Posts Tagged ‘libraries’

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


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.


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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