Find the Future is so great on so many levels. For library lovers, it’s an awesome way to get to know the library better, to have a unique experience with the library, and to contribute something to the collection. For New Yorkers who are into writing or social media or scavenger hunts or games or going on quirky missions, this is an awesome way to show them that the library can be a cool place for cool things. And for people across the country, this is a stellar way to showcase what libraries are, what they have, and what they can be about. (And non-library people did take notice: Laura Miller wrote a piece for Salon called Why libraries still matter about… well, just that, focusing on NYPL specifically.) We need to talk about what we do and we need to be out in the community and offer unique, relevant things. Find the Future is such a fabulous intersection of libraries and community and games and the more I read, the more excited I was about it.
And then I found out that an acquaintance-whom-I’d-like-to-make-into-a-friend, former IRS employee, crusader for social justice, and trained fire marshall Jen Bokoff, was to be one of those lucky 500 people! She is super excited about it, and I’m really happy that she agreed to let me interview her before and afterward. I’m curious about the game itself, but I’m especially interested in Jen’s perspective on libraries–and whether or not it changes after her epic experience this weekend. (more…)
This from Lynn in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Do you foresee a time when I can get an e-book from my local library? What will the move to electronic books do to our libraries?
And Lynn, we’ve had a lot of inquires about those who, well, can’t afford a Kindle or a Nook or an iPad.
NEARY: Well, that’s an interesting question, and to be honest, I don’t know the answer – that libraries would start lending them out. I think you can download books from libraries but – not on a Kindle, but on some of the other devices, you can. But as far as lending out an e-reader, that I don’t know about.
Mr. OSNOS: Well, I can answer the question as far as my local library in Connecticut. You can easily access e-books. Now, you won’t get them for the Kindle because that’s a proprietary system. But now that there’s a…
CONAN: That’s if you have your own reader, though.
NEARY: Yeah, he…
Mr. OSNOS: Yeah, you can read it as a PDF on a reader, or you can put it – actually convert it into – and use it on your iPad or on your Sony Reader. There are – the range of choices is expanding enormously.
I was glad that one of the guests at least knew that his library (a Connecticut library, woo!) had ebooks–and that they weren’t compatible with the Kindle, since Amazon doesn’t seem to want to play nice with libraries–but I was so disappointed that the other guests weren’t aware of what their libraries had to offer them. And I feel like that’s one of the biggest challenges we face on a day-to-day basis; getting the word out about all of the genuinely awesome things that we do at the library seems like such an uphill battle.
(Tangentially related: my husband and I just finished watching the most recent season of The Amazing Race and I was flipping out when, in the final episode, the contestants were trying to figure out some clues to decipher where to go next and one team called Information and another one desperately looked for a way to do a Google search when all they needed to do was call a library!)
Anyway, as I was listening to this segment, I really wanted to call in and explain that yes! many libraries already have ebooks available for patrons to download either through their own collection development efforts or because they’re part of a consortium or because they have access to ebooks through their state library. But more than that, I wanted to tell America that yes! some libraries even have ebook readers available for patrons to check out! My library in particular has three Kindles, three Nooks, and three Sony Readers that patrons can check out with preloaded titles as well as one title of their choice for three weeks. But alas, before I could call in, they were moving on to the next segment.
And double alas, it seems that patrons are always asking in surprise, “Oh, we can borrow ereaders?” Advertising that the library does have this technology–and that patrons can use it to see if they like it–has been tricky. The problem often isn’t what the library does or doesn’t have; it’s whether or not anyone knows we have it.
But one library in our area that’s doing a great job demonstrating that it’s at the forefront of new book formats and changes in the way people read books is the Fairfield (CT) Public Library. They have this awesome technology petting zoo that’s highly visible where patrons can handle a Kindle, a Nook, a Sony Reader, and an iPad. Everything’s locked down and staff members are on hand to answer questions patrons have about the devices. Our director was so impressed with Fairfield’s tech petting zoo that we’re hoping–no promises, though, as this is still in the figure-it-out-first stage–we can develop one of our own.
Our patrons not only expect us to be tech-savvy; they also want (and sometimes need!) our guidance in figuring out how to use new technology and new devices, and just as we offer classes on different kinds of software or databases, we should also be demonstrating these devices. Having ereaders available in the library gives us the opportunity to do hands-on instructions with curious patrons, and letting patrons check them out gives them the opportunity to take them home and use them in a comfortable environment.
But we need to not just have ereaders available in the library or for checkout; we’ve also got to let people know that we have them, that we’re still relevant, that ebooks aren’t killing the library. And Fairfield’s tech petting zoo is such a great way to do that!
Bookmobiles have come up in a number of conversations I’ve had recently, so I thought I’d share some thoughts and links.
Jane Hu wrote a piece earlier this summer for the Awl called “Booktorrent! The Bookmobile as Rural Filesharing Network”. There weren’t quite as many parallels to today’s models of sharing information as you’d expect from the title, but it’s still a good, short introduction to bookmobile service in England and America. She touches on the way public library service first began in cities, leaving those who lived in more rural areas without the free access to information libraries were beginning to provide. Bookmobiles were a way to bring that information and those resources to a wider audience.
One emerging trend in librarianship now is to position the library as a “third place,” a location that is neither work nor home but which allows for social interaction and the establishment of a sense of community. (The more common way to refer to this is as the library as a community center.) But Hu points out that this is something early bookmobiles were already offering:
The bookmobile also provided often-detached rural populations opportunities to socialize. In attempts to appeal to adults, bookmobiles often added late night stops. (I’m a little disappointed these don’t happen anymore.) The goal of the bookmobile to educate and thus “make better Americans” opened up a cultural conversation that spreads each day with the traveling word.
For a more extensive chronicling of the history of bookmobile service in a particular place, check out the articles and photos (such great photos!) that Western Maryland’s Historical Library has collected and made available. In fact, it was in Washington County that Mary Titcomb started the first bookmobile service in America in 1905 as a way of reaching potential patrons who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) visit the deposit stations in general stores and post offices that she’d established throughout Washington County, Maryland. What I found especially interesting was her evolving thoughts on what the bookcart should look like and what connotations it should evoke. She wrote in The Story of the Washington County Free Library:
The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a grocer’s delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days. Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905.
When directions were given as to painting, we had the fear of looking too much like the laundry wagon before our eyes, and the man was strictly enjoined, not to put any gilt or scroll work on it but to make even the lettering, “Washington County Free Library,” plain and dignified, directions carried out only too well, for in the early days of our wagoning, as our man approached one farm house, he heard a voice charged with nervous trepidation, call out “Yer needn’t stop here. We ain’t got no use for the dead wagon here.” Suffice it to say, that we promptly painted the wheels red, and picked off the panels of the doors with the same cheerful color.
In 1912, the library began using a motorized bookmobile.
However, this bookmobile suffered frequent accidents and breakdowns, prompting the librarian at the time, Miss Nellie Chrissinger, to write in the annual report, “The wagon is a victim of circumstances over which we have no control. Even at best, but eight or nine months can be counted on and wet days, wet roads, and repairs shorten the time of operation still more.”
The Washington County Free Library most recently upgraded its bookmobile in 2004. It can carry up to 4000 books, has four computer workstation outlets, is air conditioned or heated depending on the season, and comes equipped with a wheelchair lift.
It’s interesting to see how much bookmobile service has evolved in the last hundred years!
Hu mentions that bookmobile service was the only way libraries were able to reach many people living in rural areas. I’m not completely sure I’m remembering this correctly, but during one of my courses with Dr Preer during my MLS, she told us that when public library service was expanding across the country, the government provided funds for libraries to develop bookmobile service in their area to reach rural residents. Even then, though, Indiana had something of a libertarian bent, and most libraries declined this funding, not wanting to take federal money to provide a local service. So while other states were sending out bookmobiles and demonstrating the relevance, importance, and general awesomeness of library service to as many people as possible in their towns or counties or service areas, Indiana was focusing on physical buildings and not doing as much outreach. As a result, even to this day, support for libraries isn’t as strong as it could be in Indiana, and library service often lags behind other states in the Midwest. There are still plenty of people who don’t have library service without having to pay for library cards (the white areas on this map show unserved areas), and because library service is still a patchwork of town and county libraries, it’s harder to have state-wide standards for staff qualifications and services provided and operating hours. If only we’d said yes to bookmobiles!
Mary Titcomb wrote, “No better method has ever been devised for reaching the dweller in the country. The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book.” But it’s not just country dwellers whose lives are enriched by bookmobile service; bookmobiles across the country now bring the library’s resources to nursing homes or the homebound.
It seems like a lot of people have fond memories of bookmobile service. When my parents first moved us to Indiana, we lived in an area just outside of Fort Wayne that was only just beginning to be developed. The nearest library branch was about 20 minutes away, so we made use of the bookmobile service the library provided while they planned and built a branch in our area. While my memories of the bookmobile are pretty hazy–mostly I remember enjoying the coolness after being out in the hot summer sun and the delight I felt in being in a room full of books–my mom still reminisces about how much she enjoyed being able to request specific titles and have them brought to her the next week.
W. Ralph Eubanks mused on his own memories of bookmobile visits during his childhood in Mississippi for All Things Considered earlier this summer. What I found especially interesting was this passage that reflects on both the inequality of life for a black family in the South, but also on the way library service can change our lives:
Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Mississippi resisted enforcing it. But when my mother, a school teacher, asked for the bookmobile to stop at our house in the summer of 1965, the librarian did not hesitate even though schools were still segregated. By simply following the law rather than ignoring it, the bookmobile transformed me into a lifelong reader and eventually a writer.
The thing I came across most recently that got me thinking about bookmobiles was Audrey Niffenegger’s The Night Bookmobile, a graphic novel about a woman who discovers a bookmobile one night that contains every book she’s ever read. The bookmobile disappears, though, and the woman spends years trying to find it again, becoming a librarian in the mean time.
Being able to bring library service to as many people as possible is part of the mission of any good library. We help those who are able to make it through our doors, but we also need to consider the needs of those for whom visiting the library isn’t possible or practical. We send books to nursing homes, we visit juvenile detention facilities, and we provide ebooks and downloadable audio books, but for many, the bookmobile has a special place in their heart as the way they access their libraries.
Over the last few years as I’ve gone through library school and started thinking and writing about the field, it’s become clear to me that most people who aren’t affiliated with libraries or librarians in some way (through employment or marriage or frequent library use) have no idea what librarians do–or even who exactly in a library is a librarian. People who use their libraries at least tend to know some of what their libraries have to offer, but non-users are in the dark about both librarians and the libraries where they work. I mentioned in the post I wrote about the Diane Rehm Show about public libraries that I don’t think librarians are always great at explaining to outsiders exactly why the library is awesome and exactly what it is we do, and I’ve been thinking about some of the ways we can get that message out.
In some ways it’s easy to talk about why libraries are great. We can point to all of the resources and services that we offer and make a case using outcomes-based measures for how we have a positive impact in the community. And we can (and should!) tailor our message to the listener: parents want to know about storytimes and how early literacy skills give kids a developmental leg up. People seeking entertainment will love hearing that the library lends DVDs for free (and that libraries lend more DVDs than Netflix!). Entrepreneurs in the community can make good use of our tax help sessions or business databases. Families on vacation can come to us for audiobooks–and for recommendations on what stories they might like. Politicians need to hear that we help people navigate government websites and access government information and forms online. I really do believe that everyone in the community can find something useful or enjoyable to them at the library, and it’s just a matter of us letting them know that and helping them find that useful or enjoyable thing. (Getting them into the library in the first place is another post altogether, I suppose.)
But it’s trickier telling people what librarians do, especially when we’re trying to fight the impression that all we do is check books out to people and read all day. It doesn’t directly benefit people to talk about ourselves the way it does to talk about our libraries, so finding an audience for this information is hard. It can also be difficult not to sound defensive when we’re trying to explain how librarians are different than the front-line staff at the checkout desk, since they’re often the first point of contact for many people at the library. And as Lino pointed out in a comment on a post I wrote about a corporate librarian’s talk to our student group in library school, people’s perceptions of librarians change as they encounter different libraries and different types of libraries.
In a response to Lino’s comment, I mentioned two of the things that we can do to educate people about what librarians are and what we do. The first is to mentor people–particularly young people–through things like Teen Advisory Boards and library volunteer programs. Having repeated personal contact with a librarian or being involved in the library yourself shows you first-hand what librarians and libraries are like, and for young people, it can even awaken in them a passion for library work. (And since we can’t get everyone to marry a librarian, more structured programs seem to be the way to go to give people that personal connection.)
But as powerful as that one-on-one contact is, we need other ways to reach people, and I think blogging is one good way to do that. A number of librarians have written blog posts and articles specifically about what librarians do. For example:
Susan Kusel writes for the PBS Parents blog Booklights (hooray for librarians in non-library contexts!); one of her posts from this spring answers the question “what do librarians do all day?”
Twice a year, the Library Day in the Life project asks librarians to document what they do on a particular day every year. Round 5 happened yesterday and there are already posts available. This project is especially interesting because librarians from lots of different kinds of libraries talk about their days, not just public librarians, who seem to be the most vocal in explaining who they are and what they do, most likely since they’re most often asked to justify their existence.
And while library blogs tend to be written by librarians, for librarians, there are a few that I think would appeal to non-librarians, too. The most illuminating and accessible librarian-blogger I’ve found so far is Brian Herzog, the Swiss Army Librarian. His posts never seem too long and each week he features a reference question (they’re usually the particularly funny or interesting or challenging ones) he was asked that week and the strategies he used for answering it. He also includes posts that are useful to practicing librarians (super-especially his recent “Checklist Manifesto for the Reference Desk”) or musings on current events and controversies in librarianship, but overall I think his blog is a great example of how we can document what we do and what we’re about.
Librarians aren’t always great about explaining to non-librarians why libraries and librarians are important, but there are some good examples of how we can do so. Positive media coverage helps librarians show off our skills and our libraries. Personal contact and repeated positive library experiences are the most powerful way to show people what libraries and librarians are all about. Talking and writing about what we do (and why we do it!) lets us reach a broader audience and tell our own stories. We need to be able to see our institutions and ourselves from an outsider’s perspective and then find ways to reach people with our message of the awesomeness of libraries and librarians.
Rob Beschizza toured the the Preservation Research and Testing Division and the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center of the Library of Congress recently and posted gorgeous high-res photos (and a couple videos) and descriptions of a lot of the preservation technology on BoingBoing. He talks about both the preservation of old print materials and digital items–everything from the Gettysburg Address and the 500-year-old Waldseemüller world map to nitrate film and RCA Selectavision and DVDs–touching on some of the issues involved (damaging an item to learn about it, DRM, digitizing vs maintaining old technology) and explaining some of the different tools and the science of preservation. Preservation nerds will love this, but everyone should click through just to check out the photos.
A piece of strange, sad news: a public library in Dover, New Hampshire recently discovered 5,000 anti-public school bookmarks tucked into books in their collection; staff spent 30 hours removing all of them. The bookmarks espoused the ideals of the School Sucks Project and Freedomain Radio and were strategically placed in books in certain sections of the library. Other nearby libraries have also found the bookmarks in their own collections. And lest anyone think the library was trying to censor the School Sucks Project’s message,
Although Beaudoin said she didn’t want library patrons to think the library supported the messages on the bookmarks, she wouldn’t have denied a request to post a poster or literature on a public board or display.
But library policy prohibits the dissemination of information through bookmarks in books, she said.
“If I had found 5,000 bookmarks staying ‘Stop the oil spill in the Gulf,’ a message I think everyone can get behind, I still would have pulled them,” she said. “It’s not what it was about, but that the act was done.”
Brigham Young University recently took a page from Old Spice’s book and put together this fantastic video, “New Spice: Study Like a Scholar, Scholar,” in which BYU student and comedian Stephen Jones extolls the virtues of studying at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. So many elements of the Old Spice commercials are nailed so perfectly and it’s a great mix of silly and accurate and man I love this video.
Once I started library school, my mom started noticing libraries in the news. Every month or so she’ll send me a clipping or a link to a story about a library in our area, a report on a new trend in librarianship, or a write-up on some controversy at a library. Today she showed me “Libraries branching out to malls”, an AP article that describes how some libraries are opening branches–some that look like your normal neighborhood library branch and some that are more like bookstores–in shopping malls. The article points out that library usage has been increasing steadily (citing the IMLS report that I recently mentioned) and notes that one library mentioned in the article had to increase their storytimes from 2-3 a week to 12 a week at their mall location. Overall the article paints libraries in malls as positive and notes that they’re part of a trend toward convenience and customer satisfaction.
And in general, I think that this form of mild library outreach is a good way to get the library to where the patrons are. Our private spaces are increasingly becoming commercialized and clearly there are a lot of people in shopping malls. Having a mall outlet is a good way for the library to be a part of patrons’ routines in a way they might not be able to as stand-alone buildings.
But I wonder what it means that libraries are stepping up and standing alongside commercial spaces. Will this commercialize the library? Part of the library’s greatness is that everyone is welcome and everyone has (or we strive for them to have) equal access to what we provide. That’s not what commercial enterprise does, and I wonder if people start associating the library with the mall if they’ll start to think of the library differently.
Don’t get me wrong: I think any chance to bring more people into the library or to bring library service to people is great, and having libraries in malls is a great way to capture a different segment of the library’s service population. As long as libraries don’t wind up exclusively in malls, I think it’s a great idea.
But it’s also not without its dangers. One library mentioned in the article rents their space for $1 a year and their programs are sponsored by a local energy company. But to offer another data point, the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library system is facing budget cuts, and one of the two branches that’s on the chopping block in all three plans that involve closing branches is the Glendale branch, which is located in a shopping mall. Even though the Glendale branch has some of the highest circulation and gate-count data, the powers that be are concerned that they’re renting the space rather than purchasing it and having that equity. The library board should be making a decision about how to cope with budget reductions this month.
If libraries can find a good deal in renting a space in a mall, it sounds like that’s a great way to make the library more available to certain people and to raise the library’s visibility in the community. I’m a little concerned about whether or not that might commercialize the library–an organization whose greatest strength lies in its public nature–but so long as libraries aren’t located solely in shopping malls, it sounds like a good opportunity.
While I was in Portland for PLA2010, I–of course!–made a point to visit the central branch of the Multnomah County Library. I liked the tree sculpture in the children’s area and how they’ve made the old card catalog accessible for browsing, but what really caught my attention was the zine collection.
The zine collection at the central branch of the Multnomah County Library
Zines–independent publications created by one person or a (usually) small group that are often photocopied–are big in Portland. It hosts the Portland Zine Symposium and is home to the Independent Publishing Resource Center. There’s even a zine about where to find zines in Portland. So since zine culture is so big in Portland, I was really excited to see the public library collecting them and making them available for circulation. I talked briefly with the reference librarian at the desk (who told me, among other things, that the zines actually circulate much, much more than any of their periodicals) and after returning home, I checked out the library’s website for more information and sent some questions to Emily-Jane Dawson, a reference librarian and a member of the library’s zine committee. She was really friendly and thorough in addressing my questions.
The idea to create a zine collection first began in 2004 when Julie Bartel and Brooke Young of the Salt Lake City Library did a presentation at PLA in Portland on their library’s zine collection and the outreach and zine-related events they’d done. Librarians from MCL were interested and put together a proposal for a pilot project, which eventually led to the creation of MCL’s zine committee, outreach and programs, and the zine collection. The collection first arrived in December 2006 and had its official debut in late January 2007. Dawson said that the challenges they faced in establishing the collection were what you’d expect with any new format or large project and mentioned doing internal training to introduce zines to the library staff and the outreach they did to a new segment of the population. Now nine of the library’s seventeen branches have zines available for checkout.
The library also offers a zine exchange that’s kind of like honors paperback collections or paperback exchanges: zines that aren’t part of the collection are available for taking and you can either bring it back or leave a copy of a different zine in its place.
The zine exchange bin at the central library
One of the things I wondered about was where the library gets its zines. There are publishers and distributors, but since zine creation is so decentralized, those organizations will only get you so far. Dawson said the library buys zines at two different local publishing festivals, the Portland Zine Symposium, Stumptown Comics Fest, and local bookstores. They also accept donations, but they’re held to the same collection standards that donated books are. If someone would like their zine included in the library’s collection, they’re invited to send a copy to the library for evaluation along with information on where to purchase more. Librarians then determine whether or not the zine fits the collection development guidelines.
Being able to stay current on what’s going on in the zine scene is also important. Dawson pointed to zine-related library programs as a great way to know what’s new:
The zinesters who present at our annual Zinesters Talking series, for example, often let us know when they have new publications, introduce us to other zinesters, and so on. Also, we network at local zine events, talk with bookstore staff when we visit to buy zines, and read zine-related literature. In addition, some of the members of the library’s zine committee are involved in local independent publishing organizations in their personal lives.
I love that this reaching out to the zine community is mutually beneficial: the library is able to provide materials outside of the publishing mainstream, stay in touch with current trends and publications, and reach a population they might not otherwise. People in the zine community get another avenue for showing off their work and budding zinesters are given resources on developing their craft like a program on creating zines. One of my friends who lives in Portland actually got his library card after moving to the city at a table the library had set up at the Zine Symposium. This kind of initiative to get the library more involved in the community is such a great way for both the library and the community to benefit.
I was also interested in the weeding policy for zines and if the library did any work to create an archive of especially noteworthy zines. Dawson said that the weeding policy for the zine collection was modeled on the library’s general weeding policy; the two most important criteria are the physical condition of the zine and how well it circulated. They have a yearly weeding event based on circulation and the zine coordinators at each branch periodically weed based on condition. And while they don’t make an effort to preserve most zines, the closed-stack Oregon Collection does include zines that are about Oregon and the communities in it, and these zines are only accessible for in-library use.
I was really impressed with how hard the library worked to become a part of Portland’s zine culture. Offering zines as part of the library’s collection is a great way to showcase local talent and make these zines accessible to a wider audience and for the library to reflect local culture. The library also does a lot to offer programs and other outreach initiatives to develop partnerships with other people and organizations interested in zines, which pulls in people who might not otherwise be interested in the library and gives them the resources to develop their work.