Contact me

These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Slideshow of our "Neighborhood Library" model

Recently, I gave a phone workshop for the North Suburban Library System on some of the trends that are, I think, leading up to a far greater visibility and impact of our reference librarians. One of those trends was "merchandising" the collection. Sometime back, my assistant, Aspen Walker, put up a slideshow showing some of the elements we've been developing for our "neighborhood libraries" -- smaller locations that strive to be high volume. In an attempt to remember where that link was, I'm putting it here. Just click the entry title to see it. (And thank you Aspen for putting it up in the first place!)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

NIH Human Stem Cell Guidelines

Click the link above, to go to the comment form about the National Institutes of Health's proposed guidelines for the use of Human Stem Cells.

These comments are only being received through May 26, 2009, and may well have a profound effect on the policy's adoption. Meanwhile, according to this link, the site is being flooded following an effort by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is opposed to the scientific use of "human embryonic stem cells that were derived from embryos created by in vitro fertilization (IVF) for reproductive purposes and were no longer needed for that purpose."

I support this research. First, I do not believe that these tiny embryos are full human beings. Second, they are routinely destroyed now. Third, they have great potential to alleviate suffering for living children and adults.

At any rate, I have registered my comment, and urge you to do the same.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Library challenges

For a long time, my library has consistently been among the top in the nation for receiving formal challenges by the public to various materials and services. We had so many I even wrote a book -- "The New Inquisition" -- in which I explored why I thought that was the case. (Basically, it came down to a generational dynamic: my community is dominated by lots of Baby Boomers in a moralistic phase of life, and the rise of parental overprotectiveness generally.)

But there was another reason, passed along to me by one of my library school professors. He said he simply required that the form in which an objection is documented could only be handed out by a supervisor. The intent was not to squelch the right of the public to complain. Rather, it was to ensure that the patron was well-served, listened to and talked with, not just handed a form and brushed off.

So I set that issue before our staff, and indicated that indeed I had noticed that many of the completed forms were so cursory that I often had trouble responding, and wondered whether anyone had even asked the patron what they were trying to find. We did some employee training in which they were instructed not only to clearly understand the nature of the concern, but also to make a concerted attempt to satisfy the original browsing or information need that brought the patron to the library. I also announced that I wanted the supervisor's signature on the forms, and then waited to see what would happen.

And what happened was this: I stopped getting challenges.

A follow-up email to managers suggested that there had been no sudden suppression of patron concerns. Rather, staff themselves seemed to better engage with the public, rather than handing out forms with a "our director loves to respond to these!" In other words, we are now focusing more on providing topnotch service, than in collecting complaints that keep me busy.

Altogether now: duh.

The lesson: listening, real engagement between people, is better than time-consuming processes that institutionalize conflict.

And an update about the last big complaint we had: "Uncle Bobby's Wedding." All is quiet. I responded politely, and have heard no more from any party.