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


Calculating the Value of a Community’s Library Use

   November 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

817 on a calculator spells LIB upside-downThis year while we were compiling all of my library's FY11 statistics to report to the state, it occurred to me to try something new with them.

Since everything we tally up for the state report is how much each library service get used, I thought I'd put all those totals into the Library Use Value Calculator - this then, in theory, will show how much value the entire community gets from using the library (instead of just using the calculator on an individual level).

Here's how things broke down*:

Total
Community
Use
Library Materials & Services Value of
Total Use

$


$

So at retail prices, the entirety of our activity last fiscal year should have cost our patrons a staggering $12,371,068.30 - over twelve million dollars. The library's total budget is about $1.5 million. So, by funding and using the library, our community saves about $10.5 million dollars a year.

I think that pretty clearly spells out the value of public libraries. Hopefully we'll be able to work this into some marketing materials to make the case of why our (meager) budget is important to the community.

 


*A couple notes on the figures:

  • Interlibrary Loan Requests I think includes all of our network transfers within our consortium
  • I was surprised ebooks was so low, but our Overdrive stats show that downloadable audio is still far more popular than ebooks (of course, ebooks are still new to us, so we're still building that collection)
  • The state report has a single line for "Periodicals" - so I put that into the Magazines box in the calculator, and left Newspapers empty
  • The state report groups all "CD" usage, so our audiobooks and music CDs are combined under Audiobooks, and I left CDs empty
  • I left Meeting Room Use (per hour) empty, and am just replying on the attendance numbers - the per hour use is more individual and doesn't really scale out well to the community level
  • I didn't have a total for Database Searches, so the number there is the number of times our databases were accessed (as opposed to searched) - which, again, makes more sense for the community level rather than individual level


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On Google+ and the Role of Social Networks

   July 5th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Last week I received an invitation to join Google+ (Google's version of Facebook). I don't use Facebook and don't entirely trust Google so I won't be creating an account, but it did get me wondering: does the internet need another Facebook?

Usually when I'm online, I'm looking for an answer to a question or a solution to a problem. To visualize that process, and hopefully provide some context for a new social network, I came up with this Venn diagram that identifies the available various pools of people...

Venn Diagram for finding answers online

Based on this, it seems like Google+'s goal would be to make the green circle bigger - but I don't think that's what happens. Closed networks, like Facebook and (I presume) Google+, at best only make their portion of the green circle bigger, but often don't even make it into the green circle at all*. This can actually make it harder to find answers, as homopholy might keep us using the most convenient resource, instead of the most appropriate one.

The important thing to remember is not to rely on one tool for everything - closed-loop social networks are good for keeping in touch with friends, but open forums like Ask Metafilter, Ask Slashdot, or Quora are better for non-social answers (but okay for those, too).

So with that, the question is: is Google+ a better way to keep in touch with friends? It seems like the answer would be "no" if the critical mass of your friends are already on Facebook (and unlikely to switch, or unlikely to maintain both). But from initial reviews (also this), it sounds like Google+ has some cool ideas, so its real impact might be gauged by how quickly Facebook adopts the best features.

And the next question is: have any libraries started using Google+ to connect with their patrons?

 


*Note that one of the qualifiers is "people who know what they're talking about" - a social network might make it easier for me to get my question out to people I know, but it doesn't help if no one I know knows the answer to my question (which might just indicate that I socialize with the wrong people).



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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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An Evening of Radical Reference

   November 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Radical Reference logoI'm often embarrassingly late to hear about things, and I think this is another example. Last Friday I went to a presentation by Boston Radical Reference Collective librarians held at sprout & co in Somerville, MA, sponsored by Artists in Context.

I had no idea what to expect. I thought I had heard of Radical Reference before, but I wasn't sure.

Turns out, this event was great. The Radical Reference librarians explained that, among other things, they are a group of librarians trying to do real grassroots community outreach. Instead of holding a program in a library and hoping people come, they contact different organizations in the community and visit them with a specifically-tailored presentation to suit their needs.

But best of all, this isn't affiliated with any particular library - it's just volunteer activist librarians who feel outreach and information literacy is important.

Friday night the presentation covered online research tools available for the artist community. The Radical Reference librarians had created and showed off a subject guide, but most of the evening was back-and-forth discussion. There were about forty people there total, and many in the audience were random librarians like me. Artists would ask questions or state a particular need, and after the presenters provided information, the rest of us would chime in with additional resources from our experiences.

After the presentation, there was time for mingling and trying to match those of us with research interests and skills with the artists who needed some insight. It was really great, I think, for everyone - artists, the groups involved, and even I had a good time (which is rare for me in a room full of strangers). I'm definitely going to look into Radical Reference to see how else I can get involved - their website has both a volunteer interest form and a list of local collectives.

Also, for what it's worth: I'm heading to Ohio for Thanksgiving with my family, and so won't be posting again until next week. Happy holidays.



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Community’s College Library

   October 7th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Now that the new television season has started, I've been watching Community again - a show about a group of adult students at a community college.

The way they worked Twitter into the new season was brilliant, and while I was checking out @oldwhitemansays and the other characters' accounts, I stumbled across the website created for the campus library - complete with rotating banner:

Greendale Community College banner

NBC has the official website, but they also created one for the fictitious Greendale Community College, complete with a page for the campus library - they even have a (fairly realistic) food and drink policy:

Please remember that the library is a communal place for all GCC students, faculty and staff. Please discard all trash when leaving a study area. And, due to frequent misuse, all window blinds must be left open or raised. Prepare accordingly.

While conversing with your fellow colleagues is natural, we ask you to please keep the noise level to a minimum in respect to others that are studying silently.

Food and drinks, with the exception of closed water bottles, are strictly forbidden in the library. However, they are allowed, within reason, within the study room walls only. Librarians will be walking around and monitoring the floors during working hours. If you are asked to discard of food or drink, please do so quickly and regretfully, as it is for the protection of our books and materials. No exceptions will be granted.

It's impressive they put the extra effort into creating this, but it also makes the show more fun. And yay for a relatively positive portrayal of a library in prime time.



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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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