September 2007
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Month September 2007

creating a flat library and the culture of maybe

The North Plains Public Library is in a fairly uncommon stage of growth. I don’t have any figures but I bet there aren’t too many public libraries that are just a few years old and have a one year old building. We’re the most recently added member of the Washington County Cooperative Library Services (WCCLS) – a system with which I happen to be pretty impressed. Our circulation is likely going to double in FY 2007, and we’re already out of space. With increased use will come increased funding, of course a very welcome thing. Some of this funding will go towards staffing the library more. Because the library is in this not-quite-grown-up-yet position I’m taking some time to lay the groundwork so it can grow in a sensible manner.

So many library org charts resemble those famous structures at Giza because they’ve always been that way. Being such a young organization, the NPPL doesn’t have to move around the weight of a long institutional history and can do things right from the start. If anyone ever says, “because it’s always been this way” when examining the organization structure of the NPPL, I hope they’re referring to something flat.

Right now the library structure is neither flat nor hierarchical. Among staff, things tend towards being amorphous which is interesting and valuable in its own right, but has its issues and doesn’t exactly prime the library for structured growth. In order for the relationship between employees to take some sort of shape, employees must have some sort of identity. I don’t think it is possible to form any type of organizational structure – bottom-up, top-down, whatever – without organizational identities.

In light of this, the library’s four part-time circ clerks are getting specific job titles. These titles will be internal only in the sense that officially to the City of North Plains they’ll still be simply Circulation Clerks, but that doesn’t make the titles less important. So, what are they going to be titled? It seemed artificial to name the clerks Department Heads at this point. The word ‘expert’ has all sorts of icky implications. So what I settled on – for the first draft of this collaborative process – is the word ‘lead.’ We’re going to have a Lead Circulation Clerk, a Lead Cataloger, a Lead YS/YA Clerk, and so forth.

This mimics the departmentalization of a larger library without erecting artificial (or real) barriers to all staff working together. At the same time, staff, including our unpaid staff of volunteers, will have a point person to go to about particular issues as they arise. This point person will also serve as the main conduit of information about their particular area(s), not only to me, but to the rest of the staff as well. The title “Lead Facilities Clerk” doesn’t imply that others can’t help out with duties related to the facility, but it does provide an organizational identity.

Not wanting to shoehorn people into positions in which they weren’t comfortable or interested, I wrote drafts of job descriptions and distributed them at our last staff meeting. Everyone has already tended to specialize and/or enjoy certain areas of the library – related to their own talents and interests – so I used this as a basis. Now we’re going to work together to add and subtract things from the descriptions. Maybe they’ll even suggest another title besides “lead.”

Something interesting came up during this distribution of potential job duties. I neglected to give each of the clerks all of the job descriptions. I only gave them the individual descriptions I thought most appropriate. It was a total palm-against-forehead moment when the circ clerks all agreed they’d like to see each other’s proposed roles. This was a minor mistake and not in the spirit of this open source job description writing exercise. Everyone now has each of the descriptions so they can A) comment on the duties of all positions, B) see what others are doing and perhaps C) try to claim some of it for their own if they really like the sound of it.

A nice organizational structure is fine and dandy but it is also meaningless without the right attitude to back it up. Libraries with severe hierarchies either are the result of or set the stage for a strong Culture of No. It is probably a “chicken or egg” question but either way, a library can’t have a free flowing exchange of ideas in a collaborative environment if the Culture of No dominates.

Instead of a Culture of No, I’m aiming to create a Culture of Maybe. You might not be surprised that employees really appreciate being able to discuss library issues without fear of judgment or other negative reactions. Here are some ideas for creating a Culture of Maybe.

Encourage collaboration. Collaboration needs to be at the core of how things are accomplished. It isn’t just a method of working on discreet projects, but rather an complete way of communicating and acting. Challenges to this include staff involvement with many aspects of library service, some of which might be outside their traditional area of interest or expertise. (At the NPPL it is very apparent that we>me. The group does a fantastic job of brainstorming and refining ideas.)

Listen to everyone. This doesn’t mean that everyone is always right, but it does mean that their ideas deserve consideration. Staff need to know that presenting ideas that don’t get put into practice is not an indication of poor performance and that they won’t be penalized in any way for doing so.

Let natural talents develop. People are happy when they can do what interests them. People do their best work when their happy.

Make people responsible. This is not about being able to blame someone if things go haywire. It is about letting people know what they’re responsible for and that their actions have a direct impact on the operation of the library. If employees see the direct impact they have, they’ll be more likely to take pride in what they’re doing. An essential part of this is providing the freedom and resources to allow people to actually do their job.

Set deadlines and stick to them. All of this free flowing conversation and discussion is great, but it must result in something. Decisions should rarely be final, however. An initial deadline and a secondary evaluation point can be set, the latter providing another opportunity for reflection, reevaluation and refinement.

No matter the size of your library, incorporating some of the above ideas, either into the entire library or just your department or team, will benefit the staff and ultimately lead towards better service for your customers.

photo credits: two pyramids at giza, collaboration

haunted library

The Thomas Ford Memorial Library’s YA department is hosting a haunted house. Nice idea!

Let’s just hope they don’t get in trouble for promoting witchcraft or somesuch.

rousting the sleepers

SvN just posted Waking up the sleepers which explores how to entice customers that have signed up for services to actually use them. Not that we would ever experience anything about that in libraries, right? Chances are that we all have sleepers. People who’s library cards never see the light of day or glow of a barcode scanner because they’re in a dresser drawer or buried in their 4 inch thick wallet.

So once we get 100% saturation of library cards in our communities because of Library Card Sign-up Month, how do we get people to come back? Suggestions from the post include one-time reminder emails, and a bonus or special offer for waking up and using the service. From the comments:

You don’t wake up a real life sleeping dog just to say “hey, you are still a dog”. You wake him up and say “lets go running in the park and then you get a bone to chew on!”

How are libraries supposed to offer bonuses when we usually don’t charge for things? What about those darn library fines? If you do charge fines (something that I’d discourage you from continuing), you could send out an amnesty email to people with fines that have inactive accounts. In your community there are probably a bunch of people that won’t use the library for a long time because of a $10 fine. What’s better, eventually collecting that $10 or waiving the fine and getting that person back in the building?

Do you charge for DVDs? You could offer free DVD rentals for the returning patron. If you don’t charge for DVDs, you could offer postal service delivery of a few DVDs.

Returning patrons could be given priority placement on the holds list for a particularly hot book or DVD.

Academic and public libraries could offer a $2 copy card to returning students.

Have a raffle and give away entries to people returning to the library.

Of course, libraries should do this without being spammy. Annoying people will produce a result opposite of what we intend. We should also keep in mind that if we have a large number of sleepers, there’s likely something fundamentally wrong with our normal way of doing things and that no amount of reminders will get users back. Only a severe change in operations and strong marketing campaign will help with that.

quick and dirty webpage creation

There are a slew of very low barrier to entry webpage creation tools, one even claiming to be a Simple Content Management System. As if blogging weren’t easy enough, here are a few tools that are quick and dirty but might come in handy.

Displaying text on the web doesn’t get any easier than using There’s no registration, you can create a custom URL ( and even change the color of the page. And it spits out a Atom feed if you ask it to.

How many times have you started a blog via for practice or as a test? How many times have you forgotten about it afterwards? Here’s a tool that is designed for you to forget about it. is a MediaWiki installation that lets anyone make pages and set an expiration date from 0 to 90 days. This might be useful for those top secret spy communiqués, or perhaps delivering information to library patrons. I find the idea of intentionally ephemeral webpages interesting.

Here are a few ideas example uses for these quick and dirty webpage creation tools:

  • sharing/group editing of meeting/project notes across employees, or across libraries
  • creating subject guides, bibliographies, or assignment guides for students
  • keeping track of books to buy
  • keeping track of which movies the library owns when out shopping for items
  • tricking a reluctant staff member into blogging (jk)

material type = reference, not holdable

Could your library benefit from an attention getting stunt? A copy of the Magna Carta is going to auction. It might be a neat document for you to have in your collection, but you’ll likely need to hit up your Friends of the Library group. Sotheby’s estimates that it will go for between $20 million to $30 million.


nintendo DS service stations

You all are playing around with the Nintendo DS, right? The awesome handheld gaming system that features titles such as (my favs) Brain Age, Cooking Mama, Trauma Unit, and the game that’s practically an interactive eBook – Hotel Dusk? It really is great device, and is, like the Nintendo Wii, fairly multi-generational.

Nintendo DS toiletry by nicolasnova

Here’s a service station that a mall in Korea created. Whilst shopping, people can recharge their DSs, and clean their touch screens. This is a fantastic example of an institution understanding the habits of their customers. Not only should libraries be this understanding in general, but some might be able to replicate this particular service.

[via pasta&vinegar]

libraries and IM featured in the chicago tribune

Evanston Public Library’s new IM availability gets a nice plug in the Chicago Trib. The article does a nice job highlighting the fact that some libraries are attempting to remain relevant by adopting the preferred tools of their users.

I’m quoted in the article in a few places, and despite the slightly negative tone I like these the best.

“There’s a lot of dead wood in libraries, and I think there’s a lot of administrations that are kind of just biding their time for retirement and don’t feel like putting forth a lot of effort,” he said. “I think there’s a general culture of resistance to change. That needs to go away.”

“There might be only two or three libraries in the U.S. experimenting with delivering services or notifications via text messages, which is really, really sad,” Schmidt said.

Here’s the article, titled Libraries using IMs to attract young clients.

The Trib has been all over libraries using technology recently. You’ll remember that they covered the TechSource, Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium last month.

global public library usage statistics

Via Worldmapper, a “collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest.”

The most books borrowed were in the Russian Federation. There were high rates of borrowing in Western Europe, Japan and Eastern Europe. In these regions most territories reported some book borrowing.

In other regions reported book borrowing was lower, and many territories reported very little borrowing. Where many people cannot afford books, it appears they often cannot borrow them either.

The data, gathered from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, is available in various formats at their Books Borrowed map. As contrived as the stats may be, I still find it interesting that North America borrowed only .694 books per person. The grand total average for the world is 1.160 books per person.

I thought that finding a second data point would be informative, so I looked at the Public Libraries in the United States: Fiscal Year 2004 report from the Institute of Education Sciences. It reports that in 2004, public libraries circulated 2 billion, or 7.1 items per person. Um, big difference. Granted, North America does not equal the United States, but what gives? Canada can’t bring the average down that much! Both studies cite about between 200 and 300 million circulations. However, the UNESCO data reports 291 million people in the US (in 2002), but the IES report’s population data “are based on the total unduplicated population of legal service areas.” So they didn’t include the 3% (according to them) of the US population unserved by public libraries. Even this couldn’t bring the figure of 7.1 circs per person to .694. I don’t get it.

My curiosity isn’t strong enough to resolve the issue because it is a beautiful day outside and I think I’d rather be riding my bike than deal with more numbers! At the very least, enjoy the pretty map.

Also take a look at the maps for Internet Users 1990 and Internet Users 2002

Tapping the Tools of Teen Culture in the LMC

I wrote an article for the September edition of Multimedia & Internet@Schools Magazine and I think it is a solid introduction to how Media Specialists can use weblogs, flickr, wikis, and instant messaging. There’s also a bit about dealing with resistance from administration.
Here’s the intro to the article which is available online:

While our students might be able to click through Web sites with ease and change the layouts of their MySpace profiles in the blink of an eye, there are still many things we can teach them about the read/write Web. There are also many ways we can teach our students using the read/write Web. Underlying these opportunities is the possibility to use the read/write Web to discuss the issues of authorship, authenticity, and the production of information—all topics for rich discussions of information literacy. This article provides a review of some of the best online tools you can use to excite teachers and to prepare students to be active agents in today’s participatory culture.

yet another test

The nice folks at SLC want to see what blogging looks like.

I’ll even add in a video. How about Lindrider!