Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Looking back at 2010

2010 has been a busy and eventful year at APL. Looking back, here's a few of the things that jump out:
  1. Changing of the guard: new leadership, or APL:TNG -- Colleen Rortvedt has been tapped as the next Library Director -- I probably list this first because looming retirement somehow seems like a big deal to me. But after I've been gone for six months, it'll either be "Terry who?" or "this is great -- why did we never do it before?" I appreciate the extensive hiring process our Board went through to find the next Director: they made a great choice. Colleen will bring some great new energy and innovative ideas; she is poised to make positive changes. 2010's accomplishments testify to her vision and effectiveness. In any case, fifteen years of me in this chair is enough.

    Last May, Brian Kopetsky succeeded Meg Shriver, our longstanding reference supervisor with whom I worked for 30 years. Meg was well loved for many reasons, nonetheless Brian has begun making some positive changes as well, showing leadership in social media, marketing, technology, and the Wisconsin public library community.

  2. Friends Executive Director & board bring new activism and energy -- After our Friends and Foundation merged last year, they spent some months getting organized and hired their first Executive Director -- Janice Daniels Quinlan -- who then set up a great annual meeting, recruited new board members, and has greatly expanded fund-raising and advocacy. With Jan's leadership, the Friends are increasing their visibility and effectiveness while fostering increased connections with the community.

  3. RFID sparks massive weeding, slated for complete implementation in 2011 -- There are four great things about the way RFID is going. First is the concept of tagging the collection mainly with volunteers, making the process shorter and cheaper to implement. Second is the tight teamwork of the group that planned the details of implementation, and went through the RFP and vendor selection process. Third is the totally massive weeding project that saw tens of thousands of marginal, worn, or outdated items pulled from the collection, buying us some needed space and making the tagging faster and more cost-effective. And finally, the bold plan to complete the project next year with sophisticated self-checks, security gates and automated materials handling. The Library Board, Mayor and City Council all approved the $400,000 capital project, which will transform many tasks when implemented in 2011.

  4. Meeting room changes -- We had several responses to increasing meeting room use, with associated workload issues as well as supply and demand problems. We created a new small meeting room, permanently set up as a conference room and thus readily available with minimal effort. We implemented the Evanced meeting room booking and calendar software, allowing anyone to check on room availability and put in a request 24/7 without staff mediation. Lower level rooms are now available to community groups on Saturdays. We set up a new color-coded directional signage system on the lower level, clarifying room information and eliminating confusion.

  5. New long range plan -- Beginning with a staff retreat in February, through meetings of a staff task force in the Spring and a Library Board/community committee in the summer, we revised our long range plan. While the new plan did not represent a radical departure (only prudent in the midst of management transition), it includes a redefined mission, a serious update and some useful new directions. Some of these were already underway with building recommendations, RFID, changes to the Friends and updated marketing efforts.

  6. Marketing plan & social media -- After a long evolutionary process, we have a new marketing plan with some good mechanisms to maintain communications. An active team has made our Facebook page into a great information source and opportunity for community conversation. We are poised to integrate calendar feeds, improved email communication and other social media, along with a re-branded Friends organization, to possibly re-brand the library and finally bring home the oft-delayed website revamp.

  7. Program attendance & meeting room use jumps -- Our annual program attendance is pushing 40,000, an increase of 16% over last year. This is related to marketing efforts and to hardworking and innovative program staff, putting together cultural and educational offerings for all ages. There's also been a huge increase in use of our meeting rooms. Both these changes reflect the increasing community center role of the library.

  8. Monitors depart and “Maintenance” turns into “Operations” -- We significantly tweaked, rather than transmogrified, our former Maintenance Clerks to provide some increased security and oversight backup for public services staff. We had done this with part-time Monitors for after-school hours nine months a year, but had been unsuccessful for years in getting funds to expand the Monitor hours. Instead we eliminated a few part-time unbenefited jobs, folded those duties into the Maintenance job descriptions, and gave the full-time, renamed, Operations Clerks additional training on policies and Black Belt Librarian techniques. As city Facilities Management staff has taken on more of the maintenance duties here, our Operations Clerks have used the time to start some new routines, checking in with service desks while doing their regular rounds, and provide public assistance for the increased meeting room use.

  9. Ebook platforms and discussions proliferate -- While a bunch of have been excited by the iPad this year, we continue to have supply, demand, format and DRM issues with eBooks. Through our system and a statewide consortium, we are able to offer downloadable eBooks in our catalog, and these can be read on Sony Readers and Nooks, as well as Androids, iPads, and iPhones. There are not yet enough titles or copies, and they're not perfectly easy to use, and they don't work on Kindles, but it's a good start. There's been a lot of conversation with much more to come.

  10. Building project stalls with ongoing economic concerns -- The City Council referred the Library Board's building request to a special Capital Facilities Committee, which met for some months, and is currently on hiatus until late winter or early spring. Community Development Director Karen Harkness summed up the situation nicely, saying she:
    "believes the Committee would be in agreement that the most prudent way to proceed would be to build a new library. However, she also believes the Committee would be in agreement there are too many unknowns such as stimulus dollars, fundraising and the economy."
    Stay tuned!

Friday, October 15, 2010

RFID transforms the library -- you can help!

A new project underway at the library is one of our biggest undertakings in years and has the potential to quietly change the way we do many things. Some of the changes will be invisible and some will be dramatic. It will make the library easier and faster to use, save money and improve service, but getting there will be a big job.

It's RFID: Radio Frequency Identification, increasingly used in many libraries for all the above reasons.

RFID will change all our inventory control processes, most visibly checkout and security gates, but also check-in, reshelving, and searching for items. To implement it, we'll need to place a radio-frequency tag in or on every item in the collection, then replace our self-checks, security gates and book-drops. We'll want to add additional self-checks, new bookdrops, and automated materials handling equipment for returned items. With almost 400,000 items in our collections, this is a huge undertaking, and it will be the better part of two years before it's done.

The reason for all the work and cost is to improve service and security while lowering costs. By automating processes, we can handle more business without more staff. We can shorten checkout lines as more people use self-checks. Some libraries get 90% of checkouts done at self-checks, and we're planning to get easy-to-use checkout stations that will unlock media cases and allow payment of fines. We'll still have staff to help with problems, but any routine checkout, picking up holds etc., should go much faster.

RFID will improve library use because we'll get things back on the shelves faster, and have better tools to find lost or misshelved items. It will speed the checkout process by using faster more reliable self-checks with more functions including unlocking media cases and accepting fine payments. RFID will help stop loss with security gates which can notify staff of specific items being taken away without being checked out.

There should be considerable cost saving over time. Not only should we lose fewer items, but checkout and return processes can be highly automated. New bookdrops will check items in as they are returned, and automated materials handling will use conveyor belts to sort returned items. As implementation of new equipment is phased in, we should be able to save staff through attrition, by not using people to do repetitive tasks, and by letting attrition in non-benefited staff reduce the workforce. Staff should be able to do more high-level tasks and help the public. If use increases substantially, we would not need to increase staff commensurately.

In the past, there have been some civil liberties concerns expressed about public library RFID. In the system we are putting in place, there should be no privacy issues or concerns for two reasons:
  1. the radio frequency tags in our materials are very short range -- about 18" -- and require a dedicated reader on the frequency of the tags
  2. the tags contain nothing more than the bar code just like is currently printed on the backs of our books. Without a link into our circulation database -- which has strict privacy safeguards, the RFID data is meaningless.
All of these advantages and improvements come at a cost. We need to tag our entire collection, and then we need to replace a lot of equipment. The investment will pay off for the taxpayers, but the project has to be capitalized up front -- and next year's completion of the project is pending a decision by our City Council. The Library Board has requested the dollars, and the Mayor has included their request in his executive budget proposal to Council.

We're keeping the cost much lower than it could have been by relying on volunteer labor to tag the materials. This will save many thousands of dollars over hiring temporary staff to do the project, or stringing it out for years to try to let current staff absorb the tagging duties. With volunteer help, we plan to be done tagging all the materials by next summer.

We need a lot of volunteers to help. Cheryl Kraft, the RFID Volunteer Coordinator, is recruiting and training volunteers to tag materials for RFID. She’s looking for volunteers who would be available for 1-2 hour blocks anytime during the library’s open hours to scan bar codes and tags and work with a lap top computer. The work is actually easy to learn and goes quickly. Anyone interested in learning more about this exciting new volunteer opportunity, contact Cheryl at ckraft@apl.org for more information.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Slow down, you move too fast..."

The City Council-appointed Capital Facilities Committee has been meeting for a year, working to determine the future of our library facility. It has now been four years since the Library Board asked the City to address the issue. There have been two major studies, funded by the City and the Friends of the Appleton Library, as well as Board recommendations. People often ask me what's happening --and the simple answer is that we're still talking about it.

The Council has endorsed the Committee's recommendation for a single library building -- no branches. By now, there is a lot of agreement that a new downtown library building would be best for Appleton, but the location and configuration are uncertain and the funding is a very big question mark. Given the many unknowns on this project, it seems like a good idea to keep discussing, learn more, see how the economy and other factors affect available funds, and defer any final decision. If a new building is by no means affordable, then we'll need to do the best remodeling and expansion job we can to address service concerns, add needed space, and increase efficiency.

There are many reasons why new would be better than remodeled, including greater impact on downtown development, best design for improved efficiency, a larger percentage of the project done with private funds raised by our Friends group, as well as more flexible space for future growth and changes. But after a year of discussion, there are unanswered questions about how we would be able to fund a new building as well as location and the architectural relationship of potential sites to other City offices. Thus the Capital Facilities Committee has gone on hiatus, but asked two task forces to do further study on building issues and finance issues. There will be no building or site selection funds in next year’s budget, and we assume it will be several years before either an expansion of the current building or a new library could be built.

A wait of a few years is not a fatal problem: we’ve always understood that this would not be a rapid decision or a quick implementation once decided. But in our current situation crowding will get worse, it will be harder to realize efficiencies, and well nigh unto impossible to realize some of the requested service improvements that would make this library better for the community.

As time goes by, with increasing use and flat or decreased staffing, efficiency will become more important. As time goes by, with continued inaction, the library will become less of a nice place to be -- not the destination this city deserves, not the community learning center it needs. Form follows function, but form can also constrain function.

So I’m a bit disappointed that things cannot move more quickly or decisively, but realistically, this is a hard time to commit to any big projects. We need to wait for an improved economy or more funding sources. I appreciate the hard work and difficult deliberations of the Capital Facilities Committee, and trust they will reconvene in the future, with better information, to continue their efforts. In the meantime, we need to keep studying issues and possibilities, while working with our Friends and others to help the community understand the situation.

Art @ APL (2010)

Dan from our Reference staff went around the building and photographed the the items permanently on display from our public art collection. Then he converted it to a video, complete with soundtrack and put it on YouTube. Much of this was purchased by our Friends group. Some like the big Grade paper sculpture in the entryway was collaborative (school district, Wisconsin Arts grant, plus Friends). Some was donated in memoriam.

We have other pieces that are not displayed or are in staff offices. But I love the eclectic blend of local history, local and state artists and a few other things. Art is another medium through which the library expresses culture, diversity and community. Thanks, Dan!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Surprise donation

Last night, while I was enjoying myself at a City Council meeting, my wife saw a car pull into our driveway. A gentleman got out, using a crutch, climbed our porch and knocked on our door. When my wife answered, he asked if this were the home of the Terry Dawson who donated the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction to the public library.

She said that yes, I was the one who donated it. He told her that he had been out of work and laid up for some time. During that time, he appreciated using more of the library's materials, and in particular the F&SF magazines. He said that he hoped I would continue the donation -- which I've been doing for years.

My wife said that I would very probably continue the donation; he said he would like to ensure it and handed her a folded twenty dollar bill. She said that this was not needed, that I was the library director; he said that it was even better then that I was donating, and he wanted to help. Then he left.

After he was gone, she looked more closely and found that it was in fact five twenties that he had given her: $100 cash.

When I got home from the City Council, more than a little tired from the budget wars, she shared the story of what had happened. Of course, this made my day. We'll give the $100 to the library's materials budget. The library buy some extra fantasy and science fiction titles, thanks to this generous library user who wanted to show his appreciation and make sure we keep getting the magazine. And I'll definitely keep donating F&SF.

While we know many people appreciate what they get from the library, we don't always know who, why or how much. But every now and then, there's a pleasant surprise that helps us remember why we do this.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Capital steps

The City Council's Capital Facilities Committee had a good meeting this month, and Chair Joe Martin assigned committee members to answer questions and share thoughts on a decision matrix to help determine whether Appleton should plan to build a new library or remodel the current facility. He will assess the collective answers of the respondents and use them to guide committee discussions.

I'm looking forward to seeing the range of responses from the thirteen member committee -- I'm sure there are many ideas I'd agree with, and maybe some I won't. Although I do not sit on the committee, Ald. Martin solicited feedback from Library administrative staff. Herewith, his questions and my responses:

Project Feasibility Decision Matrix


Have the past two architectural and consultant studies sufficiently established the need to address library facility concerns?
  • Yes – there has been a lot of public input, including scientific random input from users and nonusers, as well as architectural and operational analysis that documents real needs.


What are the requirements of the users that may influence the site location?
  • There are several market segments with identifiable site-related needs, mostly due to transportation mode:
    • Automobile drivers need convenient parking
    • Automobile and private bus passengers need convenient, safe drop-off
    • Pedestrians, especially downtown workers and shoppers, need a site close to the central city
    • Valley Transit passengers, including school children, need a site within a few blocks of the Transit Center
    • Elderly, parents with multiple young children and handicapped, need convenient parking near the library entrance
What affinities to other groups are necessary?
  • It is highly desirable that the library be perceived as serving virtually every demographic in the City. In looking at affinities to other organizations, public schools and other educational groups would rank high, as would other government (local, state and national) and a range of community nonprofit groups who would either use library space or do joint programming with the library.
Is the site compatible with the long-range plan of the library?
  • The current site is basically compatible, but the current structure lacks both design features and space for current and future community needs. Concerns in the long-range plan would be most fully addressed by a new structure designed to address current priorities and future needs, but could also be addressed by extensive remodeling.


Are there potential donors to the project?
  • Unlike police stations, water plants or other municipal construction projects, libraries have the potential to attract significant donations to help with construction. 25-33% of project cost is not unusual for public library projects.
  • There are numerous potential donors, ranging from philanthropic individuals and corporations to grass-roots donations from a wide range of the library’s 86,000 cardholders.
  • Realizing this potential will require considerable effort, and we assume much of the private fund-raising could be done by the Friends of the Appleton Library (FOAL) -- our community support group. Success of private fund-raising will be greatly enhanced by two factors: naming rights and perceptions of civic presence. A new library will have significantly more potential to bring in donations than a remodel.
Can revenue generation be used to fund the facilities construction or on-going costs? i.e. leasing OWLS, Literacy Coalition, other non-profits
  • Some, although this is limited and related to project scope. Potential tenants among nonprofit organizations are unlikely to be able to afford anything comparable to prime commercial rentals. OWLS (the Outagamie Waupaca Library System, which provides many services to APL) currently pays about $30,000/year, and while this is on the low side of cost per square foot in the downtown, Appleton derives many benefits from their presence in ways that would be difficult to quantify in dollars. Likewise, we once housed the Literacy Coalition pro bono. If we were to house groups such as the Literacy Coalition or Multicultural Center, it would be due to the Library’s ongoing participation in and support of these groups as much, if not more, than for revenue generation.
  • There is limited potential for commercial development to be co-located with a new library, but absent the involvement of a developer from the inception of the project, this would be difficult to pursue and fit into a structure.
  • The most typical commercial activity found in public libraries is a library friends’ store, which will usually sell used books, library merchandise and sometimes have a coffee bar. This would be part of library space to supplement operating income rather than to generate general revenue.


Is there an alternate solution for solving this space problem?

  • The only viable alternatives comprising complete solutions are either extensive remodeling and expansion or new construction. It would be possible to address some concerns with a smaller scale remodel and expansion project, but this would almost certainly be unsatisfactory in the long term and neither result in service enhancements the community is seeking nor the same level of operational savings to be realized through more comprehensive design changes.
Do the existing facilities need to be remodeled, or are new facilities required?
  • Extensive remodeling and expansion could answer very well, but would neither offer as many opportunities for operational savings through significant design improvements, nor make as strong a case for private funding as would a new building. A new building could also spur other downtown development to a greater extent than an expansion.
Is the space currently available within the library?
  • Neither space nor design features to meet the needs are available within the existing structure and the existing footprint.


What effect will this project have on other projects?
  • Much of the effect will depend on the nature of the project. For example, a new building would make the current facility available for other uses, such as a larger, more visible and accessible City Hall. A new building attached to this one and the East Ramp would likely require the relocation of Valley Transit. A new building close to the river front could impact other development initiatives.
Is there a domino effect where another building will need to be renovated?
  • Presumably, were this building vacated by the Library, it would require some renovation for different use. While it is theoretically possible that some other building could be renovated as a library, this is not highly practicable due to design and engineering requirements.

Remodeling construction during the operation of the library
  • There are two scenarios: one where the library moves to temporary quarters and one where remodeling is done while library operations adapt. The first would require the library to close twice for two moves and maintain dual facilities, but remodeling could be done most quickly. The second would not require closing but would entail serial disruptions of various services, and add to construction costs and duration. The extent of renovation might be a deciding factor.
Disruptions, limited usage
  • Disruptions and limited usage would be significantly less with new construction as opposed to renovation. There would only be one move and it could be phased to keep closed days to minimum. By tweaking loan periods and asking for public help, some portion of the collection could be moved by patrons checking items out from the old library and returning them to the new.
  • The advantages here are relatively short-term, but would result in some operational cost impacts for about two years of any project.
Adapting current spaces vs. designing
  • There are some substantive advantages to designing new vs. remodeling. The first is in better opportunities to design spaces to meet current and anticipated future needs, rather than adapting. New design offers greater possibilities for efficiency, ease of use, and meeting community needs. Adapting will necessarily require a greater degree of compromise. The goal is to provide the best possible public service, knowing that staffing and operational resources will be limited over the long term.
Community perceptions / values / civic presence / identity
  • The second advantage to new design is the message we send to – and the presence we create in -- the community. A highly visible and substantial investment in this public service makes a clear statement that this city values education, family, opportunity and community space. It says that we value our downtown and will invest in its success, creating better destinations for people, and more reasons to be part of Appleton. The library is a gateway to knowledge, opportunity and community, as well as to our downtown.
  • A corollary benefit is the opportunity to create as sustainable and green a building as makes sense for operational needs and costs: as an educational and highly visible public space, this creates a statement of community values and concern for the future.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Librarians Do Gaga

Oh, those collegiates. Thanks to the.effing.librarian for the link!

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Capital Idea!

Our City Council’s Capital Facilities Committee is about to resume deliberations on the future of the library. The committee is slightly reconstituted, with a few new members and under the leadership of new Council President, Alderperson Joe Martin. Having already decided that Appleton will continue to pursue a single downtown facility and not add any branches at this time, the committee will take up the decision about remodeling vs. building new.

The Library Board, in reviewing the studies done in 2008 and 2009, has twice endorsed the concept of a new building as likely being the most cost-effective way to address current concerns and meet future operational needs. I also tend to favor the idea of a new building for two main reasons.

The first is because I think we can more effectively provide service into the future by designing rather than by adapting. While we can effectively adapt current space, we could more effectively design for 21st century services rather than shoe-horning them to fit. We could design spaces for meetings, technology, and reading, as well as areas for people and materials. We could more readily build for an automated materials handling system to save significant staff time. And we could work to create spaces that would serve public needs with minimal staff. Along the same line, by building new we can more effectively make Appleton’s most heavily used public building into a green building as an example demonstrating sustainability.

The second reason is that I believe a new building would more effectively capture the imagination of the community and generate donations to help with the construction. It would provide more opportunities to promote downtown development and create both a civic presence and a clear identity as a “center of community life”, in the words of our mission statement.

Although the world is always changing and information is becoming more electronic, libraries have endured for thousands of years. In fact, libraries are becoming more heavily used as people appreciate that all learning does not happen when someone sits alone at their personal computer. As important as our home and office computers are, not everyone has them, nor expertise, nor specialized resources. Libraries provide computers and media technology labs where people can work together and get instructions, as well as opportunities for many other kinds of learning that do not depend on machinery. Learning happens when people come together, and public libraries are growing in importance as community learning centers, where people of all ages gain life-transforming knowledge and skills.

It’s the vision of community learning and the public statement of the values of this community that I hope would encourage donors to support a new library. We know that while remodeling might be done with tax dollars alone, it could be an expensive band-aid. The library staff is by no means categorically opposed to remodeling, if it could be done to truly meet the community’s long-term library service needs. It’s not really about a building: it’s about meeting community needs and improving the quality of life by lifting up our values of what Appleton is and should be.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Librarians discuss summer reading

The Post-Crescent website featured a streaming video interview with three of our librarians, covering adult, young adult, and children's summer library programs. They included a chat module for people to submit questions. Cool beans, and a great job by our three staff and PC reporter Kara Patterson!

[obsolete link removed]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Authentic voices of children

National Library Week: Young adult novelist Chris Crutcher spoke to an audience of local librarians at our library yesterday morning before addressing a public gathering later that evening. The author's two appearances at our library were in conjunction with several presentations before high school classes as part of the Fox Cities Book Festival. In introducing him to the evening audience, high school senior and teen library board representative Ryan Nelson said that Chris Crutcher portrays the facts of life as they are, not as they ought to be.

Talking about how he got started telling stories, Crutcher recalled overhearing a locker room story of a coach who instructed his players to injure a talented opponent to knock him out of game. This became part of the inspiration for his novel "Running Loose." The coach's voice - not character - based on his own high school coach. After his novel was published, he returned to his high school back to school, and found out his book was restricted in the school library, requiring parental permission to read, despite his being the only published author in the history of the town. His book was censored because it got into philosophy of sports, and addressed issues of challenging authority.

Crutcher worked at a mental health center in Spokane, dealing with child abuse and neglect. He felt a need to write about the authentic voice of what was happening to abused children. He became conscious of the tension between the need to protect privacy and not share personal stories, versus the need to tell the story of societal problems. He found that due to limited resources, child protection does not protect rich kids, nor anyone over age 11. His fiction pushed the boundaries of young adult literature. Booklist declined to review "Chinese Handcuffs" because they couldn't recommend it. Crutcher started to wonder if he had crossed a line between fiction and real life that should not have been crossed. When a girl in Texas waited a long time to speak with him privately after a school talk, she told him: "When I read 'Chinese Handcuffs', I thought you knew me. I didn't think anyone understood my life." At that point he felt validated, and became more confident he was doing the right thing.

"If you start thinking about what's going to offend people and what isn't, you're not going to be able to tell the story." He related the story of a gay kid, who parents thought he was confused about his sexuality. The kid wasn't confused, but his parents were in denial. The boy told Crutcher the hardest thing in his life was hiding who he was, and knowing he would have to keep hiding at least through high school, asking: "Who wants to be Matthew Shepherd?"Stories are a way out - it's not about a secret, it's about the story. If other people understand the story, you're not alone. It's safe -- there's a place inside a book where it's real.

He related an Iowa book challenge, where a student got up and said to the school board "I'm an honors student with a 3.8 GPA. I could go to any college, but I'm going into the service. Do you mean to say that if I were to come back and write a book about my experiences in Iraq, using authentic voices, you wouldn't let people in this town read it?" That decided the issue.

More statements from Chris Crutcher:
  • The person at risk in a controversy is not the author or publisher, it's the teacher or librarian who gives the book to kids. There are kids who are invisible in their schools and if you ban the book, you ban that kid.
  • There is so much about the true nature of why we don't want to talk about things that's just under the surface.
  • If my book is banned in a high school, I send five copies to the nearest public library and write the newspaper that I did it.
  • Harper Lee guided me because of the intimacy she put into the creation of Scout. If I wanted to tell stories I needed to get the voices right. Storytelling voice is the thing you have to get.
  • When we don't grieve properly, when we don't allow ourselves to feel the awfulness of what we've lost, we get stuck and we get sick.
  • [About play therapy] You see the world through that kid's eyes, and that's where you start.
  • Every time I see a book get taken out of a classroom or library, I think we're taking ourselves out of the short list of people to turn to because when we ban the stories we ban the kid.
I'm glad we have writers like this, who not only tell a good story but an honest story, who will struggle to help those authentic voices be heard -- and spend time with librarians to remind us of the importance of making sure the stories will reach people who need them. There are stories that need to be told, even if secrets are kept. There are those who need to read these stories. Not everybody has to like it, and not everybody has to read them, but freedom isn't free. We owe it to those children to let their stories be read, even if sometimes we have to fight to keep them on our shelves. Chris Crutcher helps us see the world through their eyes, and that's a start.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The power of collaboration: Fox Cities Book Festival kicks off

It's National Library Week, and for the third year in a row, it's also the Fox Cities Book Festival. Over the next eight days, 50 authors will appear at 18 venues, including libraries, schools, universities, museums and coffee houses. One of the first is occurring here at the Appleton Public Library, as Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, discusses her writing.

Each year's Book Festival is a huge collaborative effort, requiring a year of prep work. The Board includes representatives of all the local public libraries, plus public schools and higher education, as well as many community volunteers passionate about books and reading. A highlight is always the appearance of the Fox Cities Reads author, who will speak at many different area libraries and schools.

None of this would be possible without both inspiration and hard work. The original inspiration for the event came from Ellen Kort, an Appleton writer and teacher who was Wisconsin's first Poet Laureate. Ellen talked for years with interested people before a committee finally gelled and organized the first book festival. It's now an annual event including committees to do fund-raising, coordinate dozens of volunteers, make author arrangements, organize the community read and market the event. None of this would work without a broad cross-section the whole Fox Cities community, and it's no wonder that our libraries are deeply involved.

As Kim Edwards advised budding authors: "Read, read and read, and write, write and write."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

10.5 reasons I love Google ... and one reason I don't entirely

  1. Google fiber for communities: I admit it, this is seductive. But the idea that there could be highly affordable gigabit per second bandwidth widely available in our town opens up lots of possibilities for information delivery. The possibilities for a library are both daunting and enticing. Google's undertaking is a bold experiment to "make Internet access better and faster for everyone." It will be interesting for all of us to watch, and way beyond interesting for the selected communities.
  2. Google search: simple, easy, useful and productive. This has become so essential, it spawned the modern verb for finding things out. Also the main reason I don't always love Google... see below.
  3. Google books and the Library Project: there are surely a lot of intellectual property issues with regard to Google Books. Publishers, authors, and libraries have found themselves on different sides at different points in the conversation. But this is complex, and much of it not unique to Google. But my bottom line as a librarian: more books more accessible to more people is a very good thing.
  4. The Google motto: ("Don't be evil") and staying true to it. It takes a lot for a corporation to stand up to the government of China and jeopardize income from the largest market on the planet. Intellectual freedom is worth fighting for and censorship should be resisted. Google has done so, earning praise from Amnesty International, the Centre for Democracy and Technology and many others.
  5. Google Maps & Google Earth: although Mapquest and others have their uses, Google Maps made itself into the gold standard for finding places. This makes possible collaborative services like our local bus route service, Valley Transit's Trip Planner. And "street views", even if a bit creepy-seeming (Google is taking pictures of YOUR house), are incredibly handy for finding a party or a hotel.
  6. Gmail: has changed the way I communicate, with threaded conversations, a great spam filter, managing multiple email accounts, chat, and access from my iPod and phone.
  7. Google docs: improve productivity and communication and open up new possibilities. Share things between home and work. Write collaboratively. Publish on the web. Back up your work in the cloud. Google docs got it going on.
  8. YouTube: you gotta love YouTube -- you're probably on it. There's the Appleton Fiber Channel, our Reference staff channel and more. What happened yesterday? Want to learn a song or a musical instrument? Where's that viral video everybody's talking about? Google didn't create YouTube, but it was a smart acquisition which they've polished without messing up.
  9. Experimentation and fun: just look at Google Labs, an amazing idea incubator.
  10. All the other Google apps, in more profusion than space permits -- check em out: smart applications that extend computing, increase communication, improve self-expression. Calendar (and shared calendars), Analytics, iGoogle, Translate (indispensible!), web hosting, and of course Blogger, which thousands use for free and whereon this document was created & resides. Google fosters opportunities to learn, experiment and grow.
and the one reason I don't love Google is not the fault of Google and is "not in our stars but in ourselves." You always find something in the last place you look. Except with Google, where you always find something the first place you look. As librarians and researchers know, we don't always know what we're looking for, though we often believe we do. Google search is so effective that the thing you find may immediately become the thing you wanted and needed. And if you can get through it without taxing your attention span, so much the better. While convenience is wonderful, it's not always the best thing, but it's easy to forget the pinch of salt.

This is not a flaw created by Google, but an example of how we need to adapt our learning styles in this brave new world. We live in interesting times, and Google is often the exemplar.

10.5. My friend Bryan Debbink works there, doing good work for Google Book Search, even if he is promoting Ann Arbor for a Google Fiber Community. Remember your home town, Bryan!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

CFC: no branch libraries

On Feb. 1, the City Council-appointed Capital Facilities Committee voted 8-0 to continue with a single central library in Appleton, rather than to seek to develop any branches. This decision now goes to the Council's Administrative Services Committee, for action on Feb. 10, and then to the full Common Council on Feb. 17, unless referred back to the CFC.

This is the presentation I gave to the Committee, slightly modified to include some of the discussion that accompanied it. This slideshow summarizes the two facility studies from 2008 & 2009, along with the recommendations from the Library Board & staff.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Thinking about library futures

While I have a lot of respect for business/marketing guru Seth Godin, he misses the mark in his blog posting on the future of libraries. While concern for the future is right, he's off-base in two respects:
  1. Godin seems to assume that libraries are now irrelevant, that books are passe or that people can afford all the books they want and all other information is available free online. He writes...
    What should libraries do to become relevant in the digital age?
    ... and thus begins with the preconception that we're already irrelevant.
    They can't survive as community-funded repositories for books that individuals don't want to own (or for reference books we can't afford to own.) More librarians are telling me (unhappily) that the number one thing they deliver to their patrons is free DVD rentals. That's not a long-term strategy, nor is it particularly an uplifting use of our tax dollars.
    Let's break that down: our library circulates a lot of books that people either don't want to own or can't afford -- and that's not just reference books. DVDs are hardly the number one thing our library does: most of what we circulate is books and the number of books we circulate has been growing every year, and holding steady as a percentage of circulation for several years. It's also true that our library's DVDs are targeted toward a different market than video stores or Red Box, but books are still our number one.
  2. Godin suggests our focus should be "train people to take intellectual initiative."
    ... the net turns things upside down. The information is free now. No need to pool tax money to buy reference books. What we need to spend the money on are leaders, sherpas and teachers who will push everyone from kids to seniors to get very aggressive in finding and using information and in connecting with and leading others.
    Even assuming he's recommending that librarians become his sherpas, it's not realistic to assume that our best efforts could turn everyone into aggressive leaders. By implication, this marginalizes those who may never fall, or grow, into that group. This smacks of an elitist perspective -- and while I know not everything we do has be factored by a lowest common denominator, it's a mistake to discount the value of making knowledge broadly available.

    Godin's assertion ot the contrary, information is not free, and that which is apparently free comes with hidden costs. Not everyone can afford even most of the books they'd like to read, nor highspeed Internet connections, nor the databases that hold information they're seeking. Not everyone will be sherpas, nor could the craftiest sherpa make everyone in our community into aggressive information seekers.

What libraries can do -- and many are, very effectively:
  • recognize that our core functions of education, connection, information equity and opportunity have not changed, though the delivery methods have
  • make books and other media available in a variety of formats to meet user needs -- and keep evolving with the times into downloadable ebooks, downloadable audiobooks and whatever other formats emerge to be effectively useful
  • train people to become savvy consumers of information resources, help provide tools and instruction in their use -- and give needed assistance where savvy is lacking
  • provide formal and informal community spaces
  • have a sophisticated understanding that although the public needs equity and "information wants to be free," publishers and creators of information content want to put food on the table -- know where knowledge comes from and what it costs -- and use this understanding to creatively make resources available
  • find a variety of channels to push information and learning opportunities out into their communities, through websites as digital branches, through social media, through cultural programs and games, through putting librarians at the table with community groups and through marketing resources -- helping leaders and non-leaders alike find ways to meet their needs
  • actively promote family literacy
We're doing these things already. We're hardly sitting around unhappily contemplating our DVD circulation. Education and libraries are for everyone. We're looking to the future -- and it's exciting.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Supporting the library -- 2010

Public libraries need support in many fashions. Of course we appreciate everyone who votes with their feet or their mouse to use our services. But to maintain services, especially in tough times, we need specific kinds of intentional supporters: donors, volunteers and advocates.

Today's Capital Times has an excellent article on advocacy by Bill Berry: "Keep the library lights burning." He writes:
Our libraries are busier today than ever before, and there’s something incredibly uplifting about that fact. Much of the increased demand is said to be tied to the economy. As people tighten their belts, they’re using public libraries more than ever.

But that doesn’t mean libraries are safe as local governments strive to balance their ledgers. Difficult decisions are being made about essential services.

As the American Library Association reports, libraries across the nation have endured budget cuts and staff reductions. That has led to reduced hours of operation, branch closings and other cuts in services at a time when the public most needs what libraries provide.

In these tough times, it comes down to defining essential services. By almost any measure, and especially in the current economy, libraries are essential to many people. Folks need to tell that to officials who are making budget decisions.


A 2008 research study commissioned by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on the contribution of Wisconsin public libraries to the state economy found that tax dollars invested in Wisconsin public libraries produced a return on investment of $4.06 of library services for each $1 of taxpayer investment, including both direct economic contributions and the total market value of library services.

Healthy communities need strong businesses that provide good jobs. Just as much, they need good schools and libraries. It’s no stretch to say that libraries are among the crowning achievements of our democratic society. They serve people of all economic backgrounds. Right now, they happen to be needed most by those who’ve been hit hardest by the economic downturn.

Tough times call for tough choices. Libraries aren’t and shouldn’t be immune from scrutiny. But make no mistake about it: Our public libraries are essential to our health and well-being. They nurture informed and educated citizens of all ages who better their own lives and their communities. We need to keep the lights on.

Thanks to Paul Nelson for calling attention to this article.