Sunday, June 28, 2009

Information overload: the death of reference has been greatly exaggerated

The debate over how we read, perpetuated largely by media insiders, is starting to seem like little more than a distraction from the real problem: We have access to more information than ever, yet we do not know what to do with it. We are desperately information-illiterate.

Danielle Maestretti "Shelf Life: Information Overload", Utne Reader July-August 2009
This is very worthwhile reading, unambiguously concluding: literacy should be a high school requirement, which seems like a no-brainer—10 or 20 years ago, even. For now, it seems that burden is being shouldered by school librarians, which would be a more promising scenario if they weren’t often among the first heads on districts’ budgetary chopping blocks.

For the out-of-school, significant information literacy can be gleaned from public librarians, who are info-literate by trade. Yes, even in this digital age—especially in this digital age—librarians are often the best place to start. They’re at reference desks and Radical Reference (, on instant messenger and telephone, behind brightly colored “Ask a Librarian!” buttons on library websites. They’ll help you cut through the clutter and send you back into the world with a few literacy skills you didn’t even know you needed.

This is where I disagree with Toni Garvey's statement that “Reference is not our niche.” Google has won this competition! This is true as far as it goes, but is easily oversimplified. I use Google and Wikipedia, too. But I still use our reference service. Google has drastically changed the reference niche, but hasn't eliminated it any more than television eliminated movies.

This is why our reference librarians are busier than ever. This why experimenting with new information delivery channels, such as chat and text, are an essential part of library service. As more people need and use our public access computers, and as more people try to cope with information overload at home and at work, we're there to help.

We wish that more people knew what we could do -- but on the other hand, we're already pretty busy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting our act(ors) together

Like most public libraries, we depend upon -- and need -- a broad range of community support. And like many, we are lucky to have organized supporters who work to improve and assist the library. At the Appleton Public Library, we are fortunate enough to have both a friends group (Friends of Appleton Library, or FOAL) and a Foundation (Appleton Library Foundation, Inc.). Now the two are on the verge of merging into a single, and stronger, organization.

The Friends have been around since the mid-1970s, were formed to support the library, as well as in support of the need to improve library service and possibly get a new library building. They were heavily involved in political support for the 1978 referendum which resulted in our current building. They created the "walking books" program of delivery to the homebound. They started an endowment fund which supports programs. Currently they have about 250 members, run two book sales each year as their main fundraiser and coordinate the annual holiday "Give a Child a Book" campaign. The provide the library with volunteer and financial support, particularly with regard to programming. They have a grass roots focus and an emphasis on fellowship.

The Foundation was started in 1985 by supporters who wanted to focus on providing broad financial support for any library services which would give our library "the edge of excellence", including materials, technology and marketing in addition to programs. They had a successful five year capital campaign to jump start their endowment fund and make annual grants from a budget approved by the Library Board, according to their Gifts Policy. They do an annual end of year donation request letter and hold an annual fundraising dinner. The Foundation also serves as the fiscal agent for the Friends.

With two wonderful, successful groups, why would we want to change? For one reason: to focus community and staff efforts and library goals and plans. With two groups, two boards, two structures, two sets of meetings, there are areas of overlap and there are gaps. There is a lack of clear public identity as to who is the library support group -- and there's occasional public confusion. There is additional overhead for staff in care and feeding of two organizations.

Public funding is increasingly tight at the same time that library use is growing dramatically. To maintain and grow our services, we need ever more volunteers, ever more private dollars and ever more people willing and able to speak up about the value of the library to decision makers. We need an active community willing to focus on and engage library service needs.

Inspired by a program exploring similar mergers at last year's Public Library Association conference, we started looking at pros and cons of changing. Our Friends and Foundation have been talking for most of the last year and are now looking at a merger agreement. We did a study, conducted by Library Strategies, to identify issues and opportunities. After reflection and discussion, we had a facilitated planning session in which members of both boards rolled up their sleeves and set priorities. The help of an attorney to see to the legal issues has been crucial.

When approved, the new body will be called the Friends of Appleton Library, but will be incorporated like the Foundation. It will be organized like the current Friends, but with some of the Foundation's business structure. And we'll ask everyone serving on both boards to join as members of the initial board of the merged entity. And then we'll need to develop new policies and a new budget.

This has been and will be a lot of work in the short run, but we have little doubt of the long term payoff. The single support group would be able to have a staff, start a capital campaign to help with a new library building, grow their membership and be an increasingly strong voice to recruit volunteers, promote library services and advocate for the library.

We're excited to see what happens next!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Library receives family literacy grant

From today's Post Crescent:
Collaboration between a charity golf event and the J.J. Keller Foundation will mean more than $860,000 for organizations targeting poverty in northeastern Wisconsin...

Appleton Library Foundation: $31,402 for Prime Time Family Reading Program which uses reading out loud, storytelling, and reading strategies to promote higher-order thinking and help the children from low- income families better succeed in school. This is year one of a two-year grant totaling $36,902.
Our children's librarians have done great work to develop & implement the Prime Time Family Reading Time Program -- originally developed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. It's gratifying to see this kind of community support and recognition that family literacy is a basic need when it comes to fighting poverty.

It was a real privilege that the Schmidt Oil Foundation, J.J. Keller Foundation, and the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region chose our library to announce these many grants to fight poverty. We're grateful for the grants and proud to be in distinguished company!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Board endorses new building

The report on library facility options was presented by Engberg Anderson architects at a Library Board meeting and in a special presentation to the City Council this week. The Library Board has endorsed the report, which calls for a new library building as a better option for Appleton than an expanded building.

The preliminary report, available on the library website, looks at building design options for either an expansion of the present building or new construction. The Post-Crescent did a nice job reporting on the presentation to Council. I encourage anyone interested in the future of our library to read the report.

This takes the discussion into a new phase. The Library Board has asked the Mayor to consider a site selection process for next year. There's a lot of work and discussion that will need to happen before that decision gets made. A few points ...
  1. The need is real -- and is not one that comes from the staff or the Board, but from the community, the public's use of library services and comparison with best practices in the state and nation. This was substantiated in the extensive community process we undertook last year, with lots of public participation. But I expect we'll need to keep repeating it and justifying it.

  2. The library is for everyone. It's frustrating to hear some people say that we wouldn't have the need, or the library would be worth supporting, if only we kept "those people" away -- and meaning those who may be different. I'll keep on saying it: the library is for everyone. We'll ask anyone to leave if they misbehave or interfere with other folks' library use.

    But we won't deny service to people because they're poor or mentally ill or disabled or speak a different language. This is a public library in a nation founded on equality and freedom. This is a place where everyone in the community can come on an equal basis to learn, to gather, and to create their own opportunities.

  3. One building, downtown - we pretty much resolved in last year's process that branch libraries are not yet the solution for Appleton. Additional facilities will always be inherently less efficient, as collections, staff functions and utility costs get multiplied. Appleton is not yet big enough to justify this.

    And a central library as part of a vibrant downtown works on a lot of levels. We're readily accessible by bicycle and bus. We're within walking distance for many residents and convenient for senior housing and downtown workers. We collaborate with other downtown businesses and organizations. One of the busiest buildings in Appleton, we're part of making the downtown cool, and we're glad to be here!

  4. We want to do the best job for the future of the community. Staff sees heavy use on a daily basis -- not just in the short term, but in the long term. In my 31 years here, I've seen use grow and grow and grow. We need to do it right, not short-sightedly or expediently. Quick fixes tend to just cost more in the long run.

  5. We want to be careful in our decision-making. Many people say, "we can't afford this now -- maybe in a few years." But we're not talking about building now, we're talking about planning now so we can build in a few years, if we can afford it. Whether or not we build a library, our City is fiscally conservative, careful about structuring our long term debt and committed to not having big tax increases. That won't change, and we expect that some private dollars will be needed to make this happen. But it will take a decision by the City to proceed before we can effectively begin to raise those private funds.
Amid rather reactionary responses in the Post-Crescent's online forum, there was this small gem of wisdom:
payingattention wrote:

Rather than rapid-firing comments that have little basis, people should become involved in the civic process so they understand that what gets printed in the paper only skims the surface of the careful work that's been done. There is much more to running the city, library and schools than most people can imagine. In-depth planning is done years in advance and when need is anticipated, it is weighed and thoughtfully considered.

The library is many things to many people. It doesn't try to be a 'one-stop' shop, but it does have state standards to meet and a mission to carry out. Chances are, if you don't live in Appleton or use the library building, you have probably had benefit of the OWLS library system interlibrary loan of items from the APL, without having to drive there yourself.

Everyone knows this is a difficult time to consider spending money, but potential library construction is not expected until between 2012 and 2014. Please become informed and THEN discuss.

The Community Library

I worked for seven years in academic libraries and found it worthwhile and fulfilling on many levels. There was a focus on formal learning and research, knowledge in depth, extensive research tools, and a community of scholars. But it wasn't quite my niche. I was looking for something broader, more encompassing and inclusive. I found it at the Appleton Public Library.

I love the fact that this is a place that welcomes all ages and income levels. e only criteria for using the public library are wanting to be here and civil behavior. We've made it easy because we need to be inclusive. We get the babies and the senior citizens. We get the able, the disabled, the well and the ill. We get the doctors, the judges, the preachers, and the homeless. We get the readers and the watchers, those who walk, and those in strollers or wheelchairs. We serve the nonprofit organizations, the business community, and the unemployed. We welcome everyone to a place which is, if not a community of scholars, nonetheless a community of learning, culture, and communication.

Communities and people need public libraries: places to read, talk, go to a 4-H meeting, a puppet show, or a discussion series on the Revolutionary War. Some of us may do research and social networking on home computers, but we need to physically gather with other humans, to ask questions, explore ideas, discuss and learn. We need to find what we’re looking for, but also to be surprised by all the things that are here and all the things others bring. In a democratic society, it’s vital that we create opportunities for everyone to learn – as each person determines their own wants and needs. And people need books, and will for years to come.

We need to be part of a diverse community, to offer and be part of equal opportunity, to seek the challenges of diverse people and different points of view.

Naysayers -- or those neither curious nor community-minded -- may say the day of the library, especially the public library, is past. Those who are paying attention, those who are engaged in making better lives and learning opportunities for themselves and all their neighbors, and the increasing numbers who use us, know better. That’s why U.S. News & World Report picked “librarian” as one of the top careers for 2009, saying “librarians are among our society's most empowering people.” We’re present – and we have a bright future.

Welcome to your public library. We’ll work to keep it welcoming for everyone.

from the Fine Print newsletter, Summer 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Book Cart Brigade on parade!

photos from the parade, taken by Michael Kenney:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 3)

Appleton is proud of having the nation's oldest and longest flag day parade, but today I was especially proud of our library's Book Cart Brigade. After a couple decades' absence from the parade, the library returned with the first appearance of our book cart drill team.

The team was a huge success, drawing applause from crowds along the parade route, and comments on Facebook and in emails. Big BIG thanks to the hard-working team members, led by Ellen Jepson and including Ashley, Autumn, Charisse, Doris, Joann, Kathleen W., Katie, Lynnette, & Vicki B.

Additional support came from banner carriers Meg & Elizabeth, as well as support walkers Elaine, Jared & Colleen. Paul lent a touch of class with his Model A chase & support car. Maintenance staff secured the cart wheels for street use, Marvelous Marketin' Michael made sure we had good shirts, signs & decorations for carts, car and marchers, and was on hand to document, decorate and make sure everything went smoothly. The Library Foundation picked up the tab for out of pocket costs via a marketing grant. Truly, a great piece of teamwork!

The team executes a weave -- photo by Barb Kelly
Public opinions:
  • "so entertaining ... What a stitch! I hope they do that every year. I loved it!"
  • "the best unit in the parade"
  • "You guys were great!"
  • "the highlight of the parade!"
  • "It looked really great!"
  • "Go, Book Cart Brigade!!"

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 2A)

Tom Pease performed for about 1,100 kids and parents today, with his message of reading, music, self-esteem, learning and fun. Here's the inimitable Tom, ably assisted by our Children's Librarian Ellen:

Beyond Books: Libraries Lend a Hand in Recession

As seen on the Today Show, June 11.

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 2)

Great programs are underway for all ages. Today, songster Tom Pease is doing three shows, working his magic for children and parents.Staff and volunteers are working hard to organize things for the thousands who will participate in summer programs. Below, three staff people, one summer intern and two volunteers cover the information desk and prepare for the summer teen program.

more info at!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cure for the Summertime Blues (part 1)

We just had the busiest single day our library has ever seen:
  • 2,969 people through the doors
  • 8,601 items checked out
  • 6,608 items checked in
We checked out, on average: one item every five seconds for twelve hours straight! Over 15,000 things moved through our circulation process in one day. When Colleen Rortvedt, our Assistant Director, heard the news, she promptly (and properly) ordered a cake and invited the staff to an impromptu celebration.

We've got a lot of people, staff and volunteers, working hard to make good things happen here. It's important to acknowledge their hard work and celebrate milestone achievements.

This all happened on the first weekday after public schools were out for the year, so a lot of the business was families starting our summer programs. Summer is just beginning: June and July are our busiest months. We're going to work hard -- and have fun!