Chicken Little librarianship

The 7 Deadly Librarian Sins

And from on high Library Mountain came down these rules that shall be followed by those charged with carrying out the most noble of professions, Librarianship.

#1 Thou shalt be proactive not reactive.

Jason Griffey gave a presentation today about future trends in libraries, charging us to think about what’s coming next, not just what’s here.  He brought up the interesting point that it can be hard for our patrons to ask for what they want because they’re not aware of what we can do.  Basically the old Henry Ford adage of “If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.”  Seek out new technologies, new methods, new products even if you can’t fully adopt them.  We should be a step in front of our patrons where ever they are.

#2 Thou shalt not ignore the world outside of libraries.

How can you discover new things coming down the path?  Read Wired or other tech magazines, follow blogs on User Experience design or hell any kind of thoughtful design.  Griffey brought up that our patrons’ experiences in other environments become the expectation universally even in libraries.  If Amazon is quick, cheap and easy, libraries should be as well.  We should look at our competitors and take their successful models and adapt them with things we do well.

#3 Thou shalt not covet other libraries.

It’s easy to look at other libraries and become jealous and depressed.  They have shiny new toys that walk, talk and more!  They have amazing community support.  They have money growing on trees.  As lame as it sound each library IS a unique and special snowflake.  We need to assess, with quantitative data. the needs of our communities and work from there and not a place of pouting jealousy.

#4 Thou shalt not get mad at techno-challanged coworkers.

Frustration at coworkers slow or out right resistant to implementing new technology is a common emotion.  I struggle the most with this.  Constant training that have direct impacts on people’s work flow along with recognizing everyday teachable moments help calm the anxiety on both sides.

#5 Thou shalt not ban.

Obviously.

#6 Thou shalt value our patrons above all else.

Yes, they do in fact pay your salary.  While that does not give them a right to mistreat and harass it does mean all goals and assessments must come back to the ultimate question, will it help the patron?  Will they benefit or see an improvement?  Are we making our jobs easier or their lives better?  Answer carefully because we need patrons to be our partners and not enemies to be kept at bay.

#7  Thou shalt not let the technology win.

You are at all times technology’s master and liege.  It must bend to your will and desires.  It is your tool, not the other way around.  If not might as well lay down now and wait for robots and AI to evolve enough to overpower us and take over the earth.  Laugh all you want but just know when it all goes to hell, I told you so.

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Can we talk?

I’d heard the saying, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission. Until I started working in libraries I never knew how true it is.

I use my young, techno-savvy image to start social media projects, to suggest new technology toys, and to basically do cool things like go to Wordcamp Chicago and ALA. I find when there are walls in my way I simply go around them or knock them down by talking long and loudly enough. My voice is out there, I say what I think and importantly what I feel. I don’t always get my way but at least you know where I stand.

A long time ago (cough, high school) I felt like I was a quiet person who had nothing important or interesting to say.  That’s probably why I connected with Lisa Barone’s post on Outspoken Media’s blog about finding your brand’s voice and not being scared to share it.

“There’s power in engaging with people by letting them see what you and your business are about.”

So I have a voice and I use it, but her post made me wonder, does my organization? Honestly, no. If it does then it’s not a cohesive one that makes an impact. I feel this lack of voice, position, opinion hurts us and informs our users in ways we didn’t intend to.

The biggest frustration with adopting social media in my organization is getting internal buy-in. My ideas get met with approval and nods of support but when I ask for input or material, silence. Sure, it’s great we have a blog but hardly anyone posts to it. Yeh! We’re on Facebook, but are we interacting or just posting event notices? There is a clear hesitation to fully engage in these new places. There is no social to our media.

I understand the reluctance. No one wants to get in trouble. Libraries take their time implementing new ideas. The Board must take action, than the director needs to approve, maybe even lawyers consulted. A public institution is accountable to the public, I get it. But the process takes time and can wash away the human element, the voice.

Toby Greenwalt was part of a panel at ALA and made a point I’ve been thinking about, where is the human touch in technology and how it’s used in the library. Are you in social media because everyone else is? Use self-checkout stations because they’re successful at other libraries? The follow-the-leader mentality does not create the need that authentic adoption will come from. By adding the human touch, our voice, we can become more than another public intuition. Public libraries are always saying, we’re not like police or fire department. So then why do we act like it, clinical and procedural organizations that are seen as inflexible and out of date. Reading and researching are very personal activities. Why don’t we get personal too? Why do we hide behind passive-aggressive signs and policy filled with legalese. Where do we reach out to our patrons, human to human and not library to user?

Fact: Librarian talk, a lot. Chatter in offices, back channel talk on Twitter, sharing New Spice videos on Facebook. So why are we not talking to our community? Why are we not going to them and starting a conversation? Why do we passively wait for feedback to find its way to use? Why are we scared to say how important our programs and materials are to those that need them most?

If we don’t begin getting involved in these discussions with all our passion then public libraries will continue to be seen as poor orphan children walking around with our hand out begging for change. Public libraries need more than change, more than leftover funding. We need to find our voice and add to the discussion and we can’t do that if we are standing on the sides, being silent because we’re scared to speak.

The flames, the flames!

This started as a response to an article  my dear friend Katie(@katiecharland) sent from All Cities sent about how libraries can evolve to be “3rd places.”  But why limit my humble opinions to just her and gmail?

Oh Seth Godin (he’s mentioned in the original and his article about the future or not future of public libraries, fun stuff), the flames being fanned in his general direction.
 
As for this article, we (librarians) mostly agree.  In fact many organizations do use our meeting rooms, small and large.  The problem now is demand.  Our rooms are so in demand we have to put in restrictions to offer a fair service to all community members.  And I would venture that if a library can afford it then they probably have wi-fi or want it.
But again that is the issue, money.  Much like school funding, the majority of funding is local taxes.  Live in a nice, high tax area that supports and funds the library, awesome places. Don’t and too bad.  Or tax revenues go down like in a recession and the library is first on the cutting block. We’re not seen as essential as police or fire.  And the states are cutting library funding left and right, Save Ohio Libraries campaign is just the latest.  And federal money is only for technology and only if you agree to filter computers for kids.
Skokie PL has an innovative Digital Media Lab that has video and web editing software along with Flips and digital cameras. One way they got support for the project was tying to an initiative to reach out to local and small business owners.
 
We’re trying, honestly.

Fear and loathing in the library

I have this friend. We’ll call her Angie because that’s her name.  Angie recently ventured into her local public branch library.  YEH for Angie!  She later confessed being intimidated by the experience.  Nothing terrible happened, she wasn’t shushed out of the building.  She simply didn’t know how to navigate the library.  She didn’t know who to ask her questions, what computers to search the catalog with or where to find her book.  My friend Angie can talk to anyone, be in any situation and be confident and fabulous.  Seriously, I can leave her for a minute and come back and she’s already talking to someone.  So I find it very curious that the library would throw her off so much.

I walk into any library and feel right at home.  Sure each one is unique like beautiful snowflakes (insert s

norting noise here) but libraries tend to have similar areas with similar functions.  Working in one and utilizing many, I know the drill, ref desk for questions, circ desk to check out, phone calls taken outside.  For the general population though, outside of school, how familiar are they with the basic layout and function of the library?  It doesn’t help that there are specialized areas, staffed by specialized people, called by terms that are not commonly used outside of the field.  So how do our patrons know what to do?  Where to go?  Who to talk to?

Look at the pretty display

What my friend does know and myself as well, is retail.  Yes a dirty word, but the retail model is more familiar to people in their 30’s and 20’s.  We’re the mall culture.  New stuff up front on pretty displays and a greeter to tell you about the sales, staff walking the floors and fixing displays, registers conveniently located for browsing in the back.  My friend likes that set up too, besides being comfortable with it.  So do I.  Take for example the big B bookstore I used to work at (yes, I played for the other team once).  Many hours were spent on where things went.  There were the integrated endcaps with the movie, the book tie-in cover, the board game and some CDs for good measure.  There was the placement of the bestseller table, the new fiction bays, the staff recommendation endcap.  As my friend said, it is visually pleasing.  And she made another point.  Why can’t libraries be like that?  What experience do we offer our users, patrons and clients?  Why can’t you ask anyone with a name badge your question?  Why do we call it the circulation desk when it’s the checkout?  Do our practices benefit us or them?

While asking these questions I also recognize that libraries should not be copies of big retail stores.  We offer services that retail has no interest outside of selling another item.  I strongly believe though we need to look closely at what makes sense or what we do because it’s always been done that way.  There is no lamer phrase than “we’ve always done it this way” and it means nothing.

I wonder how many other people, like my friend, avoid the library because they don’t know how it works or they associate it with school?  How far do we have to go to change perceptions and how far should we go?  At what point are we just talking to ourselves?

So many topics, so little time…

I’ve been itching to post here for about a week and have 3 things I am compelled to comment on.  Could it be *gasp* that I miss school?!?  Perhaps or maybe my Education education addicted me to reflection.

What I want to tackle today is the new National Endowment for the Arts reading report. They’ve done this survey 5 times since 1982 and have been one of the top voices crying out for the coming demise of reading and books as we know it.  The numbers of teens and adults responding they read had been steadily decreasing.  Of course library folk follow these studies because for the past few millennia readers and the books they need have been our bread and butter.  And then here comes 2008’s report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy” that found the numbers have increased.

First off, the survey and report count reading as literary reading, that is specifically fiction reading.  Specifically not nonfiction reading like NYTimes bestsellers The Secret or Marley and Me.  True I wouldn’t consider those “literary” but the survey also leaves out the history and biography (the categories of nonfiction I read.)  Until this year the survey also left out the Internet.  Which gets at the heart of my point and alsoDavid L. Ulin at the Los Angles Times, what is reading?  Which leads always to the bigger question, is it important that we read or what we read?

Observing the people around me, lots of people read.  I know very few people who read nothing.  It’s taken me a while to understand that not everyone reads as much as I do or care as much about books.  But I pass books with my friends, belong to a book club, and count people on the train, readers vs Blackberries.  People are reading.  Seems though it isn’t good enough.  We need to be reading the classics or highly dense literary novels or poetry.  A quote from theNYTimes article by Motoko Rich that kinda set me off.

“The data did not differentiate between those who read several books a month and those who read only one poem.  Nor did the surveys distinguish between those who read the complete works of Proust or Dickens and those who read one Nora Roberts novel or a single piece of fan fiction on the Internet.”

HUH?  What is that?  Are we giving out medals to people who get through Proust and beating  Nora Roberts’ readers?  Because it’s on the Internet and written by an unpublished author it’s not poetry?  I’m sure there are many people who can read Proust and not connect to the work in any way (hand raised high right here.)  So you’ve read something literary or classic or long, boring and dry and got nothing out of it.  Is that a meaningful reading experience that has enriched your life?  Reading is more than decoding letters and words.  A whole experience happens that leads to understanding and internalization.  So for gathering numbers and stats on people who read, WHO CARES WHAT YOU READ??

*Deep breath*

I also think that reading was never growing unpopular.  New media, like TV, youtube and video games are offering new ways of telling stories.  Because if we’re following NEA’s definition of literary reading then reading is reading stories, form aside.  So there is competition now in the storytelling market.  Teen reading was hit biggest last time around that rebounded this time.  Let’s be honest, in the early 90’s-00’s what was really good to read in YA town?  The publishing industry was just starting to deliver quality YA titles that weren’t Sweet Valley High.  I jumped straight from the kids department to the adult cause there was no in between then.  Again, I don’t think the sky is falling and people aren’t reading, literary or not.  I think our definition of reading is slowly changing and our methods of receiving text as well.  We will still read in the future, it’s the what I can’t predict.

Newbery, where have you gone?

For Katie:

Ah, the haters.  As an award the Newbery is succeed in my opinion, by the Caldecott, the award given to the best illustrated children’s book of the year.  Or maybe it is because that award is more exciting.  There are so many things that can go wrong in a picture book that when all the elements, illustrations, text, design, cover, come together it makes a greater impact.  But that’s another discussion.

Honest, I haven’t read most of the newer Newbery winners.  I know what they are and what they are about.  But much like the kids described in both Erica S. Perl ‘s Slate response to  Anita Silvey’s School Library Journal article, I’m not attracted to those title, or haven’t gotten around to them.  Also, I read more YA Lit.  For one big reason, the action is in YA.  For many years the excitement was with Children’s books.  Of the 1990s winners I’ve read 7 of them and not because they were Newberys, just because they sounded good.  There has been a shift since.  YA lit is seeing more of the action, top name authors like Joyce Carol Oates and James Patterson writing for this age group, higher quality writing, better environment to take risks and push boundaries.  Also with Harry and all those Potter imitators, the majority of new books in Children’s is fantasy or action based, never a favorite to win awards. (See LOTR Oscar denial until the last possible moment or current uproar over Dark Knight’s lack of award noms, this translates to books too, no respect.)  Which is too bad because there is some great stuff in Children’s Fantasy/SciFi.  Rick Riroden’s Percy Jackson series, Skulduggery Pleasant (which couldn’t win because the author is not American.) 

That is another issue with the Newbery.  I understand it’s mission is to expand and promote Children’s literature in America but so much great stuff is coming from Britain and other countries too.  Side note, I don’t think the ALA would be hurt by opening the parameters of the award but that has little to no chance of happening.

 I agree with the statement one ALA committee member said, the quality book that appeals and pleases everyone while being new and innovative, isn’t there some years.  I did read the Higher Power of Lucky, last year’s Newbery.  Eh.  That was the best response I could give it.  It wasn’t bad, wasn’t stellar either.  But then I also read it knowing it was a Newbery.  Did that change my expectations?  Of course.  You expect something more from the Newberys.  Adults do at least, which brings me to my last point.

Kids rarely care about Award winners.  We librarians, book buyers, and parents care.  I could always sell a parent on a book by saying, it’s a Medal, it’s an Honor.  But really not too many other people really could care or use that to influence their reading picks.  Steve Herb, Follett Chair for Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences.  Deep breath and continue.  He says there is a spectrum that all kids lit falls on, picture books, chapter books, YA.  At one end is high appeal to the reader, 2 year old, 10 year old, 16 year old doesn’t matter because at the other end is high appeal to adults, parents, librarians, publishers.  I’ve read many kids books and been like, that’s great, love it, no way will a kid read this.  But then you have your Captain Underpants and  Goosebumps that will appeal highly to it’s respective reading group (understanding full well I heart both of these series.)

What makes this discussion null in my humble opinion is that ALA has so many other awards and list these days and it seems you can get on any public library’s website and see a well crafted bibliography.  Newbery is not the only player in the game anymore and good thing too.  I also see this discussion as a microcosm of the larger conversation about future of Library (capital L).  There are those on one side, Anita Silvey and the old school saying the sky is falling, decrying the state of libraries today compared to the glory days of old.  In the oposite corner the new guard, booze drinking, tattoo sporting technofiles who say loudly and proudly, bring it.