by Cynthia Lambert
A funny thing happened on the way to the weekend: I found myself on Twitter looking for stuff to do!
Now don’t get me wrong–I have been on Twitter. I signed up about two years ago and have used it sporadically ever since. I like the short bursts, but they often are just links to typical stuff found elsewhere. Plus, my choices of who to follow were often disappointing. Not the real people I actually know! It was the content providers and entertainment choices I made that fell short.
From the input side, I posted some. That was fun, especially the phase where I tried to make every post use as close to the total 140 characters as possible. Still, after posting to Facebook, I didn’t find I had anything new to say. Mostly, I glanced and moved on. That began to change when I was planning my vacation.
I was heading to Northern California and some pretty tiny towns. I certainly used Google to plan and prep for the trip. However, I couldn’t get any real sense of the towns or what there was to do after hiking all day. At some point, I thought maybe I could follow a local library twitter feed and find out a few things happening while we were going to be in town. I dug about further and found a local paper, the local college, and a few government feeds for my destination. Boom, I finally found my Twitter sweet spot!!
I found information about food, gardens, and shopping. I even found a yarn shop via a garden walk. Now folks, these are a few of my favorite things! I gleefully watched the feeds for a few weeks before we arrived. It was a great trip.
After vacation, I returned home and reverted back to my Facebook and Google habits. For a few weeks that was just fine. However, one day I glanced at my Twitter feed just as @PrincetonScoop posted about an event for that weekend. The scales fell from my eyes and behold, I became a Twitter convert!
Once again, I dug around for the local newspaper, the local university and colleges, the college radio station, and a few commercial PR providers. I added a few local places I frequent. I was on my way. A treasure trove of information began to flow in: Farm Market Updates; what’s blooming in the local gardens; summer theater options at Princeton University, and of course all the great events hosted @mylibrary.
The moral of this story–always look at your resources and tools with fresh eyes.
I thought I knew what Twitter had to offer, but I was wrong. What it is, and what I want from it, have evolved over time. I now visit Twitter before I hit Facebook. I still don’t post much, but that is because I am too busy planning what to do this weekend!
A post by Cynthia Lambert
In the past I have blogged about what surprised me when I first came to libraries. Many people commented on the drunken patron—an unexpected customer service challenge if ever there was one. One thing I expected, but three years later still have no idea how to deal with, are the mentally ill or chemically altered patrons. I am not alone.
When I get together socially with librarians both new and seasoned, often the talk of customer service turns into laments about the homeless, the mentally ill, drug addicts, and the unwashed. No one it seems has any idea how to properly help and/or deal with these people. Why is that?
A March, 2009 article in Public Libraries gives a list of 10 tips for dealing with the mentally ill, all of which suggest training. In library school—only one class, a class on communication, even touched on the issue of mentally ill people at the library. Of the four libraries I have worked in, not one gave me training, despite mentally ill, homeless, and drug addicted patrons causing problems—some small, some very significant. In fact, at one, most of the staff simply will not deal with the issue. Rules in place against sleeping or pornography are ignored and management explicitly stated that maybe it is best to just let them sleep unless another patron complains.
The San Francisco Public Library is trying something new to deal with the problem. They have hired a full-time social worker. While I think that is fantastic, the reality is that very few libraries have the money to hire adequate library staff these days, let alone getting into the business of health care. So what is there for the rest of us?
Other than a handful of articles, I have found no indication of a training program in place to help library staff identify and deal with the mentally ill or drug addicted. I am sure there are many programs out there, I simply cannot find them. I found programs for educators, for families, for children, for teens, and for law enforcement, but nothing for libraries and library professionals.
The literature I did find is limited, suggests speaking to experts, and provides a list of ‘tips’. Much of what I do know, I have learned informally on the job or from other librarians. (For example, never yell, speak harshly, or seem upset–simply speak in a calm voice, speak clearly and in short sentences, show respect, enforce the rules).
Librarians love training. We love meetings. How many offers of training on Twitter or Facebook have you seen in the past year? Now think about how many you have received for dealing with drug addicts or the mentally ill? How many hours have you spent in endless meetings discussing the best way to support e-books? Now consider how many hours have been spent on dealing with difficult patrons in a safe and effective manner (and get management does not cut it given there lack of availability at night and on weekends).
So I ask you dear readers—please send me your training programs, your tips, your tricks, and your coping strategies for dealing with the mentally ill or drug addicted. It is my goal to create an online professional directory of services, training, tips, and discussion to assist library professionals in dealing with the most needy and most challenging of patrons.
I am working tonight–until 9:00pm.
When I mentioned the time we are closing to many friends, almost all were negative about us staying open so late. Fellow librarians were appalled. I will admit, it could be easy to look at this as a hardship. However, I don’t. I am happy I am working tonight.
The reality is this–there are many people in the library tonight. I know it will get slow as the night progresses, but even then, we will have people here. So far it has been a mix of regulars, visitors wanting to check e-mail, lots of phone calls for directions, phone numbers, and one caller asking for help finding a no-cook pie recipe (www.cooks.com has plenty of choices). .
People have been making copies of documents for safekeeping while they travel. Likewise, plenty of folks are grabbing that last-minute book for their trips. As always, the DVDs are flying off the shelves. My favorite person so far: the woman who is just trying to minimize the time she must spend with her in-laws. I feel her pain–we swapped stories and both laughed. I think I made a difference in her life, if only for a few minutes.
No one has been cranky (even when the copier was evil as it often is…). No one has been mean. In fact, the regulars are not even complaining about the ‘young kids who make noise’ as they normally do. Almost every person says have a nice holiday or something similar.
Right now, most people seem to be busy and rushed–they have places to go. As it gets later, I suspect it will be more people without places to go. This, more than any other reason, is why I am happy we are open and I am working tonight. I have the chance to make someone smile, laugh, or provide them with information they need.
I am thankful that I can be here if they need me. I am thankful that in these economically turbulent times, I have a job. So yes, I would much prefer to be home gearing up for tomorrow and getting ready to watch ‘Glee’, but I can not help but feel very happy tonight. Happy to help. Happy to serve. Happy to listen.
Lately I have questioned the wisdom of my decision to become a librarian. Tonight, I was given a very pleasant reminder that despite the difficulties, it was the right choice. I know many of you will work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday this week. It is hard to do, especially when the rest of the family is home doing something more interesting. To each of you–and all the people who work the holidays, thank-you very much.
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…
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: My Reaction: I agree! Customer service is incredibly important. Now let’s put that into practice. #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. #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.
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:
My Reaction: I agree! Customer service is incredibly important. Now let’s put that into practice.
#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.
#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.
I was saddened to learn that after eight years, Críticas has ceased publication. The full Title–Críticas: An English Speaker’s Guide to the Latest Spanish-Language Titles– is the best description of the magazine I could produce. It was a published monthly on-line and covered everything—adult titles, children’s titles, books, movies, and audio, fiction and nonfiction. In addition there are articles and editorials covering everything from collection development to outreach and fundraising. Twice a year, print copies were distributed to subscribers of Library Journal. This was my go to resource for keeping up with the Spanish language publishing industry.
As you know, the Federal Government is spending. Yesterday President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a $787 billion stimulus package. According to the President, “It’s an investment that will create jobs building 21st century classrooms, libraries, and labs for millions of children across America.”
Of interest to me is $53.5 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (down from the $79 billion originally proposed). This money is being given to state governments to make-up shortfalls in spending on education and government services. I for one will be sending e-mails to my state representatives asking that they continue to fully fund the NJ Knowledge Initiative and provide some of this money for public libraries in New Jersey. (To find your NJ representatives, this is a really handy site: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/legsearch.asp).
For complete breakdown of the package and how it impacts libraries, the ALA has set up a very helpful webpage. I look forward to learning more about the specifics of the package and how it can help my library and my community, as well as all libraries.
Thank you for coming–we love to share our space and are happy to have you here. As in many libraries (and I suspect in yours), we have a policy here that states: No Food or Drink in the Library. We hate to tell our patrons no, but have no choice—this is a sensible policy as food and drink stain furniture and carpets and destroys library materials. In this age of the ubiquitous Starbucks cup, coffee cop is one of the worst parts of our jobs.
We try to enforce the rules fairly, but sometimes we do not see the offense. However, when you approach the public desk with a steaming cup of coffee in your hands, you should expect to be told about the policy. Please do not roll your eyes, sigh, or scowl—as you know, we are on the front-lines and just doing our job. When you follow-up with “I am here for the [Insert meeting name here]“, please understand that is the library equivalent of a celebrity exclaiming ‘Do you know who I am’. It does not change the rule which we are duty bound to enforce fairly.
Please keep this in mind when visiting another library—we understand your desire to have coffee while at your meeting. We understand you are careful and are unlikely to spill. We do not want to tell you no. However, we can not make an exception for you. It is unfair. It makes our job harder. Please do not ask. You see, the other patrons do not know who you are.
Time Magazine has written a feature article on John McCain’s Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Below is a paragraph from the article that discusses her relationship to the public library while Mayor of Wasilla Alaska:
“Stein says that as mayor, Palin continued to inject religious beliefs into her policy at times. “She asked the library how she could go about banning books,” he says, because some voters thought they had inappropriate language in them. “The librarian was aghast.” The librarian, Mary Ellen Baker, couldn’t be reached for comment, but news reports from the time show that Palin had threatened to fire her for not giving “full support” to the mayor. “
The full article can be found here.
What do you think? At what level should government be involved in library decisions and policy (i.e. we get our funding from them but does that mean they can tell us how to spend it)?
In today’s New York Times, Michelle Slatalla writes about turning to the Internet for advice for dealing with ‘life’s little insoluble conundrums’–in her case, a smoke detector going off in the night. In the article, she talks about services like Wiki.Answers, Amazon’s Askville, Funadvice.com, Askmehelpdesk.com, Help.com, and Yahoo Answers to ease the helplessness we all feel when life throws us a bizarre curveball.
I immediately thought of the new NJLA and New Jersey State Library new marketing campaign called Solving Life’s Little Problems. This is exactly what Ms. Slatalla was talking about–I have tried everything I know, now what? Hers was not a huge problem, but it was annoying and a big deal to her. Yet despite noting that at times the answers on these sites is often wrong and noting ‘the answers don’t go through fact checkers’, the article never mentions professional library services such as QandANJ.org.
I wanted to scream! Why are we being ignored? Why aren’t you writing about us? How can you know the information can be bad, but still extol the virtues of such services? People have questions. Libraries have answers–even 24 hour Internet Access to answers!
We need a new marketing campaign. These services are getting the word out better. The article states that Help.com has had a 73% year-over-year increase in traffic to 316,000 visitors per month! That is huge. Compare it to the very successful QandANJ.org service that gets around 4,500 users a month (keeping in mind it is live and it is branded in one state vs. Help.com being a worldwide post and wait service so it is not an apples to apples comparison, but still…). I am in the process of writing Ms. Slatalla (email@example.com) to let her know The Truth Is Out There! We are ready and able to ‘Solve Life’s Little Problems’, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Still, the article serves as a wake-up call for me–We Are Not Alone! I think we need to understand what these competing services offer users and learn from them. For example, lurking–you can sit and read volumes of previous posts on a topic without the need to ‘come out’ to a live librarian. I know of no similar service offered by Libraries. We provide pathfinders to resources, but what about answers FAQs?
Likewise, some of the questions asked are real stumpers that I am not sure how well they would be answered by librarians. For example, in the article, one question listed is ‘When you make out with a boy or girl, what do you do with your tongue?’ Honestly, I have no idea how I would answer that (but you can bet I will go out and look at what was posted and hope to learn something new in the process!). How would you answer this?
This isn’t the first time library services have been ignored by Ms. Slatalla. In January she wrote about Tutor.com (here is the article). Again, she never mentions that this service and many other homework help services are available, for free, from many public libraries. In fact, there are many times when her Cyberfamilias column talks up services we provide without mentioning us as a reliable on-line service provider. She is not alone. There are many other examples of the media reporting about on-line information sources that never mention libraries.
This needs to change. I call on Librarians and Information Professionals to write to Ms. Slatalla (firstname.lastname@example.org) as I am. Let her know about what your library can do for her and her readers. Then don’t stop there–tell everyone you know about on-line services that are available 24/7 and then tell everyone you do not know. Tell every in library patron what they can use when the library is closed. Let people know–The Truth Is Out There! It can be found at your library!