Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stephen Abram's Cats

Meow!I am often asked questions. Stephen Abram just asked about Library Cats competeing with Google Dogs. Here are my thoughts:

STRENGTHS OF LIBRARIES*:
1. Instruction. Libraries provide information literacy – even modified bib.- instruction for users. Libraries provide the instructions for users to ask better questions AND which resources to choose.
2. Person to person (or over the phone, or via e-mail) customer service.
3. Access. Virtual branches are springing up everywhere, providing 24/.7 live reference, and providing features to users who utilize this service: electronic databases, digital books, podcasts, and blogs.
4. Providing a community space.
5. Acting as a “digital liaison”, helping to bridge the digital divide by providing access to electronically sourced information.
6. Libraries “pre-organize” information. i.e. pathfinders, web pages that contain the useful resources online, and in print.
7. Access to hard materials – i.e. microfilm, back issues of newspapers, and older reference materials kept in our local history/ready reference collections.
8. Libraries are “Google Local” in person.
9. Materials selection & development – while thinking global, we still act local… providing a well rounded collection that integrates both digital and hard copy resources that appeal to a broad base, but anticipate the needs of “locals.”
*not in order of priority

LIBRARIES' POSSIBLE OPEN TERRITORIES (AKA Weaknesses)
1. Marketing & PR. Resources for this endeavor are often overlooked. It’s almost the equivalent of erasing the “X” on the treasure map. I hate it when people say the library is a “hidden treasure”…the information has been here all along!!! TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT! This sadly, is a typical not-for-profit ailment. Press releases, magazine/journal articles are important to keep the library in the community’s mindset.
2. Merchandising: “show a little leg” – Face it, Google is NOT our only competitor. Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, Borders, - anyone who provides wireless internet access & showcases works containing information. People will go some where else to get it – and they are willing to pay for it. WE GIVE IT AWAY FOR FREE!!! Getting customers to come in: what do we have to offer besides books? This ties to Marketing & PR
3. TALK THEIR TALK: Like the OPAC’s, there are USER sides and STAFF sides. Libraries need to learn to speak “USER”. Any sense of elitism will drive the users away. Save shop talk for the back office & conferences.
4. Identifying users & services provided to them: Our demographics change often.. often enough for the government to survey the whole US every ten years. Are we providing services that we THINK the public wants, or actually providing them with what they REALLY want. Moreover, do you realize that students entering college this year have never seen a television station conclude the broadcast day with the national anthem, and were born during the first year of the Bush Sr’s presidency? Who are our users? What do they need? We need to tailor the library to cater to their needs! For example… by issuing 20 passports a week, for one year, the revenue is greater than my annual salary. By identifying our users, and identifying a need both parties benefit. What other user groups do we cater to? Genealogists, Gardeners, Child care professionals, teachers, and the list goes on. What have we done to make them come in?
5. Shelving turn around time/order of shelves: Its great to have the material, but once it is returned, how long does it take the customer to see it on a shelf again? Even if it is shelved, is it in the right place? Maintaining the collection at hand is as important as growing the collection. If they can’t find it, they will go some place else. Books out of place are as good as lost.
6. Signage – too much! It is the equivalent of pop ups. The public can only handle so much information at once. That is why it is key to have a centrally located information area, and all other brochures, etc. put into a nice neat place. Lots of directional signs doesn’t reduce our work load, it increases it, taking away valuable information sharing time.

CAN THE LIBRARY CAT COMPETE?

Sure, but only if we remember libraries NOT JUST BUILDINGS. If one can’t get past that, we won’t be able to compete for 10 minutes. Google isn’t a building or a person, and yet we worry about it taking away our customers.

This library cat can not be the lazy, sunning, content cat; we must constantly note details and our environment. Can the library compete with Google? Compete is the wrong word. Google employs librarians just like libraries’ across the country do. We need to work with our customers to teach them what Google is for, and what it is not for.

We need to be proactive in providing information, not reactive. People use Google from home, we need to make sure they can get to us from there too. Virtual branches are springing up everywhere. Organization on the web pages, clear paths & links to easy to understand links, and ready chat reference to provide that element that users need.

Google is a tool in my toolbox. I do use it to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. I use Google to find images quickly when blogging. But it’s not the only tool in my toolbox. We just need to make sure the customers have more than one tool as well.

Moral of this blog: More meow, less bark.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Housekeeping, Good

The Perfect HousewifeTime does fly. Now that I am more Northern than ever before, I had no idea what the library community was like here. So, what is a librarian to do? Jump in neck deep and take two jobs.

I am working half time as an academic librarian, and full time as a public librarian. How different the two are. It is a thrilling prospect to see both of these worlds through one set of eyes. Oddly, I enjoy the gentle art of librarianship over the facility I am working in. People say "So, which do you like best?" and I always reply "I like being a librarian."

My job description at the public library made me believe I was to be working with children. I was wrong, I did not ask for clarification when they said outreach. I wrongly believed I would reach out to shut in communities. Instead, outreach is the term they use for P.R. Yes ladies and gentlereaders, I provide a path for external publicity of the library, and I also function as an Adult Services Reference Librarian. Crazy fun. I hope the public adores me here. I worry about fitting in - but I think people always worry about fitting in. I'm younger than most of my colleagues, and I'm not a native. I have decided out loud that I can not worry about these things until they prove to be real points of fact... if indeed they ever do. I want them to like me, really like me. (to be read as if Sally Fields was saying it.)

The second job is half time, an Art History slide librarian. I have a nice little refrigerated room on the second floor - and a fab collection of images to maintain and circulate. I serve the faculty more than the student body. I am excited to create the first catalog of these materials! Again, age plays a card. Most people think I'm a student, and ask what I study. My first staff meeting was fun - I was introduced as the new department librarian. At least those 21 people know that I'm not going to be in any of their classes!

And all the while, I am a new home owner. I have slavishly worked on this historic home - making it 1940 perfect. To hide the technology in the living room, we splurged on a flat screen television that is nicely hidden behind the doors of the built in mahogany bookcase that surrounds the fireplace. Now one is forced to look at the oriental rugs, and the art on the walls.

Our first point of business was to remove a closet from the dining room, that was not original to the space. The room was painted curb marker yellow, and had a dated looking ceiling fan. All of that is gone now, and replaced with a cafe au lait color on the walls, and an updated gas light chandelier. We finished the room with a sage and milk coffee colored Persian rug. It looks divine. Now, finally, I need to find a period buffet to finish the room.

With all this work, I want to make sure my home is the perfect nest. When I come home, I want to be surrounded with comfort, sensible yet sturdy furniture, and the sound of Benny Goodman mixed with slight hissing that can only be emitted from a record player.

Best of all, I have a lipstick red kitchen with bright white cabinets. I can finally use all my vintage cherry embroidered dish towels that I've been collecting for just such an occasion... the occasion being buying the perfect house.

And making friends with neighbors who have lent me books and photographs. Its nice to know that my home was actually the south wing of a large Greek Revival styled all girls school in the mid 1800's. My house was moved to its current location in the 20's, and given all the charm of that period. The facade was changed as well. This house has had a good life, I hope that it likes what I'm doing now.

I'm off to water the lavender hedge that I planted my first week here. I'm going to savor this time with my house, because it seems I won't be getting to spend much time inside it at all!

Moral of this blog: Double librarianship is all worth it.