Category Archives: The Transparent Library / Library Journal

How to Find the Right Fit

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Dear MLS grad (and others who may be looking for a new position),

We’re glad you are ready for the first (or next) step in your career. We know that the job market can be tight and that most newly minted librarians are happy to get their foot in the door, recognizing that no one library will conform to your workplace ideal. Still, we’d like to offer some pointers for a good fit.

First, look at “In Search of an Emotionally Healthy Library,” by Nancy Cunningham (now director of the Learning Resources Center at Southwest Florida College, Ft. Myers) for tips, interview questions, and warning signs. Then, ponder these questions.

How things work
Ask about the library’s mission and vision. Sure, you went to the library web site-checking on the currency of the web presence, as well-in preparation. But how does the library actually live those values? Are the library’s goals your goals? If your vision of a library and your perspective employer’s image don’t exactly mesh, can you still live with them?

How does the library celebrate staff? What opportunities are there for staff development? What outside learning opportunities will you have? Even if you must go to outside training on your own dime, will you be allowed to attend conferences and seminars?

If there’s not a lot of library money for continuing education, there should at least be a willingness to send staff to local workshops and state library functions. Time to participate in online learning activities should be included as well.

Celebrating staff entails something as simple as an annual staff day. Does the library administration recognize teamwork? Does it reward those appreciated by peers?

How does the library communicate internally? Externally? Is it an open process? How is staff feedback addressed and used? We heard more than one speaker at the recent Computers in Libraries conference note that soliciting staff input but not putting it to use can lead to a breakdown in trust.

A structure in place for staff to submit ideas and be heard by top-level management is a good sign. Libraries that have internal blogs, allow all staff to contribute, and ask that their administrators field questions are more likely to be less rigid or autocratic. The Virginia Beach Public Library’s “VBPL Talks” blog even responds to anonymous questions.

Participation 2.0
What’s the library policy on blogging and social networking for staff? Can you maintain your personal/professional blog if you accept a position? We’d urge hiring librarians to encourage new staffers to continue their blogging or participation in social networks.

Does the library employ vertical teams for planning and implementation of new services? Can new hires participate and share their voices from day one? Inviting new staffers to play a role in service creation signals a willingness to hear new ideas. Ask for examples.

What mentoring opportunities are there? A recent job listing from Davidson College in North Carolina included this bit: “We want your newbie enthusiasm and fresh ideas, and we’ll mentor you in your growth.” This is a promising trend; it’s vital for veterans to mentor and encourage new librarians.

Due diligence
Also, don’t forget to spend some time researching the conversations and coverage concerning your potential workplace via sites like Yelp, Technorati, and Google News.

Look at the social networking presence of said library. Are comments enabled on the recently updated, thriving library blog? Are images of the library’s recent events being posted on its Flickr account? What other clues can you find about the library’s online presence?

Real-world outreach also can be telling. Does the library offer programs and services for a variety of user groups and populations? In the public library arena, story times and adult book groups should be a staple, but look for outreach and programming for teens, seniors, and other constituencies to gather a wider picture of the service philosophy. Academic libraries should offer outreach to students, faculty, and staff.

Finally, remember that no decision is permanent. You may find, no matter how good your questioning, that you’ve ended up at a library that just doesn’t match your expectations. Do your best to enact change, learn as much as you can, and then start to look elsewhere. Build bridges and move on.

LINK LIST

Davidson College

In Search of an Emotionally Healthy Library

VBPL Talks

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

June 15, 2008 Library Journal

Embracing Service to Teens

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

When did it become an acceptable customer service response to try and push out an entire age group of users?

Never, but that’s happening at too many libraries. Can we remain transparent, open, and focused on the core value of access and still tell young people to find another place to be social online?

MC: I still get emails from librarians who endure meetings where administrators bemoan having to accommodate teens. One even said her director thought stats showing lower senior citizen library use reflected the increased teen presence.

Banning MySpace
MS: My hometown library in Mishawaka, IN, near South Bend, just banned access to Facebook and MySpace because of what the South Bend Tribune called “Fights, lewd language and cars being blocked in the parking lot by teenagers.” As a Mishawaka taxpayer, curious librarian, and LIS professor, I stopped by the library and learned that other sites, like Flickr, remain available. It is disturbing how easily the library administration and board made the leap from unruly teens to “let’s block access to two of the most popular social tools on the web.”

Comments on my blog ranged from the forward-thinking, right-up-Ranganathan’s alley and the “Anonymous” who said, “Of course that crap should be banned” to the thoughtful critique and commentary of Ian McKinney from cutting-edge Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN. He reminds us the problem was specific kids, not technology. Indeed, I worry the teens in Mishawaka won’t care about the library and that will hurt the whole community. Were other solutions considered?

MC: When we advocate bringing teens into the library, we don’t acquiesce to rowdy teen behavior, as some suspect. Behavioral problems are never acceptable in the library. Foul-mouthed teens need to be booted out for the day, and problem teens for longer periods. Sometimes this means hiring security guards, and sometimes this means setting a firm tone at the beginning.

But don’t misunderstand; teens will be teens-they need to talk and socialize-so don’t expect a library with a lot of teens to be quiet. Carving out a teen area is great, if you have the room. If not, try to find an area that can be kept relatively quiet and offer it to those users who need a sanctuary.

Issues with teens are often larger community challenges. Kids need interesting and safe things to do. The entire community should be a part of the solution.

Plan with pros
MS: Right. Don’t ban technology or the web (cell phones, games, social sites) but instead offer guidelines for behavior. As public libraries evolve, one of the most important jobs will be that of teen librarian or youth specialist. I wonder if libraries that have had trouble with teens lack such specialists. You can’t just tap Sally from the fiction department and say, “You work with the teens now.”

MC: We continue to see great teen programming. Maria DeSapa, a library assistant at Troy Public Library, NY, coordinates gaming activities for teens. Nearby, at the Stillwater Free Library, Director Sara Kipp even brings her own PlayStation console for teens to use. I like how Stillwater combines game night with a book club meeting.

Focus on users
MS: That’s a dedicated focus on the user, not a rush to control and gatekeep. I think that’s why many of us wound up with library jobs-a giving, encouraging nature fits with libraries’ mission.
After my talk at the Public Library Association conference in Minneapolis in March, an attendee told me how a librarian at a library he visited said “we don’t like” having graphic novels. In the classroom, I’ve reminded students of the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics: “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access….”

So, what could Mishawaka have done differently? I would suggest open forums involving the community and a stronger focus on teen outreach.

MC: Also, just deal with behavioral issues. After all, if the seniors get a bit loud when knitting, do we ban knitting? It’s hard to defend banning specific social networking sites when other libraries not only allow access but integrate those sites into their library marketing plans.

If we don’t get them in as kids and keep them as teens, we likely won’t see them later in life. Kudos to librarians embracing service to teens.

LINK LIST

Stillwater Free Library

Troy Public Library

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

May 15, 2008 Library Journal

The Transparent Library: Embracing Service to Teens

MS: Comments on my blog ranged from the forward-thinking, right-up-Ranganathan’s alley and the “Anonymous” who said, “Of course that crap should be banned” to the thoughtful critique and commentary of Ian McKinney from cutting-edge Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, IN. He reminds us the problem was specific kids, not technology. Indeed, I worry the teens in Mishawaka won’t care about the library and that will hurt the whole community. Were other solutions considered?

MC: When we advocate bringing teens into the library, we don’t acquiesce to rowdy teen behavior, as some suspect. Behavioral problems are never acceptable in the library. Foul-mouthed teens need to be booted out for the day, and problem teens for longer periods. Sometimes this means hiring security guards, and sometimes this means setting a firm tone at the beginning.

But don’t misunderstand; teens will be teens–they need to talk and socialize–so don’t expect a library with a lot of teens to be quiet. Carving out a teen area is great, if you have the room. If not, try to find an area that can be kept relatively quiet and offer it to those users who need a sanctuary.

Issues with teens are often larger community challenges. Kids need interesting and safe things to do. The entire community should be a part of the solution.

Read the whole column here

Measuring Progress

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

The most difficult part of 2.0 librarianship is not the creation of new services nor even the job of convincing those in charge to let you try those new ideas. No, the hardest part is often the reexamination of ideas. It’s a key factor of any library service and part of the definition of Library 2.0 that sometimes gets overlooked.

The evaluation of newer and existing services is critical for any successful library. It can be accomplished via vertical teams or a mix of internal and external evaluators; either way, you must look at the original goals and determine if your services are meeting them.

“Cool tools”
Adopting a new technology can be fun, whether it’s Web 2.0 applications like Drupal or cutting-edge technologies like RFID. It can be seductive to watch these tools used by other library systems. We’ve seen many “cool tools” presentations at conferences that play up the wonders of Twitter, FriendFeed, or Facebook apps.

However cool these new tools might appear, it may not be easy to inject them into your library-nor do they all belong there. Check out the Libraries Using Evidence blog, created by a group of Australian librarians, for insight into how evidence-based practice meets 2.0 initiatives.

Administrators must take a big picture approach to evaluating new services and tools, factoring in budget issues, staff hours, and community impact. The new tool or service must fit into the library’s philosophy. If it’s a new tool for library communications, then administrators can give it a kick-start by using the tool themselves.

It takes front-end work to evaluate services properly. Well-defined expectations and goals and a written statement regarding some measurable return make the evaluation process more effective and worthwhile.

Also, get staff and customers/patrons on board for the review process. Let everyone know that, eventually, you’ll evaluate every service you roll out. This lends more transparency to your planning process.

Successes and setbacks
We’ve seen and heard about a lot of new technology projects, and while we’re not doing many of these in our own organizations, we can see where there have been some striking successes and, in some instances, some questionable decisions.

Many libraries have taken the plunge into RFID, with widely varying results. While RFID can be very popular, RFID migrations are expensive and can sometimes require new furniture or even retrofits of entire buildings. Stories of RFID snags suggest that library staff (and some customers) are not yet convinced that tagging is better than old-style barcodes. Whether it’s RFID or some other project, the long-term returns must be demonstrably clear.

Ways to gauge progress
• Track hits and uses of statistical software for blogs, wikis, and other web applications. If not, you might be creating web resources that see little use. Measuring these social networking tools is often not easy. Open source does not equal “free”-it can take many hours in staff time. Whatever you’re using should deliver the returns you need. If it’s not, maybe it’s not the right tool. Use 2.0 tools for the right reasons, not just because they’re cool.

• Check comments to gauge the readership of a library blog or news site. Don’t get too hung up, however, on tracking comments, since managing them can cost time. Also, just because the library blog is not a hotbed of commenting activity does not mean you aren’t getting value from an easy-to-use publishing platform. The same can be said for using RSS feeds to update content and build portals.

• Mine user behavior. Instead of posting signs prohibiting students from moving furniture, one university library let students rearrange furniture into their favorite configurations for collaboration and interaction. Administrators then used that “blueprint” to plan for future space needs.

• Engage staff and users by asking them for anecdotal evidence on how a new service is working. A story about how useful the library’s digital creation station Mac or PC was to a student on deadline can be incorporated into reports and updates. Solicit a request for stories online and in person.

Remember, whatever you choose to use must conform to your library’s mission and vision. Simply adopting a tool without having it fit these criteria is a waste.

LINK LIST

Libraries Using Evidence

Library 2.0

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

April 15, 2008 Library Journal

The Transparent Library: Measuring Progress

Adopting a new technology can be fun, whether it’s Web 2.0 applications like Drupal or cutting-edge technologies like RFID. It can be seductive to watch these tools used by other library systems. We’ve seen many “cool tools” presentations at conferences that play up the wonders of Twitter, FriendFeed, or Facebook apps.

However cool these new tools might appear, it may not be easy to inject them into your library—nor do they all belong there. Check out the Libraries Using Evidence blog, created by a group of Australian librarians, for insight into how evidence-based practice meets 2.0 initiatives.

Administrators must take a big picture approach to evaluating new services and tools, factoring in budget issues, staff hours, and community impact. The new tool or service must fit into the library’s philosophy. If it’s a new tool for library communications, then administrators can give it a kick-start by using the tool themselves.

It takes front-end work to evaluate services properly. Well-defined expectations and goals and a written statement regarding some measurable return make the evaluation process more effective and worthwhile.

Also, get staff and customers/patrons on board for the review process. Let everyone know that, eventually, you’ll evaluate every service you roll out. This lends more transparency to your planning process.

Read the whole column here

What are those Michaels up to?

What are those Michaels up to? | Originally uploaded by cindiann

A personal shout out to my writing partner at LJ Mr. Michael Casey. We never get to see each other in person, so hanging out at CIL was pretty darn cool. Thanks to Cindi of the incredible photography skills as well for capturing this pic. It’s a little more artistic than the only other photo I have of Michael and I together:

ImaginON: Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg County

Seriously, a big shout out to my friend for inspiring me and getting me to think so much about organizational culture, libraries and tech.

The Transparent Library: Cheers & Jeers

Cheers to the many librarians who have joined the local and global conversation via blogs, wikis, Flickr, and other social networks. The expression of shared ideas, feedback, and solutions furthers the professional discourse.

Jeers to IT departments that still hide behind “it’s not secure,” “we can’t support that,” and technology plans/decisions made without involving librarians or users. We’re ready for an open dialog about security, privacy, and what resources we can realistically spend. We understand how busy IT can be. We simply want the discussions to be more inclusive.

Cheers to libraries like North Carolina State University (NCSU) for the “transparent reference desk” at its Information Commons. Much more than furniture, this acknowledges what can be done in an open collaborative space. With iPods and digital cameras available for checkout, NCSU shows that librarians can be technology support leaders, trainers, and advocates for collaboration.

Read the whole column here

Update: How did we do? What would you add?

Cheers & Jeers

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

We’ve been writing the Transparent Library for a year, so it’s time for some thumbs up and thumbs down.

Cheers to the widespread librarians, library staff, administrators, trustees, and others from libraries small and large who have participated in localized versions of Helene Blowers’s Learning 2.0 program. As we write, the entire state of Minnesota is running the program for all interested parties, reinforcing the idea that inclusive, self-directed learning applied to emerging tools can bring people together and get them talking.

Cheers to the State Library of South Carolina for its engaging, personalized web portal created with Joomla. Other state libraries should look to this as a model: blogging state librarians, open online forums for discussion, and shared videos of South Carolina librarians.

Jeers to SirsiDynix for leading us down the primrose path of Horizon 8, Rome, and then Symphony. Now that our confidence is lost and our trust in most major ILS vendors is shot, we have to begin to look inward for our future.

Cheers to the many libraries and librarians brave enough to enter the world of open source software and open ILS systems such as Evergreen, Koha, LibX, and LibraryFind. It’s not easy deciding to jettison long-established library brand names. Those willing to take the leap have been crafting and perfecting the tools, easing the path for others.

Cheers to LibLime for recognizing the power and potential of open source and for creating the “Open Source Evangelist” position, hiring Nicole Engard.

Cheers to the many librarians who have joined the local and global conversation via blogs, wikis, Flickr, and other social networks. The expression of shared ideas, feedback, and solutions furthers the professional discourse.

Jeers to IT departments that still hide behind “it’s not secure,” “we can’t support that,” and technology plans/decisions made without involving librarians or users. We’re ready for an open dialog about security, privacy, and what resources we can realistically spend. We understand how busy IT can be. We simply want the discussions to be more inclusive.

Cheers to libraries like North Carolina State University (NCSU) for the “transparent reference desk” at its Information Commons. Much more than furniture, this acknowledges what can be done in an open collaborative space. With iPods and digital cameras available for checkout, NCSU shows that librarians can be technology support leaders, trainers, and advocates for collaboration.

Cheers to those creating specialty libraries for youth. The Stockholm Public Library’s Serieteket library for comics and graphic literature does a wonderful job of reaching out to the youth market, offering great public spaces.

Cheers to the Library of Congress and its Commons Project on Flickr. This grand experiment in group tagging should be exciting to watch. It has provided yet another argument for libraries to step outside of their traditional thinking and use new online tools.

Jeers to libraries that make decisions and craft policy, whether on signage, hours, meeting rooms, or Internet filtering, but won’t defend them publicly.

Cheers to the Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne (ACPL), IN, for using technology as an opportunity to extend the library’s reach. Sharing a “Day in the Life” of the county via user-submitted images and presenting ACPL director Jeff Krull on YouTube discussing reading are priceless.

Cheers to those brave librarians who post photos of signage both good and bad. A library should be able to defend its way-finding methods to its users-or make changes.

Cheers to John Blyberg for writing “Library 2.0 Debased,” pointing to broader issues of policy, programming, and space rather than shiny new tools and semantics.

Cheers to other librarians who’ve reported on changes they’ve made to web sites, physical spaces, policies, and programming. Now we must focus on how to evaluate emerging technologies in the library setting.

LINK LIST

ACPL

Learning 2.0

Library of Congress Flickr Project

Library signage

Open Source Evangelist

State Library of South Carolina

Stockholm’s Comics Library

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

March 15, 2008 Library Journal

Insights from the Front Line

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

This column is directed to front-line librarians and staff, who deliver customer service and have damn good ideas for what can be done to improve things. It’s often a hurdle to get library administrators and managers to listen to your concerns and views. But there are ways. And we believe this advice holds true for everyone on the desk, from reference librarians to support staff.

Be vocal but not obnoxious.
You know the story probably better than anyone as to how your users perceive the library. You know how they use (or don’t use) the catalog. You know what questions they ask. You know how they react to policies instituted by management.

Tell these stories in your own meetings in an even manner. Present them as evidence, because that’s what they are. Keep track of how often a policy or procedure stands in the way of good service. Send your data collection upstairs, framed as a request to improve service. Center your requests on user needs, not your own whines.

A tactful approach is better than a public standoff; carefully presented data, spiffy charts, and reviews from library publications and the biblioblogosphere can help you make your case. Then hit them up for a more streamlined mechanism to share the data: a blog? a wiki? a team sharing reports via Google docs?

Be honest with yourself about library use. More than once in our careers we’ve heard librarians say, “Most of my patrons don’t care about….” Oh, really? Or is that just you and what you think your patrons need or want?

Tap into reports.
Some 30 percent of folks polled for OCLC’s 2005 report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources didn’t know what “electronic databases” were, and over 80 percent were starting their own information searches at a search engine. Pew’s December 2007
Information Searches That Solve Problems tells us that younger people really do use the library.
Use this as a foundation for change–maybe it is time to disband the ten-person reference department for new workflows and job duties.

Request an online suggestion box.
These mechanisms have done wonders for some libraries. Front-liners can share their stories and ask questions; management should respond with answers and actions.

We’re reminded of the rules posted for the Library Loft teen space at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, NC: “Respect yourself, respect others, respect the space.” Both front-line staff and library management and administrators should follow these simple rules. Request a hard-copy box as well, placed in a staff area for those folks who prefer paper.

Embrace change.
The folks upstairs may be waiting for you to pitch a fit. Don’t do it. Use the tips above to respond, learn, and grow. When an idea comes down that you don’t think will work, don’t be knee-jerk. Talk to your coworkers, and listen to your customers.

Exactly what about the new change is bad? Good data will always trump hearsay and conjecture. Keep a log of customer comments, good and bad. Or, if the new change is primarily internal, draft a brief memo stating how much time is being used to implement the new initiative. Point out where that time is coming from–the front desk, shelving, etc.–and make an argument for how the time could be better used.

Set the example.
You may be in a position to make local changes in your office or branch that, while still complying with your library’s policies and philosophies, are just different enough to stand out as a positive alternative.

Perhaps the programs your library offers will embrace more new technology. Perhaps your story hours will be held at different times or go on the road and visit local schools in an effort to reach users where they are. Maybe your book displays will be more dynamic and more frequently updated than elsewhere in the library system.

The key is to gather data and illustrate the impact these changes have. Are you circulating more books with those new displays? Are more people attending your story hours when you hold them at new times or go offsite? The goal is to show the powers that be that there are affordable benefits to your new plans.

Be a strong yet positive voice.
Keep your criticisms and concerns constructive. Couching your worries in a positive light will get you on teams and committees where you’ll be better poised to make long-term alterations. Set your example locally and others will take notice.

LINK LIST

OCLC report

Pew reports

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

February 15, 2008 Library Journal

For the Front Liners (and everyone else)

 It’s often a hurdle to get library administrators and managers to listen to your concerns and views. But there are ways. And we believe this advice holds true for everyone on the desk, from reference librarians to support staff…..

….Tap into reports. Some 30 percent of folks polled for OCLC’s 2005 report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources didn’t know what “electronic databases” were, and over 80 percent were starting their own information searches at a search engine. Pew’s December 2007 Information Searches That Solve Problems tells us that younger people really do use the library.

Use this as a foundation for change—maybe it is time to disband the ten-person reference department for new workflows and job duties.

Request an online suggestion box. These mechanisms have done wonders for some libraries. Front-liners can share their stories and ask questions; management should respond with answers and actions.

We’re reminded of the rules posted for the Library Loft teen space at the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, NC: “Respect yourself, respect others, respect the space.”

Read the whole column here