Public Collaboration, Public Library Investment

Yesterday’s Edgy Librarian conference brought several refreshing ideas into focus for me: the ever-increasing requirement that libraries and library staff forego developing expertise for developing flexibility, the role of libraries in making the National Information Standards Organization‘s theoretical decisions both practical and forward-looking, and the teamwork approach taken to make expenditure of an LSTA grant to circulate eReaders an ongoingly enriching investment for Sacramento Public Library‘s community of users.

But by far the most exciting discussion of the conference, for me, was The New York Public Library’s Dave Riordan’s presentation of experimental product development undertaken under the aegis of NYPL Labs. While Dave described and showed us several awesome projects that give new life and shareability to NYPL’s digital assets, the part that knocked my socks off was this: the actual work (some would say grunt work, but that demeans a most necessary endeavor in the construction of any digital asset collection) of keying elements of the records to be maintained, mined and manipulated in the What’s on the Menu? Project is open to the community!

Yes, “real catalogers” check those records but the beauty of this public library endeavor is that the public gets to invest something much more concrete than tax money. Members of the public can sit at home and transcribe from the Library’s treasure trove of restaurant menus to help create a present and future collection honoring the local past. And Dave pointed out that, while most public libraries don’t have the kinds of massive local collections of eateries, theater bills and even exotic but local maps (and blueprints)  that NYPL has by dint of its size and age, Any Town is likely to have local content stored at the public library, and local community members who would love to work with the library to help that content see the light of digital day.

The immediate product, of course, is a local collection one can resource even when not local, but the awesome part is that the public library and the public can make that happen through collaborative work, creating a community through mutual investment.

Working in the spirit of “Yes, And…”

I was reading Public Libraries magazine.  You know the one that comes in the mail and you hold in your hands.  I was pleasantly surprised to find an article by the PLA president talking about how to create partnerships with your community.

Now, for any of you that know me, you’ve heard me talking about the skills of improvisation and how useful they could be to library staff.  So I was delighted to find our PLA president saying:“We found our organization opening up after a communications training session that taught the “yes, and…” principle.  “

Yes, And… is one of the main principles that improvisers use and practice.

When I mention improvisation, people sometimes get worried that they will have to “perform” but it’s not about performing.  There are skills improvisers practice that help people work together effectively.  In fact, if you’ve been in one of my workshops in the past 5 years, you’ve already done some of the same activities improvisers use to hone their skills though you probably had no idea you were practicing “improv”.

Here’s why the skills of improvisation matter to libraries.  One of the things that makes it difficult to move forward in libraries besides money, is people stuck in old beliefs or old mental models of what the library should be.  To keep libraries viable into the future no matter what that future looks like, we need to retrain staff to be flexible, nimble and collaborative so that each person’s perspective and experience can be used to create the future of the library.  It’s very similar to what stage improvisers do.  They practice a skill set that allows them to support each other in an ever-changing environment.  That’s exactly what we expect our staff to do on a daily basis.

I have the same question Marcia asks in her Public Libraries article “What would happen if your organizational culture was one of “yes”?

Long Tail Questions about Nonresident Fees

This past week, prompted by continuing research efforts to find ways to respond to budget belt tightening, this series of questions directed to public libraries already charging nonresident fees appeared on CALIX:

1.       How much do you charge?

2.       Is it a one time or annual fee?

3.       When and why did you implement the fee?

4.       How many nonresident patrons did you have before the fee was implemented?  How many do you have now?

5.       Were the patrons receptive to the fee?

6.       How much funding does it generate every year?

In addition to these questions, public library managers exploring this method of attempting to close budget gaps need to ask themselves–and others–these equally pertinent questions:

a.  Have specific budget lines this fee would address been identified?  Collection outlays? Staffing?  Public computer reliance and use? Other programmatic areas?

b.  What work will have to be achieved to bring the library’s current policies into line with the practice of nonresident fees?  Are Board and Administration comfortable with having policy adjusted to fit process, rather than implementing policy through effective procedures?

c.  How transparent can on-the-ground implementation be for both staff and users?  Who will interpret questions around address locations?  How will issues around school district boundaries that differ from resident boundaries be adjudicated?

Since other states, and public library districts, have experience with nonresident fees, looking to some of the guiding principles they have developed and employ can also better inform California public libraries in the early stages of considering such fees. Here are a few, each suggesting more questions you will want to develop and explore as you consider non-resident fees as a local option:

Information about Public Library Non-resident Services (Illinois State Library)

The Detroit Public Library’s New Non-resident Library Card Fee

Frequently Asked Questions about Non-resident Fees (Brigham City [UT] Carnegie Library)

Library: How to Get a Card–Non-resident Fee (Glendale, AZ)

Three-Month Makeover: Rehab of a University Library

I’ve worked in a host of library buildings that (oh, let’s be polite) need not just redesign, but some clear thinking around what works for users, staff, and collections in spaces where these three come together. And I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the planning and project development required in rehabilitating some spaces as well as moving some libraries into newly refurbished quarters (both made-over and newly purpose built). What one particular university library has managed to do during the course of just three summer months of gutting and re-invention (on a budget that is set to go up to the equivalent of $10.5 million US when all is said and done) knocks my fancy socks off.

Here are a couple of pictures showing what the main library at the University of St. Andrews looked like to the casual visitor 18 months ago. (If you’re not a fan of mustard colored carpet that was laid down in the 1970’s, make-everyone-look-sallow lighting or barricades, you may want to to skip these).

Last university term ended in May, and the library got to work right away: collections were shifted so that some access could be maintained, the building fixtures and furnishings were stripped out, and work commenced on resetting the entrance, reconfiguring interior spaces, and installing a brand new look and feel. And this is just the first of September!

Thanks to one Kirsty Ann Lee, even those of us far away can enjoy watching the historically rapid progress of all this rehab work. The library is set to reopen in time for the new term, later this month.

A great idea on a shoestring

One of the 2009 Eureka! Leadership Institute fellows, Thomas Vose from Riverside County Library System, put an idea from the Institute into action. I’ll let one of his mentors from the Institute, Kathy Gould, tell the story:

Last fall I had the privilege of serving as a mentor for the Eureka Leadership Program for emerging California library leaders. During the residential leadership institute that kicks off the program participants work in small teams to build leadership skills through action learning, exercises, and case studies. During one of the exercises the team that I was working with came up with an idea for a mobile library cart to enable library services to be delivered and promoted at locations throughout a community.

Today our Eureka team got an email from team member Thomas Vose, the Manager of the Lake Elsinore Public Library in the Riverside County Library System. Thomas had taken that idea of a mobile library cart and turned it into a reality …

Thomas reported that people were able to sign up for library cards and check out materials, and that he plans to take the cart to the local Senior Center and park, and to an upcoming Children’s Fair in the community.

Read more about it on Kathy’s blog.