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


Why Support Your Local Library Infographic

   August 22nd, 2012 Brian Herzog

One of the creators of the infographic below sent it to me saying,

I worked closely with the ALA and IMLS to create this infographic about "Why support your local library?" We are using this to drum up support for volunteers, donations and legislative actions.

I like that it addresses the counter-intuitive notion that during a bad economy, library budgets need to be expanded because we get so much busier. It's a hard sell, even with the statistics to back it up.

Update 9/12/12: a data error was found in the original infographic, and this version has been updated.

Support Your Local Library infographic

Thanks Dan.



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Bloglines is Back(ish)

   November 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Trojan Horse replicaAfter it was announced in September that Bloglines was shutting down (although Chris knew better), I sadly and reluctantly started testing replacements. So you'd think that the recent announcement that Bloglines will continue after all would send me tearing back, right?

The answer, actually, is no - and I think there's a lesson in there for libraries.

When Ask.com announced they were ending Bloglines, that's what they said - service will be terminated. They didn't say they were looking to spin it off, or really give its users any obvious signs of hope. The deadline extensions implied they were exploring ways to continue the service, but my feeds were too important to me to sit around and hope.

After evaluating a few alternatives, I switched to Netvibes. And now that I've invested a month tweaking it and getting comfortable with it, the idea of switching again - even back to something "familiar" - is just not appealing and I'm not going to do it.

I say "familiar" after reading about the future plan for Bloglines - fewer features and more ads. To me, this indicates a shift in focus, from "user as customer" to "user as product" (meaning, "what's good for me" versus "what's good for them") - which gives me zero incentive to use it anymore*.

So, I think the moral of the story also applies to libraries:

  • If you have something successful (like a storytime, newspaper column, podcast, Sunday hours**, book group, etc.) that has to be temporarily interrupted, make sure people know they can count on it coming back
  • Don't be gone too long, because in the meantime people will find alternatives and might not be there when you're ready to welcome them back (communicating reminders and updates is a good idea)
  • Don't open up room for doubt - say what's going to happen, and then do it. If anything changes, let people know (again, communication is key). Once trust is lost it's tough to recover, and it's far easier to keep supporters than it is to win them back
  • And when you do come back, make sure you're still offering what it is that people liked in the first place, and not just something that suits you better

My gosh, why is this all sounding so bitter? I'm really not, I promise. I just think this is a good cautionary tale on how easy it is to lose support - and support is everything to libraries.

 


*Incidentally, this is, as I see it, exactly the business model Facebook uses (and exactly why I don't use Facebook). All the ways Facebook's users' privacy is violated can be traced back to it - the more information about you they sell to advertisers, the more money they make. Facebook's customers are its advertisers, and Facebook users are the product.

**Sunday hours might be a bad example - we could be open only even-numbered Sundays in odd-numbered years when the temperature is greater than the square root of 1764, and we'd still be busy.



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Talking Tech

   September 22nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

tech support manNew technologies are constantly becoming more integrated into how libraries perform their core functions. As this evolves, staff (and patrons) of all experience levels need to be able to communicate, but this is often difficult and problematic.

Enter Roy Tennant's recent The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology post (via LISnews). It's a good start to getting people unfamiliar with technology to start thinking about technology in realistic terms - it's not something to be afraid of, it's a tool (and even tech people don't know everything). All of his 10 tips are helpful, but #5 is key:

  1. Iterate, don't perfect. Librarians seem to love perfection. We don't want to put any technology out for the public to use until we think it is perfect. Well, we need to get over ourselves. Savvy tech companies know the path to success is to release early and iterate often. One of the major benefits of this is that your users can provide early feedback on what they like and don't like, thereby providing essential input into further development. Do not be afraid of a "beta" or "prototype" label -- people are now accustomed to such, and it can provide the necessary "cover" to being less than perfect.

But this is not new. Roy's post reminded me of two other articles I had seen last year Computers in Libraries:

These two are more focused on how front-line staff can become more comfortable doing their own tech troubleshooting. But best of all, by raising their comfort level and tech competencies, conveying problems to the dedicated tech support (whether internal or external) should also improve.

Naturally, these two articles overlap a bit on the tips that are most important:

  • Make sure the power is on to all components (if not, turn it on and see if that fixes the problem)
  • Make sure all the cables are plugged in and connected firmly (feel free to unplug and plug back in the cables
  • Try rebooting - that works more often than you'd imagine

But also important are the areas in which they don't overlap. The Singer Gordon/West article provide excellent tips on basic tasks anyone using a computer should (but might not!) know. And the Ennis article focuses more on how to avoid more serious problems, identify them when they happen, and then communicate important information to tech support.

My favorite sentence of all three articles comes from Lisa A. Ennis's article, in which she reminds tech support staff that the entire burden doesn't rest with the front-line staff. Her personal philosophy as a systems librarian is:

I'm not here for the technology. I'm here for the people.

That is key. Example: an email system that delivers no spam but sometimes blocks legitimate messages is not a good email system.

Technology is not a one-person game. Everyone uses it, so everyone has a role to play in making sure it works correctly - and that it is serving the mission of the library.



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Tech Support Cheat Sheet

   August 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

You may have already seen this, as it was published a few days ago (which on the interwebs is like being over 30), but it is so true that I had to share. And add XKCD to your feed reader.

tech support cheat sheet



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With Friends Like These

   May 5th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Support The Library car magnetA few months ago, I mentioned that our town budget, and subsequently my library, were facing major cutbacks. Thanks to our Friends of the Library group, the library's situation has improved dramatically.

The Town Manager's original budget proposal included cuts that would have crippled the library, because we would have lost our state certification - and thus the ability to participate in reciprocal borrowing, use resources paid for by the state, etc.

In response, our Friends group mobilized, big time. They started email and letter campaigns to get people to write to the Town Manager expressing their support of the library. They set up a table in the library to collect signatures to a petition, which was staffed by Friends volunteers for weeks. They posted an open letter on their website, along with a funding FAQ detailing our situation.

And it paid off. Their efforts prompted thousands of people to write or sign the petition - pretty significant in a community of 32,000. In fact, staff at Town Hall said they've never gotten this much public input on an issue before.

When the Town Manager's amended budget was released, library funding was restored to the level where we'll at least qualify for a state aid waiver - which means we wouldn't lose certification. This budget was voted on - and approved - at the Town Meeting last week, and that is good, good news for the library.

So thank you, Chelmsford Friends of the Library. This shows why Friends groups are important, and how dedicated volunteers can shape their community.



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Help From Above

   October 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

MA Libraries license plateLibrarians are not alone.

Many libraries are part of networks, consortia, or regional system. And even for the independent libraries, there are still state libraries and state and national library associations that can provide guidance or support to the librarians in the trenches.

Recently, two projects were launched to benefit librarians at a local level, and both projects were started by a support organization.

Massachusetts Library License Plates
The Central Massachusetts Regional Library System (CMRLS) is working with the MA Registry of Motor Vehicles to make a "Massachusetts Libraries" license plate available to the public. Details (and a promotional bookmark [pdf]) are available on the CMRLS website, and funds raised from the sale of these plates will be returned to libraries through a grant process. This is a neat idea, but so far only has a few mentions.

Job Descriptions Database from the Maine State Library
The Maine State Library launched a centralized job description database, to aid librarians in defining the roles within their libraries. This is one of those tasks that we all share, so creating a central clearinghouse for descriptions makes a lot of sense - and keeps us from reinventing the wheel. Job descriptions in the database were all submitted by Maine libraries, and hopefully include my favorite line for a library staff job description, "other duties to aid patron access to information as assigned."



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