IL2007, Blending In, & LBC

I presented on “Blending In: librarians in our networked world” with libraryman yesterday morning at IL2007, full documentation here and presentation here. We had a great time – those of you who heard me speak at MLC earlier this month will recognize some of the ideas (and slides), as I drew out a lot of the research I’ve been doing for the book in this presentation as well. Michael Porter followed my part of the talk with a whirlwind tour of libraries doing really amazing things on the web to “blend in” to a networked community there; I concluded our program with an example that I just uncovered last week during my “writers retreat” and visit to the Bay area:

Rachel MacNeilly in the Children’s Services manager at the Mission Branch of the San Francisco Public Library. She runs a bilingual Children’s Storytime – now up to five times a week – with an average of 110 people in attendance every time. “I live in this neighborhood,” says Rachel to me during my visit to her library last week, “these people can’t hide from me for long. They WILL come to my storytime.” Over the course of less than one year, Rachel has changed children’s programming from a single session once a week with an average of 45 attendees to multiple programs per week and almost three times the attendees. How did she do it?

First, she did some weeding of the Spanish language collection in her library. “I want this place to look like Nordstrom, NOT the Nordstrom Rack,” she beams! And it works, with the following principles at play: she doesn’t have any Spanish children’s materials in the library that are “older than me;” second, she doesn’t have any books that “look junky. I got rid of everything that’s older than me and everything that looked awful,” Rachel says, and the funny thing is “with less on the shelves, there’s less on the shelves,” (meaning that people check things out more). Circulation has almost doubled, but it’s still not up to where she’d like it to be; she’d has aggressive goals for upping her circ stats in the coming year, stats that match what she’s been able to do with their program stats. “I love stats,” Rachel says, as an aside, “you can think you’re changing things, but stats let you know if you really are.”

Rachel’s impact on the programming attendance in her library is directly related to the facts that they’re bilingual, offered at appropriate times of day for their intended audiences, and have benefited from a complete and recent overhaul of the content. It’s more age appropriate, and more focused on touch and movement; “I also try to throw something in there for the caregivers,” says Rachel, every hour I do a program I give them a development tip that I think they find really helpful.

I visited one of Rachel’s story hours and was awestruck by the energy and emotion in the fully packed, standing-room-only one hour bilingual program. I was very proud to be a small part, as a fellow librarian, of the community building work that she’s doing in her neighborhood.

When I asked her (completely as an aside) about online community building, Rachel (to my sheer, absolute joy and delight) told me that she’s partnering with volunteers from a neighborhood high school to create a MySpace page for her branch. The new page (not complete yet, stay tuned) will “definitely be bilingual, just like our programs” where you can access all the storytime content, songs, and calendar of events in both English and Spanish. “My people are busy,” says Rachel, “they don’t have time to click through the SFPL website and then only find English once they get to my page.” I’ll post their page here as soon as I have a link to it!

When I asked Rachel what makes her programs and services so successful, especially in so short a time, she said very simply “My people ask me for what they need, and I just try to get it for them.” Funny thing, right? Patrons are people, and she tries to get them what they need.

Go Rachel!! You’re a rockstar!!