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


NELA2010: Trends in Tech Services

   October 18th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I'm at the NELA 2010 annual conference Monday and Tuesday this week, albeit without wifi or open power outlets in the rooms. As a result, my postings will be few and far between, but this session was a good one:

NELA2010 - Trends Tech Services speakersTrends, Trends, Trends: Innovations in Technical Services, Collections and More

What is going on that is leading us to change the way we work “behind the scenes” in our libraries? The Academic Librarians Section (ALS) and the Association of College and Research Libraries/New England chapter (ACRL/NEC) sponsor Consultants Margaret Lourie and Stephen Spohn to examine issues and trends in technical services, cataloging, and the acquisition and maintenance of physical and virtual collections, e-resources and e-books. Explore the larger issues at work that bring new opportunities to provide more resources to users, make it easier for them to find information they need and do all this more effectively and efficiently.

The Past Environment

  • Libraries are warehouses of information (books/serials)
  • Monopoly on search - they have to come to us and do it our way
  • Information in discrete packaging - silos do not overlap
  • Low user expectation - they get what they needed, maybe, and go away
  • Big building, print collection owned, repository of physical artifacts, you have to come to us
  • Catalog is inventory of what you own (later also what we have access to, or lease)
  • All cataloging and reference work done in-house (sense that it was our duty to catalog the internet)
  • Plenty of staff to do the work
  • Sense of "we know what the patrons need" - relates to what was selected, how it was cataloged, where it was shelved

Work flow was like assembly line

  • must follow the rules in all aspects (TS, reference, circ, etc)
  • patron needs take backseat to process (fear of "doing it wrong" prevents "just doing it right" [according to patron's point of view])

We don't need to throw everything out, but we do need to question the rules to see what is holding us back.

Today's world

  • Information and tools are created on the fly by millions of people and is available instantly (gone is the idea of librarians cataloging the internet)
  • Mix of owned and leased, digital and physical, common and unique, print-on-demand (feeds into instant-info idea - don't need things on the shelf, just print when people want it), ebooks - libraries are going to own less and less of their materials (this is being driven by vendors and shifting business models) - focus must shift to community space
  • Others do search better than us, our job is to help filter, not find (search results are not good enough) - we try to compete, but we're losing
  • High user expectation - patrons want simple, complex choices24x7, personalized, all electronic, and easy
  • Disaggregation of discrete information packages - full-text articles available, aggregated databases and journal sources becoming less important (can buy individual articles, not just entire journal or entire database)
  • Buying books is easier for patrons, because they don't need to keep track of due dates and have library staff make them feel like bad people over $0.25 late fees (use Netflix model - patrons pay a few dollars a month and can keep things as long as they want)
  • Catalog should be directory of what you have access to (not inventory of owned materials)

Environmental factors

  • People are mobile and want to be social
  • Different devices have different capabilities and requirements
  • New role for libraries: foster learning and knowledge, collaboration with community and community service
  • We must constantly respond to changes and trends in technology
  • Bad economy means
    • we need to justify all spending (inherent value is no longer a given - we always try to shield patrons from budget cuts, so how do they know we're in trouble if they never see the blood?)
    • less money for resources
    • we have fewer staff with more work, so we need to maximize staff resources
      • we need to be more efficient
      • eliminate unnecessary tasks (ask yourself, "do anyone care about what I'm doing" for ever task you do)
      • accept "good enough" cataloging (only what patrons need to find information, not exhaustively complete records (for example, patrons/parents want books in a series, and MARC does not do series well - then we should bend the rules so we can provide this service)
    • move work out of the library
    • automate (self-check)
    • accept that we may have to DO LESS

How does all this affect TS

  • Avalanche of new content to deal with - not just owned print anymore, streaming, unique
  • Focus needs to be on user needs
  • multiple metadata schemes
  • Collaborating and contribution

What to call patrons?

  • users, patrons, clients, customers, members?
  • ask them, see what they say - it's all about the relationship

How would we organize libraries from scratch starting today?

  • we collect things - collection development, preservation, resource sharing
  • allow patrons to discover them - metadata (it's not just about us anymore) and discovery, reference and advisory, patron experience, borrowing
  • publish things - user-contributed content, local publications, digital repositories
  • transform - instruct patrons on how to move forward, recombining information

Look at what "summon" search can do (from Serial Solutions)- MARVEL does it. Its "preharvested" search results from designated sources - catalog, databases - better than federated search because it's fast and single search box ("Unified" search).



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Tech Trends from MLA2010

   April 29th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Locked BikeI was at MLA2010 yesterday and participated in a panel discussion of Top Tech Trends (it was good, and if I find the other talks online I'll link to them). The two trends I chose aren't exactly new, but are two things I think will have an impact at the reference desk. They deal with ownership of the resources we offer to the public.

[note: this post might not be news to anyone, but the links from which I drew my information are worth reading]

Trend One: Subscription Databases
This has been a pretty happy segment of the library world for a long time, and libraries probably are familiar and comfortable with subscribing to and offering this kind of content. But in the last couple years, new exclusive deals signed between publishers and database vendors has limited access to many popular periodicals (this also happened last year with Consumer Reports).

EBSCO was the focus of much criticism, but Library Journal reports that the publishers are also interested in exclusive contracts. I don't mean to vilify them, because businesses will always act in their own self-interest. But I couldn't tell what bothered me more: loss of access to these periodicals, or corporate press releases [pdf] saying these contracts were in libraries' best interest - there is a difference between "all libraries" and "libraries that are our customers," which is a distinction database vendors don't seem to make.

We non-customers can't afford to keep buying more and more subscriptions because these exclusive deals demand it, so our patrons lose out. The bottom line is that it took resources away from many libraries, and I'm sure this isn't the end of it.

Trend Two: Ebooks
People might be sick of hearing about ebooks* already. However, since it contains the word "books," there is a natural expectation for libraries to offer them, so you can either jump or be dragged into this discussion.

The problematic trend is that the "e" part of ebooks makes them an entirely different animal from print books. Lots of people are trying to figure out how libraries can offer them to patrons, but ebooks have the potential to drastically change the publishing industry (including a power struggle within the distribution chain), and there's no nice model right now that seems to include libraries.

Another problem (for libraries) is that the two most talk-about ebooks readers (the Kindle and the iPad) are also the most restrictive. Like publishers and database vendors, Amazon and Apple are companies acting in their own self-interest, and what they're interested in is sales. Their tactic to maximize their sales is to control where the customers can get ebooks - which excludes libraries.

At least right now: the same thing was true with the iPod and Overdrive audiobooks - when we initially signed up with Overdrive, they did not work on the iPod (which is what all of our patrons had). Eventually Apple relented, so I'm hopeful they'll also eventually open up the iPad to outside ebook sources.

However, there is a case to be made that the iPad is not designed for reading anyway.

Statistics for the Future
Ebooks are popular, but right now they only account for 2-5% of overall book sales. That seems small, but library sales are about 4%. Ebook sales will definitely grow, whereas library sales probably will not. Since the future of ebooks will hinge on decisions made by businesses, libraries will need to speak up to make sure we have a role in this market.

Bonus Trend: HTML5
Something I forgot to mention in my talk also related to the iPad: watching videos online using Flash might be a thing of the past, because the iPad does not support Flash (per Steve Jobs). Instead, the iPad is looking to HTML5, and so is Google. The most obvious impact will be in Flash-based like Youtube and Hulu, but it's worth reading about HTML5 to get an idea of what the web might look like in the next few years.

 


*I don't know if there is an official style guide for these things, but I decided to always spell "ebooks" the same way I spell "email." If it starts a sentence the first letter gets capitalized, but otherwise it's always all in lowercase, as opposed to eBooks, e-books, etc.



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MLA2010: Black Belt Librarians: Dealing with Difficult Patrons

   April 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Warren Graham teaches how to handle different kinds of difficult patrons, from bad-day-having, irritable, cranky ones to those who may have serious mental health issues and pose a safety risk. Warren will teach you how to:

  • Inform patrons of rules in a way that will most ensure compliance
  • Say "no” in the most effective way
  • Recognize levels of emotion that a patron may have and identify strategies for responding
  • Stay safe
  • Control your work environment

Speaker: Warren Graham, is a nationally recognized trainer and consultant, with 17 years experience as the Security and Safety Manager for the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. He is the author of Black Belt Librarians: Every Librarian's Real World Guide to a Safer Workplace.


The essential elements of library security

Three most important things

  1. Some people feel it is wrong to deny anyone access to a library and its collection, including disruptive patrons. However, by allowing disruptive behavior, you are denying free and comfortable access to the patrons around that disruptive patron
  2. The inmates should not run the asylum (you should be in charge of the library environment)
  3. Librarians deserve respect, and staff should not take abuse from uncivil patrons

Patrons get themselves ejected from the library - the responsibility for acceptable behavior is on the patron. The baseline is that we have rules for library use, people need to follow those rules, or else they can't use the library.

How to make this work (and not get sued or yelled at):

  • An enforcement policy needs to be simple. Patrons need to know it, but staff needs to be able to follow it in a crisis situation
  • Everyone needs to be trained
  • Policies need to be fair, and should accommodate what patrons what to do. Give patrons lattitude, but be clear in the gray areas
  • Treat everyone the same. Kids should not have a different set of rules from the adults

Any library environment can be controlled. Must haves:

  1. Library must have rules (and it should be simple - don't need to have everything written down, ie - don't need a "no prostitution" rule). All you need is a rule that says "No disruptive behavior" and let the activity and behavior - and how it affects other patrons - draw the line.
    A word on "Welcoming Rules" - which sign works better:

    • No cell phones allowed (with cell phone inside of a red-slash-circle)
    • Welcome to the library, for everyone's comfort, please do not use your cell phone in the library

    The first one works better - people just need to know the information. It is clear and concise.

  2. Rules must have enforcement guidelines. If you don't allow sleeping, how many times do you wake someone up before some consequence kicks in. Do they get five warnings before they're kicked out? No warnings? What if you are kicking out the same patron every day? Do they get banned for six months? Staff must be consistent - and they must be backed-up by library management.
  3. When you enforce rules, everyone needs to be treated based on activity, not appearance. Staff need to be careful of language - patrons can hear what they say, so don't refer to patrons with negative or disparaging language
  4. We must be consistent in rule enforcement. Patrons need to get the same story and treatment from all staff. If you don't allow something, never allow it.
  5. Staff need to understand that safety is up to them - not security staff or cameras - and they need to increase their own environmental awareness. Follow 30-30-30: for the next 30 days, stop every 30 minutes, and look around for 30 seconds. Where are you, what can you see, what is happening?
  6. Must have a way to document problems, so trends can be used to justify budgets.
    1. Have an incident report - be simple, accurate and quick: what happened, why you responded the way you did
    2. Use a notebook to record number of times you correct patrons' behavior
    3. Keep a Potential Problem Log: at top of each page, write the patron's name (or accurate [and clean, non-offensive] description) and behavior. On the rest of the sheet, keep track of the date and staff person who have addressed this problem. This helps to follow-up on suspicions, and also keeps staff communicating about the work environment
  7. Have staff training. And then, hold staff accountable.
  8. Have a good relationship with local Police. Make sure they know you have procedures that you follow, and when you call them, you really need them. Also, have contacts at schools, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and other community services.
  9. Most libraries need a fundamental camera system - at least who is coming and going through the door (to see if someone walks out with a child, to record someone's image getting thrown out)
  10. You have to have the right managers in the right positions. You cannot have too-passive managers in a branch with problems. At the same time, managers at the top cannot lose touch with what's going on on the front line service desks
  11. Have a periodic review of policies and procedures, and change them when necessary - and they will need changes from time to time. You can look to other libraries for examples, but no two libraries are the same - location and clientele make a bit difference
  12. For everyone to remain safe, there has to be adequate staffing. No one can ever work alone anymore. If you have security staff, they should be library employees rather than contractors - they will be better trained and more accountable, and understand that library security is totally unique. Security staff should look like an authority figure (with a uniform that fits) and professional, and should be trained in self-defense

In general...

  • libraries that require patrons to log into a computer with a library card and have a time limit
  • libraries that require patrons to be doing something library-related while in the library

...have fewer problems that those that don't.

How to (safely) approach a stranger and get them to comply with policy

Things to remember when telling someone they can't do something in the library (no matter what they're doing wrong)

  1. Approach people with a confident frame of mind. Know your policy, the patron is in the wrong, and you're doing your job by enforcing the policy
  2. Start off nice with patrons, and then get tougher - you can't do this in the other direction. A good way to open the conversation is, "I know you didn't see the sign, but..." You're not there to assign blame, just correct a behavior, and this gives them an out. Also, don't apologize for yourself or for policies - the rule is there for a reason, and apologizing makes it sound like you don't believe in the policy and opens the issue up for debate
  3. Exercise a prudent caution when you approach people - you cannot judge people by their appearance or the situation. It is smart to keep an obstacle (desk, chair, something) between you and an upset patron. Always maintain personal space (your arm's length is the rule), and you never need to touch someone unless you are defending yourself or a child. Never tell someone "no" and then turn your back.
  4. Be ready to be accused of bias, discrimination, or profiling. The patron may have been a victim of bias before, but chances are they are trying to throw you off and get away from the issue at hand. Be confident and follow through, because if you treat everyone the same and follow library policies, you have nothing to fear
  5. Teens are a different case. How to tell a kid "no"
    • Remember most kids are good kids - they just don't know how to act in a library. It is okay to tell them no and give them boundaries (kids get this everywhere else, especially school)
    • Appearances mean nothing with kids - they follow fad fashions
    • What kids can do depends on the physical teen space in the library
    • Many problems are caused by staff's dislike of kids
    • It is good to know the kids' names, but it's hard (perhaps the school can supply a yearbook to put faces to names)
    • Don't give the kids free reign - at least acknowledge them like you would any other patron
    • If necessary, ask them to leave like anyone else

How to approach a sleeping patron:

  • Keep the table between you and them
  • Speak in a soft tone a voice
  • Approach them as if there is a health concern (you don't know if they're in a diabetic coma, passed out, etc.)
  • Do not touch them, but lightly knocking on the table is okay
  • Inform them that sleeping is not allowed, or that their snoring is disruptive (or follow your library policy)
  • If you cannot wake the person, call 911

5 Questions to ask yourself (and to think about while interviewing people)

  1. Am I passive or aggressive by nature?
  2. Am I emotional or a thinker by nature?
  3. Am I introverted or extroverted?
  4. Do I like people? (if your answer is no, you can still work with the public, but you need to know this)
  5. Do I like my job? (people do get burned out)

Last thoughts:

  • Never go outside with a behavior problem, and don't chase people into the parking lot
  • Try not to get emotional with these problems (know who you are, and your ego - ego can be more dangerous than anger)
  • Before you take action against someone, be sure you have the right person

Question and Answers

What do you do when a patron tries to pick up a staff person or gives them too much attention?
Ask the staff person if they feel comfortable telling the patron they're not interested. If not, the manager must say to the patron, "I know you're not aware you're doing this, but you're making [staff person] uncomfortable, and it's keeping her from doing her job." It is then up to the patron to respond, and it needs to be according to acceptable behavior.

At what point do you call the police?
If a patron refuses to leave, or is acting erratically. It is up to you to decide how comfortable you are handling the situation.

What are some techniques to maintain psychic distance from a patron who is always a problem and just their presence puts staff on edge?
The butterflies you feel when you see people like that is a natural fight-or-flight response. When that kicks in, you can tap into mental reserves that you normally don't use. If you can hone in on that extra mental capacity, you will be able to figure what to do in that situation.

Do teens always test their limits, and how do you treat them the same as everyone else?
Teens acting out are often covering up some feeling of inadequacy, so they do deserve an extra warning or two. But if they turn around and be disruptive or aggressive, they should face the same consequences as anyone else. They can have three warnings, unless they're too disruptive and don't deserve it or you can't afford it.

How do you handle kids who scatter to avoid being talked to?
You have to find each one of them and talk to them. And when kicking some one out, they should get kicked out for one day, 30 days, six months. Having too many levels of banishment confuses people.

What about patrons who deny they've done the behavior?
If you know that they've done it, that's good enough for the library. Denial is their tactic to derail you.



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NELA 2009 Annual Conference

   October 15th, 2009 Brian Herzog

The 2009 annual conference of the New England Library Association starts this weekend in Hartford, CT.

I'll be there for just Sunday and Monday, but I'm not sure yet which sessions I'll attend. I'll be blogging again this year, along with other attendees, so check out our notes at http://nelib.wordpress.com. Also, look for Twitter updates with the #nela09 hashtag*.

If you'll be in Hartford, let me know or keep an eye out for me - I have no plans for Sunday evenings and always like meeting people.

 

 


*While searching Twitter to figure out what the hashtag would be, I happened to find @NELAsecrets - anyone know about this? It led to http://nelasecrets.wordpress.com and uses Twittermail for updates (a la @alasecrets and @alasecrets2009). I tried it, but it seems like Twittermail is down and unresponsive. Too bad - I'm full of secrets.

Also while searching, I found another NELA conference - but sadly, we just missed it.



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Reference Dept. Goals for FY10

   June 9th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Dilbert comic about annual reviewsAnother year has passed, which means another round of staff reviews and setting goals for the next fiscal year. Bleh.

In contrast to past years, I was encouraged to be brief. So this years goals are a bit more quantifiable, and a bit less "well, that's part of the job description anyway." You know, the way goals should be.

GOAL #1: Improve access to information resources and library services

  • Weed the reference collection, refine the ref standing order list, and reevaluate how the reference shelving area is used and begin to develop a plan for alternate uses1
  • Work with Tech Services to refine standing order list and evaluate reclassification of subjects to better group similar topics together
  • Continue with staff-assigned sections for weeding, straightening and order suggestions

GOAL #2: Expand and improve the library's technology offerings

  • Work with web committee to migrate website to new content management system2
  • Add more website subject guides to tie together print and electronic resources, and link to expanded offerings of BPL and other MVLC libraries3
  • Work with IT staff towards expanding technology offerings, such as wireless printing and loaning laptops
  • Review current offerings utilizing new technologies, prioritize those needing ongoing maintenance, and document procedures to support maintenance by other staff

GOAL #3: Maintain and/or support web-based resources beyond the library's core collection

  • CommInfo: utilize staff to contact and update organizations every Jan-Feb
  • ChelmsfordVolunteers.org: work with other departments and organizations to keep listings up to date
  • ChelmsfordHistory.org: provide leadership for the Chelmsford History project, coordinating with other organizations and volunteers to locate and index Chelmsford's historical resources
    • Look for ways to better organize and provide access to the library's historical collections, such as the Vertical File, microfilm records, etc.

Admittedly, much of this still falls into the "continuing things we're already doing" category, but that is a large part of my job. And something else covered elsewhere in my review is encouraging all staff to attend at least 5 hours of some kind of training or professional development.

I think it's all doable. I can probably even manage to squeeze in helping patrons at the reference desk, too.

 


Notes:

1. I'd like to interfile the ref books with the circulating non-fiction, and put into the reference area more quiet study rooms or subject tables --Back to Goals--


2. Right now we're using Dreamweaver, but I'd like to see us move to a real CMS - NELA-ITS' CMS Day workshop is this Friday, so yay for good timing --Back to Goals--


3. Patrons like our genealogy subject guide, so I want to make more, incorporating Delicious bookmarks, and also linking to resources at other library to supplement what we offer --Back to Goals--



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NELA2008 Session Highlights

   October 23rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Ethan ZuckermanI was at the NELA 2008 conference this week, and spent yesterday and today going over my notes and trying to get caught up. Lots of good stuff, but here are a few of the highlights from the sessions I attended:

Ethan Zuckerman
If you ever have a chance to see Ethan Zuckerman speak, do it. Not only is he interesting and entertaining, but his work using technology to bridge cultural divides directly relates to what we do in libraries. He also approaches things from a global "big picture" viewpoint, which is a nice change from my generally myopic "what's going on in my community" point of view. I learned a lot from Ethan, both library-related and otherwise - read the complete notes from his "The Internet is NOT Flat" session.

Men in the Library
Being a male, I was curious about Nancy Davis' program called "The Vanishing Male: Guy Stuff That Lures and Hooks." It was a discussion about why men generally use the library less than women, and what libraries can do to attract more male patrons:

  • Men are "seekers" and not "browsers" - they want to go in, get their stuff, and leave. Libraries should have signage that caters to this, and be more open, so men don't have to wander around looking or ask for help
  • Book groups don't work for a lot of men because men don't like "sharing" - to get men to a book group, have it "led" by a scholar or other authority (male book groups prefer non-fiction books), and that way the men feel they're getting something out of it
  • For programming ideas, try anything tool-based, such as "greening" your house, installing solar panels, bike repair & maintenance, etc. Men also like father/son programs, like building a bird house or a "dads and donuts" story time early Saturday morning
  • To get guys to come to programs, promote them in places where guys go: the hardware store, the transfer station, etc.
  • Also, make sure you have men on your staff and on your board of trustees - it's easier to attract males if they feel comfortable in the building, and book displays are more likely to appeal to them if the books are chosen by other guys

NOTE: Keep in mind that most of these are generalizations

Genealogy Core Collection
Cindy O'Neil, a certified genealogist with the Manchester (NH) City Library, explained the resources she felt were essential for libraries to offer their patrons doing genealogical research. Her handout was a bibliography important genealogy resources, and I tried to include as many of them as possible in my session notes on the NELA conference blog. Definitely worth checking out and comparing to your resources.

Of course I got a lot more out of the conference, but these were the things that stuck with me that I wouldn't have gotten if I didn't go. A lot more information on the other sessions are available on the NELA 2008 conference blog.

Update: I don't know how I could have left this out: For people wanting a real hands-on demo of how to very quickly improve their library's website, Lichen Rancourt's presentation on how she converted the Manchester (NH) City Library's website from static to Library 2.0 is a must see. Even while working within the City's content management package (which means these changes apply to any website management tool), she brought the real spirit, vibrancy and interactivity of the physical library to the website. The improvements include a flickr badge, a WordPress blog feed for up-to-date news and information, and an events feed.



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