Library Trick or Treat


In preparation for Halloween, here’s a nice bag of links about libraries.

First, a trick: The headline of The New York Times article Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web (by Katie Hafner, October 22, 2007) is very misleading. Jessamyn West at librarian.net puts it best in her post Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web, really?:

Quick quiz: when you read a headline like the one in the New York Times today Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web do you think that the libraries involved are

a) sticking up for free access to information
b) prohibiting free access to information

If you continue to read the article you will learn that it is actually option a):

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.

The cynical side of me feels that The New York Times is supporting big business at the expense of libraries and the Open Content Alliance. As I learned at the Boston Athenaeum lecture last winter, many libraries have simply given away material to Google and others only to learn that Google doesn’t care about library ethics and open access. They want to sell a product, which is all fine and good, but you just can’t expect libraries to continue to give up their resources. I applaud the Boston Public Library and other participants in the Open Content Alliance for sticking to the ideals of librarianship and attempting to extend free access to information for all.

Now for a treat, a more positive article in the Boston Globe, Libraries Move With Times, Discover Niches (by Anna Badkhen,October 22, 2007). Traditional libraries are not so traditional and not so quiet and offer circulation of music and movies, community events, and gaming.

“We are not your grandmother’s library,” said Kimberly Lynn, president of the Massachusetts Library Association. In the era of waning readership and Internet search engines, libraries in Massachusetts and across the country are shifting their resources and expertise to areas once unthinkable. Gone are the hushed bibliothecae of yore where even an occasional irreverent clicking of a heel prompted furrowed brows of disapproval.

The modern-day library, Lynn said, is a community living room-cum-reference clearinghouse, with some digital gaming sprinkled in.

“It’s a zoo,” Lynn said. “It’s chaotic. It’s not getting quieter.”

Library circulation in Massachusetts grew by a million copies between fiscal years 2005 and 2006, according to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. But the growth is not necessarily because people are borrowing more books.

Nothing here is really new to those of us who already know that libraries rock, but it’s still good to see good press. A big part of the future (and present) of the library is social networking and there is a New OCLC Report on Social Networking called Sharing, Privacy, and Trust in Our Networked World which I haven’t read yet, but should be worth reading. Of course, there’s a lot about Web 2.0 and the future Semantic Web that we librarians still don’t understand. The Goblin in the Library takes a humorous look at the web’s future in Web X. The apparent winning definition of Web 3.0/Semantic Web is in the comments by the way:

The code will reach out and grab what it needs on its own – from any source available, regardless of format – without needing to be told to search for this or that.

The structure within the library is also evolving. I particularly liked this article from Walking Paper about the North Plains Public Library in Oregon: creating a flat library and the culture of maybe. As noted in the comments this is an egalitarian attempt to get past job descriptions and into job duties while working toward collaboration.

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.

This article and the model proposed was also discussed at length on the Uncontrolled Vocabulary podcast for October 3rd.

After all this discussion of change in the library, you may just want something to read. Librarian’s Place recommends Sex, Drugs, and Bombs: Confessions of a Librarian (that definitely sounds like my workday in a nutshell). If that’s too grown up for you, Random Musings from the Desert collated Children’s Books to Check Out. 3 of the 4 books appear to have librarians as the heroes, or at least the good guys. The last book is about evil librarians (yes, I can assure you that evil librarians do exist). If you want to read something that has nothing to do with librarians at all, Judge a Book by its Cover lists Titles That Took Some Thought (which are actually books with absolutely awful titles). If you click through to the post on Ironic Sans that inspired this list you will see that I actually played a part in creating it of which I’m inordinately proud.

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2 thoughts on “Library Trick or Treat

  1. Writing headlines is hard, especially for complex issues. And you want the headline to make people want to read the article, which this one did. So cut the NYT a little slack.

    Like

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