or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Archives for Community:


Stay-At-Home Library

   January 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Library in a messy homeLots of great comments on my previous post about emptying the book box on long weekends - thanks everyone. I plan to bring some of those ideas up with my coworkers, but one comment* reminded me of something else entirely. Laura said:

I know this wouldn’t solve all the long weekend/book drop problems, but what about adjusting due dates so that books don’t come due for one or two days either side of a long weekend. [...]

Laura's comment reminded me of an idea I had long ago (and may have mentioned here before) for a community "stay-at-home" circulation model.

The basic idea is that, when someone checks out a book, they just keep it at their house until the next person needs it. They would get their guaranteed loan period (three weeks or whatever), but then when another person put a request on that item, the first patron would be notified to return it to the library - be it in four weeks or two years.

When the item got checked back in by staff, then the second patron would be notified it was ready for pickup at the library, and then that patron would hang on to the item until someone else requested it.

Crazy, right? I could see this working in the case of a library building project (as a way to keep books accessible and in circulation when the actual library itself is closed to the public), or if a small library wanted to maintain a collection far larger than what the physical building itself can hold.

Of course there is always the risk of library materials getting damaged or lost because they're sitting in peoples' homes longer, rather than on library shelves. But really, we take that risk every time we check something out, and I think part of the program would be to educate patrons to know that they are absolutely responsible for the condition and safekeeping of that item, no matter how long they end up keeping it.

It couldn't be mandatory, of course - if someone didn't want library books in their house for seven months, they could bring them back somewhere. But for those that did keep them, the recall notification process would ideally be automated calls/emails, and I don't know if our ILS could even handle such a thing.

Okay, admittedly, this idea has flaws (i.e., you lose your browsing collection, immediate gratification, and the ability to help all those kids that come in the night before their homework is due). I just think it would be such a great way to really involve the community in the library - the library itself would actually exists within the community members' homes.

 


*I like Laura's idea as a way to deal with long weekends, although I'm not sure it would work for us - we don't charge overdue fines, so the people returning books probably are just done with them, and aren't necessarily pushing to get them in under the due date.



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Out With The Old, In With The New

   January 4th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Emptying the Reference AreaThis project has been underway at my library for the last month or two, and the beginning of a new year seems like a very appropriate time to mention it. We are in the process of removing our Reference shelves so we can repurpose the space.

This is a major project for us. It was brought about by two main factors:

  • The community primarily uses my library for popular materials and assistance with projects (homework, hobbies, etc) - hardly anyone does in-library research, so our Reference collection hardly every got used
  • Our patrons are constantly asking to reserve our (single) quiet study room, and we often had more requests for it than we could accommodate

So, we came up with a plan to build three new 8' x 8' study rooms. Big enough for one or two people, but small enough that we could fit more than one into the available space.

To make space for them, we developed a new approach (for us) to our Reference collection. For the last month or so, I've been weeding with these new criteria:

  • Anything that seemed like a reference book and could be easily photocopied - World Book and Encyclopedia Britannica, Farmer's Almanac, Statistical Abstract of the United States - remained "Reference" and will be shelved close to the Reference Desk (more on shelving in a minute)
  • Anything that seemed like a reference book but required more reading is being recataloged with a new "7 Day Loan" designation. These books will circulate for only 7 days (instead of our regular 3 week loan for books), but cannot be renewed or requested by other libraries. The goal here is to make the books more useful to people by letting patrons take them home when needed, but make the circulation rules such that the books will also get back on the shelves quickly and so be available when other patrons or staff need them. Also, very importantly, these will be interfiled on our regular non-fiction shelves, so all information on a subject will be same place*
  • Anything that wasn't pure reference, and didn't seem like something someone would need to lay their hands on immediately, was recataloged as regular circulating non-fiction. There were far more of these than the 7 Day Loan books, which I thought was a good thing
  • Everything else got weeded. I've been wanting to do this for the last few years, so have been slowly deemphasizing the Reference Collection by putting new books as they came in into our circulating collection. As a result, quite a few Reference books could be deleted because we already had newer editions in the circulating collection. Others got deleted because it was a duplicate copy, we had lots of other material on the subject, we had better resources available online, or it was simply outdated (I've been ordering new items as updates). Another criteria was the good old "dust test" - if blowing on the book produced a plume of dust, I took that as a sign that it was not used, and only kept it if I felt it was absolutely vital. This process illustrated how bad of a job I did with regularly weeding the Reference Collection, because we had lots of shelf space to keep things

My goal for this project, in addition to providing study space that our community is demanding, is to increase the usefulness of our entire collection by letting patrons use it the way they want to - at home. Also, by interfiling all of our material, hopefully the "reference" books will get a new lease on life, as many patrons previously couldn't even be enticed into the Reference area - more than once I handed a patron a reference book open to the page that answered their question, but since they couldn't take it home they wouldn't even look at it.

Of course, there have been problems, too. Most notably, we don't have the space on our non-fiction shelves to absorb all of the Reference books we're shifting down there. This prompted major weeding of the circulating collection (which, again, was probably overdue).

Another solution was to pull out discreet subjects and reshelve them elsewhere in the library. The study rooms we're building won't take up all of the floor space in the Reference area, so we're putting in three new index tables and using them as "subject tables." These subjects will be auto repair (629.287), career (331.702 and 650.14), genealogy (929, plus a few other hand-chosen items), and maps (mostly our oversized atlases, but also geography reference like the Columbia Gazetteer). All of the general encyclopedias and other books that are remaining true Reference items will also be on one of these tables.

Another issue has been peoples' concern about how many books we're getting rid of. It certainly has been a lot, and I understand why it might shock some people. But I'm evaluating the entire collection almost on a book-by-book basis, so I have a reason for every decision I made. Like I said above, usually it's because the book is out-of-date or we have enough complimentary materials and don't have room for everything. Again though, if I had been weeding properly all along, it wouldn't be such a monumental task right now.

We're still in the process of weeding, recataloging, and shifting. Construction of the new rooms is suppose to start next week, and everything should be finished by the end of the month. Transition periods are always difficult, but I think once things are finished our collection will be much better and more useful.

Something else that makes me happy is that all of these changes were driven by patron behavior. I'm glad that we can adapt to the changing needs our our community.

 


*Damn you, Oversized Books - you are the bane of my existence. Sadly, much of our recataloged Reference collection is ending up on our Oversized shelves, but that is a project for a later date.



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Alikewise is for (Book) Lovers

   August 24th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Heart shadow in bookIt looks like Alikewise.com has been around all year, but I only heard about it this weekend - it's a dating website that matches people based on the books they like.

This is a great idea for a dating website - it seems a much better way to get at someone's true nature than filling out a profile by guessing what will make you attractive. I checked around the site a bit (without creating a profile), and wonder if there's a way to tie-in with sites like LibraryThing and Good Reads to capitalize on peoples' full libraries. LibraryThing sort of already does this, with their You and None Other meme.

But here's something funny: at my first library, we toyed with the idea of a "singles night" book group. We thought it'd be a perfect program for Friday nights, after work, to come and meet other single people interested in books. It never happened, but I always liked the idea. Maybe that'll eventually manifest in Alikewise meetups.

And wouldn't this be a heck of a social networking widget to add to a library catalog? "Like this book? Click here to meet other patrons that do, too."

via Burlington Free Press (thanks, Carney) and more at NPR



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Where Is A Library’s Community?

   September 29th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Here's an interesting situation - so interesting, in fact, that I find my self in agreement with both sides of the issue.

Concord (NH) Public LibraryThe Concord (NH) Public Library found that it couldn't afford to purchase all the books it wanted. So, it started a program where patrons could purchase and "donate" a copy of a book from the Library's wish list.

Great idea. They explained the program on their website, set up wish lists on Amazon, and waited for the books to roll in. Good use of Web 2.0-ish technology, right? Patrons could just click and pay for the book, and it would be shipped right to the library. Kudos to the library for being creative and proactive and making it easy for the public to support the library in a very useful way.

But after four weeks, only four of the 30+ books on the wish list were purchased.

Gibson's BookstoreLast Thursday, the owner* of the independent Gibson's Bookstore in Concord sent out a message to his customers. He explains very well what he feels the library did wrong, and appealed to his customers to support the local library buy purchasing the books locally. He even created a duplicate click-to-purchase wish list for people to use to donate books to the library.

The result? In less than 24 hours, all of the remaining wish list books were purchased to be donated to the library (which is why the wish lists are now empty).

This benefits the library, right? And it benefits local business, which benefits the tax base and the local workers, and everyone is happy, right? So why didn't the library just do that in the first place?

I wonder: could the library have done anything differently? I think the Amazon wish list was a good idea, but it wasn't successful. I don't know what kind of promotion it got, but perhaps the library's website just doesn't get enough traffic.

Also, the idea of a library partnering with a local business is a bit of a sticky wicket**. Being a non-profit government department, libraries usually cannot do anything that would imply it favors one business over another. But I suppose it would have been okay if the library approached all the bookstores in town - which I think is limited to Gibson's and a Borders, anyway.

This then starts to make the program more complicated and difficult to manage, to make sure patrons don't purchase duplicate books. But by opening the program up to the customers of the stores, the library would have been able to reach more members of the community.

Library communities are not just the people who come through the door, and certainly not just the people who visit the website. When libraries reach out to the community, we have to go to where the community is, and not just wait for them to come to us.

UPDATE: Article and reader comments at the Concord Monitor newspaper

UPDATE 10/1/09: The Concord Library created a second wish list, and distributed it to Amazon, Gibson's and Borders (in-store lists only). That's the best way to get it filled quickly, by distributing it as widely as possible to get the message to the patrons. And then, as Michael from Gibson's says, "It's up to us to convince you to shop at Gibson's--as it always has been."

 


*Full disclosure: the Director of my library is married to the owner of Gibson's.

**I love that phrase.



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