Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Boss!

Bumper sticker of the weekend: "Jesus is coming. Look busy."


Wonderful post in Something New Every Day about librarians promoting ourselves as "Knowledge Provocateurs." One of the items that resounded with PK Christ - and with me - is the idea that librarians need to exert more influence on the Internet.

One small way to start exerting influence is for librarians to flood Answers with answers. I've answered a few questions, citing proper references (usually the Librarian's Index to the Internet) and have been chosen "Best Answer" an inordinate number of times. One person who chose mine as the best answer noted that "She's really helpful!"

Perhaps we should be reaching out to people where they are and impressing them with our knowledge and skills....and they just might find their way into a library for help!

Friday, May 26, 2006


Jessamyn West at Librarian.net has a thoughtful post on the subject of library fines. Barb Misselt at the Multitype Librarian does, too.

I understand the hesitation that large libraries have in eliminating fines. Some of them rack up close to seven figures in fines annually, and that's a lot of operating budget to lose.

I would challenge smaller libraries whose fines are annually relatively small to make their libraries fine-free. My former library in Sidney, Nebraska was one of those libraries. The staff had convinced the board to eliminate fines before I started my tenure there, and that was fine with me. (no pun intended - really.)

The staff was seeing children who weren't able to use the library, because their parents couldn't afford the fines. And that didn't sit very well. They felt very strongly that those children who could least afford fines were the very children who most needed the library. Additionally, we really didn't care if you paid a quarter fine - we just wanted the book back! You would get a few notes from us if the book (or whatever - I'm using book as the universal material here) was drastically overdue, reminding you to return it. After three months, you got a bill for the book. It would usually turn up at that point, but we did have folks who would have to pay us for having lost the book.

We would occasionally discuss fines at library meetings in the Nebraska Panhandle, and there were a few libraries who also had eliminated fines. Those who had fines usually had amnesty days on a fairly regular basis, which usually resulted in enormous numbers of materials being dumped on the library on that day. Most of them were seriously considering asking their boards to allow them to eliminate fines, too...and the headaches that went along with them. The sob stories. The truly sad stories. The angry patrons. The forgetful patrons. One creative librarian solved the problem by handing the offending patron (usually a middle-school student) a dust rag, allowing them to dust the library to pay off the fine. Her library was always clean!

What most likely started out as a disincentive to keeping a book too long has become too much of a money-making venture for larger libraries. And that's a real shame. The kids who aren't going to the Major City Library because they owe a fine are the very kids who need the Major City Library the most.

Isn't there a better way to do this?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Oh. Dear. God.

As a former optician, all I can say is "Eeeew! Eeeew! Eeeeew!"

Sunday, May 21, 2006

TTWMN Day Five

Large and excited crowd at the Ridgedale Public Library in Hennepin County! We started the day having breakfast with some librarians in a charming place in Wayzata. Then it was on the the workshop. Michael was fabulous, as usual.

I'm now home, safe and sound, and resting up from a very busy week. What a wonderful experience! (Below is a photo snapped of Michael and me...)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

TTWMN Day Four

Really exciting, rousing session today in Mountain Iron. The group was very engaged, very curious about the new L2 tools, and anxious to jump into the deep end of the pool. I'm headed back in June to teach Blogging to anyone who's interested.

In our new search for Really Enormous Statuary, we were told - much to our disappointment - that the local Really Enormous Loon was not yet up for the season. (It apparently hibernates.) However, we were alerted to the Really Large Hockey Stick, which is in Eveleth. I needed to either take the Batman photo (seen here) or walk across the street to get the whole thing in.

On to Minneapolis and tomorrow's packed session at the Ridgedale Public Library in Hennepin County.

Mary Beth & Paul Bunyan

Mary Beth & Paul Bunyan
Originally uploaded by mstephens7.
I got to sit in Paul's hand, too....

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

City guides

Just discovered a site that offers free pod city guides. There are a number of major cities available all over the world. You download them to your iPod, and away you go.

An enterprising library could throw a bunch of these on iPod Shuffles and check 'em out....

TTWMN Day Three

Lovely day in Detroit Lakes. Absolutely beautiful library - one of those Carnegies that has been remodeled very, very well. There were these lovely friezes mounted on the wall. Michael found out they were discovered in the basement during the remodel, and were so pristine they were able to be used as models for the new part of the building.

After the presentation, we headed out on the road for Mt. Iron. Lovely, lovely scenery. Lots of lakes and trees and lakes and trees. And then, we saw Paul.
He's got Michael in his hand....

Yes, that's Paul Bunyan with Michael in the palm of his hand. Apparently, Minnesota is the Land of Enormous Statuary. We heard there was a huge turkey just outside Detroit Lakes, but we weren't able to visit since it wasn't on our route. Maybe next time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Willmar, MN. Beautiful library. Great group of folks - interested, engaged, and willing to take on new ideas and try new stuff. Hopefully, they'll go forth and blog, or wiki, or RSS...

Traveled from Willmar to Detroit Lakes. Beautiful day, and beautiful scenery. Lakes and lakes and lakes.

En route, we passed the Belgrade Centennial Memorial. With a Really Big Crow. I mean Really Big Crow. We couldn't resist stopping and taking some photos.

Tomorrow will be the Detroit Public Library...

Michael Stephens Talks about Cs but He is A

Cool Big Boss blogged about Michael's presentation, too:

SELCO Librarian: Michael Stephens Talks about Cs but He is A


At our hotel, I noticed a tent sign in the bathroom:

True comfort is complete when you can curl up with a good book. With our "Book it and Return" Program, you can borrow a book from our guest library, then simply return it on your next visit to any Country Inn and Suites by Carlson location in North America.

For each book returned, we'll donate $5 (USD) to ProLiteracy Worldwide, the world's oldest and largest non-profit educational literacy organization.


So, in the tradition of "radical trust", as Michael pointed out this morning, a hotel chain is trusting their guests to grab a book and return it whenever they happen to visit again. The books themselves were printed for the chain; their logo and the program information are printed on the covers. They're paperbacks, both for children and adults. Relatively new stuff - Sue Grafton, Richard Evans. Not a huge selection....but what a great idea!

I chatted with the staff about the program this morning, and the manager told me that they will occasionally have a guest take a book and sit in the lobby in front of the fireplace and read all night.

I wonder what we can learn from this?

Day One - TTWMN

Had a wonderful day with Michael at SELCO. The session was live-blogged by the Multitype Librarian: Tame the Web Minnesota", who is my Cool Boss and was (of course) in attendance. Lots of the staff was there, and were in their official "Tame the North" shirts.

After the presentation, we drove to Willmar, the next stop on the tour. The trip took four hours, mainly because of brutal construction delays in the Minneapolis area. We collapsed in an Applebee's and had dinner, and then were on to the hotel. Unfortunately, the hotel was having issues with their wireless connection. No blogging or Flickring!

This morning we're off to the Willmar Public Library....and then this afternoon, we'll drive to Detroit Lakes.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

He's Coming....

The much-touted Michael Stephens tour starts Monday. We're all excited at MPOW.

Michael and I will be touring the state; lots of blogging to follow.

We even made tour shirts! (Our shirts are in B/W, but the original color art rocks, if I do say so myself.) Can't wait....


I was recently alerted to a new Yahoo service my alert co-worker, Aurora. Yahoo Answers is available for anyone - ask a question and other users will answer. One reviewer noted that it's addictive, and then said, "If I could search and answer questions like this for a living I would be so happy!" Ahem. (I answered her blog post and informed here there is a way to do this for a living. Become a librarian.)

Anyway, as Aurora notes,
The premise of the site is that users submit a question that will then be answered by their peers, as long as those peers have a registered My Yahoo! account. Each time someone answers, they have an opportunity to cite their source. After a specified period, one answer is picked as the "“best answer" either by vote or by the user that submitted the question.

I'’ve seen a wide range of questions there, from "“What do you think of the way 7th Heaven ended?"” to "“How was Shakespeare influential? —I"’ve got a term paper and I need a quick answer."” to "“Is a "presumed" fatty tumor something to be concerned about?"”. The answers themselves are as diverse as the answerers themselves. Almost none of the answerers cite a source beyond "“personal experience."”

Aurora questions the value of personal experience in answering certain questions - like health questions. And then challenges librarians to answer the questions, citing resources.

I took up the challenge and have answered a number of questions. For most of them, I used the Librarian's Index to the Internet as my source. What I found discouraging and rather distressing is that, even though this service is still in its Beta stage, already a number of idiots have jumped in and are asking obnoxious/rude/ridiculous/obscene questions. At the risk of sounding like the old man telling kids to get off his lawn....what is wrong with people????

Anyway, it's fun to answer. Go ahead. Let the world know how knowledgeable librarians really are!

Monday, May 08, 2006

What if.......

DBF and I invaded the Mall of America this weekend. I'm not a mall fan, really, and this one is the mall to end all malls. Really enormous. I'm not a fan of crowds, either, probably because I'm so short I easily feel like I've entered a maze. I don't know that I'll become one of those MoA fans.

That said, however, this weekend also was my introduction to Nordstrom's. Oh. My.

I had heard about Nordstrom's years ago from colleagues from the west coast. They were singing the praises of the store, especially their customer service. I remember being intrigued, but with no stores in the Midwest at the time, it was a moot point. I'm delighted that they're now in my neck of the woods. And having discovered them, I'm hooked.

The customer attention was incredible. None of this walking around looking for a clerk who would please, please ring up a purchase. But the staff wasn't pushy, either. It was just that they were everywhere. And attentive.

If you were in an area for any length of time, someone would approach and ask if they could help. If you had a look on your face that indicated puzzlement, someone would ask if they could help. Sometimes, they would just offer an opinion on whatever you were trying on. And they all had business cards. Now, as someone who worked in the retail world for years, I can tell you how rare it is that anyone outside of upper management would have a business card. But here, everyone did. And they would offer you their card and tell you to contact them with any questions you might have. And I believed them. I really think that if I contacted Mindy, who was our delightful shoe sales person, or Seth, who helped DBF for hours in choosing a suit, they really would help me in any was they could. How incredibly refreshing. (And quick - when was the last time you got to know the name of the retail sales person helping you?)

So, of course, this all got me thinking.

The thing that made the Nordstrom's experience wonderful was people. Not technology. Not stuff. People.

We're in the midst of a movement in the library world to make ourselves indispensable and...well, popular. And we're looking at how technology will help, and how we should be using IM and RSS and podcasts and whatever other swell innovation. And we're examining our collections and collection development policies and wondering whether we're offering our patrons the right stuff, and should we be offering this format, or that service, or getting rid of some stuff in favor of others. And the thing is, it won't matter.

Yes, technology is cool and can appeal to folks. And yes, we want to have collections that serve the greatest number of folks. But unless the human element is there, it won't matter a whit.

When you meet people who have had a horrendous library experience, it's not because they didn't have IM reference, or because their computers weren't the latest, or because they didn't have precisely the book/magazine/graphic novel you wanted.

If they had a horrendous experience, it was because some Old Battleaxe Librarian was horrible and mean and disapproving. They were afraid, they were ashamed, they were angry. And they didn't return.

So.....what if we took a page from the Nordstrom book? What if we abandoned the circ/reference/whatever desk and walked around? What if we approached folks looking bewildered and asked if we could help them? What if everyone in the library had a business card they could hand a patron, offering to help? (Yes, even pages. Everyone.) What if folks would leave our library delighted with how friendly and attentive everyone was, and that, even if they didn't find exactly what they were looking for (as was my case this weekend) they would be back regardless, because it was such a wonderful experience?

What if?

Friday, May 05, 2006


Busy, busy week.

The remodeling work continues, with progress being made slowly but surely. If all goes as planned, I'll have a deck when I come home tonight. DBF should also be waiting for me when I get home....and the Mall of America will be plundered tomorrow.

This afternoon, I'm in St. Paul at the ESL Conference, presenting a mini-version of the Spanish Language Outreach program. We're talking to folks about what their public library can do for new immigrants, and why it's important to encourage folks to visit the library. You wouldn't think that would be a necessary message to deliver - isn't it obvious? - but it's not as obvious as it might seem.

One of the "Aha!" moments I had when learning about the program was a language issue that explained a few encounters I had in my library in Nebraska. I'd occasionally have someone come in, look around, and ask me how much the books cost. (Huh?) I never understood where the question came from, really.

Turns out, the Spanish word for library is biblioteca. I didn't find that particularly surprising; I had studied French in high school, and remembered that the French word for library is bibliothèque. The surprise came when our workshop leader explained that the Spanish word for bookstore is librería. Aha! Looks like library, sounds like library. You're new to the country and the language, and you see a building that has a word that leads you to deduce that it's a bookstore. And so you go in and ask the puzzled woman at the desk how much the books cost. Now I get it. It also had me chuckling over the thought of a new immigrant standing in front of the New York Public Library thinking, "This is the biggest bookstore I've ever seen!"

That's just a tiny example of the sorts of things we'll be talking about this afternoon and in the larger workshops. If you have one of these coming your way, I encourage you to attend.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Not quite at your fingertips

Spent yesterday at a conference with other library folks in the state, talking about ILL and libraries and how we can make things better. The first speaker was Nancy John, Digital Publishing Librarian and Associate Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She's working on a book that deals with how far libraries have come in the last number of years....but while we've come a long way, we still don't have the information we need at our fingertips.

Her talk was engaging and thought-provoking. I can't wait to read her book. A few salient points....

Other industries have techniques and tools that the library world should examine, to determine whether they could apply and be implemented. Many industries are customizing services and information for their customers. What can libraries learn (or borrow) from other industries to create library services and programs tailored to the individual? For example, grocery stores have customer cards that personalize shopping. Why not a library card?

It's about ME - It's about the user and not about the site. Individualization translates to either customization (how I impact your system and make it more Me) and/or personalization (how your system reacts to information it knows about Me.)

Customization in libraries would translate to: What books does the library own? Is a book I'm considering buying available at the library? What books do I have checked out? When is my ILL due?

Personalization in libraries would translate to: OPACs personalized to reflect My Favorite Sources, email notices or reminders, recommended books based on what I've read, and recommendations on what new books may be of interest to me.

The problem with all this? Privacy concerns mean libraries collect as little data as possible....and the data that makes all of this personalization possible is the very data we don't collect.

The Web is changing the privacy landscape. People are willing to "exchange" private information (name, address, etc.) for customized service. Nancy admonished the group not to let privacy concerns stop us from thinking about new library services. For instance, is there a software available (or one that could be developed) that would store personal information on the user's desktop, for retrieval and coordination with library services?

Nancy challenged us to think about which of our library services:
- Speak to convenience?
- Speak to social experiences and improved finding?
- Speak to the uniqueness of each user?

She also noted that a number of new services - like LibraryThing - wouldn't be possible or even exist without the groundwork that has been laid by librarians. The data, connectivity, and access points that drive these services were all created by librarians....and yet, we're not the ones who created those services. Why not?

Libraries should learn a lesson from NetFlix. We tend to throw away the data that forms the core of the NetFlix business plan. They have useful models for representing custom information - in queue, recommended by friends, rated by others who watch what you watch/like. How can we implement something like this for our library users?

Some personal wishes from Nancy:
- Library emails should include phone numbers that work with mobile phones - format the number so it can be immediately dialed from her phone/Blackberry/etc.
- Library emails should include hotlinks that will connect with library services, hotlinks to full-text articles, etc.

One final thought brought forward by an audience member....

Millenials have a view of privacy that seems to be very different from the Boomer generation. How will that impact the discussion?

Definitely food for thought.