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.

Dear Abby,

You called and asked if you could interview me for your Saint Catherine’s Library School assignment. Being asked for an interview is sort of like an invitation I received to speak at a 25th high school reunion in a school where I used to be a teacher. Not only are my students 25 years out of school, they’re inviting me back as an old teacher (do they expect me to use a walker?). Sort of makes me feel older than dirt – or at least an elder of the tribe. But anyway, I take my commitment to the future of our profession very seriously. So seriously, that while I readily gave you answers to your list of questions, after some thought I’d like to change (or at least re-arrange) my answer.

You asked, “What problems and challenges does [my] library system face?” Of course, my number one answer addressed not-enough-funding. I responded, “Demonstrated increasing service needs in absence of corresponding increasing funding.” Continuing, my answers 2, 3, and 4 respectively addressed delivering techy services simultaneously with traditional services, finding new ways to provide outreach services, and providing a diverse high quality collection. And my very last answer (#5) was, “Employing, inspiring, and equipping visionary, customer service-oriented library staff – both in leading current staff and hiring new staff.”

4 days after giving you that answer, I’d like to rearrange my responses and move #5 to #1. Yes, funding is important, but I propose that our greatest resource is our staff, and the care and feeding of staff resources is the job of the Director. Take care of the staff, and the staff will take care of the business.

Staff leadership is a daunting task. Modeling energy and enthusiasm is a real challenge some days. Sometimes you lead from the front, more often from alongside and occasionally from behind. Even terrific employees need continual nurturing through support and training to equip them to carry out ordinary tasks in extraordinary ways and inspire their visions of how to provide services better. And when people move on, the challenge of finding the right person to bring in a fresh perspective is too often not easy, but a real opportunity. We get many applicants, but many misunderstand or ignore the minimal requirements for the job. But at the end of the day, it’s a real reward to see the staff functioning as a team, in tune with the community and each other.

Funding problems will always be here (or at least they’ve been with us as long as I can remember). But I really believe that an efficiently staffed organization, maximizing the resources we have to provide the most appropriate services we can, is the best possible marketing tool to prove that we’re worthy of the funding we get — and hopefully to inspire the trust to continue to receive.

So, thanks for asking. It gave me a real opportunity to reflect and remember why I love this job. Good luck in your library career!

Requiem for Krispie Kreme

Sometimes you take a photo and you don’t know how significant it will be. Such was the case on February 15th when a group of us attended a product demo for security cameras. Along with his presentation, Steve brought a box of Krispie Kreme doughnuts. Since we don’t have a Krispie Kreme up in our neck of the woods, I popped out the camera and took a picture. Doesn’t this just make your mouth water?
Krispy Kreme Dougnuts
Little did we know, that it was the last box of Krispie Kremes we’d see in Minnesota. On February 21st, Krispie Kreme ceased Minnesota sales. WCCO news story.

Krispie Kreme’s short tenure in Minnesota has been newsworthy, but sales have evidently been less than profitable. The first store opened in Maple Grove in 2002. They had to call the cops to control the traffic jam around the doughnut shop (now there’s an irony). At that time I lived in Rochester (about 75 miles south) and people coming through the Cities would stop in Maple Grove and pick up a box to impress their friends.

A couple years later, we got a Krispie Kreme in Rochester. It was pretty popular for a while, but closed up fairly quickly. The last time I was there, the empty store (without the signature “Hot” light) stood monument empty.

What’s this got to do with libraries? Well, other than the doughnuts were brought to a library, when I went to the Krispie Kreme website, I found out that Krispie Kreme solicits visitors to join its “Friends of Krispie Kreme” (just like library Friends groups). The site promises that Krispie Kreme will “regularly send you timely information about exciting new products, special offers, and local events.” What a neat idea, to sign up Friends on the website!

Library Speakers’ Bureau – just like Rochesterfest

Here’s a great idea from Marylaine Block’s weekly e-zine (#299, 22 June 2007). In her newsletter article today, Knowledge Pushers, Marylaine says that libraries are more than books. She cites the value of the knowledge of librarians. She says:

We know how to get grants, how to track our ancestors, how to digitize precious historical and family photos, and how to entice children to read. We know how to find trustworthy factual information on political candidates and important public issues. We’ve done the research and can tell anxious parents about the capabilities and limitations of various internet filters; we can also suggest other ways to keep kids safe as they explore the net.

She suggests that the reason the public doesn’t know is that we don’t tell them, that libraries wait for people to come to us, when we could go out to the community. Marylaine says that as the director goes out (I hope that’s so, but I fear too many times it’s not), so could other library staff.

All this reminded me of Rochesterfest — where I’ve found wonderful food the last couple of days (why cook?). At Rochesterfest, there is a row of food stands, run by our great local restaurants. People who go to the festival find great food from vendors whose restaurants they may never have thought to try.

So, just like the restaurateur, who comes to meet new customers where they are, the library will bring valuable information to people where they are through the library speakers’ bureau.

While I don’t work in a library that provides direct service to end users, I do get the chance to speak to groups (as do most of the librarians I work with) – and really get charged up when I invited to do so. I’ve spoken to church libraries, Rotary, groups of teachers and librarians, led a book discussion for a tea, and am looking forward to this fall when among other meetings I’ll be doing a presentation for the Friends of the Mabel Public Library.

Gulp – no Dewey?

As we strive to make libraries more relevant, some libraries are experimenting with arranging books, CDs, DVDs, etc. like they do in bookstores. A new library to open soon in Arizona claims to be the first in the nation to be arranged entirely independent of the Dewey Decimal System. The Perry Branch of the Maricopa County Library District in Gilbert will be organized in 50 sections, then subsections, from sports to cooking, gardening to mysteries, according to the Arizona Republic. Librarians are quoted as saying that people are defeated in their searching because “they don’t know Dewey.” The article further states that people want to search for books by subject. Hmmmm . . . . I thought Dewey was by subject.

The Perry Library is relatively small, 28,000 square feet, and will have 24,000 items. It is a joint use facility located in a school.

Several Minnesota libraries are experimenting with parts of their collections displayed as they are in Barnes and Noble. I have attended several conference programs on space arrangement and marketing, and whole-heartedly endorse the efforts to merchandise the materials in a more attractive manner than shelving everything so that all that is visible are long rows of dull-looking spines.

The article is unclear as to how the items will be arranged. What will happen when someone wants a specific book; is there a numbering or other classification system to assist in quick location? Are they using RFID? Certainly, library automation systems are capable of keeping track of just about any coding system they devise to designate location.

My most recent experience with finding something in my local Barnes and Noble bookstore ended in a fruitless search for a specific title. Even the salesclerk couldn’t find it (even though the B & N computer said they had several copies). I finally came home and ordered the book online.

The Maricopa innovation will be interesting to watch. Maybe I should take a field-trip to Arizona to research it first hand. ***smile***

Phil, the Edge, and the Library

I don’t usually watch commercials, unless it’s the panorama of sales pitches during the Super Bowl. And then only so that I can give my unqualified opinion the next day of the best and worst offerings. But I recently heard the word “library” on TV and perked up my ears to find out that the Ford Edge is “library quiet” and that it “beat the Lexus RS 350 in a quiet test.”

Edge is the crossover SUV that Ford built to appeal to its protype “Phil.” Phil, as defined by Ford, is an “educated urban professional with tastes that are slightly avantgarde but not too much so. Phil and his wife pull in $85,000. Phil buys his clothes at Banana Republic and drinks Samuel Adams beer.” (see CNN, Oct 22, 2006) And Phil is looking for “quiet.”

Now a lot of librarians are trying to shed the “shhhh” image, and tout their library as a happening place, where you might even be lucky enough to see DDR (Dance, Dance Revolution for the uninitiated) in the teen room. So what’s with the high value of quiet?

I think that the Phils of the word (as well as Phyllis) crave quiet. Phil/lys has enough of the noise and stress of the word and welcomes that embracing quiet of the library. Like the library where we went to study when the dormitory got too loud. I think there’s a message here for libraries — one I see many embracing. While the library is busy, and has lots going on, it’s good to have a space where we safeguard quiet and maybe even put up a sign “this room, quiet please!”

Image and impact

Does appearance really matter? Or is it true what my mother used to tell me as an awkward adolescent that “it’s what’s inside that counts.” (sorry, Mom, it didn’t cut it then, and it doesn’t cut it now.) I lean more to the “what you see is what you get” idea.

I’ve been thinking a lot about image lately. Joyce Valenza admonished her listeners to model the “information professional” in her presentation at Computers in Libraries. And I think she meant in every way from actions to image. When I was training to be a customer service instructor for the squadron in my prior life as a civilian working for the military, I attended Fred Pryor customer service training. One thought stuck in my mind — impact is affected 83% by appearance and 17% by what is said. Watching the Today show this morning, one topic was body language – the guest said 90% of impression is made by what is observed.

While these statistics are pretty unscientific, I think they say something about the image we present both for ourselves as information professionals and also for the library institution. And I think that mantel is on us whether we’re punched in on company time, or buying a gallon of milk at the gas station. This reminds me of a friend who is a Mary Kay consultant, who says her training emphasizes to BE the Mary Kay product whenever and wherever she is — which includes dropping her kids off at school in the morning. My friends who are teachers are very cognizant of their image and actions in their communities. I think librarians who portray a professional demeanor (even in jeans at the garden shop – where I will be later today) will leave a lasting impression of someone worthy of trust to any citizen or board member they encounter.

I even bought a “Radical Militant Librarian” button a couple years ago, in a moment reminiscent of my college days. No, I didn’t wear the button, since that’s not the kind of sound-bite impression I want to make to the infinitely more people I encounter than will ever get to know me enough to understand what that pithy statement means. A librarian colleague has a T-shirt with an irreverent, though humorous, comment that uses a street word that I would not say in any customer or office communications. Would I wear it? No, because I can’t control the occurence of opportunistic moments that may make or break someone’s opinions and make lasting impacts on libraries or even my future career path.

Not too many years ago, businesses had strict dress codes, with the intent of modeling for the customers a professional image of their company. Gradually, about the time of the tech revolution, we saw an erosion of professional dress standards not only on blue-jeans Fridays but any time through the week. In recent years, many companies have returned to a dress code for employees. (although, I still struggle with what exactly “business casual” is — I think it might have something to do with the brand/price tag?) The fast food industry usually requires company-supplied shirts and uniform pants. Big box stores like Target require company-colored polo shirts. Even WalMart, in its marketing efforts to upgrade its image, is phasing in a uniform shirt for its employees.

And personal appearance is only one part of image. Other clues can send messages too. I was shocked at one management training class I attended that advocated a practice that the interviewer should walk the prospective employees back to their cars after interviews, assessing their vehicle condition, cleanliness, etc. as a point of character. And, from the employee side – someone I know who was interviewing with a certain company, arrived in town early and found the homes of management team members (using phone book addresses), looking for clues about their personal priorities.

All food for thought, I guess. And this leads to appearance of libraries – condition and decor . . . but that’s another blog post.

What makes a successful blog

What makes a blog successful? Does spelling really matter? How about quality of writing? I ponder these questions as I teach, preach, cajole, and lead enthusiastic as well as reluctant library folks to blog. There are those (even respected bloggers) who say it doesn’t matter how you write – it’s only important that you write. I personally believe that anything that goes as public as the World Wide Web is a far-reaching statement about me, my personal professionalism, and the organization for whom I write (at the SELCO Librarian)

Blogging has gone mainstream in a very short time, and is a marketing expectation. It’s not a question of “do you blog?” but rather “who writes your blog?” The Blogging Success Study was conducted in the spring of 2006 at Boston’s Northeastern University by the students in Dr. Walter Carl’s Advanced Organizational Communications class and John Cass and his colleagues at Backbone Media, Inc. The study results are published online as – you guessed it – a blog, complete with comments. The research team identified 5 factors to consider that are important for a successful blog. Italicized text is my thoughts relating the study to libraries.

  • Culture: Libraries can build rapport with their communities, showcasing their knowledgeable staff, demonstrating to their communities the face of the library and librarians.
  • Transparency: Insightful pieces of contrasting points of view establish credibility, demonstrate expertise, and encourage dialogue.
  • Time: Libraries should carve out time for good writing (and reading other blogs.)
  • Dialogue: The library’s ability and willingness to engage in dialogue demonstrates concern and expertise in matters important to their community.
  • Entertaining writing style and personalization: Librarians can build personal connections with the community that will encourage residents to consider the library as a caring, integral part of the community.

Dempsey on “why we need libraries”

Kathy Dempsey, editor in chief of Computers in Libraries posted this to the PR Talk listserv this morning: posted here with Kathy’s permission

. . . when someone wonders why America still bothers with libraries, refer the un– informed person to Bill Gates. you have to admit, he’s one of the country’s richest and, likely, smartest men. so if libraries are useless, why does Gates continue to support them with millions of dollars? if he sees that much value in them, they must be worthwhile, and still necessary, right? especially considering Gates is all about technology! yet he champions libraries and helps bring them up-to-speed technically. therefore they must still be worth using.

Kathy also recommended an article in Educause Review, If the Academic Library Ceased to Exist,Would We Have to Invent It? by Lynn Scott Cochrane, Director of Libraries at Denison University. It could apply to other types of libraries, as well. Ms Cochran relates a fictitious college which quit supporting the collections and staff of the library, and instead gave each student the prorated amount of money spent on their behalf for the library – $1,230. The college did leave the library doors open, without management or staff and only kept a cleaning service.

The article relates how a typical student spent their money and how inadequate other sources of information were, the public library with its typical collection or a nearby academic college which had made a similar decision regarding funding. It reminds me of the disturbing trend I’m seeing in the libraries I serve where funding is cut by cities, counties, boards, administrators, etc. with the rationale that the patron or student can just go use other libraries in the community. Situations like this are really happening — such as the case in Jackson County Oregon, where all 15 libraries are closing at the end of their normal business day on April 6th. See my posting on SELCO Librarian, 10 Reasons for Public Libraries.

Libraries learn from bookstores

INFOcus is the e-newsletter publication of the Librarian’s Yellow Pages. Today’s issue contains a great textbook on marketing, displays, and signage. It reminds me of my first days working in a library (where I had accidentally landed before I became a card-carrying MLS Librarian). My assignment was to build displays around Chase’s Calendar of Events. For instance, who would have ever thought (without Chase’s) that today is “Belly Laugh Day.” Anyway, it sure made me mad when I worked all afternoon to pull out all the little-circulated books on a particular topic to find the display bunker emptied out following the 5:00 after-work rush. I quickly learned the wisdom of showcasing our wares.

What libraries can learn from bookstores: Applying bookstore design to public libraries gives a whole lot of ideas – new as well as some I’ve forgotten. The article includes an interview with a former supervisor of a Barnes and Noble children’s section. Some great ideas:

  • Everyone is cross-trained. Workers in the cafe area can provide direction to customers.
  • Lists of bestsellers posted in strategic places.
  • Everyone is expected to know the top ten bestsellers and where they are.
  • Staff receive sheets on release dates and expected arrival dates.
  • Everyone works the checkout.
  • Staff spend days in assigned areas shelving new books.
  • Customers are connected with and help is offered.
  • Customers smell coffee & pastries.
  • Music favors targeted customers (B&N targets baby boomers, plays classical music; Borders targets Gen X, plays jazzier music).
  • Barnes & Noble stores have brighter lighting than other stores. Experts say brighter light suggests lower prices.
  • Power aisles lead customers to all parts of store. Displays line the power aisles.
  • Reduce information overload. Shelve by genre, use shorter shelves.
  • Booklists and recommendations

Lots more on signage and displays. Good resource.