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Recently there has been a bit of media coverage on incidents that have happened in public libraries [2]. As a public librarian I find myself a bit bewildered by the tone of these articles and the outrage expressed by some citizens and librarians. What do they expect to happen in a public space? Where have they been for the past thirty years?

Are libraries safe places? I would argue that libraries in general are as safe as any other public space. Does this mean that it is a good place to just drop off your kids or to leave your purse sitting around? No. You should not expect your local public library to be any safer that the local shopping mall.

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I heard it at CiL 2008 and have heard it talked about on blogs. There seems to be and obsession with DRM (Digital Rights Management) with many librarians and with some of the general public. Since I come from a business background I don’t quite understand all the huff amongst librarians. Following is a reply I made to a post on another blog regarding DRM that kind of encapsulates my current thoughts on the issue:

The above comments offer great insights into the whole libraries and DRM issue, but I have a little bit to add, even though I am a public librarian.

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I recently took an online survey that asked for input from both public and academic libraries. From my view point as a public librarian (although a brand spanking new one) is seemed pretty obvious that the survey was geared towards academic libraries.

Quite a few of the questions on this survey asked about teaching users how to use our resources and what teaching methodologies that we might be using. This got me to thinking about “teaching” in public libraries. Should public libraries “teach?” How much time should be spent “teaching?” Do our customers even want to be taught and if so what? How do we reach them?

Now understand that I am just starting to ask these questions and have not formed any hard answers yet. For me this is an exploration and a request for information. I welcome your thoughts and examples.

While working the reference desk, I have interacted with large numbers of individuals seeking information. I can say that very few of them seemed interested in learning how to find the information themselves. Many times I have offered to show people how to find the information themselves, but only a very few have ever been interested. I am willing to say that my selling skills are perhaps not the best, but I have a gut feeling that this is what most reference librarians in public libraries experience. Can you teach people how to do something that they would rather you do for them?

I have watched many public and private schools take tours of my library and then they are turned loose to do “research.” These tours seem to be mostly composed of here are the books, ask for help. I would not call this teaching. The reference librarians also give a tour of the databases we have and the catalog, if the teacher has allowed time. But to cover dozens of databases in ten minutes does not make it very educational. Is this the kind of teaching we should be doing? I would basically call this giving a tour. But is it also leads me to ask, if we are not given the opportunity to teach, what can we do?

So I see two main hindrances so far: one, people don’t want to learn, they just want the information so they can get on with their lives; two, we often do not have the opportunity to teach. We might not ever actually encounter the individual or we may not have the time, such as the school tours mentioned above. So what are some solutions?

Until there are no more reference librarians to hand out answers and teachers have all the time in the world, the above issues will not go away. What about giving how to use your library classes? This might work, but I have my doubts. Let me know if you have had success doing classes like this in a public library. For me the most interesting opportunity to teach in the public library setting is presented by technology.

I will start this thought process by making a couple of big assumptions. I would guess that users that use our websites or the terminals within the library are technically more savvy, more motivated (most importantly) and more willing to learn if we offer them the opportunity. As we go through our website redesign process I am looking for potential learning opportunities that I can sneak in. Many academic and some public libraries use guides to assist researchers, which is a great first step, but not quite far enough. I am hoping to offer very unobtrusive “learning moments” throughout the website, along with guides, screen casts and video training. I just love to make more work for myself!

So I have a plan to help the people already using library technology become better at it (if they choose to). So what do I do to get others to become more motivated self learners? This is the challenge and what I am still trying to figure out. As for the school tour scenario, I see outreach as the most effective tool we have. We need to get into the classroom before they set foot into the library. Sounds easy? No!

So to answer my own question from the title of this post… Yes, public libraries should teach. It’s the how that we have to figure out and get better at. Feel free to sock it to me!

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It seems I have become embroiled in a debate about marketing librarians and not necessarily marketing heir libraries at the same time. My friend Greg over at Open Stacks recently wrote a blog where he talked about being interest in:

“And please note, my interest is NOT in marketing libraries. There are plenty of other people worrying about that. I’m talking about marketing librarians. I hope to find ways to demonstrate the importance of that distinction to others in our profession. Who’s with me?”

I made several pithy (that’s my opinion) statements that basically disagree with this approach. After a couple ruffled feathers and back and forth’s I made the following statement:

“Nothing I said was against passion, quite t[he] opposite in my view. What I am saying is that if we are not effectively marketing our libraries, then marketing a librarian does not do us much good. Also marketing librarians outside of the context of the library and its’ services does make much sense to me. Perhaps a balance[d] approach is what is most needed.”

I stick to my statement. Libraries are struggling to find their footing in the realm of marketing their services, we do not need to redirect energy into marketing personalities, unless that effort is directly tied into supporting the libraries mission.

Perhaps a little bit of clarification of my perspective on the issue of marketing versus public relations will help other understand where I am coming from. I think what Greg and some of the others are really talking about is librarians becoming active public relations ambassadors and not really marketing. If you are marketing something you are trying to sell it or get people to use it. If you are doing the public relations things, you are trying to get people to think positively about you, to develop goodwill when they think of an individual or institution. Now if librarians are going to “market” themselves, the still need to have a library (academic, public, law, medical, special or corporate) behind them. How else are they going to give any service or have anything to market?

Now is there a time that I could see marketing the profession of librarian itself? Yes.

Now I may be totally off the mark here, but I am trying to understand, so thank you for putting up with me!

From the Marrian-Webster Online Dictionary

librarian

Main Entry: li·brar·i·an Listen to the pronunciation of librarian

Pronunciation: \lī-ˈbrer-ē-ən, –ˈbre-rē-\

Function: noun

Date:1 671

: a specialist in the care or management of a library

li·brar·i·an·ship Listen to the pronunciation of librarianship\-ˌship\ noun

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A few days ago I wrote a post where I lambasted librarians and libraries in general about not taking risks (this was part of the committee rant). I would like to briefly continue this train of thought here and perhaps offer you a different way to think about developing solutions within the library world.

Evolution!

No matter where you stand on the issues of the origins of the species, I think we can all see that, at the very least, manmade things do change over time (can you say Internet). This is call evolution. Most manmade things do not strike out on their own and decide to reinvent themselves. They require input from those that interact with them or those who are knowledgeable enough to modify them to suit their needs or the needs of others. I am sure all of you out there in library land have witnessed the demands of your job evolving over time.

Now if we can accept the fact that evolution does occur in the above fashion, we can also agree to apply the concept of evolution to the services libraries offer their customers/patrons. I hope we can anyway.

Design – Develop – Test – Deploy – Evaluate – Redesign – Do it again – and again

Above is my mantra for website and software development. Too many organizations, people and yes libraries seem to get stuck in the design stage. They so badly want to get things “right” the first time, they never make it to the deployment stage.

Take a deep breath and deploy the damn thing! Set a deployment date (make it reasonable) and deploy on that date what you have accomplished, then let the service or product evolve over time. You will learn so much more by putting it out there than you will by keeping it hidden while you search for perfection.

Not going to make your launch date? Then scale back the product and make the date with what you have ready to go. The important thing here is to get projects out the door and into the real world while accepting that it may not be perfect or “finished.”

You can do it, it is okay, I give you permission to make glorious messes and failures. That’s what we call life!

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It seems like everything gets graded these days. Our kids, their schools, teachers, electronic equipment and even our libraries get graded by someone, are we becoming a society that only places value on good grades and forgets the less tangible values (worth pondering). While I am not sure that I like this new mindset of having to grade everything, it does offer individuals and institutions benchmarks to evaluate there performance and hopefully improve their services.

Recently Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau released a report card on the libraries in Wisconsin (full report here: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/news_pdfs/library_services.pdf). I am proud to note that our library system received A’s, but take it for what it is worth. In reality our best measurement of success is the increased circulation numbers and what our customers are telling use by using our library more and more every year, along with the continued financial support of the community. Does this mean that we are doing everything right? Absolutely not!

There is a large amount of discussion going on out in the blogosphere and other places about the role of the library in today’s high-tech world and into the future. While I don’t think there is a clear answer to these kinds of questions, the fact that the debate is going on is of itself interesting (remember I am not a librarian by training). For myself I believe that libraries will continue to have a role in the foreseeable future and believe that libraries need to be flexible and evolving entities that can quickly respond to the needs of their customers.

If you are interested, you can read the La Crosse Tribune article that got this post going (read here: http://www.lacrossetribune.com/articles/2008/04/18/news/00lead.txt ), which I encourage you to do. But maybe most importantly for libraries and librarians, read the comments that follow the article.

As always, you thoughts are welcome!

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I may have to have my appearance changed after this blog post, but I am going to risk it.

I love the Amazon Kindle!

Yes it has its issues, but I would love to have one, right now (stamps feet and throws fit)! I have been using a Kindle that our library purchased for evaluation (I am the New & Emerging Technologies Librarian, it’s a hard job I tell ya!). The Kindle does have an evil side; it would swallow my bank account since it is so easy to download books. In just over a week I went through four books and if the accounting office had not cut me off, I would be almost finished with my fifth one. So now it is time to share my experiences with you.

There are problems with this first version of the kindle, but most of them are easy to live with. To keep this review simple I will just try to list the pro and con’s of this latest e-book. Her it goes:

Cons:

  1. The damn thing costs too much! You will have to lay out $400 bucks to get one.
  2. The availability sucks. These have been hard to get hold of almost since day one.
  3. You are tied to the Amazon Kindle service for the life of the product. You will have to hope that they stay in business and continue to support the product.
  4. You cannot transfer titles you have purchased to other devices. They remain on your Kindle or on the Amazon server if your Kindle storage is full.
  5. Apparently they have told libraries NO! about lending out Kindles.
  6. Does not have a backlight. This saves battery life, but severely limits its’ use as a portable device in low light situations. It would not need to be on all the time.
  7. Graphics are so, so. It has some neat “screen” saves that are fun.
  8. Diagrams and code, yes I downloaded books with code in them since I am such a geek, do not enlarge with the text size. They come across every small and hard to read.
  9. Pretty much both sides of the device have active edges. This makes it very easy to accidentally “turn” the page. Keep it in the cover and this problem is reduced.
  10. There is an annoying page “flash” every time you “turn” a page.
  11. The lack of real page numbers is a pain. The location system that is used is easy to understand but not so easy to remember what location you where at (five digit numbers).
  12. Skipping a large number of pages requires that you use the built-in key board or hit the next/previous page button till you go nuts.
  13. Not every book ever written is available… yet! But there is more than 150K books available right now. Magazines are a bit under represented here as well.
  14. Fill in your thoughts here…

Pros:

  1. It is amazing easy to learn how to use. After about 10 minutes or less I was into my first book and navigating around the interface.
  2. The manual is on board. So you always have it close to hand.
  3. It is VERY easy to find and download books. The book store has an interface that is almost exactly like the very familiar Amazon online interface.
  4. It has built in wireless that connects in places that do not have WiFi. Journeying from Wisconsin to Washington D.C. there where no spots that I could not get access to the online store.
  5. Books download very quickly!
  6. It holds lots and lots of books. Something like 200, I have heard, but not test. And if you have more titles than you have space, they are conveniently stored on the Amazon server for you.
  7. It has a memory expansion slot.
  8. The battery lasts a really long time.
  9. The clarity of the text is great.
  10. You can change text size, but not font or color, very quickly. Largest size is equivalent to any large print book.
  11. While there can be screen glare from external light sources the Kindle display does not fade out in bright sunlight.
  12. Moving from page to page is fast and easy.
  13. It remembers that last page you where viewing, so you don’t have to search for your spot.
  14. You can place electronic bookmarks so you don’t loose your place. This is helpful if multiple people are using the device and reading the same book.
  15. You can place neat little “highlight” boxes around text.
  16. You can insert notes anywhere you want. This feature put writing in the margins to shame and shame on you if you have been writing in the margins anyway!
  17. You can save pages as “clippings” in a separate folder. That way you don’t have to go back to the actual book and try to find the page you wanted. Just go to your clippings and there it is.
  18. It has a built in dictionary. This really works well.
  19. You can download a sample of a book and check it out before you buy.
  20. Although not tested by me apparently you can also do audio books on the Kindle.
  21. Fill in your thought here…

So who should buy a Kindle?

If you travel and love to read, you should have a Kindle. If you love to read a lot of books that you never want to keep afterwards, do the planet a favor and buy a Kindle. If you’re a gadget junkie, you should have a Kindle. If you only read computer manuals with lots of diagrams and code in them, then the Kindle is not for you… yet.

Kindle and Libraries

I can see Kindles or similar devices playing a very active role in the future of libraries. These kinds of products would offer a level of access and availability that we just can not offer our patrons at this time. If we could offer a Kindle like service that was cost effective to our patrons, we would be in a win/win situation.

Final thoughts on the Kindle

I have really enjoyed my experience with the Kindle and hope to use it in the future. I plan on taking it with me to every conference I attend, on vacation and any other time I can sneak it out of the library. Yes, there are issues with the Kindle that need to be addressed, such as the active edges and the lack of a backlight for nighttime reading, but this a heck of a well designed first generation product. With some minor changes and if Amazon gets off it big butt and ups production numbers, the Kindle should claim its’ place in history and have a long happy life. It’s on my Christmas wish list this year.

The Amazon product review page is here.

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