Posts filed under ‘Library as Place’
by April Bunn
Times are rough for librarians in New Jersey. In the education world, librarian positions are being cut at an astronomical rate due to severe cuts in state aid.
I have been quiet here on Library Garden lately because I am part of the statistics- my position was cut- leaving our school without a librarian. I have been busy advocating for our positions with my teacher’s association and the New Jersey Association of School Librarians.
While I’m shocked at what happened to school budgets in the Garden State in such a short period of time, I’m finding a shimmer of hope in the cover story of the May issue of the New Jersey Education Assocation (NJEA) Review: Keeping Dewey relevant in the digital age: Why books still matter by East Hanover teacher and author Ralph Rabb.
Rabb argues that with our help, books, in their original printed form, will inspire literate, passionate readers. His primary concern is that students are doing their reading online and not picking up hard-copy text enough. The new term for all this online reading is called being “e-literate”.
I was immediately hooked into the article because Rabb describes one of my major reasons for loving libraries since I was very young- the SMELL of books- “It’s absolute olfactory heaven.” He calls libraries “temples built for the love of books” and suggests that teachers need to take their students on field trips to the great libraries, such as the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.
I take my youngest students each year on a trip to our public library and their excitement is contagious. And while my library is not a NYPL, it is still my temple and it’s still a baby. I’m extra sad to see it close* next year since I “built” it from scratch. The prior superintendent had a vision for the school that included a large library with an adjoining technology lab and they were dedicated in September of 2005. She’d be sad to see this happening.
*I said it was “closing” next year, which I consider the case, but my Board doesn’t see it that way- they think teachers taking their students down to “pick out books” and volunteers shelving books is keeping it alive. By the way, the technology department experienced no budget cuts.
Just reporting on yet another busy weekend at MPOW. I love my job in general, but at this very moment I am so incredibly invigorated (most likely from the music) and in love with what I do that I just have to write about it. We just wrapped up a concert in our community room called The Many Moods of Beethoven. It was performed by a chamber quarter from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra and it was standing room only (with many also choosing to sit on the floor so as not to miss a note). My headcount was 180+, which is great for a cold Sunday afternoon in February. The musicians told the story of Beethoven’s life through his music and the educational aspect was equal to the musical aspect.
In contrast to the classical music, we have also have a film series occurring at the library this weekend and for the next few weeks called “Clint Out West”— it is a retrospective of Clint Eastwood’s films. The attendance numbers are not as high for the Beethoven program (ranging from 30-60+ per film screening), but numbers aren’t always the measure of a successful program. According to Susan Conlon, the organizer of the series, those in attendance are extremely engaged in the discussions being led by film historian Bruce Lawton and the series is not only entertaining but also educational.
Last weekend PPL hosted the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, a new and very successful venture which was entirely the initiative of Kai Marshall-Otto, a teen volunteer here at the library. Kai, who is also Co-President of Princeton High School Environmental Club, worked tirelessly to organize and coordinate the weekend. The festival offered 5 days of films and speakers on environmental issues and had a total attendance exceeding 1,000 for the weekend. Susan Conlon, our Teen Librarian extraordinaire, was the staff liaison for the festival and worked closely with Kai every step of the way to create a dynamic and exciting weekend. As she noted in her program report:
This program brought in all ages, and while adults represented the greatest % in attendance, it was very much noticed and appreciated that teens were the catalyst for this event, and were represented in the audience, and also helping to facilitate discussions.
We have programs and events daily, sometimes several in a day, and in the hustle to get everything done I do not usually have the time to sit and reflect on how wonderful it feels to work at a place that provides educational opportunities of such a wide variety to all who wish to attend. Today I am taking the time to reflect and it feels good.
So stipulated: Library OPACS, uh, lack the functionality we desire. We’re all agreed. OPACS should be much, much better.
Here’s my question: How does the quality of the OPAC ultimately affect the total quality of customer experience and customer satisfaction? I think the answer to that question may be quite different from library to library, depending on the needs of our different user populations. Public library users may be more inclined to be browsers, and may not really care that much about how good the OPAC is. Academic, school and special library users may be more inclined to search for specific titles, or titles within specified subject areas, and may therefore care more about the quality of the OPAC.
But even in libraries where customers rely heavily on the OPAC, I’m not sure that the quality of the OPAC figures that greatly into the customers’ overall satisfaction. (I suspect it often doesn’t…) I worked in a small special library that had a truly awful, terrible OPAC. It was one of them home-grown government agency deals–ugh! But our small, dedicated staff gave great customer service, did a lot of outreach, offered a good deal of training, and our user satisfaction was quite high. While I’m sure our users really would have valued a better OPAC, their overall library experience was not greatly affected. If we instead had offered a really super-great OPAC, but lousy customer service, I don’t think our users would have been quite so satisfied…
In Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey suggests that we are most effective when we focus our energy at those points where our concerns intersect with our ability to influence. Clearly the OPAC falls into our collective sphere of concern. But I’m not sure how much influence we have over the quality of the OPAC. I’m not suggesting that we don’t try to influence the quality of the OPAC — by working with vendors, creating our own systems, or a combination of both. I’m truly thankful that John Blyberg and Casey Bisson are out there. But I do think that for many libraries, or
more perhaps I should say for many librarians, we may be able to get more bang for our limited buck, more return on the investment of our time and resources, by focusing our energies elsewhere.
I’d like to see libraries looking at their own spheres of concern and influence and making critical choices about where their time, energy, and resources can best be used to improve the quality of customer experience. In many cases, I suspect that we can have a much greater impact on customer experience by focusing on (in no particular order) the quality of the library’s environment (“library-as-place”), the library’s customer service, the library’s webpage, the library’s collection, the library’s programs, the library’s outreach, and the library’s marketing (they can’t experience us if they don’t know about us.)
I’m particularly interested in how libraries can create better customer experiences and be more relevant to their user populations by improving their physical environments. How do our customers experience the actual library space including, the visual (displays, colors, lighting, layout), the tactile (comfy furniture) the olfactory (yum… coffee…), and the aural (zones of quiet, zones of noise, background music)? How does the library staff improve the quality of the environment? Are they warm, friendly, and hospitable? Are they visible? Are they proactive and helpful?
As Joshua Neff recently pointed out, I’m not the only one thinking about these things. Meredith Farkas, (in a must-read, smart, sensitive, insightful, and mostly-polite post) says that she doesn’t use her library because she, “found the whole atmosphere really unwelcoming.” Nicole Engard found that her local librarians “were not very approachable, knowledgeable, or friendly.” Jennifer Macaulay , “admits” that she’s not a library user either (and how many of us would “admit” the same?)
Now how many of you don’t use your library because the OPAC sucks? Just wondering.
As the Trading Spaces: Reinventing the Library Environment project demonstration site we had the opportunity to get retail fixtures such as book gondolas, CD browsers and slat wall. We’ve also had training on how to keep our library collections both accessible and attractive to customers.
It’s worked! Our circulation leapt by 39% the first year and it’s been rising ever since.
Well, learning how to merchandise is one thing.
Our merchandising goal for all staff is to spend on average 5 minutes each hour keeping the displays looking full (that’s about 30+ minutes a day for our full-time staff).
Keeping it all looking good, all the time, is another matter!
Have you ever been in a store that looks “picked over”? Well, it’s the same in a library if you don’t keep up on merchandising the collection.
Success means more circulation and that means we’re constantly filling in gondolas, flipping books cover out, and adding onto slat wall displays. In practice though, it’s hard to keep everyone focused on why it’s important and incorporate it into our daily routine.
To keep our eyes looking at the library from a customer point-of-view, we’ve just started is a twice weekly Walk-About. It’s a way for staff, individually or in a small groupers, to walk through the library and note:
- what looks good (to celebrate success)
- what area needs immediate attention (today, let’s do it now–together)
- what area needs work next
All of our staff share this task through a weekly rotation among our departments. We’ve also created Walk-About sheets to help staff keep track and make it easier to report back at our morning briefings (a quick heads-up meeting before the library opens).
One of the side benefits (besides improving the look of the library displays) is that it encourages everyone to get out and really see the entire library — even those areas they don’t usually work in.
The result — a better looking library and and better informed staff.
Note: This piece originally appeared in slightly different form in the NJLA Fall (2006) Newsletter.
We are currently experiencing a unique convergence of three societal trends, and that convergence is creating an unprecedented opportunity for libraries.
The first trend is that people are increasingly using the internet in the privacy of their home for activities that were previously conducted in public spaces. Shopping, banking, conversing, researching, listening to concerts, and watching movies are just a few examples of such activities.
The second trend, pointed out by Robert Putnam in his insightful book, Bowling Alone, is that Americans are experiencing a marked decrease in social interaction as we become increasingly disconnected from our family, from our friends, and from each other.
The third trend is more subtle and presents a threat as well as an opportunity: Businesses are increasingly embracing the value of being a “destination of choice” and modifying their environments and their services accordingly. For example, we used to go to the hardware store to buy grout or drywall; now we go to learn how to tile our bathroom or put up a wall. We used to go to the bank to deposit our checks; now we go to attend a retirement planning seminar. We used to go to the bookstore to buy books; now we go to hear music, drink coffee, and, dare I mention, bring our children to story time…
Our customers have a greater need for shared spaces and social interaction than they ever have before, but they also have more options regarding how, and where, they choose to spend their free time.
LIBRARIES ARE TRANSFORMATIVE PLACES
Libraries are transformative places. By our very nature we offer people a “third place” (not home, not work) where they can come to explore, imagine, think, learn, play, and reflect. Our function as a “third place” has never been more important to our continued health and relevance. If libraries are to survive and thrive we must redouble our efforts and refocus our energies to ensure that we are not only “third places” but destinations of choice.
Thinking of “library as place” goes to the heart of the matter. It invokes the big question: Why would someone in our community choose to spend their time here rather than somewhere else? Related questions might be: What does the library look like, smell like, feel like, and sound like? What do our signs communicate? What kind of environment are we offering to the community and how do library staff contribute to the creation of a friendly, welcoming environment?
The thriving library of 2010 will have thoroughly considered these questions and be guided by the answers they have discovered. Many NJLA members are probably familiar with Mount Laurel Library’s success with their use of retail merchandising techniques. Those techniques were implemented as part of the “Trading Spaces” project. A do-it-yourself kit, replete with documentation, signage, photos, furniture vendor contacts, prices, and more is available at the project website http://www.sjrlc.org/tradingspaces. Taking a look at this resource page is a great place to start if your library is interested in becoming a destination of choice in your community.
SIX THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY
Detailing a strategic direction for your library is outside of the scope of this short piece. But in the interest of practicality, here are six things you can do today to enhance your library’s status as a true “third place” in your community:
1. DO A SIGNAGE AUDIT: Have everyone on your staff, and maybe a couple of customers, walk through your library with these questions in mind: What makes it easy to find something? What makes it difficult to find something? Are signs readable from a distance? Are signs jargon-free? Do you use Dewey numbers instead of natural language? (Don’t.) Get rid of ripped signs and visible tape. Eliminate handwritten notes. Use positive, respectful wording and avoid parental tones.
2. OFFER FOOD AND DRINK IN THE LIBRARY: (Notice, I don’t say “permit”.) Having food and drink in your library helps create a welcoming environment. The role of our olfactory senses in creating a positive or negative impression of our environment cannot be underestimated. Translation? Coffee smells like comfort.
3. OFFER A VARIETY OF PROGRAMMING FOR DIFFERENT AGES/INTERESTS: This fits in very well with our traditional role and mission, and many libraries already do a wonderful job with programming. Do more. Take some risks. Ask yourself who’s NOT coming to the library and try to offer a few programs for that demographic. Think of five new places to advertise your programming (bulletin boards in laundromats, the Y, the Rotary Club, the carwash, etc.)
4. MAKE THE COLLECTION THE STAR: Use themed displays of face-out materials to highlight and promote portions of your collection. Tie themes in with current events, pop culture, current library programs, or anything else that seems relevant, playful, or fun. Make your collection browseable and your customers will reward you by circulating materials in record numbers.
5. INVOLVE YOUR CUSTOMERS: Ask your customers what they would like to see in the library. Ask them for help with walk-throughs and signage audits. Ask them for display ideas, or enlist their help in creating displays. Any way you can involve your community directly will pay off tenfold by giving you an inexpensive and highly effective marketing tool: a cadre of invested community members who will promote the library through word of mouth.
6. GO WIRELESS: Wireless Internet access is a must-have infrastructure. If you’re not offering it already, do it now. It’s cheaper than you think, and your wireless customers will come out of the woodwork.
Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company, 1999.
Rippel, Chris, “What Libraries Can Learn from Bookstores”. Webjunction Marketing Forum. Dec 10, 2003 <http://webjunction.org/do/DisplayContent?id=1191>.
Rockwood, P. E. and Koontz, C. M., “Media Center Layout: A Marketing-Based Plan”, School Library Media Annual 1986, Volume Four. Ed. Aaron, S. L. and Scales, P. R. Littleton, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1986. p. 297-306 <http://www.geolib.org/pdf/slma.pdf>.
Stanley, John, “The Third Place: The Library’s Role in Today’s Society”, MLS Marketing Library Services. Nov.- Dec. 2005: 1,8.