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.