Archives for category: Services

As a new hire at my public library system, I received the mandatory day-long Customer Service seminar last Monday. It was what it was. Customer service training is one of those things that is hard to pull off without sounding cliché. I’ve taught seminars like these, and I apologise for the wacky acronyms.

But, the up-shot this time was this wacky spot-the-stereotype video. I’ve been humming the little shanty all week, in between listening to better things.

What I took away from the CS training day was a thought about what and why we call people who use/visit the library. The happy, dancy video above uses “patron” (which some people don’t like), and “user” is a little loaded… as is client (which always makes think “person visiting a social worker”). All the terms have strikes against them. Nothing quite fits because the variety of people and ways a library is engaged by its community are far too complex to fold under one term.

The OPL likes the word “customer”.There is a genuine sincerity to the logic. The decision is probably fuelled by optics. The term customer is useful because it’s familiar and reflects an aesthetics of service. It also implies the exchange of money. Which isn’t always a bad thing. Public libraries are funded by the people coming through the doors – through taxes, donations, fines, and bookstore purchases. So, it could be like they’re paying and getting a service. It helps, maybe subtly, people know that it’s their money that gets them the services they use.

On the other hand, because the Public Library is a publicly funded institution, you could also say that the people who use the library and pay into the system are also co-owners. Maybe, I work in one large information co-op. I wonder what that could mean for the social/service contract of public libraries.

The world should learn not to mess with librarians!

Last month, I wrote about the Toronto Public Library’s hard stance against proposed cuts. Well, after some gaffs from the Mayor’s brother, city councillor Doug Ford , and lots of discussion,  Torontonians are starting to see a shift.

From the Toronto Star:

Another councillor in Mayor Rob Ford’s inner circle is backing away from a proposal to close libraries.

When asked Wednesday if she would support library closures to save money, Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston) said “no, of course not” and that if anything, branches should be better utilized to host more city programs.

“I don’t think there’s a will on council to close libraries,” said Nunziata. “I think we have to make better use of what we have… these are great facilities for programming.”

First it was right-winger James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre). Then TTC chair Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence). Now Nunziata, who is the council speaker and one of Ford’s longest and most loyal supporters.

Nunziata’s split is the clearest sign yet that libraries will likely be safe come fall when council is left to consider the service cut recommendations proposed by KPMG during the core service review.[source]

Not a sure thing, though. It’s great to see the city rallying and staying on the city council’s back. Keep it up, Toronto. Here’s some fight music to help!

Torontonians can take action by contacting their city councillors and/or by signing the online petition.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford: giver of cuts or promises of cuts or promises of cuts then paying more.

The Toronto Public Library (Canada’s largest library system) has recently been threatened with cuts. Having already seen one branch take a hit, the city’s library workers and supporters are taking a hard line. In brash awesomeness, they’ve issued a warning to city councillors looking to wield a heavy knife.

The Toronto Public Library Workers Union has a message for city councillors: If you want to keep your seat, support your local libraries.

Results of a survey commissioned by the union and released Wednesday found that half of Toronto residents said it would affect their vote “a great deal” if they knew a candidate had supported closing a library branch.

The survey sends “very clear” message, union president Maureen O’Reilly said. Of more than 1,000 respondents, about three-quarters said they disagreed with closing branches to save money. The library board recently approved a $184 million budget that led to a decision to close the Metro Hall branch. “We have no reason to believe this trend won’t continue,” O’Reilly said, adding that shutting branches adversely affects seniors and kids.[source]

The numbers seem to be in the TPL’s favour:

This message emerges from a Forum Research poll conducted on July 4, 2011 which found that three-quarters of Toronto residents disagree with the idea of closing local library branches as a way of solving the city’s deficit (74%), and more than one half disagree “strongly” (54%). When it is their own local branch which is threatened, the proportion of those who “strongly disagree” increases to two-thirds (64%).

Not only are library branch closures off the table as far as Toronto residents are concerned, more than half disagree with privatizing the delivery of any city services (55%), and more than one third disagree “strongly” (38%). When the Toronto Public Library is mentioned as a privatization target, seven-in-ten Torontonians disagree (71%), more than one half “strongly” (55%).[source]

Hopefully, this sort of information will make the budget hounds think twice.

Torontonians can take action by contacting their city councillors and/or by signing the online petition.

The database I work with was down for a bit this morning, so I had little bit of time to peruse the ALA’s new Confronting the Future: Strategic Visions for the 21st Century Public Library.

I am intrigued by their notion of the Four Dimensions (see the illustration above).  Besides being awesomely impossible to graph on a  2D chart, it’s a decent representation of the winds driving library evolution right now.

It’s also about strategic decision making. There is a certain amount of push-and-pull embedded in the 4D concept. A move on one spectrum will impact a library’s a place on one of the others.  Can a “Creation” driven library also function well with an “Archive” and “Individual” focus?

The suggestion being:  public libraries must choose what they want to be good at, since they cannot be good at everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Last week, the National Post printed an interview with some Canadian independent booksellers to discuss the future of the indie bookstore in the eBook future. The overall consensus is this: as the bottlenecks in what books gets published online disappear, the new niche will be curating collections for buyers. And of course, community, community, community.

Here are some highlights:

Mark L: I think that the shift and trend toward digital positions independent booksellers as more important than ever. After all, it’s one thing to find something to read, it’s quite another to find something good to read. You can get to the world’s largest buffet, but you might need help determining which of the dishes to sample. What becomes important for booksellers is determining how they’ll be in that game (and for some, if they even want to be in that game). Bricks-and-mortar bookstores, while they can and will be part of making digital books available to their customers, are likely going to continue to see a good portion of their successes and a good portion of their business within the realm where they are already firmly established.
Alana: I’d take Mark’s point one step further. Not only do independent booksellers help you find something good to read from among their carefully curated collection, they help you find something you’ll like -they’re all about community, and if you’re a regular, the staff will know you and your tastes. They host events and plenty of social opportunities -I can’t walk into my local indie without running into at least three people I know. I’ve yet to find an e-tailer that offers such an opportunity.[full article]

Independent booksellers, small-press publishers, and libraries share a lot of the same woes right now. As eBooks take-off, it seems like everything is in the hands of big publishers who control the content.

I really believe, though, it’s not big money’s game to lose. The ePublishing economy presents for libraries and indie-press/booksellers the opportunity to carve out (or maybe reclaim or expand) niches as curators and portals to good, rare, and/or reliable content. For readers inundated by so much content, this sort of service will be valuable.

And heck, it’s something libraries have been doing since like always.

In Canada, Windsor Ontario has been one of the cities hardest hit by the economic downturn, and despite earnest efforts by creative and forward thinking residents, times are still tough.

The city has been  making news this week because the hard pressed Catholic School Board is pretty much gutting its school libraries.

Here’s Windsor-Essex District Catholic School Board director of education Paul Picard’s brainstorm:

His “lightning moment,” he said, came when he was sipping a tea at a Starbucks and observed a student next to him working a laptop, an iPod and her cellphone as she completed an assignment. “She said, ‘This is how I learn,’” said Picard, who concluded the board must move to where its students are. The new library — the board calls it a learning commons area — won’t be hush-hush quiet, he said. “It’s a much more boisterous hub, much like you would see at a student centre at the university,” with wireless connections and a teacher (a library technician isn’t a teacher, so can’t fulfil that role, he said) helping them with research and digital literacy. “That’s their world, that’s where we have to meet them,” Picard said.

Meanwhile, elementary school libraries will become “flex rooms” with computers, he suggested, while the board tries to put 1,000 books in each classroom to foster literacy. Responding to studies that link school libraries to improved student literacy, he said you can find studies that validate anything, and there is “extensive” research that backs putting more books in classrooms.[source]

That sounds nice. More education policy should be based on this “Hey, it works for Starbucks” method. Perhaps, the school board could also charge for books and play corporate tie-in music over the PA.

But seriously, Picard’s vision looks like an effort to glamourize something more dire. A recent Globe and Mail editorial points this out:

At two high schools overseen by the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, a grand total of three books was checked out last month. That depressing fact is cited by Paul Picard, the board’s director of education, as one reason for a radical change now under way, changing libraries from book-centred and quiet places to noisy digital hubs…

The main reason, though, is that the board faces a loss of 800 to 1,000 students in September, and a budget shortfall of about $10-million. Cutting most of its “learning commons specialists” (technologists, not teacher-librarians) will save $2½-million a year. In their stead, visiting literacy specialists will provide much more useful advice, Mr. Picard says.[source]

Hard times, indeed. In response, Windsor area high-school students have protested and the Catholic School Board is trying(poorly) to calm things down. The furor may die down, but this could be a budding trend. This is worrisome.

This policy is a little ham-fisted with regard to Ontario education policy which has long supported libraries. The Ontario School Library Association has publicly pointed to research that argues against Picard’s outlook. But the Catholic School Board in Windsor has already shown itself unready to consult widely on such a dramatic move in policy. It’s also shameful that the school board chose to try to coat these cuts in a thin veneer of coffee-house-learning-commons-ism.

Librarians and library techs are already laid off. Elementary schools libraries have been closed and the books distributed to classrooms. Hopefully, it can be turned around. Though right now, it looks like another strike for a town struggling against a “Worst Town in Canada” rap.

From Gizmodo:

Gone is the frustration of not finding the book that the system swears is exactly where you are looking. Gone is the having to sneak through dark corners of stacks and walk all over the library to find a single tome. However, also gone are the serendipitous encounters with texts surrounding the one you were looking for, guiding your research and interests in new directions.
Which is a shame, for sure. But even then, maybe you can still make your way to that fortuitous find but in a whole new way. And without that librarian glowering at you. [University of Chicago Libraries via Geekosystem, Big Think]

OK, let’s put aside the regressive librarian stereotyping and look at what they’re showing us. It seems like a pretty complex and expensive solution. When it breaks, how catastrophic is it to services? I don’t know if this is something will necessarily take off except as a show piece.

I’d say it’s a little analogous to the infamous Zip drive. The Zip drive was an OK innovation that ended up being a huge waste of money for people who bought one and then immediately had to abandon them for the CD-R/W drives – which were way more flexible for data storage.  I think elaborate robot libraries will probably lose out to eLibraries made up mostly of eBooks, online journals, etc. The tipping point will be when when eReaders improve in flexibility, quality and price (as they will, inevitably).

Also, it is easy to say this sort of set up would render librarians obsolete. But really, it’ll be the clerks and pages who would be replaced – likely by a crew of oil stained, retro-engineer types (like below) . Think about it, the look of the thing reminds me of Babbage’s Difference Engine. In such a case, steampunk fans would be happy.

This came to me via @indie_librarian via (@wawoodworth)

More details on this event here. (Note: fans of the #Partyhard library agenda are probably in love with this idea.) Also, check out this design contest.  It’s a pretty hip and locally driven aesthetic they’re breeding. As a design minded fellow, I can’t understate how much I like this kind of stuff. Good on you, CPL.

I saw all this and suddenly wanted a job at the Chicago Public Library. But really, what I want is a job where I can work with some community to build something similar. Data management is OK, but, man, I miss working with clients/users/information-seekers/people-about-town/etc.

For now, here’s to better living through design.

Bloomberg Businessweek published an article last week on a rarely talked about bubble in the tech industry – and social media giants are to blame.

As I understand it, it boils down to this: the current high tech focus is on using data to improve ad revenue via social media.  Or as Jeff Hammerbacher (a former Facebook research scientist) says, “The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.”

It sucks because the innovation process of massive social media companies focuses on ads, and so there has been only minimal transferable benefit for other industries that don’t make their money off of marketing. This is bad because transferable innovation  makes for good economic growth and stability.

Here’s where Jeff Hammerbacher comes in. He’s developing software that will allow scientific researchers and other business sectors to apply the marco-level data management tools Google, Facebook and Amazon use to target ads. Read the rest of this entry »

A couple of maps to bring the US Library crisis into perspective :
From Losing Libraries:

(zoom out to get the nation wide picture)

The maps represent various types of cuts, staff layoffs and furloughs, reduced services and hours and more that are happening to public libraries in the U.S. We are attempting to track not only recent cuts, but cuts that go as far back as 2008. If you look at the map by year, you will see that there are more and more markers on the map. For links to how libraries are responding to cuts, check out Success Stories and the Link Roll (on the right side of the site).

(Thanks to @Marilynajohnson for tweeting this.)

A Nation without School Librarians:

View A Nation without School Librarians in a larger map

This map marks the cities, towns, communities, and states that have made the decision to either eliminate certified school library positions (indicated in blue) or require one school librarian to work with two (2) or more school library programs throughout the week (indicated in red).