Monday, December 29, 2008

What libraries should do better -- part 1

1> Marketing and promotion:

The information resources and programs of the library are constantly changing. I learned a couples of nights ago on the local news that the Chicago Public Library has downloadable media for its patrons. One can download books, CDs and videos. The system allows a patron to check out the items for a period and then it can't be viewed on the local system. I have viewed e-books, but I have not found any non-print items that I care to use. The news piece probably started as a news release from the library marketing department.

Libraries must constantly market their resources to additional audiences who currently under use the resources such as: potential new patrons, distance learners, students, and faculty. The image of the library should be an atmosphere where anyone needs information thinks of the library. Market the library's expertise. This is part of the branding of the library.

I just read a comment on AUTOCAT saying that teachers need to encourage library usage. The librarian making the comments was aghast that college students studying to become teachers did not know how to use the library and there are elementary school teachers who are clueless about the role of the library in the education process.

2> Space Issues:

The library should provide spaces that have a combination of seating options and a logical arrangement of service points. The library should have hard and soft chairs; very quiet areas and conversation areas. The space should meet the diverse needs of the patrons and library programs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Perfect Cataloger

AUTOCAT, a listserv for catalogers, recently had a discussion what a cataloger will need to know in 5,10, or more years in the future. I was surprised when Anne Welsh quoted me in her blog:
Daniel Stuhlman’s answer displays concision, comprehensiveness and elegance when he says “The skills of analysis, synthesis, communications, creativity, and thinking out of the box are important for catalogers and most professionals.” (Comment on AUTOCAT. Re: ACRL top 10 assumptions. 17 December 2008 18:23:51)
It's always nice when I get compliments.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Emerging Ideas in Libraries : Negative ideas

The Library is a “stepchild” – misunderstood, under supported, and unappreciated even though the institution pays lip service to the contrary. (i.e. words don't match actions)

The Library as a building – needs cleaning, repair, or renovation

The Library’s space is too small or not adequately configured for the tasks required

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What is the Hebrew Word for Cataloger?

Last week when someone asked me about a Hebrew word, I thought the answer would be easy to find in a dictionary. It wasn't. The latest Librarian's Lobby traces the roots of the English and Hebrew words for library and librarian.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Emerging Ideas in Libraries: Positive ideas

The Library is :

  1. A student or patron meeting place
  2. A place with the resources to help students, faculty, staff, or members of the community
  3. A hub for students to visit
  4. A place that supports learning, knowledge, and history
  5. A source of information
  6. A vibrant cool place
  7. A “comfort zone”
  8. A quiet place
  9. A repository of books, data and information
  10. A place for scholars and neophytes
  11. The Library staff members are helpful people, offering assistance, and are good co-workers

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Counter productive? 1

Why do people shoot themselves in the foot? Or this could be the next installment of "Where is the sechel (common sense)?"

In college I hated to write tests in those little blue books. I wondered how in the world a professor had the eyes and the energy to read handwriting. My handwriting was not great. No matter how hard I try, I can not write long hand for very much time. I even got permission one time to bring a portable typewriter to a test. (It was before the days of personal computers.)

As a professor now, I would not accept anything that was not typed with the help of a word processing program and spell check.

So -- Tell me why a company has a job application on line that one can not fill in on the screen. That company has a PDF file with the application on their website that one must download, print, and fill in by hand. To set up a PDF file that one can fill in is just a change in a setting. There is no extra work in the set up. The company could save the applicant and the people reviewing the application lots of time. Also this could be a legal issue. What if someone has a disability and can not write this kind of application? The disability could be a sore thumb that has nothing to do with job performance.

Then there is application that is entirely on line. An applicant fills in a form on line that gets parsed and digested, but does not allow the applicant to show his/her essence.

Sehel seems to dictate that process should be designed to waste as little time as possible and achieve maximum results.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


An informal survey of college librarians found librarians are salaried and do not receive over time pay. There are wide variations in working time and expectations. Some are required to fill in exact time sheets; some are not. Some have the flexibility to arrange their working hours and some don't. Some places seem to have rules that are counter productive to balancing work and life. They may get extra pay for teaching a class or for an assignment above and beyond their normal responsibilities.

"Being a professional means that you aren't just putting in hours on the job, you are paid to perform a service." Suzanne M. Stauffer, Ph.D. Louisiana State University.

Librarians are educators. Parents, teachers, educators, managers, and leaders are supposed to set good examples. This my principle of
teaching by example. Professionals are supposed to not only talk, but look and act the part. I tell my students that it is our job to smile and be helpful even when you are having a lousy day.

Reference Service Management Issues 1

The business model for a library is not the same as a business; we can not move people, objects, and information at a pace like a manufacturing company or retail store. We do not receive direct payment for service. We can not easily measure productivity. We may not even know when we have succeeded. Even so, we mush not forget that the reference desk is a point of customer service. Customers, patrons, users or any other name we use for people requesting our services are more demanding of quick answers than in the days before computers, but the mechanism of learning has not changed. Wisdom still requires the gathering, assimilation and analysis of data and information.

The reference manager as any teacher, parent, or business manager must be aware that there are individual learning styles of both their staff and patrons. Some people need greater detail than others. While we all learn with all our senses, some people favor information visually while others favor hearing. Some people never learn until they have multiple stimuli. Because of this service delivery models change must keep pace. The reference desk is a point of personal contact, but other contacts may be online, phone calls, chats, lessons, and documents.

Staff must be able to take on new roles from the traditional print based services. Change is continuous and improvement is always possible. Staff must address new needs, leverage technology, and still be friendly and helpful. All this helps to maximize resources of all kinds including staff, collections, and physical space.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bean Counters and Librarians

I did an informal survey of working hours for librarians. There is an interesting trend with those who reported. In general librarians work 35-40 hours per week and are exempt from overtime. They are considered management, professional, faculty or some combination. In smaller libraries they are more likely to work longer hours and have more varied duties. Some libraries gave comp time when the librarians work in excess of their scheduled time. Some said they just work long enough to get the job done; which may be 32 hours or 50 per week. Very few of the librarians report an enlightened or flexible schedule One reported that clerical staff could not make up time. If they came in 2 minutes late they would need to take vacation time and could not even make it up.
I am sure that those who control the budget want to make sure there is no abuse of the system. Sometimes the "bean counters" make rules that lack common sense.

In the
Dec. 9 online version of the Chronicles of Higher Education, they reported that professors in the history department at the University of Montana at Missoula were told the long distance phone calls would no longer be paid for. Travel expenses were reduced to $350 per year and when the toner ran out for the copy machine they could make no more copies. What are those students thinking about the uses for their tuition? The university is being foolishly frugal.

Some of the libraries have no time sheets; while others had to account for every minute. When I worked for the State, we had time sheets, but hours were flexible. If we scheduled our time with our supervisor our hours could be from 7 am to 8 pm. Most people were gone by 5 PM. But sometimes I needed to perform tasks after hours and I stayed until 7 or 8 one day per week. The other days I left before 4:30. My boss started at 7 and left at 3 or 3:30.
This was possible because very few people in the agency dealt directly with the public. An enlightened policy of work would allow flexibility both to serve the needs of the institution and the individual. There would be core hours that full time people would be expected to be on the job except if the job was nights and weekends. Beyond a certain limit overtime would be compensated with money or time.

What should be reasonable for a professional to work? In any institution that serves the public, someone must be "on duty" at the door, the desk, etc. The people not facing the public have more flexibility. The funding agency needs to balance institutional needs and individual needs. One time I was scheduled to keep the library open until 8 pm. I was the only staff member there. One day I really couldn't stay that late. I arranged to switch hours with another librarian. 4 o'clock came and she
didn't come in. She didn't answer her phone or cell phone. 6 o'clock came and still no one knew what happened to her. The library director said that it she didn't come in I was to close the library early because I had made an approved arrangement. Luckily another librarian was able to stay until 8, but we didn't hear from the first one until the next day. She had forgotten about her schedule for that day. It is nice that someone could be flexible even if only a few people in the public would have been affected. People need a work-life balance, but also realize that your actions affect others. Working 50 hours a week without additional compensation is not fair to the individual. Missing your scheduled hours is not fair to the rest of the staff.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The printer won't work

One of the common areas of questions the library staff concerns getting help with computers, printers and copier use. Most of the time the staff knows the answer because we had dealt with the problem many times. I was not a participant in this incident; only an observer. A library user whom I call "M" in this story came to the circulation desk demanding, "I want my money back." A student assistant ("SA" in this story) answered, "Excuse me, may I help you?"

M: The printer won't work.
SA: What's wrong with the printer?

M: I can't get it to print my stuff from Blackboard. I want my money back.

SA: I'm sorry it won't print. Did you lose money?

M: I put $5.00 on my printer card. I want my money back.

SA: Did the printer take your money and not print?

M: I can't even sent to job to the printer. I never inserted my print card. I just want my money back.

SA; Perhaps you should go downstairs to the printer lab? They have staff who can better help you. I can't give you your money back.

HC: May I help you? M: I want my money back?
HC: Did you lose any money?
M: I can't get the file to print from Blackboard.
HC: I'm sorry I don't have the ability to refund your money. Once your card has a stored value, that is yours. There is no way to refund the money. Did you try the computers downstairs?

M: NO!!! Who is in charge?
HC: I'll see if he is available.

LD: What is the problem?
M: I just want my money back.
LD: What program were you using?
M: I was trying to get a PowerPoint file to print from Blackboard. I need it for my class now.

LD: The library computers are for research. They don't have PowerPoint installed on them. The computer lab downstairs has computers for you to use. Those computers have PowerPoint. You can use your printer card there.
M: How do I get there? Could you show me how to get there?
LD: She wanted me to stand over her and make sure the pages printed out. I refused and came back.

M managed to get everyone annoyed. Everyone who encountered her was glad she was gone. This woman waited to the last minute to complete her assignment, then got everyone annoyed because she did not listen to the solution.