Busman’s holiday

Las Vegas Library

I recently returned from vacation. On my way home, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of this sign at the Las Vegas Airport. Good on the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District for their marketing at the airport. I saw two of these signs at the airport.

This might be the first time I’ve gone on vacation when I didn’t step foot in a library. Well alright, I came close. We were on the Deuce Bus, headed for downtown when I spied the universal library sign pointing somewhere near the Stratosphere. Since we’d bought an all-day pass, I immediately headed for the door at the closest stop. My beloved life partner, accustomed as he is to my spur of the moment actions, also jumped up from his seat, and we headed down the street to where the sign was pointing.

It was hot, hot, hot (95 degrees) as we trudged through several turns, following the signs. Unfortunately, the library was closed. The neighborhood was one where I was really glad that it was mid-day and there were lots of people on the street. The website says about the branch we almost visited: The Meadows Village Library is an outreach branch that supports the curriculum of the many programs of the Chester A. Stupak Community Center and specializes in Spanish and Latino resources.

No yen for late returns

A colleague received an E-mail from a patron soon after the patron moved to Japan. Artist and author John Becker (Japanese name Bekka Jion) told about uniformed Japanese library workers who laughed at his jokes and brought him “the hot towel to relieve weary shoulders.”

He also reports on the library workers’ answer to why they don’t have library fines: “Why should you not be responsible? If you are human, why would you want to shame yourself with thoughtless irresponsibility? And why would we shame ourselves by not trusting you, Bekka-san?”

Now there’s a different way of looking at things. Drape hot therapeutic towels over customers. Expect the return of materials as a matter of honor.

Read the entire E-mail from Japan on the East Central Libraries blog.

Tax up close and personal

In November of 2008,  56% of Minnesota voters approved what has come to  be known as the Legacy Amendment. The goal of the Amendment is to appropriate money from constitutionally dedicated funds and provide for policy and governance of outdoor heritage, clean water, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage purposes.

The Amendment raised the state sales tax 3/8 of 1%, starting July 1, 2009 and lasting 25 years. Libraries were included in the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund of the legislation, which will receive 19.75% of the sales tax generated each year. This Fund will be divided among many recipients, including the following:

  • Board of Arts (with opportunities for partnerships with libraries and schools)
  • Regional Public Library funding for arts and arts education programs (will receive $4.25 million in FY 2010 and $4.25 in FY 2011)
  • Minnesota Digital Library (will receive $500,000 in FY 2010)

Public Library funding for arts and arts education programs is allocated to the 12 regional public library systems according to the current regional library basic system support (RLBSS) grant formula.  In addition to our local programming, ECRL will participate along with the other regional public library systems to fund a state project to bring arts and culture into libraries.

Libraries will be good stewards of this money. As the center of our communities, we are looked to as cultural leaders. The Legacy Amendment funds will enable us to bring even more cultural experiences to communities from the metro area to the rural areas commonly referred to collectively as Greater Minnesota.

I’ve been planning with my staff and board for how we can best use this money. Little thought has gone to where it comes from — after all, it’s only 3/8 of 1% sales tax. That’s hardly noticeable at all.

That’s what I thought until this morning. Almost every day on my way to work I stop at the local Holiday station to feed my addiction with a large Diet Coke. I run into the station store with a dollar and a nickle clutched in my hand to pay for the 99 cent drink. Trouble is, today when I stopped to pay on my way out the door and held out the dollar bill and nickel in my hand, the clerk said $1.06. I must have looked puzzled, because she quickly added, “that’s that new culture tax.” The tone in her voice indicated she didn’t share my positive view of the “culture tax.”

Hmmm, a tax no one’ll notice? Not exactly.  So now I carry in a dollar and a nickel and a penney.

A place on wheels

I’m reading the book  The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. The book is about the wealth of choices we have, and how their abundance leads to stress, dissatisfaction, and paralysis. I was acutely aware of the truth in Schwartz’s premise last weekend when I stood totally flummoxed in front of the array of kidney beans at my Cub supermarket. Where on earth were the plain-ol’-kidney-beans-for-chili?

Reading a survey response this afternoon, I muttered to myself, “uh huh, Schwartz got it right.” We’re preparing to shut down the behemoth library on wheels/bookmobile that is draining our budget with repair and fuel bills. It should have been replaced a while ago, but lacking the $100,000 for a replacement, we’ve kept it running. The Board has taken action that this is the last year of its existence in these parts, so we’re surveying its existing customers to find the best service alternative for each.

One response gave me serious pause. She didn’t say she couldn’t get to a library. She said she preferred the bookmobile. She said “It’s easier to find books there as the choices are limited.” Then she went on to say “Also, one does get to know the driver/librarian and it is chummier.”  Wow, I hear her loud and clear . . . the comfort of a limited collection, pre-selected to suit the clientele is preferable to a library with endless shelves. Furthermore, she likes chummy. And I thought our library staff was pretty darned friendly — guess we’ll continue to work on that.

So, where I see an expensive, diesel and aged-carpet-smelling truck, she sees the bookmobile as a place where she feels welcome and befriended. Wow! And I’m going to replace that with dropoffs of bags of books?

I miss the TV show Cheers (1982-1993). I still sing the song — maybe we could make it the theme song for our library.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows  your name.


January 1st is about to come once again. While we look forward to a new year and a new federal administration, is anything ever really new? Or is the best we can do to use the ideas we have in different ways, or to partner different sets of ideas in other patterns.

 I was amused by a 3 minute Ad Age YouTube showing Brian Williams as the MC of the Ad Council Public Service Awards. In it Williams quoted someone in the NBC news team who pitched something billed as “NetFlix for Books”  — you just put in your order for a book, and a book that was previously read by someone else will arrive for you. Williams quipped “you know, we have libraries.” He goes on to eschew other technological so-called innovations that are really retreads of something previously introduced as new.

Walking into my neighborhood WalMart, I noticed a box of books on the floor of the entryway. A school group has implemented a book loan program. According to the sign, you take the books you want, return them wherever you find one of the program boxes, or donate if you wish. Hmm, to (again) quote Brian Williams, “you know, we have libraries.”

Some things can have existed forever, but until someone discovers them for themselves, they don’t become reality.

All this reminds me of the Ecclesiastes, a book of truths attributed to Solomon: (9) That which has been is what will be,  That which is done is what will be done,  And there is nothing new under the sun. (10) Is there anything of which it may be said,  “ See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. (11) There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come  By those who will come after.


Every once in a while it’s good to remind myself how good my job is, and how important and valued is the business I’m in. It would be tempting to lose heart with the daily battles that aren’t easily won because of inadequate funding or ill-informed news stories like the one in my previous post stating “. . . . libraries have slowly lost their place at the forefront.”

Then a blast of sunlight cuts through the gloom, and I am re-energized. Such was the case this week, when I was asked to travel north to one of my communities to join community members in touring a potential new library site. In that town, the much loved branch library is crammed into a space one quarter the minimum size that it should be. While everyone has agreed that the library needs more space, it looked like it would not happen for a good long time.

Then a property went on the market and it appears to be a strong possibility for a new home for the library. So I joined the group of community movers and shakers that included the mayor, city council, library Friends and board, county commissioners, and city and county officials. Even a representative of the Congressman’s office came and presented her personal check. We toured the facility and then sat down to talk about how to make this happen. It was one of those pinch-me-this-is-a-dream moments. While there were healthy questions and resolute plans to research potential pitfalls, the over-riding attitude was we can make this happen.

It was a wonderful afternoon. This town values their library and the role it plays in the community culture. I was reminded once again why we’re there, and in every other community in our region.

Library plastic for a ride

Here’s a great idea — in Rapid City, South Dakota, you can get a ride to the Rapid City Public Library on the Rapid Ride bus by showing your library card. It started with a summer promotion, and has been extended through the end of 2007. article in Rapid City Journal

Rapid City card holders can also get a discount from several local businesses by showing their library card during September. wish I had a B& L Bagel right now

Happy Library Card Sign-up Month!

A view from the front lines

I’ve received lots of good wishes on the new job. Thought I’d share a photo of what we’re facing here (a picture’s worth a thousand words, right?)

and even more
and this is only one of 14 branches

We’re in the midst of bringing a new integrated library system online. This is happening following a major system failure, caused by the perfect storm of circumstances that resulted in significant data losses (defined as re-cataloging bunches and bunches.) Hats off to one terrific cataloging team! . . . . as well as the entire dedicated, hard-working staff. This is a good place to be.

New perspective

A new job! What a humbling experience. As I accepted the master keys to virtually everything in the building from my administrative assistant, I felt the weight of the responsibility of my new position. On the other hand, shortly thereafter, on my way back from the bathroom I lost direction and momentarily forgot where my office was. That’s the kind of couple of days I’ve had this week, one moment answering questions about how I would like something done, the next being totally baffled by the most basic task, like how to listen to my voice mail.

Yesterday I started the next phase of my career as the Director of the East Central Regional Library, a consolidated library system comprised of 14 branches (15, counting the bookmobile) north of Minneapolis and St. Paul. While it’s been a long time in preparation, it seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. My interview with the hiring committee was July 20th, followed by the waiting, then the offer, then the deliberation and acceptance. Four weeks notice with my previous employer flew by, two weeks off filled with a family vacation, and all of a sudden – here I am!

Sunday I packed all the household goods I could into an SUV and headed north two hours from my home for over eight years. A “For Sale” sign now sits in the front lawn — as friend AJ is fond of saying “good luck with that.”
Reality check

For now, home is a very small basement apartment a new acquaintance was kind enough to rent to me on a month-to-month arrangement, in hopes that when the house sells, I will find a more permanent home.

Basement seems to be a recurring theme. In the morning I leave my basement apartment (well really, it’s the lower level of a walk-out rambler) to go to my office in the regional headquarters, which is in the basement of one of the libraries. My previous corner office had two huge windows. For the moment, my new office, which has no windows, is cheery with flowers sent by the predecessor director and his wife, the Friends group, and friend MB. Besides that, there is a coffee gift basket from my new staff. When the Board President came in today, he was quite impressed.
My welcome

As if starting a new job isn’t stressful enough, I’ve walked into a library world in the midst of an automation system crisis. The libraries have resorted to pen and paper procedures after a system failure over two weeks ago. We’re bringing a new system up, through the Herculean efforts of an incredibly committed and hard-working staff and SirsiDynix. In fact, I spent the afternoon of my first day in training, learning the circulation system, along with many of the branch managers.

As I’ve talked with our leadership team, we’ve all agreed that it’s the beginning of a new era. And I’m sure will provide much inspiration for this Blog. Stay tuned ;^)

Booktalks 2.0

Just in time for back-to-school, Joyce Valenza, on NeverEndingSearch posts a list of podcasts and online booktalks for kids. What a great idea to get kids interested in reading – link this to your library website, and lead the kids to try it out. Hope the kids can find the books in libraries.

Even better, record podcasts for the new books added to your library! They’ll think you’re really cool.