Archive for May, 2009

But doesn’t that mean the teens will start coming in?

An Ethics professor once told me the best way to test our bias and prejudice is by replacing your intended subject with a different one. Her particular argument was against the use of generalized statements but it fits this situation just as well. Replace the word ‘teen’ (but make sure to keep ‘the’) in the title with another age group, race or religion, political belief, etc.
Try to say it aloud or, better yet, walk up to someone and say it to them.
Did it feel weird?
So, why was it okay to say about ‘the teens?’
The title of this post almost reads like a joke and, in fact, I did get a few good laughs when I repeated it.
But it wasn’t a joke…
It was something a librarian asked me at the NJLA Conference… right after stating how wonderful a gaming program would be for the children and seniors of her community.
The question took me a bit by surprise, I guess I thought most libraries had gotten over this hump. I thought, in a time when we fight to justify our relevance and existence, we would strive for as many patrons as possible. Then I thought of the question I should have responded with;
 
“Well, if you don’t want them to come in as teens, when do you want them to come back?”
 
I wonder how the desired life-cycle of this library’s patrons is supposed to happen. They start their life as a child full of wonder and excitement, eyes gleaming at the expansive collection of books with silly pictures of cats, dogs, bunnies and ducks (my daughter’s personal favorite). The child returns to the library in order to nurture their love of reading and, perhaps, even help another child learn their own first word. The children are always welcome to return and grow their love of books…
until they develop an opinion and interest in a social life.
At this point, The Teenage Years (or The Rebel Era if you prefer), the still-child is cast out into the lands. He/she will learn to fend for themselves in the jungles of peer pressures, learn how to find weaker prey and attack with stunning emotional-precision and develop new languages built around four-letter words and the slang of 30 years ago. Think Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
But eventually, these teens will persevere. They will develop the skills needed to make it in the adult world. They will move on to attain college degrees, grow more children and learn how to live and respect the social expectations of ‘decent society.’
At this time, they may return… and please bring their children!

May 20, 2009 at 10:06 am

5 Surprises from first year as an MLIS

One year ago next week, I received my MLIS from Rutgers University. Over the past year, I have learned a great deal, found I need to learn much more, and am truly thankful to those who have helped bring me to where I am today. As many of you may know, I am a career changer who had not worked in libraries until library school, so many of the things I learned have been quite unexpected.

On the eve of this anniversary, I thought I would share the top five most surprising things I have learned and comment on each. Keep in mind, all of these pertain to Public Libraries because that is where I work and public librarians are who I tend to socialize with. Also, these observations are not all about MPOW—they come from discussion with many different librarians from many different libraries…

Top Five Library Surprises.
#1) Meetings: Corporations have long since abandoned the long meeting with many people—they are generally expensive and non-productive. Librarians love long meetings with many people in attendance. Each week there is at least one meeting to attend—usually far more than one. They tend to run long and much of what is covered could be communicated via e-mail or memos.
My reaction: Wow, this is insane, please stop!

Next time you are at a meeting and are bored (and you know you will be), look around the room. Calculate an average hourly salary (oh come on, we all know you look at the Asbury Park Press database: http://php.app.com/NJpublicemployees/search.php ). It doesn’t have to be exact, in fact low-ball it at $20/hour and plug it into this formula:
(hourly rate)*(# of people at meeting)*(number of hours for meeting) = real $ cost of meeting.
Pretty staggering isn’t it (now consider how many times these meetings happen in one year!).
Do you really think this is the best use of our resources? And this does not even count the opportunity cost—think of all the stuff you could get done if not at the meeting, now think of all the stuff everyone could! Meetings—which generally produce nothing but to-do lists—are really just a practical alternative to actual work.

Now before you all write in to say we have to have meetings – yes I know that. Short, focused meetings are critical to working efficiently. Likewise, employees should have a chance to speak to management in an open forum. I am not advocating for no meetings. I simply would like to see some business-like principals applied to library meetings and fewer meetings in general:

  • Have an agenda with approximate times for each topic.
  • Stick to the agenda: if time runs over too far, perhaps a sub-set should meet for further discussion instead of the entire staff being held hostage to one topic; when topic drift begins, return the discussion to the topic at hand and consider the drift items as topics for another time; if one person is dominating and dragging things out—offer to speak to them later one-on-one.
  • Be sure the agenda items need face to face discussion—if it can be done via e-mail, do it. Again, I totally agree with having meetings—simply not as often and never as long as the typical staff or department meetings in libraries.
#2) Customer Service: Every meeting, every conference, many training sessions, and loads of articles, blog posts, tweets, and chats focus on Customer Service. We love to talk about customer service.

My Reaction: I agree! Customer service is incredibly important. Now let’s put that into practice.

  • More weekend hours! Weekends are when the most patrons use the libraries, but it is the first place people cut when trying to slash budgets. Many libraries are not open at all on Sundays. Why?
  • More staff during the busiest hours—yes, this means working more weekends and nights and more than one librarian on a desk a peak times. Every library I have worked in or been to has a skeleton crew on weekends! Long lines & cranky burned out employees do not equal good customer service. I know this is unpopular, but it is true.
  • Sundays are a day just like any other day—why do we open so late?! We are public institutions that should NOT schedule based when church is over (the only possible reason I see for the late start). Our patrons should not have to wait half a day to get to the library.
#3) Marketing: Every time I brought up marketing while in library school, fellow students bit my head off—some wanted to boil me in oil for using the dreaded ‘M’ word. To be fair, many libraries and librarians now use and promote marketing. They deserve credit because they do still get tons of flack for being too ‘business-like’.
My Reaction: Marketing is important–Deal with It!
Don’t believe me? A recent ‘help for job seekers’ program in my library had no promotion, two people showed up (come on, in this economy!). Attendance at the same program when it was promoted? SRO. You can have the best library, best staff, best resources, and best programs–if people don’t know it, they won’t use it.

#4) Adult Service Librarians Hate Teens/Teens Hate Adult Services Librarians: I hear this everywhere—from Youth Services Librarians, from Adult Service Librarians, from teens at the library, teens in my personal life, and adults in their 20s who were treated poorly while in high school. It is astounding to me how true to the angry mean librarian stereotype this is.

My Reaction: STOP THIS NOW—JUST STOP IT! Every patron should be treated with respect and not judged because of age, gender, ethnic background, etc.

Teens are future adults. At MPOW, they ask the meatiest reference questions because they are doing research papers without the benefit of an academic library. They are generally polite, helpful, and respond well when told to keep their voices down. Adults on the other hand, yell into their cell phones (teens understand you don’t have to yell to be heard). They yell at staff when asked to stop behavior that is not allowed (there is always a reason for rules not to apply to them). Yes, there are problem teens, but there are also problem adults (see #5!).
Ever notice that after high school, people tend stop going to the Public Library and don’t return until they have kids of their own? Gee, I wonder why?

#5) Drunk People At the Library: While I openly admit much about this job is like being a bar tender–people bring you their problems and want to talk, this was simply a shock when I first became a librarian. It happens so often, now it is just a regular thing.

My Reaction: Really, drunk at the library?! Now, I will admit it—I’ve had my share of drunken times in my life. Not once—not even in college—did I ever say ‘hmmm, now that I am wasted, I should go to the library!’
  • No amount of customer service, communication training, or any other ‘technique’ works with these people. They are rude, clumsy, and smell bad.
  • Ask management for help–well, sure if they were in the library at the time. Since most drunks who are a problem show up at night, on weekends, and near Christmas, I have yet to encounter a drunk while management is on duty.
If you regularly deal with drunks (or other substance abusers) at your library, let me know what you do! At the very least, know you are not alone. I feel your pain.
I could go on and on–so many surprises, so little space. What have been your biggest surprises @yourlibrary?
To those of you who graduate from Library School this month–congratulations and good luck! It is a terrific profession, but also a really strange one. It is never dull. At the very least, working with the public means you will always have an entertaining story to tell at the bar! Just please do not go to the library after you are done drinking!

May 15, 2009 at 1:28 pm 24 comments

Dropping the L

“Aren’t you at Rutgers SCILS? What do you think of them dropping the ‘L’?”

Over the course of about two weeks, I was asked these questions several times. Fellow librarians from all over the country called or contacted me over IM wanting to know what I thought about the name change at Rutgers University SCILS. By the time news of the faculty vote to change the name of the school from School of Communication, Information and Library Studies (SCILS) to School of Communication and Information (SCI) reached the national media in February, I had already known about the change a short while and I had an answer ready for my colleagues. It had taken me awhile to put into words what I was feeling. I wasn’t upset or angry-just sad.

Problems with the “L”

The “L” has apparently been an issue around Rutgers School for Communication, Information and Library Studies for quite some time. During the orientation to the Ph.D. program last fall, there were a few references to a previous debate concerning the title of the Ph.D. program. There are three departments in the school (Communication, Library and Information Science, and Journalism and Media Studies) and the doctorate in Communication, Information and Library Studies does not acknowledge the department of Journalism and Media Studies (JMS). Students in the JMS area receive a degree that does not mention their course of study but does mention LIS-an area of study with which most of the students are not even remotely associated.

It was also clear that some students in the PhD. program simply do not like graduating with a degree that includes the word “library.” Information” is okay, but “library” is not.
Even though the name of the Ph.D. program is not changing, the name change is not good news for librarians. Why don’t people outside of our profession want to be associated with us? What is wrong with “library”?

Librarians’ Problems

Librarians have not effectively proved the worth of our profession, our workplaces, or our schools. Librarians are underpaid, library budgets are highly contested, and library schools often close. We start major marketing pushes such as I Love Libraries and endlessly discuss the “future of librarianship.” Still, there is little change. Salaries are middling. Budgets are cut all over the country. Clark-Atlanta closed its library school in 2005. And Rutgers SCILS drops the L.

The responses posted to Library Journal’s articles on the name change clearly show that people are passionate about this issue. However, the posters also point to the “problem” with the term library. It is clear that many people, including librarians, simply associate libraries with books. One poster states: “School of Communications and Infomation [sic] Googlers! SCIG. No wonder book stores are closing down and Amazon is selling more non-book media.” Another writes: “My fear in dropping the word “library” is that increasingly the emphasis will be on technology and not on books and reading. As a middle school librarian…I believe my most important task is to market the books!”

These comments point to one of profession’s problems: a tenacious dedication to a particular format. I love books, but I do not believe it is my job as a librarian to market them. I want people to read but I have no problem with them reading on their Kindle. Our reluctance to let go of the book as an ideal format for information keeps us tied to a technology that is time- and place-bound. This is not surprising; people often become librarians because we love books and the place where we could get them for free. Other people do not share our affinity for books and libraries. And it is often these people that have control over our salaries, budgets, and schools.

Whither the L?

The truth is that by the time the issue of dropping the L came before the SCILS faculty it was already too late. We had failed in our quest to bring people’s perceptions of libraries and librarians up to date. The academy has decided that library science is important but not prestigious. Neither its research nor its alumni bring in significant amounts of money and the term sounds passé. Note that all of the remaining library schools have “information” in their titles. All are either schools of information or schools of library and information science.

Rutgers is not the first to drop the L and I suspect it will not be the last.

May 6, 2009 at 10:48 am 4 comments


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