Prepping the Public Library’s Page for Thanksgiving’s Closure

Thanksgiving may be one of the least controversial of closed days that most American public libraries take. It’s the civic occasion that is more likely to find public support for workers who are required to forfeit their own holiday at the demand of employers; life support service providers–fire fighters, police, hospital staff–choose to take the holiday shift at increased compensation, or to forego the extra compensation and take the holiday.

But we’re in the information business and that comes right to the edge of those life support duties–and some of these we can serve well in spite of taking the holiday. Today’s the day to prepare your library’s Web page so that the public can avert some holiday difficulties. At least offer the following:

Mashable’s How to Cook a Complete Thanksgiving Meal Using You Tube provides access not just to specific mainstream holiday dinner dishes but also how to set the table and even some appropriate holiday music.

Free meal service contact information for your specific geographic area–whether at a regularly functioning soup kitchen or as a special once-a-year program–should be available at first glance at your site as well. Thanksgiving is one of the days that even residents who have the least empathy for homeless neighbors may feel the urge to get such information to the guy who asks for change.

Local public transit information, including the name of the provider, fares and links to routes and schedules can be a much welcome grace note for out of towners who have a place to go for dinner but lack personal means to get there. Don’t just put up, but drill down to provide a link to the specific information for your community. And if there is no public transit scheduled for the holiday, note that and save the guy who is pulling out his hair trying to locate it; give him an idea of local cab fares instead.

For those with access to vehicles, be sure to provide one-click access to local, live traffic information, if your library’s community is impacted by busy highways or severe weather possibilities.

For out of town travelers, or residents who for whatever reason will be spending the day on their own, make sure you offer some options for public places where they can celebrate without the pressure of family or in spite of absent friends: locations and Website links of local cinemas, public houses, and/or gyms.

And before you lock up for the day, home yourself or traveling to that feast, be sure to email the link to the library’s now Thanksgiving-ready site to local hotels and other agencies you know will have residents in need of one-stop help on the holiday. And happy Thanksgiving to you, and thanks for once again giving your community the guidance it sometimes doesn’t recognize is needed until the library’s closed.

This Is What Empowerment Looks Like

Have you found and explored the Google Search Education website? I was lucky enough to have reference maven Carole Leita remind me today that not only is it still out there, but it’s been beefed up to include lesson plans (shared under the Creative Commons licensing that allows reuse and local editing as long as there is correct attribution).

The plans  and other help pages at this site, that carries the tag line “Search Education Evangelism,” include those targeting basic users, pros, and Google users by specific country (You have to be approved to access the documents designed for other countries; not all of these are Web enabled). The basic lesson plans are scaffolded from beginner through advanced, with the most basic lesson offering both directions for an instructor and a slide set to use when working through the differences among “Internet,” “Web,” “browser,” “search engine,” etc., terms that many of your library’s computer users may never have paused to understand clearly enough to effect good searches (or clear reference questions).

So, Google may be impinging on privacy, but at the same time, let’s not look this empowerment gift horse in the mouth. Start with your staff and help them to bring more clarity and understanding to advance searching (that is, library added value searching!) in response to users. But also share with your users directly.

Google’s willing to empower searchers to get to the heart of their information needs (Yes, the cynic notes that the closer Google users get to their “real” needs, the better targeted marketing the search engine can sell), and certainly we librarians should be working toward that goal as well. Not only can we reduce frustration and ignorance, but we can continue to evolve as the knowledge-exploiting species we are if we can all better clarify “real” answers.

PS My request to be vetted to look directly at the Latin American Spanish documents was answered–by a real person!–in under seven minutes while I worked on this post. I received an apology stating that the set in question is being updated and edited but that the person doing that work is currently on vacation. The human face of Google (and sounds like some library messages I hear, too)!

Finding Truthiness in Numbers

Stephen Colbert’s pointed neologism comes to mind as the US Census Bureau enlists increasingly sophisticated data sorts to give us a deeper view of numbers collected during the last decennial census. Not that the Bureau is asserting opinion as fact, but the fact is, statistics, by nature, can provide insight only on matters we think to ask of them.

This past week, the Pew Research Center published an informed and informative brief on Recounting Poverty, which discusses how measures have been developed and used to portray poverty by the numbers.  If you are doing any kind of community profiling, this is a must read.

Another alert around the US Census Bureau is that, as of November 5, 2011, American FactFinder, that report-generating warehouse of census statistics that reach down to the micro-, as well as the macro-, level, has a new url. Note, too, that the “legacy” FactFinder site, no longer being maintained, is where you will be directed, for now, for data as recent as the 2007 Economic Census and the 2009 Community Survey. That means that if you are involved in trend spotting, you need to remember to work back and forth between the two sites. (The reports will be transitioned to the new site “in the coming months”). And remember, too, to bookmark that new FactFinder link.

Feeling overwhelmed by all this Census news?  Take a couple breaks and watch Infopeople’s most recent–and highly accessible as well as informative–webinars on the US Census, with Linda Clark presenting.





Three Ways to Create Better Materials


Flyers, handouts, letters. Even in the age of blogs and tweets, there are times when printed materials are the best way to communicate with your library community. Are your materials as effective as they could be?

Before you start creating your next piece of material, ask these three questions:

What’s the purpose of this piece? Is your material meant to transfer information? To call for action, encouraging the reader to do something? To influence or persuade? Your purpose will affect your approach.

What’s the best way to accomplish that purpose? Once you know where you want to go, think about the best way to get there. Would a blog post or press release work better than a flier? Might a blog post or press release complement the flyer and help you reach your goal faster? Integrate your communications.

Who are you trying to reach? Think about your primary target audience and what their world is like. Is the material for your whole community, or for a smaller subset like participants in a computer class or new parents in a certain population? Speak directly to that audience.

For more tips, check out the Infopeople course Promote, Inform, Educate: Creating Effective Materials for Your Library Community, coming in October.