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.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Wonder Girls: Nobody but You

I feel a little guilty about this. But if you somehow escaped this utterly infectious smash hit from the South Korean girl band the Wonder Girls, then you must be made to pay. The weird thing is that its appeal continues for me.

My daughter, who taught in Taiwan, tells me that EVERYBODY knew this, all ages. That was almost a year ago now. But these Wonder Girls are just so dang cute.

Oh, and here's a bonus link, a clip from the "Korean Beyonce." It goes to show you: American pop songs and moves are extremely widespread. So to speak.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Self-check, automated materials handling

Recently I was asked by a colleague what I thought about our 2008-2009 adoption of self-check and AMH solutions. Bob Pasiznyuk, who was our IT associate director at the time (now the director of the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Iowa) was chiefly responsible for that decision and its implementation, and I swear he wrote it up for me, although I can't lay my hands on the paper.

But for other librarians considering the solution, here's the short version about why we did it, and roughly how it played out.

We had three problems:

* extraordinary growth of use.
* sharp restrictions on space (for more traditional circulation stations)
* limits on dollars for additional staff
* a rising incidence of repetitive motion stress injuries

The use of RFID tags, self-check stations (3M), and automated materials handling units (sorters from three different companies) was the right solution.

Our initial investment was about $1 million. We paid for it out of savings. We calculate that we recovered our costs in about 18 months. The new setup enabled us to:

* replace large circulation desks with much smaller self-check units. We didn't phase them in. We pulled out the desks and put in the self-check units. We hit 90% use of those machines for all checkouts in the first week. (Kudos to Bob for noticing that we had to tweak a lot of little policies and procedures so we didn't have to prevent a checkout for every little thing. We were trying to ENCOURAGE its use, so we did.) This also freed up a LOT of space for display, and hold shelves.

* we DID phase in the attrition of employees. Roughly, we found that we could have one former circulation person oversee three stations, stepping in when there were problems. That reduced staffing needs in that zone by 2/3.

* in the checkIN process, we went from 5 to 1. One person could oversee that basic check in process, pulling bins, fixing jams, instead of 5 people moving materials from cart through terminal to cart.

* those two trends reduced injuries and headcount. The former circ clerk became a papaprofessional zone manager, problem resolver, display builder. This is a big staffing change. There are FEWER people employed than before.

But please note that our goal wasn't to fire people. It was to improve service. We did. And though we now have fewer staff in those functions, the ones that remain have new duties and better pay.

In 2009, Bob cited the following stats: "Automated checkin systems now handle about 96% of the library’s inbound circulation. The library’s circulation has increased from 4 million circulations per year four years ago to 8 million circulations this year with a drop in overall circulation FTE. The mean time to shelf has changed from 50 hours to just over 2. Claims returns by the public have dropped by 75%."

Continuing issues:

* automated materials handling units are not cheap. You have to budget for ongoing maintenance, for new bins, and so on. But there is no question that it's cheaper than the human beings its replaces -- and far kinder on the bodies of our staff.

As I've written elsewhere, this latest wave of technology has utlimately precipitated a staff change that still ripples through our organization. In brief, the circulation DEPARTMENT is dead, and a new, more integrated reference/inventory management team is on the rise.

And just incidentally, the public loves it. They get that we save money, but we also offer extroardinary convenience and confidentiality. They place holds at night, breeze in and grab them in the morning, and it all happens in a fraction of the time it used to take.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pomplamoose

A terrific name for a band, and a remarkably gifted couple of indie musicians, cranking out offbeat music in somebody's house. Nataly Dawn can sing like a funk-laconic angel, and Jack Conte is a demented percussionist with a tiny piano. Give it a listen here.

My favorite: "If you think you need some lovin'."

Green Porno with Isabella Rossellini

OK. This is about raw sex, featuring one of the hottest women who ever lived.

Oh, and marine animals. And puppets. I haven't seen anything this entertaining since PeeWee Herman.

Favorite line: "What am I - a duck??"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Community reference project interview

Click here or the title of this entry to hear an interview by Mary Ross of Douglas County Libraries librarians Colbe Galston and Amy Long about the topic of the "community reference project."

Mary is the instructor of an Infopeople online course called Revisioning Reference.

Colbe and Amy are staggeringly articulate - and lay out what I do firmly believe is the frontier of public library reference work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Traveling librarian: Boise and Sacramento

In a three week period, I think I'll wind up giving some 10 talks to the library world. Some of them are part of my job, speaking (for free) within Colorado. Others I take time off to do (and get paid by the folks who invited me!).

Yesterday, I gave a talk in Boise, Idaho, for the public library's staff day. I was actually filling in for my esteemed colleague Will Manley, who had some medical issues. (Get well soon!) Looking for an Emergency Backup Speaker? I'm your guy.

This afternoon, I'm in Sacramento, California. Tomorrow, I speak at their staff day on the topic of intellectual freedom.

I have to say, this life of travel and public speaking is fascinating. I'm seeing libraries in a way I hadn't before. So much is context. I enjoyed walking around Boise (ranked as one of the most livable cities in America). My stroll through the main library was surprisingly revealing.

Today I walked through a few blocks of downtown Sacramento, and toured its library. (Another great downtown.) Again, so interesting and revealing.

I think every library in the United States is dealing with the same issues. One of those issues is competence of management. So far, I find that libraries around the country echo those in Colorado: I see extraordinary thrift, frugality, and conscious tracking of trends.

Another issue is use. I don't find any empty libraries. They're busy.

But there are some big issues that our libraries don't address so well:

* space planning. We need to create more inviting, exciting, interesting spaces, better engaging the attention of our visitors. If I had to pick out two key trends that still seem to be ahead of many libraries, it would be these: more displays, and smaller staff desks. I've been following my retail shopping instinct: walk in the building, circle to the right. Too many of our libraries fail to capitalize on prime space. What moves materials is face-out display. I can't think of any reason not to have at least one face-out book, video, or CD on every single shelf. And libraries still give an amazing amount of floor space to enormous service desks. These desks (a) require staffing, (b) isolate staff from patrons, and (c) consume space that could be put to better use. When I see staff behind a desk, they simply don't provide service of the same quality provided by staff side-by-side with patrons. I do understand the concern that sometimes you WANT space between staff and the occasional creepy customer. But setting boundaries, and watching out for each other, is best achieved by a fluid floor-management pattern, not by the construction of fortresses.

* collection management. My goodness there are a lot of old and ill-used materials in libraries. Lately, I've taken to wandering through stacks and just reaching out at random to check copyright dates. I'm finding materials that are 20 years old. Or more. Of course, that might be a reflection of  the next issue...

* funding. When I ask directors about their budgets, the story is often painful. The average American household spends $2.68 per month for public libraries. Contrast that with the monthly cost for home Internet access, or TV, or cell phones, or Netflix. Those home expenditures do almost nothing for the community. Libraries are builders - and are treated like beggars.

* customer service. I know from many encounters that library staff provide extraordinary service. But in too many libraries, just catching someone's eye, being treated to a smile, is more difficult, is more rare, than it ought to be. Often, I think that's an issue of space planning, as above. But I can report a wonderful exception: children's librarians just can't stop themselves from greeting and grinning. I love it.

And that's another finding, another thing that libraries do right: they hire people with a genuine passion for service, for changing lives, for the uncanny power of print.

I like the people that work in libraries. And it's a pleasure to have a chance to get to know them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Quilting exhibit

I just strolled through the Castle Rock Quilt Club's exhibit at the Philip S. Miller Library. Wow. Below are two shots of my favorites.

Jerry Dunbar's "Mariner's Compass Sampler." Hand-quilted.
















And "Delectable Mountains," by Donna Ryman (long arm)
















The colors on my little cell phone camera are off. But these, and many others, are awe-inspiring. Come see them!