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.