Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Searching strategies

We can't be everything to everybody. Last night several readers asked for materials that we didn't own. One person needed help searching for the term: henological reduction. You are probably wondering what the word "henological" means. You are not going to find it in most dictionaries. It was coined by Henry Dumery for use in the proof of God's existence. He defines the term as: "the inferior receives from the superior the means to be what the superior is not." (Dumery, Henry.
The Problem with God in the Philosophy of Religion. Evanston, IL : Northwestern, 1964 p. 89.) This definition is far from that offered by the Oxford English Dictionary -- "The belief in one god as the deity of the individual, family, or tribe, without asserting that he is the only God." One does not have to understand the nature of this rather obscure argument to help the reader. The reader wanted to know why a particular Jewish text web site did not have any information on the concept. The quick answer is either the makers of the web site didn't include any information or the query was not properly formulated.

To check for good search strategy the reader asked for reference help. Since the term is rare Google searches on the web, books, and scholar produced few results, but they were helpful. A search using Jstor retrieved: "Being and Some Theologians" by O. C. Thomas
The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 70, No. 1/2 (Jan. - Apr., 1977), pp. 137-160, reference found on page 156. This confirmed the concept is not a Jewish concept and therefore unlikely to appear on a site with Jewish texts.

Another reader wanted travel books for the Middle East. This was beyond the scope of the collection since we don't have courses that would need these kinds of books. The public library does have a large number of travel books because traveling people frequently need these books. However, a check of the Chicago Public Library catalog found one possible book, but it was dated 1996. A check of books for sale at Barnes and Noble showed many that would help this reader.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In the next ten years -- What should libraries do better?

1) Evaluate
-- In order to improve on services, physical plant, and collections, the evaluation and investigation process must be continuous. Sometimes the evaluation must be formal using surveys and sometimes the evaluation may be informal or anecdotal. One must listen to the needs of readers, staff, and community. The evaluation process identifies areas that are worthy of praise, areas in need of fixing and ideas that should be shared.

2) Improve -- The result of the evaluation and investigation is improvement. People and buildings need to improve to better seem the public. Planning and anticipation is part of the improvement process. Sometimes the systems need to be fixed before they get broken.

3) Emphasize -- Figure how the best way to deploy resources. Find the right balance of information resources to store, retrieve and use.

4) Remain aware of the mission -- Libraries are portals of information. Define what your library is and what it is not. Stay on your mission so that your staff and your public understand your message. Don't shy away from the mission of supplying information on the many sides of an issue. Libraries are valued assets of the community, but they should not advocate ideas that are beyond information. Recreational reading, encouraging reading and understanding of the world, promoting the cultural treasures are all part of the mission. Encouraging religious dialog and curing the ills of society are better left to other agencies and crusaders.

5) Learn -- Never stop learning. Continue to examine professional and scholarly literature for new ideas and evaluation of research. Learn from other libraries and colleagues about their best practices and what does not work. Never stop searching for excellence. Don't be satisfied with coasting and mediocrity because there is always something to learn.

All of these areas will help the organization be better today and in 5 or 10 years.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

What libraries should do better -- part 4

Concerning Personnel

Hire and keep the right people to get the work done. In order to hire the right people, one needs to not only know the tasks to be done but also how to recognize the skills and potentials in the candidates. Many advertisements ask for candidates with experience. One time I saw an ad for an IBM System 400 hardware system that requested 5 years experience. The problem with the request was that the system was only one month old. Employers want the new employees to hit the ground running, but forget that even with the best education, there is much to learn. I taught a class in cataloging. During the semester the students cataloged fewer than 10 items. Most catalogers do more than 10 items during a half day of work. There is no way a student can get the wide variety of materials to make them experts before that first job. Most libraries want catalogers who know more the rules and their application. Library of Congress takes the view that they can teach cataloging more easily than teaching subject knowledge.

The skills of analysis, synthesis, communications, creativity, and thinking out of the box are important for catalogers and most professionals. These skills are difficult to measure in a one hour interview. Managers need to look for the potential in employees.

Excellence -- Strive to create an atmosphere of excellence. Everyone on staff from the youngest student assistant to the president, CEO and 30 year veterans need to look for ways to be excellent at what they do. Mediocrity has no place in the organization.

Training -- To continuously strive for excellence, the staff must get training to better use current equipment and tools and acquaint them updated with emerging systems, ideas and technologies.

Value -- Make employees feel valuable and encourage positive change. Reward and recognize staff contributions. Rewards are not just monetary. Say "thank you" and mean it as often as possible.

Smile -- Wear a smile and look professional at all times. I tell everyone wearing a smile and dressing professionally are part of the job. Just as a person on stage presents an image, the staff must present the proper image to everyone they meet.

Triumph of the Readers

While visiting a friend on Saturday afternoon, I was shown an article from last Friday's (January 16, 2009) Wall Street Journal, "The Triumph of the Readers : The markets may be down, but fiction is on the rise" / By Ann Patchett, (on line: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123214794600191819.html)
the author of seven books, including her novel most recent novel, Run ( Harper Perennil, 2008)

Patchett gives us the good news, children and adults are reading more fiction. She remembers reading some books as child or student just because they were forbidden. It was a secret pleasure to read
Valley of the Dolls. Only after reading it did she find out that it was not recommended because it was badly written not because it was "dirty.". Patchett and others say that reading even poorly written books is better that not reading at all. If someone reads a bad book today, some time in the future they may read excellent literature. If they don't read today, they won't read tomorrow.

One of the hardest assignments students get in high school or even in college is to read a book for the fun of it. When students come to the library and ask for help with this assignment, I know they never thought of reading for pleasure. I try to ask what they are interested in. Sometimes they say a book with lots of pictures because they just don't want to read. Sometimes I get them to say an activity such as sports. Eventually I hand them a book almost as an assignment from me, and they say, "ok" or "thanks." I sometimes hear back after they read the book. Almost all liked the books I handed them. They still need encouragement to believe that reading can be recreational. In my mind, I hope they will come back and choose another book for recreational reading without my help. Recreational reading and reading for academic research both help the reader understand the world. I do assume that the majority of the library patrons who want a book for recreational reading don't even both to ask.

E-books and other electronic research tools are great for academic research. The library extends its reach with the communication tools at our disposal, but tools alone do not make us a nation of critical readers. Printed books replaced handwritten manuscripts because of the cost of production. Printed books allowed more people to enjoy reading. However, a few handwritten works are still produced. Paperbacks cost less than hardcover books, but they did not replace them. Paperbacks just allowed more people to be able to afford books. Electronic books and articles are less expensive to make and distribute than printed books. Print and electronic media will continue to exist because they address different needs.

One important benefit of reading is that it encourages writing. Well written books and articles teach only their content, but also how to communicate. Communication skills are among the most important skills to be able to get along with others.

[Sidebar -- In economics electronic media are "magic goods." That means they are neither consumable nor durable. The cost of the production does not change with the number produced and the inventory is always infinite. Insurance policies are another example of "magic goods."]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What libraries should do better -- part 3

3> Be more digital.

Share online content. Every exhibit that draws on institutional information or resources should be made available electronically through a website for viewing and downloading. Integrate print, non-print and digital information. Share documents meant for internal use only through a secure website. Share other documents for patrons and other librarians for information and educational purposes.

4> Provide more electronic resources.

Education and recreational resources such as electronic books are available. Some libraries now offer electronic downloads of audio and video materials. The downloadable materials are checked out like books and automatically returned at the end of the load period. The reader does not have to visit the library in person. Electronic books are useful for research and recreational reading when the reader can't get to the library. The library also saves on shelf space and the time needed to return books to the shelves. Offer full text data bases saving the patron time and saving shelf space in the library. Reach out through partnering with other libraries or schools. Join the local library co-operative.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What libraries should do better -- part 2

1> Make it easier to ask questions and get answers

Provide what it is patrons, students, faculty and staff need when they need it. If it isn't fast and easy, patrons will go elsewhere. The goal should be to provide information on a timely basis. In order to provide answers the circulation, reference, or information desks must look approachable. Both the people and the physical features must look approachable.

2> Create new reasons to encourage patrons who don't come in the door to visit the library in person or electronically.

Reach out to a larger community. Members of the community are the ones who pay the bills even if this payment is indirect. Give the community reasons to want library services. Don't wait until they ask for help, offer it. In addition to electronic resources, a great building, and programs, do something outside of the box. Examples are: offer to visit classes or other places outside of the library building

Monday, January 12, 2009

Remembering Aunt Evie

Remembering Aunt Evie (Evelyn (Stuhlman) Bierman)

(My aunt, passed away on January 7. This is a version of the remarks I prepared for her funeral)

When I was growing up couples who were celebrating their 25th or 50th wedding anniversaries were given a bracha on Shabbat morning. After that bracha if there was a couple getting married soon, the rabbi said the veteran married couples were setting the example.

Aunt Evie set the example. She had seven sibling, including one who died before she was born. She is the last survivor of her sibling. She is the last of her generation. As I was preparing these remarks I talked to my sisters and they have totally different remembrances of Aunt Evie. He got married when I was seven years old, however, I don't remember the wedding. I know I was there because I'm in the photographs. My first vivid memories are visiting her in Moberly. MO as an eight year old. I went with Marla, who was two years younger, by train. I still find it hard to believe that my parents let us go on a three hour train ride without an adult. Marla wore white gloves and we acted like seasoned travelers. We went to Moberly once a year for several years. We got to know Aunt Evie and Uncle Ralph's neighbors, family and friends. They lived in a small house on a hill on a huge lot. We couldn't even see the street from their windows of their house. They took us swimming at their country club and shopping downtown. Downtown was close enough to walk from their house. I really don't remember much else about the visits.

Rissa remembers going on the train with cousin Lisie and once with cousin Leah. They, too, wore white gloves to go downtown. They sledded down Aunt Evie and Uncle Ralph's big hill. Rissa also remembers driving to Moberly for Thanksgiving and soon as we got there Aunt Evie would have chopped liver and crackers for us.

Aunt Evie and Uncle Ralph came to St. Louis at least two times a year that I remember-- Yom Kippur and Pesah. Aunt Evie and Uncle Ralph came to St. Louis at least two times a year that I remember-- Yom Kippur and Pesah. Aunt Evie’s job was the make the salt water for the sedar plate. The salt water needed the ratio of salt and water to be exactly right. The seder guests even complemented her on the solution.

After Uncle Ralph retired they moved to St. Louis to be closer to family. In our later years one can afford to take the time to be with people, learn, and practice the wisdom developed over the years in the “rat race.” Retirement is in some ways the Shabbat of our lives. Retirees are able to rest body and soul giving one the opportunity for growth in knowledge. Uncle Ralph liked to tell us about the community college courses that he so much enjoyed. I don't remember Aunt Evie taking or talking about courses. However, Aunt Evie wanted everything in order. Meals had to be on time and with the table exactly set. She taught us manners and derech eretz. She even visited our home in Chicago a few times. She even volunteered to take on some of my worries. Hopefully, we learned from her that fields and flowers are far more beautiful than ever before. Every holiday, every regular day we will remember that for Aunt Evie her family and community were important. She always sent a card or called on birthdays to all her nieces and nephews. She was at an age that she though long distance calls were only for special occasions or sad news. I called her a few times just to say hello.

Aunt Evie never liked to think of herself as old – and that's how Rissa remembers her, vibrant and active – walking through Cosco with Gavin before Naomi's bat mitzvah – the two of them on a search for chocolate cake.

Since she never had children we will have to be her legacy.

Web Updates

I updated the web pages with books for sale today. The updated pages are:

Judaica -- http://home.earthlink.net/~byls-press/BYLS_Book_sale1.htm
General -- http://home.earthlink.net/~byls-press/GenBooksForSale.htm