignored that recommendation and put a band-aid on, and within 10 years we were looking at the same issues.
  • Remodel our current facility
    • Pro: most economical proactive solution, builds on what we have, maintains a known location
    • Con: limited footprint and limited vertical space with existing building, some fundamental design flaws to overcome could lead to major compromises, other significant expansion here would have site acquisition issues
  • New Library building
    • Pro: old building usable for City office space or could be put on the tax roles, new building could be designed to meet goals for efficiency and 21st century service needs and be a destination and point of community pride
    • Con: most expensive, plus possible site acquisition issues
  • Branch library or libraries, instead of or in addition to one of the above
    • Pro: increased accessibility of library services in developing neighborhoods of the City. Branch libraries promote development, become neighborhood community centers, create traffic, and provide an opportunity to walk or bike to the library for those who would otherwise find access difficult. Makes APL available for those who have parking issues.
    • Con: added operational costs -- while duplicate materials could be minimized using current multiple copies, there would be some duplication of staff functions, and additional facility costs (one more box to heat, cool, paint, etc.) as well as cost to move materials between facilities
To be continued, with some notes on best practices and next steps!

The library building: what do I want?

As our facility study is progressing, I'm often asked what I want or hope for in planning for future library needs. I have yet to actually sit down with our consultants and share my own thoughts, but will do so this week. While we're generally regarding the contents of interviews as privileged rather than public, as Library Director. I should share my thoughts and aims in this process.

So, what I mostly want is to feel that we've taken the time to get a good sense of our community wants and needs, including future needs, and we're working to meet those. What I'd like to see out of this is a library that "encourages the heart", that helps us fulfill our mission and bring the power of a community of books and learning to our service community. We know that libraries change lives, and the facility should, er, facilitate that.

It should be a library that:
  • is welcoming for everyone in the community
  • entices and encourages learning and involvement
  • helps connect people to each other, to ideas and learning
  • provides a physical space that helps accomplish service goals
  • has varied shared spaces for meetings, classes, groups, technology, & media
  • is efficient to operate, using technology to minimize staff cost
  • is safe and secure -- and feels that way
  • is destination of choice for area residents and visitors
  • is realistically affordable for the taxpayers
How to do these things? More thoughts next time on features and options...

Children's reading can have deep impact

from the Post-Crescent APPLETON — Best-selling author Alice Hoffman observed that she often writes about writers and readers in her books, perhaps because writing and reading are what have sustained her through tough, trying times.

Photos: Author Alice Hoffman at Appleton Public Library

One of the short stories that makes up Hoffman's "Blackbird House," one of two official selections of Fox Cities Reads 2008, describes Violet, a young girl living in a Cape Cod farmhouse who loves to read so much that she sneaks out when her family is sleeping and reads by lantern light in the horses' stalls.

In Hoffman's young adult novel "Green Angel," the other Fox Cities Reads selection, a teenager, nicknamed "Green" because of her penchant for helping things to grow, shuts down after a family tragedy and only opens up again after she's able to tell her story on paper.

"I do think that what you read as a child influences not only the reader you become, but the person you become," Hoffman said to her audience Thursday in a packed lower-level meeting room of the Appleton Public Library after reading aloud from her books. "I write very often about ghosts. Not ghosts like 'Boo, Casper,' but how the history and the past come to stay with you in a way."

Fox Cities Reads, the second effort to get residents reading and discussing the same book, is a collaborative effort among the Appleton, Kaukauna, Kimberly-Little Chute, Menasha, Neenah and University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley libraries. Hoffman's talks in Appleton, Kaukauna and Neenah also are part of the first Fox Cities Book Festival, which began Wednesday and ends Sunday.

Many people who came to hear Hoffman carried copies of her books. Some wore Fox Cities Reads 2008 T-shirts or buttons.

Hoffman's visit is the culminating event of the three-month community read, which drew adults and teens into book discussion groups at various public places.

Pat Milheiser of Appleton, a media specialist at Madison Middle School, said many of her students have been reading "Green Angel."

"One of the things my reluctant readers like about 'Green Angel' is that it is short but powerful," Milheiser said. "It's good just to get kids talking about sad topics. Communication is really so important and so vital, and sharing with people is a really healing thing."

Tammie DeVooght Blaney, who works in Green Bay area schools and was able to finish the first story in "Blackbird House" before Hoffman's talk, said Hoffman's appeal lies in her ability to mesmerize readers of all ages.

"I'm in my 30s, I'm reading her, and my daughter is 10, and she's reading her," DeVooght Blaney said. "My students are between 14 and 18, and they're reading her, and I have a college student working with me, she's 23. And we're all really intrigued by the writing."

Kara Patterson: 920-993-1000, ext. 215, or

Friday, April 18, 2008

Encourage the Heart

Not a bad message for National Library Week. Not a bad thing to remember as we plan for next week's public meeting on our library's facility needs... part of a presentation “Transparency, Planning & Change: See-Through Libraries” by Michael Stephens and Michael Casey at the Computers in Libraries Conference. It's 154 slides with lots of 2.0 examples, some cautionary notes, and some good advice. This is one of my favorite slides, because it speaks simply to the transformative power of libraries, and the need to be mindful:
Encourage the heart

• The physical space
• The “feeling”
• Interaction with staff
• Discovery...Curiosity...Self-Actualization
Other slides include "rules of innovation", "five things I never want to hear in the library", etc. Worth a read and reflection.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fox Cities Book Festival & Community Read: Author, author!

"Books are dangerous in the best way"
Alice Hoffman
APL staff with Alice Hoffman

The first ever Fox Cities Book Festival is in full swing, and we've reached the culmination of our community read with the appearance of Alice Hoffman at our library. Alice is hitting three libraries in 22 hours, and earning every penny of her speaker's fee.

This evening we held a reception here for some of the book festival folks, particularly for Alice's visit. Many of the reception attendees were part of the over 200 people in the audience for Alice, others went across town to hear poet Billy Collins, planning on catching Alice tomorrow at the Neenah Public Library. From the many and profuse "thank you" comments our staff got at the end of the evening, I know people here really enjoyed Alice Hoffman, and I'm sure the other venue got a good crowd for Billy Collins. This is what you call your embarrassment of riches.

It's been an exhausting but wonderful ride doing the community read and the book festival. The festival runs two more days, with many things happening at our library and elsewhere on Saturday, but thus far it's a big success. In an interactive information world, I'm glad that we're devoting so much energy to books.

Alice Hoffman, who proved a personable presenter and excellent speaker, touched on this. Though she writes three blogs herself, she wonders if people, especially young people, are spending so much time online that they're spending less time reading. Speaking for myself, books are a slow pleasure -- and work best when you can set time aside for reading. You can't multitask your way through a good read. So this has been a good activity for National Library Week.

Ellen Kort, former Poet Laureate of Wisconsin and Book Festival organizer,
with YA novelist Alex Flinn

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

...or we could be dynamic...

Thanks to the Librarian in Black (and a bunch of others) -- can't be said too often (alas)!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

National Library Week: Library Workers Day

Since 2003, the Tuesday of National Library Week has been used to recognize the contributions of library workers. Good idea!

While we depend on a lot of community support, volunteers, and donations, the backbone of what we do is provided by our library staff. Here at the Appleton Public Library, we have 114 people on the payroll -- most of them part-time and non-benefited.

Sure, it's a job and they're working for the money. But we also know that they're working for the rightful pride in their accomplishments, in what the library does. Many could be making more money working elsewhere: the job market says libraries don't pay as well as other sectors of the economy.

But they do a heck of a job for our community and our patrons. All the truisms about the value of libraries, that we:
  • change lives
  • build communities
  • promote economic development
  • build family literacy
  • connect people to ideas
  • enable lifelong learning
are true because library workers make them happen. We have an amazing team here, and it takes the whole team, every person, every position, to make it happen. I'm profoundly grateful to be part of such a team and to work with such people.

So we'll put a "National Library Workers Day" poster in the front door, and we'll hand out small acknowledgments to the staff. But I hope some of our users take time to say thanks to any of our workers: they all deserve it -- and spoken or unspoken, I believe the appreciation is there.

To all my co-workers: thank you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

PLA: From Awareness to Funding - a study of library support in the U.S.

Listen, this is important...

The best thing Bill Gates ever did was to marry Melinda. Now we've got this rich couple with a conscience and progressive ideas. They help libraries a lot. Thus we have, among other things, the OCLC Gates-funded marketing/advocacy study. The grant is to study "development of a potential national marketing campaign to increase awareness of the value of libraries, and the need for support for libraries at local, state and national levels." On the surface, this sounds remarkably similar to the Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries, which I'm proud to support. But given the scope and ambitions of the study, I think the OCLC effort goes deeper and has some messages that deserve a lot of attention, that may call us to change how we do some things.

OCLC will publish the study next month. But there was a preview at the PLA conference in a program:
From Awareness to Funding
Join Cathy De Rosa, OCLC Global Vice President of Marketing, for a presentation of OCLC’s advocacy research program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Learn who you should talk to in your community and what messages can help your own advocacy and marketing efforts.
In an environment where libraries continue to face major cuts and even closing, the study is a follow-up to 2005's Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources. I took pages of notes at the program, but we only scratched the surface -- it will be necessary to read the full report.

Selected highlights:
  • public impressions of libraries are positive but inaccurate -- there is a lot that people don't know
  • library referenda are increasingly failing to get on ballots, or where they do the success rate is dropping
  • without action, critical funding for public libraries will erode
  • sufficient latent support exists in local communities -- 80% of funding is local, but there is high competition
  • it is key to position the library as a vital part of the community infrastructure and a key to transforming lives
  • most people will claim to support the library, but fewer are truly committed to doing so
  • elected officials believe that they support the library more than their constituents do
  • there is no correlation between those who visit the library and those willing to fund it
  • the desire to fund is related to belief in the library as a self-actualization tool
  • perceptions of the librarian are highly related to support -- valuing a passionate librarian is very important -- qualities include:
    • advocates for the library
    • is knowledgeable
    • has a commitment to life-long learning
    • is passionate about making the library relevant
  • everybody consistently lies in surveys
  • there is a spectrum of perception and value, and we should make efforts to move the perception of the library from information toward transformation -- if we're perceived as being for information, we lose to Google
There was a lot more about the segmentation of our market, identifying super supporters, probable supporters, those with barriers to support, and nonvoters. A key will be to identify those segments of the probable supporters who can make the difference for us, and tailor our messages to them.

We need to:
  • create a brand selling library support, not selling library use
  • craft our our brand to reflect the beliefs of our most avid supporters
  • re-frame the library when we lay out the case for support
  • change perceptions to reflect:
    • transformation NOT information
    • infrastructure NOT institution
    • necessity NOT nice to have
    • the future NOT the past
    • "return on investment" NOT altruism
This will turn into a national campaign, requiring scale and endurance. But local efforts will be critical: we need to be passionate, know our base and motivate our base.

I don't know that we want to jump right on the bandwagon -- letting go of the idea that we're about information will go hard with some. But we'd better think about it and discuss -- it seems that if we keep on doing things the way we have, support will continue to erode. Our library may be better off than many, but it's an ongoing struggle to maintain support.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

National Library Week: I love my job

What can you say? Some days the serendipity just gets you. I had a call late this morning that the Children's desk was going to be short-handed due to a family illness. A few quick calls did not get us anyone to cover, so I went in, grumbling, to work it until we could get somebody.

I was grumbling because I wasn't thrilled about going in on my day off -- especially since I got called in the previous morning at 4:30 AM with a security system problem -- and because I was pretty sure that I couldn't do very good work for the patrons. What if I got a tough reader's advisory question about current children's lit? What if somebody needed to book a group tour? Their tough luck to get a supposed librarian who's more of a bureaucrat, and who knows more about budget spreadsheets than how to sign up for story hour.

Of course, my fears were -- as usual -- unjustified. Vicky, my colleague in Children's, covered for me admirably. We were able to find another worker who graciously came in and covered (and did know how to work Children's). In the meantime, I was able to help a fifth-grader and his mom with a homework question, and discussed with them the uses and limits of Google and Wikipedia before pointing them to some books in the collection. I managed to quiet a rowdy group of twelve-year-olds fairly gracefully. I got a truck of adult DVDs shelved and got in some reader's advisory: "Yes, there were two versions of Wicker Man -- most critics consider the first one better, but they're both pretty strange." It's nice to feel like a librarian sometimes!

And then there was the barbershop quartet singing in the atrium. Dozens of people stopped to sit in chairs downstairs or just paused in the entryway to lean over the rail and listen to a song or two.

Most of all I was impressed with the very large and diverse group of people using the library. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, sunny and warm and the nicest weather for the past several days. But the library was jammed. Half an hour after we opened, there were about fifty people just in the Children's area. There was a long waiting queue for the Children's Internet stations. The adult nonfiction stacks had lots of browsers. Almost every table was full. There were lines at the checkout. The public services staff was hopping, answering questions and helping people find stuff.

Needless to say, this leaves me a lot more fired up about what we're doing than committee meetings or budget spreadsheets ever do. I'm impressed with how the community uses us, I'm impressed with how our staff comes through, and I'm impressed that we're doing the right thing to study our facility needs. It's great, but it's crowded!

No grumbling here -- I'm glad I got the chance to go into work today.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

LSTA: allocating federal funds

I'm two days in Madison for the Spring meeting of Wisconsin's LSTA Advisory committee, which advises the Department of Public Instruction on allocation of federal grant funds. The annual appropriation of funds for Library Services and Technology Act, under Wisconsin's five year plan, has the committee reviewing DPI staff proposals and making recommendations for grant categories and amounts. Each state has its own allotment, based on population, and its own approved plan and distribution of the funds. The program overview of Wisconsin's LSTA info on the web notes:
The LSTA funds in the states grants program provide seed money for projects that improve library services throughout the United States. The program is designed to ensure that everyone can have the information resources they need for school, work, and daily living.

Funds in the LSTA state grants program can be used
  • to improve library services through the use of technology
  • to encourage libraries to establish consortia and share resources, and
  • to target library services to persons having difficulty using a library and to underserved urban and rural communities.
Some states may use all their federal funds for statewide programs, but I like the balance we strive for in Wisconsin. With a bit over $3,000,000 to allocate, some of it is designated to support statewide programs, some of it is allocated to library systems, and some is designated for competitive grants for systems and individual libraries. There's a list of this year's Wisconsin grants on the state website.

Naturally, any time you strive for balance, there will be strife in determining that balance. Grant funds supporting literacy projects, disability access, digitization and innovations in library automation fall short of needs and requests. As a public librarian, I appreciate state and system level support, but would like to see more of the funds designated as competitive grants to individual public libraries.

Wisconsin makes a good effort, bringing together a cross-section of the state library community in our Advisory Committee to debate allocations in the Spring and make grant recommendations in the fall. The final determination is in the hands of the elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction, but the opinions of many who volunteer to review grants and the Advisory Committee are given a lot of weight.

There are tremendous disagreements, and good professional arguments. This is my third and final year on the committee, and though it is difficult and intense, the time has flown by. I appreciate the work of state staff, especially Peg Branson and Terrie Howe, the LSTA coordinators in the past three years.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Library staff "play more, learn more, fear less."

Project Play has come to its planned end. Even as I heard library leaders at the PLA conference encouraging more places to emulate the "23 things" library curriculum, a big chunk of Wisconsin was doing it and wrapping up this eight month effort. Part of what I learned is a model for an effective online training program for staff -- one that works even for part-time people who have trouble fitting regular classes into their schedules. Two groups I want to thank and acknowledge:
  • Project Play leaders from three library systems, OWLS, South Central, & Winnefox. All three of these systems devoted a lot of time and effort to helping member library staff learn. A special thanks to our fearless leaders: Beth Carpenter, Jean Anderson, Stef Morrill & Joy Schwarz. They seriously rock!
  • All the staff hare at Appleton Public Library who got involved. Most finished both semesters, though some, like me, did only part -- due to limited enrollments and other time commitments. I loved it that people from all parts of the library, and at all pay grades, participated. Big kudos to everyone who worked at it, including:
    • Judy Abitz
    • Kathy Beck
    • Kathy Berholtz
    • Carole DeJardin
    • Kathy Dreyer
    • Elizabeth Eisen
    • Melody Hanson
    • Sharon Harp
    • Ellen Jepson
    • Barbara Kelly
    • Brian Kopetsky
    • Sue Kempf
    • Vicki Lenz
    • Katie Scullion
    • Kay Shearier
    • Meg Shriver
    • Lisa Smith
    • Maureen Ward
    • Julie Weyenberg
    • Kristie Wilson
I know it's not always easy to take time out of our way-too-busy schedules to learn, especially new and intimidating things. But the Project Play leaders broke it up into bite-size pieces and offered hand-holding -- and the many participants explored fearlessly and learned. Way to go!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Volunteers of the Year

Remarks delivered at the City Council meeting, after Mayor Hanna delivered his National Library Week proclamation:
Thank you, Mayor. As we're coming into National Library Week, with the culmination of the community Read and the Book Festival, we at the Library feel very fortunate to be part of an effort that does so much to enhance the quality of life in our community. We know that the library makes a difference in people's lives, and I want to acknowledge and lift up the critical support of all of you, our elected officials, in making that happen. I also want to acknowledge and thank all the hard-working, dedicated people on the library staff, and tonight, I especially want to thank all the volunteers.

From the Board of Trustees to the Friends of the Library and Library Foundation, people delivering books to the homebound, people who show up every week to shelve, middle school children who help with the summer programs for younger children, the library is very dependent on our volunteers. In 2007, the number of volunteer hours grew by 22% over the previous year, and continues to grow in 2008.
So on behalf of the Library Board of Trustees and the Library staff, I would like to acknowledge and introduce to you our two volunteers of the year.

Roberta Bawden has been selected as the APL Adult Volunteer of the Year. She was nominated by the Circulation team for the following reasons:
  • she has been coming 3 times a week for four years,
  • calls if unable to come in,
  • walks to the library in all kinds of weather
  • does a great job of keeping the children's section neat and orderly.
  • her work has been consistent
  • she is dedicated to keeping the library nice for the patrons.

Ryan Nelson is our teen volunteer of the year. This is not an award we present every year, but Ryan's contributions in the past year have been exemplary.

Ryan joined the Library Board last June in a non-voting capacity representing the APL Teen Board, providing input to Board deliberations from a teen perspective.
In addition to serving on the Teen Board, Ryan also
  • assists at library programs
  • shelves materials.
Ryan attends Appleton West high school.

From left: yrs truly, Ryan Nelson, Roberta Bawden, APL Volunteer Coordinator Lou Hull

PLA pix

Photos from the PLA conference in Minneapolis, including many pictures of the Minneapolis Public Library.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Creative Journey

For some years now, we've held a weekly adult program called "Creative Journey." The series grew out of a book discussion of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: a Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Our adult program staff facilitates the series, which is open to the public but has a dedicated group of regular attendees.

Creative Journey participants explore their own creativity through discussions, sharing stories and writings, presentations by speakers, and on occasion, through hands-on art. Yesterday the group did some painting and sent me a few scans of the results. Project costs are fairly low, but purchased with grants from our Library Foundation.

I know that for many participants, Creative Journey fills an important place. It's a chance to meet weekly, be part of a learning community, and explore the ways in we interact with our own creativity and the creations of others. This may not be traditional library service, but it's a good example of how public libraries enrich lives and encourage the heart.

80 Online Resources for Book Lovers

This has been kind of blogged to death elsewhere, but it's still worth noting. This is a list from Kevin Bondelli of 80 sites worth a look for those who love books and reading. With our Fox Cities Book Festival coming up soon, this is timely!

The sites are divided into categories:
  • Social networking for book lovers
  • E-books
  • Online bookstores
  • Find the best prices for books
  • Audiobooks
  • Study guides and summaries
  • Library resources
  • Bibliography and research
  • Book exchanges / swapping
  • Online documents
  • What to read
  • Miscellaneous
Useful & fun!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

PLA: "If you're not comfortable with experimenting, get over it!"

I really enjoyed the Public Library Association conference in Minneapolis last week. Six days away from home, but it was worth the time. There were many highlights for me, and I'll write about some of the sessions in detail. Things I liked:
  • excellent program -- too many good choices for sessions
  • a fine reception at the very cool Open Book in Minneapolis -- "Minnesota's enter for reading, writing and the book arts"
  • online resources -- downloadable handouts and PowerPoints make a lot of information accessible even for non-attendees
  • talking with many vendors
  • meeting people and comparing notes on the programs, vendors and our jobs -- including face-to-face meetings with people I've only known online
  • spending time with my daughter, Gillian, as professional colleagues; color me proud
One of the most inspirational and empowering programs was "The Cutting Edge: the latest on Web 2.0." Speakers included Jen Maney (Pima County Public Library), Michael Stephens (Tame the Web & the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Dominican University) and John Blyberg (formerly AADL, now the Darien Library). The entire presentation is online as an .MP3 file; I recommend listening while reading along on the handouts.

Jen Maney noted that 2.0 levels the playing field and is not a technological phenomenon, but a sociological one. She said "if you're not comfortable with experimenting, get over it!" She encouraged us to play, to know that we can't do it all and to pick and choose -- her motto is "Designing for Uncertainty".

Michael Stephens had a lengthy and detailed PowerPoint (large .pdf version) with lots of good examples and reminded us that though we talk about and use technology, it's not about technology. 2.0 is "not a shiny new toy, but a carefully planned response to a changing world."

John Blyberg humorously and beautifully deconstructed Andrew Keen's Cult of the Amateur and defended the virtues of Web 2.0 with this PowerPoint. He noted we need to "encourage the heart." Thanks for lifting those lingering twopointopian guilt trips.

Nobody was lifting up 2.0 or any technology as a panacea or bandwagon, but talking about interesting new ways to implement our enduring values.

Library as Place

Michael Stephens recommended this video in his PLA presentation -- an interesting viewpoint on the intersection of "Library 2.0" and "Library as Place."