Blog Archives

midwinter wrap

last year Steven and I were in San Antonio kicking off this lovely book project of ours. a public commitment, Steven Bell commented to me this weekend. indeed. here we are a year later and we have a few months to finish up all of our mental meanderings, research, case studies, conversations, and explorations into a real-life, printed thing that actually makes sense and is hopefully useful for continuing the conversation on community building & libraries. whew. when i think about it i get a little tired and so i try not to think about it and just keep writing.

i made some re-connections with folks this weekend at the conference meetings and want to thank some of those folks for all of your good-wishing and even (many of you) volunteering to talk further or write a sidebar as we set out for this last stretch. so, thank you. it was so good to see so many of you again. as soon as i’m rested (and back from my delirium) i’ll be in touch.

Back from New Mexico

I’m back from my family trip to New Mexico, but quite exhausted. My grandmother’s will requested a full day’s wake, then memorial service, then next day burial service. Following the white hearse the long ride from Albuquerque to Santa Fe, I felt spookily like I had been transported into an episode of six feet under (which is much more fabulous when it’s on tv). Her house and belongings now wait for hours of sorting, resorting, and distribution amongst her two children and ten grandchildren. While visiting her house the night before I came home, I learned that my grandmother had classified her personal collection by the DDC (seriously?), including a somewhat jumbled card catalog and check-out slips for each title. I brought home a few titles, and a stack of blank catalog cards. I’m finding that I can’t precisely shake the grief (when is that supposed to happen?), though I think I may be moving into acceptance rather soon.
Meanwhile, I write. I’m working now on the concept of sustainability and how it pertains to community building and library services. So far, I’ve been surprised to find that the only library orgs talking about “sustainability” (with this term) is WebJunction (Rural Library Sustainability Program) and ALA (Public Funding and Technology Access Study). Are there others that you know of? Pray tell.

Both of these projects are funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who talks about sustainability a lot (no less than 18 of their 2002 library grants reference “sustainability” specifically). Cindi Hickey’s Building a Sustainable Future is the only blog I found dedicated to the topic for libraries; it was prompted by Kansas State Library’s participation in WebJunction’s rural program.
The Gates Foundation has certainly moved the conversation on public access computing away from hardware and software towards sustainability (of all of it: technology, training, programs, and support for the library) and I wonder if the lis-blogosphere will follow suit? When does technology become so integrated into library practice that it’s not really the focus of our conversations anymore? If we were to turn our attention to sustainability (instead of technology? alongside technology?), would we be better for it?

These (kinda new to me) ideas are related to the approach that Steven and I agreed upon for this book: community building is not about technology, though that’s where we come from (in general) as library professionals. We felt strongly that the community-building we’re both a part of through our tech-advocacy is in principle the same kind of activity that successful libraries have been practicing for years, even without flickr or you tube! Effective libraries are connecting with people, discovering and meeting needs, and consistently evaluating their own progress towards goals. What has this to do with technology? Not much except that sometimes we use technology to facilitate some or all of the above. What has this to do with sustainability? Seems like a lot.

community-contributed content (for books)

I am super excited that as my writing of the first draft of our marketing chapter wrapped up, I had two fantastic conversations with library-land folks about writing selected sidebars. I’m really hoping this works its way into other areas of the book as well, because it’s a nice way for us to (1) engage more of the library community in the concepts and writing process and (2) get into a little bit more detail on a small section, concept, example, or what have you.

(And, wouldn’t you know it, it was super easy to just create a new collaborative document (using Google docs, formerly writely) to start to work on that stuff on the web together – and for me it’s all in the context of the writing / collection that I’m working on with Steven. I’m really starting to see the potential for something like this to be extremely powerful for quickly and easily collaborating with others for book-length projects.)
So, anyway, many thanks to Brian Matthews and Jill Stover for talking with me about these ideas. I’m really excited to see where they go from here. Please do check out their blogs for some stimulating marketing ideas for your library in the meantime.

next-gen-ism

Catching up on my LJ reading – I finally had time to read Michael Casey and Laura Savastinuk on “Library 2.0”. Full of energy and enthusiasm, Casey and Savastinuk encourage library staff to focus on their users and communities – all of them – engaging patrons as participants and collaborators in the collections and services we offer. The key is not necessarily technology, they go on, but consistently planning, assessing, and adjusting our services – with constant input from and engagement with our users all the while. “If your organization combines … a framework for continual change and customer input integrated into other operations, it will be well on its way to becoming Library 2.0.”

I see the value in saying that something is “library 2.0” or a “next generation library.” It gives us a phrase for capturing ideas, energy, tools, and even a whole way of thinking about the changes or movements happening across the profession. This can be incredibly useful for gathering momentum around new initiatives, peaking curiosity, or simply gathering our thoughts – there’s always so much to take in professionally and sometimes it’s helpful to put things into containers. But something struck me as odd today when I re-read the headline: service for the next-generation library. What about services for libraries right now? Can you be next and now – at the same time?

Although I understand and appreciate the futurists in our professional circles as much as anyone, and I may sometimes be one myself, I wonder if there’s also something a bit condescending or smack-down-esque about the “next-gen” term. Does it conjure up a judgment or dismissal of our current colleagues who aren’t (for whatever reason) future-thinking? If we were all future-thinking could we open the doors, change the light bulbs, and run story-times? Maybe there are spaces or roles for some of us to be thinking about our traditions – and our current activities – in context with future trends or needs? Is there a way to balance it all? Take what’s valuable from each and pull it together into comprehensive, relevant services that bond library staff and patrons alike?

Maybe this is a given. Maybe I’m sensing something about next-gen-ism that really isn’t there for other folks. Let me be clear that I mean no disrespect to the great next-gen “tagged” materials out there. Like I said, a lot of this stuff has influenced my own thinking as I’ve come along in the profession. Part of my musing about this may be that I’m five years in now, and am not so next-gen myself (anymore) and so the term is bringing up questions I’ve never had before.

Is anyone else feeling like their next-gen-ism has flipped over into something else? Can you put whatever it has become to words? Would love your thoughts…

stats, plans, standards, and results

Thanks to Kathleen (de la Pena McCook), I finally found the overview/context for evaluation movements (for public libraries) that I was looking for. In chapter four of her Introduction to Public Librarianship (Neal-Schuman, 2004), she outlines public library evaluation practice “from faith to fact,” through the standards & outputs/role setting movements, and on to new planning for results and outcomes based eval.

Thank you Kathleen! I don’t remember spending a lot of time on this in library school (did I just forget?) and I’ve been struggling to make sense (historically) on all that I’ve been taking in on this subject lately. For anyone who’s trying to put OBE and NPFR in context, it’s worth tracking down and taking 20 minutes to get yourself oriented! Now I feel like I’m (getting close to being) ready to make the connections to building community that are certainly there … yet somehow get lost in all the hoopla.

And many thanks to Kathleen for your continued interest in my process!

Finding Value in Victoria Public Libraries, Australia

Thanks to John for hooking me up with this fantastic 2005 Libraries Building Communities report from Victorian Public Libraries in Australia. From their site…
Libraries Building Communities is the first comprehensive Australian study looking at the value public libraries bring to their communities. One of the most extensive research projects undertaken in this area, the study included every public library in Victoria (44 libraries with 238 branches), and sought the views and ideas of almost 10,000 people via online and telephone surveys, focus groups and interviews.

The research aims to increase community awareness of the range of public library services and show how public libraries can help achieve government policy goals. For library staff it:

  • presents clear new data on the contribution libraries make to their communities
  • provides case studies that show how Victorian public libraries lead in innovation
  • identifies groups that are not currently well served by their libraries, and offer solutions
  • builds awareness of the critical social capital and community role of public libraries

Report One: Setting the Scene ~ Covers the concept of community building, the Victorian Government’s policy agenda, the Victorian public library network, project methodology, and relevant research.

Report Two: Logging the Benefits ~ Outlines the community views on the role and benefits of public libraries.

Report Three: Bridging the Gaps ~ Provides socio-economic demographic profiles of library users and non-user, as well as strategies for bridging the perceived gaps in public library service delivery.

Report Four: Showcasing the Best ~ Gives over 30 examples of innovation and excellence in Victorian public libraries.

Know what? This collection is remarkably similar to the themes that Steven and I have been working on. The key components of community building that we’re focusing on are: Assessment, Communication, Service/Program Development, Evaluation, and Sustainability.

It’s nice to see some of our ideas mirrored in other works. On the other hand, it takes me back to the question I’ve been struggling with throughout this entire process: is there anything new? anything fresh? I have a few reasons why the answer is yes (pulling tech services, traditional services & physical spaces together, for one thing) but I think we need to pull it out of the work more explicitly.Writing books is hard. I wonder if, when it’s done, you forget that.

Lovely Rita

Travel and vacation all complete, I’m back home to my job and our LBC project. (Photos of Estonia are posted on Flickr for anyone who wants to see – though they’re certainly not titled or tagged just yet.) While I was away our fabulous editor delivered comments on our first chapter. Essentially, it seems we’re on the right track, though I feel that we still have much to do (such as, write the rest of it!) before it’s ready for primetime. Still, it’s great to have a first round of feedback. Steven and I will likely debate when it’s ready for the blog. I admit that I’m a little chicken. What do you all think, should we post the first chapter? How “baked” should it be before we post it?

Meanwhile, I’m extremely thrilled with the continuing response to our online survey – posted earlier this month in the “about you” section of the blog. (Last entry was today, just three hours ago.) Thanks for writing in, everyone! My favorite part of this research process so far continues to be the positive vibe that our colleagues write in with. That last question about advice for other community building librarians has turned into a real gold mine of good humor and inspiration. For example, after asking I’m wondering if you’d like my answers. I’m dutch and maybe you only like answers from the USA ? Rita Niland at Bibliotheek Rotterdam, Netherlands advises:

You need crazy volunteers and crazy librarians to make good things …

Excellent. Finally, someone has us all pegged! For the record, Rita, we l-o-v-e your answers. Thank you!

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