Ouch!  Just read a brief account of a very poor interaction with a circulation clerk that got me thinking.  You can read the story here.

Knee jerk reaction: shame on this staff member–and the librarian who supervises her1. Sure, circulation desk staff (who aren’t required to have an MLS, well enough a BA) aren’t trained in the nuances of the complete reference interview but come on!  I think we CAN expect customer service excellence–not to mention COMMON COURTESY–from every member of the library, whether branch director, circ clerk, or page.

Thinking about this more: those with the least amount of professional training often have the most amount of face time with patrons. Pages (usually teens) receive TONS of questions while they’re out on the floor shelving books.  There’s a good lesson in not neglecting basic training and development for these folks!

I worked as a circ clerk for about two years (in both adult and youth services) in a small public library. We face a lot of situations in which you are expected to act professionally: angry or violent patrons, inappropriate behavior. These types of interactions are upsetting for everyone but can usually be resolved with the aid of solid customer service training. Book ban requests are usually first received by the circulation staff. Depending upon who the patron is and how upset they are, these situations may require delicate maneuvering. Strong, clear policy and communication of that policy to staff are both crucial.

And now for a tangent: this last intellectual freedom aspect of circulation duties is what is most frustrating to me when I hear that schools are riffing or letting go of their media specialists and librarians and bringing in volunteers to man the desk. No disrespect to volunteers is meant here–these volunteers are, after all, keeping libraries open; however, they are not trained to handle matters of censorship. Caught up in the moment, a well-meaning volunteer may pull a challenged book or make promises to a parent that will foul up the review process later. It’s not just librarians who get worked up over banned books. Some parents don’t take to kindly to a complete stranger deciding that a book is too objectionable to be read by everyone else’s children.

1. I can almost guarantee that the person running this desk is not making librarian’s salary. The public, of course, lumps clerks and librarians into the catch-all “librarian” role. Continue reading.

If You Build It/Lead a Horse to It

I’m attempting to get some posts out of “draft” status. Here is one I started a few weeks ago.

I found an essay at LISNews written by librarian, Abigail Goben, regarding the needs of patrons between the ages of 20-40. Goben posits that libraries, while doing an admirable job finding new and exciting ways to reach out to teens and children, have neglected patrons who fall into the post-college (and possibly pre-family) category. Intriguing but who are these patrons? What do they want? If libraries expand hours, staff, and programming (let’s assume that there isn’t an economic crisis and that the coolest, most talented librarian ever is doing the program planning ), will that make mid-20 somethings more likely to walk in the door and stay an hour and a half?

To find answers, I started with the most authoritative source I know: me. Indeed, the patron Goben describes IS me. While reading her essay, I was all nods. In fact, I was one click away from my library’s program website before the thought struck me: “I can barely make time to run inside to pick up my holds, how will I make time to attend programs?” OK, granted, I’m probably not the most representative example of persons of this age group. I work 60 hours a week in addition to trying to keep a new film company afloat. My husband and I share one car, so physically getting to the library is a bit of a challege at times. On the other hand, I wasn’t always this busy. Even when I had my own car, worked a normal 40 hour week and didn’t have a film production company diverting my attention, I still didn’t attend library programming. Is that the library’s fault? Absolutely not. MCPL DOES have programming that interests me, good collections and services, and hours that suit me. I simply didn’t make the time, then or now. Are all of us 20 and 30-somethings too busy with Life? Has Evil Technology destroyed our ability to interact with one another and sit still for ten minutes without Tweeting or checking Facebook? Was all of the wonder and curiosity which we possessed back in college stamped out of us by the big, mean Real World? Surely not. Attending such programming simply isn’t a priority for me.

I’m curious what others of this demographic think. Are you interested in on-site programs at your public library? Is your library offering such programs? Do you attend them? Why or why not?

The expectations of library service held by 20-30 somethings, to my knowledge, hasn’t been studied much. I applaud Goben for putting this concern on the radar. Check out her blog for more smart writing.

Oh, and yes, I can pay my fines online– and yes, I’m feeling rather smug about it.

Free Library of Philadelphia May Close

Flickr: Philadelphia Free Library HDR by Pixel WorksThe Free Library of Philadelphia, a system of libraries which includes over fifty branches, may be closing on October 2nd due to a “state budget crisis and legislation impasse.” Lights off, doors locked. All 54 locations. The library has already cut staff, streamlined work flows, reduced hours, and shuffled remaining staff in order to try keep libraries open, as reported in the Director’s Testimony to City Council on FY2010 Operating Budget. Some speculate that this announcement is a merely a publicity stunt but give the testimony a skim. FLP has been operating as if under near financial meltdown for at least half a year now,  in spite of a dramatic increase in circulation numbers over the last three years (22.5%) and a 50% increase in the number of library card registrations for teens compared to one year ago.

Without the necessary budget, within a year, the broken windows of these libraries will be boarded, the grounds will be overgrown. We’ll look back and think, yeah, the closing of the Parkway Central Library? That was pretty tragic. But the closing of the smallest branches in the most impoverished neighborhoods of Philadelphia? Catastrophic.

Dear reader, go to your library this weekend. Take family, take friends. Explore the collections: books, movies, music, graphic novels, video games. Check out the library programming and events. Drop in on an open meeting of a local community organization. And then STOP and look around. What is this worth?

Think about it. How much is a library card worth? Estimate your card’s value using a variety of value calculators for various regions (Google keyword search “library value calculator”). My card is worth about $230 per month. For every dollar in taxes, I get a return of about $60. But I mislead you. This number is not an accurate measure of the value of my library card.

Libraries aren’t stuffy, static spaces built to contain collections of THINGS. Libraries are the locus of community intersection and interaction. Books and films are cold, dumb objects on the shelf- until someone interacts with them. IDEAS form. And the really great thing? These ideas are borne out of us. Even after that book or film or CD is returned to its rightful place on the shelf, we take those ideas out into our communities. We might share the idea, the idea gets passed around, tested, modified, and maybe this ideas spawns other ideas. And your world gets bigger.

I don’t know how many of you have worked with underprivileged kids in libraries. It’s rough. The politics, the budget cuts, the apathy- I think just about any librarian who has been there can tell you: we go to work to watch that 12 year-old latchkey kid’s world grow BIGGER.

Aren’t we all feeling a bit close these days? Money is tight. Jobs are scarce. Stress is high. And there are a lot of people on TV talking and yelling. And louder still are their whispers: “It’s hopeless, this mess.” And the people in charge press in closer still. “No, no,” they whisper. And we wake up one morning and we find that our worlds are… smaller.

I realize that there are many battles to choose from these days both nationally and locally (Philly’s budget crisis is much larger than library closures- I’m certain Philly police and fire fighters are writing posts similar to this one for the benefit of their stations, which the city desperately needs to support). Maybe to some, library closures doesn’t seem like a big deal in comparison. That may even be true- if the Free Library of Philadelphia wasn’t the 6th largest public library in the U.S. (23rd largest in the nation, when including academic libraries) with 7 million visits a year. If we allow closures to happen on this scale, then which city library system will be next? What kind of cascade effect can we expect on our local libraries?

While I’m doubtful as to the outcome of aforementioned worthy fights nationally-health care, peace, green energy- THIS fight I know we can win both in Philly and in our local communities.

Residents of Philadelphia, save your libraries. Start here.

As for the rest of us, my fellow Americans, we will vote as we always have- with our plastic.

No interest. No annual fee. Your library card.

Posts that Might Have Been

I didn’t leave enough time to blog today. I was busy dancing among TEI elements and figuring out how the XML editor, <oXygen />, works. Also: eating strawberries, cataloging one or two books, learning about dinosaurs (via cataloging) and doing more research on bird watching iPhone apps.

Things you may have been lucky enough to read, had I made time for it:

  • Parenthood, culture and the media, specifically, not being a parent, since that is the only side of the spectrum I understand (inspired by Qnarf and Star’s recent posts).
  • MORE about my new job including, but not limited to: furniture scrounging in dark corners of the library, window real estate, and the spurning of all things print and print-centered paraphernalia: pencil sharpeners, bookshelves and filing cabinets.
  • How I desperately hope my new plants hang in there!
  • Plans for writing.
  • Plans for reading.
  • Plans for eating.
  • Plans for movie watching tonight (or lack thereof!)
  • How the YouTube video I wanted to include for last week’s interlude was taken down by CartoonNetwork (Henchmen 21 & 24 going active again to the tune of Holst’s “Mars” in Venture Brothers)

Maybe I’ll actually get around to blogging about one of these items before April is out. Today, is blog fail but you’re over it.

E-books, Where are You Taking Us?

At the last Technical Services Department meeting, I heard Executive Associate Dean Carolyn Walters talk about (among other things) the future of libraries and cataloging. She mentioned e-books and how this format may change the publishing industry. Since then, I’ve seen a thread on the AUTOCAT listserv on how to catalog a Kindle- the actual device- so that it may be checked out by patrons for use. I also remember reading about a Northwest Missouri State University pilot project that distributed e-textbooks to students. What does this all mean for libraries and cataloging?

Well, as this article points out, some speculate that there may be a return to serialized novels, in which one chapter is released (and sold) at a time, a la Dickens and Hardy. Does this affect how we catalogers do our work? Maybe not. I can’t see tracking a monograph as a serial [shudder], but if publishers release an important must-have title by chapter, how do we string those chapters together in our catalog? Should we establish series-like headings in 8xx a field? Do we create one title-level record and tack one link for every new chapter (856 40s) and update the 505 contents field to reflect unique chapter titles, authors, etc. if any?

At IU, we don’t have a e-textbook pilot program. We aren’t handing out Kindles or Sony Readers. Our users are interacting with e-books in vendor or publisher platforms. In cataloging e-books, I’ve come across a number of these platforms. Some are user friendly. I like Gale and Wiley. But some are… not so much. I loathe NetLibrary for it’s crappy metadata and it’s clunky interface. Thank goodness IU changed our policy regarding this last vendor (the vendor records are horrible too). Most interfaces are generic and simple to use but maybe a casual user wouldn’t think so. I sometimes wish IU had a universal e-book interface of its own, you know, in my ‘keep dreaming’ moments.

I wonder how else e-books might change the industry. I hope libraries can keep up.

And Then There was Distraction

I’m going through my GoogleReader bookmarks again. Here are a few stuffs I found.

Dirty Librarian Chains. There are quite a few unique-looking necklaces and bracelets (and rings and earings too). They are out of my price range but fun to look at. I like Archive, Due Date, Publication and Source Bracelet in particular but I find others pretty too. A few of the piece names gave me a chuckle, like Sudocs. Clearly, someone in this company knows the library world. It’s probably not a coincidence that the jewelry line’s acronym is DLC, which is also the OCLC library code for the Library of Congress.

Pauline from DCPL's CommonsDCPL Commons. Washington D.C. Public Library recently joined the numerous other libraries now on Flickr’s Commons. They don’t have much up yet, but I expect that to change in the near future. This picture is from the Color Images set. Apparently President Taft had a pet cow.

European Library Web Exhibit. Beautiful old libraries are almost as appealing to me, historically and aesthetically, as the treasures that these buildings house. This site best for the casual browser. There is no search function, which is wildly irritating.  They have a few different indexes: Buildings, Countries, Reading Rooms and Specials (I assume the later refers to special libraries). The display of results in the Buildings index doesn’t seem to be much different than the other indexes, so it’s a bit confusing. Platform faults aside, there are some pretties to be looked at here.

Grow Your Own: Fresh Air. This is a short TEDTalks delivered by Kamal Meattle on how the addition of common household plants can improve air quality in the home and office, improving health, wellness and productivity.

To find other TEDTalks, see this spreadsheet for a complete listing by speaker, title, summary and publication date. Includes links.

This linkalicious post is brought to you by Distraction.

Libraries on the Go (and We’re Losing the Mule)

I need to get this post out early so I’ll have time to prep and relax when I get home for tomorrow afternoon’s interview (wish me luck). This post probably won’t be very well crafted (as if yesterday’s post was well-crafted and meaningful!). There are, however, a few things going on in Library Land that have got me thinking, so permit me to ramble, kind reader.

First, there was news that Washington D.C. Public Library released their own iPhone/iPod Touch app, allowing patrons to search their library catalog. More importantly, the good folks at DCPL released the code under a Creative Commons license so that other libraries could build their own iPhone apps as well (IU, are you paying attention?). I haven’t tried out the app (and, as I’m not a patron, I couldn’t test out the full functionality anyway) but reviews from ACTUAL patrons are fairly positive. Negative reviews came from people who weren’t in the DC area and complained that this app wasn’t useful to them (you don’t say!), which is unfortunate because the app’s rating has gone down as a result. However, these unlucky people may be happy to hear this next piece of news.

OCLC, a worldwide cooperative of libraries, recently tweeted that they have released their own iPhone app, WorldCat Mobile, which allows you to look up titles and check availability in libraries local to you. I downloaded the app and plan to test it more at lunch but quickly: the search works great (in searching KNOWN titles, anyway), however the interface needs a lot of work. The menu options aren’t intuitive and a stupid pop-up kept trying to find my current location, a feature that doesn’t work when I’m in the Tower (Wells Library), even though I already set my location manually. It’s a little frustrating to use but I hope the folks at OCLC take continue to develop this app. A hint to OCLC: hire a programmer who designs Apple apps for a living because while this app is a fair start, it does not look nor function like any other well-developed app I’ve used.

For more info on libraries’ forays into the mobile world, see this February 6th article from Library Journal.

I enjoyed a couple of Heidi Hoerman’s posts at Future4Catalogers’ from a few days ago (I really need to get back to the items I star in GoogleReader a little faster!). One post in particular compares MARC (the standard markup language which libraries use to code metadata) to a mule. Heidi says: it’s time to shoot the mule.

YES! Free the metadata! Don’t get me wrong, MARC served us well in a time well before the internet. In fact, it was probably ahead of it’s time. But now it is very outdated. Our users intensively engage in interweb culture and MARC does not play well with the World Wide Web. It’s time to get away from MARC and I don’t mean by simply converting MARC to XML (although even going over to the Library of Congress’s MARCXML would be a start). No. We truly need to reinvent the containers for metadata with the needs and habits of today’s users in mind, users who aren’t necessarily even stepping through our doors to utilize our services.

I find it amusing that everyone is getting so worked up over RDA (the next generation of guidelines, currently in review, that tells us WHAT to put in metadata containers) when, in the end, whether we’re using AACR2 or RDA, our metadata is not readily shareable using MARC. Forget RDA for the moment and fix the delivery system! Perhaps we should be experimenting with RDF?