Australia. Seriously.

I am very, very excited to have been invited to keynote the Country Public Libraries Association of New South WalesAnnual Conference the last week of July and then address the State Library of New South Wales the first week of August.

The conference theme is “The Power of Place” and I’ll be speaking about community building and libraries, and the connections between all our community building efforts, whether they are “inside, outside, or online” (as they say). Enormous thanks to Pam and Deanne for inviting me, and for working with me thus far on settling all the related details. I am very honored to visit Australia, to learn more about libraries there, and to share what I’ve been learning about community building and libraries in my work on the topic thus far.

Oooo. I just can’t wait! Thank you!

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!!

what type of sound does “connect” make?

Seattle Times (my hometown paper) published an article today about how “quiet libraries” are shifting into “busy community hubs.”

Minneapolis Public Library

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit Minneapolis Public Library’s new central branch - just opened in May. I visited with my colleague from WebJunction just after our visit with the state library, Metronet & MINITEX on WebJunction Minnesota (launching next month).

Impressive! The building is light, open, welcoming and … busy! Art installations were plentiful, the fireplaces inviting, and in the teen center you could write on the walls! A quick visit to the central library site and you’ll see that they’ve asked anyone who took pictures at the opening to post on Flickr and tag with “Minneapolis” and “library”. Smart. That’s how I found this lovely picture of my favorite feature: the birch in flagstone.

Perhaps even more impressive than the building, however, was the terrific launch campaign that went along with. The idea is that you can find all the cultural “regulars” at the library - ben franklin, elvis, batgirl … the list goes on … but also find yourself there (pictures of them, pictures of you). Genius.
Perfect timing because I’m turning my attentions to marketing and communications as my next piece of the community building puzzle. (Yes, that means I’m done with evaluation - at least for now. Thanks again for all your input … there are still questions to be answered … we’ll circle back ’round to them.)
It has been sunny here the last month or so. When it’s nice in Seattle your only concern is (or should be) how lovely and perfect our city is. I have been writing on schedule, but not one second more, hence my not being found on these pages lately. But it’s raining tonight, for the first time in awhile, and I’m hoping the rain and Fall in general will be more condusive to the tappity tap I seem to be willing to get back to today. We’ll see…

Libraries Build Communities — at ALA — no kidding!

Thanks to ALA & NOPL for the fantastic experience I had helping out the Children’s Resource Center (links to flickr mix) branch of the New Orleans Public Library during volunteer days at last week’s conference. We spent Friday moving books, shelves, and painting. Other teams worked throught the weekend to complete the renovations. I went back on Monday to check out the opening - and the fruits of all our hard labor. My lessons: (1) Never assume that you know what other people need. Being there, listening, and then deciding what action to take is what really makes the difference. Knowledge is power. I know it’s cliche and I’ve already said it elsewhere but I can’t stress this enough. (2 - this is a super personal one) Stop being cynical about ALA. Our presence in New Orleans and on these volunteer projects are enough to make me think twice the next time I’m tempted to spout off about this, that, and the other. Critique is good, but so is active participation. (3) When literally hundreds of people get together at one time and in one place and decide to do something, it feels a bit magical. Do this more often. 

Many, many thanks to our colleagues in NOPL’s and at ALA for the opportunity to take in all this, and more! And finally, thanks to Leslie Berger for making sure bloggers were encouraged to reflect on all this (at her reception) - and that my treo didn’t get paint on it during our painting project.

where the heart is

Seattle Public Library recently replaced their traditional reference desk with a “mixing chamber,” host to roaming wireless-enabled librarians and more than 200 public access terminals.

Skokie Public Library, serving a growing suburb outside of Chicago, uses an electronic reader service to deliver email with daily five-minute book samples and online book discussions.

The Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library recently placed an information center, complete with Spanish print collection, a sound station with AV equipment, and three public access terminals in a local homeless shelter.

Tonganoxie Public Library in Kansas, serving a rural community of only 3,400, showcases their service to local teens through their library profile on My Space.

Not to mention the whole SecondLife thing…

Urban, rural, large, and small – these public libraries all face the same challenge: serving up meaningful resources to patrons, wherever they are and whatever their need. It occurs to me that they are all examples of disaggregated library services - each offered up, perhaps, as solutions to the public’s need (and growing demand) for integrated content experiences. Is there a paradox there?

Librarians willing to migrate themselves and their services out into patron managed spaces (whether they’re online or down the street) create a whole new experience for library users – are they users we may not reach otherwise? When delivered within the context of an individuals own community or social network, maybe library services become more approachable, accessible, and meaningful - I guess we’ll see.
Wherever they’re offered, the result (for our professional community) is a new “diaspora” of library professionals. Scattered throughout the personal spaces of the patrons themselves – maybe we’re closer to them than ever before - but what’s lost (if anything) by being so far away from “home”? Those of you who are “out there” - how is it for you? Do you ever get homesick for the down-home comforts of a good old-fashioned library service or space?

Estonia

In the morning I’m headed out for a ten day trip to Estonia where my sister is studying jewelry design on her Fulbright scholarship. Yes, she is fancy! I am hoping to visit libraries during my time there, and will spend some time simply relaxing - and reading things I don’t seem to have the mental space for at home. For this project, I hope to finish How Libraries and Librarians Help, and also the pertinent sections of Slam Dunks and No-Brainers (which has a whole chapter on “community centered” language!). Because my flights are something like 24 hours (taken all together), maybe I’ll also pick up some trashy paperback in one of the many airports I’ll be touring on my way there.

Steven posted yesterday about the sirsi-dynix latest publication of Upstream. It’s all good stuff - and it’s great to hear from a number of library leaders on the subject of libraries building community. Cathy Wilt from PALINET talks about Joe Lucia at Falvey Memorial Library in her response to Steven’s question. “The social dimension of the library,” says Joe, “is almost as important as its physical and digital collections.” This belief has transformed their library programs, Web presence, and physical spaces - most likely engaging their community even further in the library’s collection. The key message here: collections are not our greatest asset if we can’t get people connected to them. Thanks to Cathy for pointing us to this great example of community building for academic libraries!

See you all in a coupla weeks!

Princeton’s Place Planning

Last fall, LJ published a supplement titled “Library by Design” (thanks Rebecca) that I totally missed because we had accidentally let our print subscription to LJ run out (it’s back now - and I’ve learned a valuable lesson about what I get from the printed page - but that’s another story). Reading through today, I see there’s a great article about the Princeton (NJ) Public Library and the process they used to develop plans for their new building (opened in Feb 2004).

First, and perhaps most importantly, the library board and director Leslie Burger, had a vision for the new library, but they knew that they needed community input before they moved forward with that vision. Instead of saying here’s our new library (visionary as it may have been) they said here’s what we see in a new library, what do you see? From the article:

This helped stir the imagination of numerous residents … Through focus groups we learned that the amenities most desired are cozy areas, lots of comfortable seating, a place to eat and a place to meet, and, most of all, special spaces for children and teens - along with plenty of research technology.

Remarkably, library leaders took community input alongside librarian input. Librarians wanted “quiet places to work” and “visible centers to interact with patrons - both at traditional service desks and at quick hit spots throughout each collection area.”

When planners looked at the input from the community and from library staff, they realized that everyone had the same goals: to see and be seen, but to have quiet and undisturbed space as well. They approached these needs in the new building design with a mix of colors, materials, and furniture that helped create separate environments that encourage different types of activities … “and embrace a diverse community.”

The outcome? A community-informed realization of the board’s original vision: the warmth of a family living room, a friendly “bookstore” environment, and a “community space” to gather in the information age. According to the article, library visits have more than doubled. I also hear they have one of the best Technology Librarians that side of the Mississippi (hi Janie!).

A few things pop out at me here: visionary leadership, a design process that makes community feedback central, and a feedback gathering approach that places library staff as peers to the patrons they serve.

Have you been to the Princeton PL? What were your impressions?

-CRH