It’s a New Year. Learn Something.

So it’s almost the end of the month, and your plan to keep up with library news and to really work on professional development this year has already been derailed by snow shoveling, community meetings, covering the desk for sick staff, and all the other work required to keep the doors open and the lights on. Don’t despair. Try furthering your library education in small bites rather full courses.

You may well have stacks of Library Journal, American Libraries, and Public Libraries sitting around that you plan to get to some day; and then some day doesn’t arrive. Or, those rather expensive subscriptions and memberships may be out of your reach right now. There is an alternative. Library Journal publishes a whole list of e-mail newsletters that you may subscribe to for free and without an LJ subscription. LJ Express is a weekly mailing of library current events, and includes highlights of the current LJ as well as reviews of new books and media. There are several review newsletters and Prepub Alert which gives advance notice of high-demand titles. And remember that LJ content is free on the magazine’s website; there is no paywall or print subscription required. ALA provides its print publications and e-mail newsletter only to organization members, but magazine content and the twice-weekly AL Direct newsletter are available for free at the American Libraries website. Public Libraries offers some articles from each issue for free on its website, and there is a free monthly newsletter as well.

Webjunction, OCLC’s free on-line learning site puts out Crossroads, a twice-monthly e-mail newsletter. Each issue summarizes and links to new articles on Webjunction about programs, services, and trends in libraries. The most recent issue included articles on serving homeless teens, transforming public library space at two libraries in Washington, best board games of 2015, a link to the weekly Social Library post on programing ideas, and updates on webinars and online courses. Remember that Webjunction courses and webinars are all free, and the site is a good clearing-house of ideas from libraries around the country.

Publishers Weekly is an expensive magazine, but its e-mail newsletters are free. Keep up-to-date on new books, book awards, media tie-ins, author appearances, current controversies, publishing trends, and more. The links from the newsletters back to Publishers Weekly content are not paywalled, nor for that matter is any of the PW content on its own website. Galleycat is a daily e-mail newsletter about the publishing business and is part of Adweek’s group of industry newsletters. Fewer stories per issue than the PW newsletter, and similar topics; includes a helpful emphasis on self-published authors, including a weekly self-published author bestseller list.

So why wait? A world on library wonder awaits on the web, and much of it can be delivered right to your in-box for free.

Tom Dillie
Director, Minerva Public Library

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Tackling big projects

Do you ever find yourself putting off doing something? No, I am not talking about something like writing a blog post that should have been done a week ago or other daily tasks. (One of my colleagues covered that topic earlier this year.) I am talking about putting off a big project. Like new carpet.

We closed the library for just over a week around the Thanksgiving holiday this year to replace the carpet in all the public spaces of the building. The carpet was nearly 20 years old and probably should have been replaced five years ago. Yes, I tend to procrastinate when it comes to major projects.

There are so many inconveniences: closing, choosing the right company, spending a large amount of money, scheduling, moving, etc. So much easier to put it off until next year.

And, admittedly, none of it was easy. Nothing went quite as planned. Of course, there was an extra unplanned cost.

But we had everything back in place on time to open Monday morning. The carpet looks great. The compliments from patrons were overwhelming. I wish I wouldn’t have put it off.

As a matter of fact, we already are beginning to plan a major makeover of the children’s area so we can replace the carpet there within the next few months. Then there’s the matter of the floor in one corner of the building continuing to settle. And there’s the leaky roof.

I’m looking forward to it – almost.

Chris Owens, Director
Blanchester Public Library

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Strategic Planning

A director of a small library once told me that he never bothered to develop a strategic plan because even if he had a plan, there was no money to implement it. Although I do not think this sentiment is common among library leaders, I do think it is common to find libraries operating without a strategic plan. However, developing a strategic plan can be a great benefit to the library.

First, user feedback typically provides the framework for a plan, and this is critical. When the plan is based on user feedback, the library will be certain it is focusing on the needs of its users. When workshops, collections, and other services are designed around the articulated needs of the community, not only should public use and participation increase, but it should also make demonstrating the library’s value much easier.

Second, a plan provides a road map of where you want to go and what routes to take on that journey. The board of trustees will know why the library is undertaking certain initiatives. Adapting to change among staff is met with less resistance because they know why changes are occurring. The community will be aware of what goals the library is striving to meet. Everyone will be on the same page.

Third, a plan keeps the library focused on what matters. Just like unforeseen traffic conditions, the plan is not infallible; challenges and opportunities will present themselves and will attempt to detract the library from its stated goals. The plan keeps the library pointed in the right direction and helps staff focus attention on the most meaningful activities. While unanticipated situations try to impede progress, if the library adheres to the plan, everything will stay on track.

Fourth, a plan provides a mechanism to measure library effectiveness. Every good plan should have benchmarks to aim for. Throughout the life of the plan, regular assessments should be completed to see if the library is meeting its stated goals. If not, services and activities can be adjusted for better results. Under-performing programs can be cut and resources can be allocated to successful programs or to create new pilot programs. The plan also provides documentation on how far the library has traveled, which again easily demonstrates the library’s effectiveness to the community.

If you have never completed a strategic plan, perhaps put it on your calendar for the coming year. Strategic Planning for Results by Sandra Nelson is an excellent resource, going step-by-step through the process.   If time is a concern or if assistance is needed, contact the State Library of Ohio. Consultants can assist your library at no cost. While the presence of a strategic plan does not guarantee automatic success, you will find it can be an asset to your library.

Chauncey Montgomery, Director
Sunbury Community Library

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Extreme weeding

Ever since I started at my library I’ve been weeding. Every 6 months, in every department, a constant battle to make space on packed shelves for the influx of newer books. But, after recent conversations with other libraries–one small library, one large library–about their choice to “extreme weed,” their collections, I decided to give it a go.

When I began weeding at this library, over 3 years ago, I balked at the pull list, (based on circulation stats), at all the materials which hadn’t circulated in more than 3 years (my cut-off for weeding). But, as I began to weed I panicked at the thought of getting rid of over a third of my adult non-fiction section. Three years later, with the same findings, I’ve decided to extreme weed.

To be fair, it should be mentioned that we are part of a 90+ library consortium, so, though we’re a small library, we do have access to many collections outside of our own, a huge reason I felt confident in this decision. If I were at a small library who is not part of a consortium would I still consider an extreme weed? Heck yes! Space is a hot commodity in our buildings, and if something isn’t being used, well, you get the idea…

My 3 simple rules for extreme weeding:

  • Anything that hasn’t circ’d in 3 years or more (or whatever your timeline is) goes
  • Any topic/info that is out of date, i.e. a book about the planets from 2004 vs. one written in 2015, goes
  • Duplicates, or more materials close enough to duplicate info. goes. Does our collection need both an Audubon’s Books of North America and a National Geographic one, if neither circulates much?

I began weeding our adult non-fiction last week and what is glaringly obvious is that the shelves went from packed-to-the-gills, to half full with one to two books displayed on the now open shelf space. It was scary at first, I mean, come on, what if we’re missing that one book from 1987 that no one ever checked out before, but need NOW!? But, no, so far the feedback has been positive, and we’ve already seen the books on display within the non-fic shelves getting checked out. Obviously only time will tell how successful this project will be, but I definitely don’t regret the extra space we’ve created!

P.S. I love the odd gems we’ve been finding and weeding. This was our favorite. Embedded image permalink

Amanda Bennett, Director
Ada Public Library

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So What’s Up With Mindcraft?

First thing I learned: It is Minecraft NOT Mindcraft. When you work in the public library and you see kids obsessed with playing this video game on the library computers you have to stop and wonder.

First, the game has very bad graphics and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to what happens on the screen. At my small public library we see kids arrive in packs to play the game and to interact virtually with each other, which is funny because they are usually sitting right next to each other. I admit they can get rowdy sometimes, and a bit loud, and yes, annoying, but I then think that at least they are at the library in a safe environment.

So, what is Minecraft all about? Did you know that Minecraft, since its inception in 2009, is the third most popular video game of all time behind Tetris and Super Mario Brothers? Players create virtual worlds in Minecraft and basically dig holes and create blocks worlds. Our Teen Librarian and Technology Manager recently put together a “Minecraft for Parents,” program to clue moms and dads in a bit about the video game that is currently king of the mountain. We also recently did a Minecraft Party that allowed the kids to stay after hours in the library and get as loud as they wanted and play Minecraft and eat pizza.

So, in my book the jury is still out. I like the fact that the kids are using their imaginations and not virtually blowing each other up, but to be honest it disturbs me that they spend so much time playing a video game while real life is happening all around them–if they could only look up from their glowing digital screens. And in the end that is the real challenge for me at a small library: How do you stay relevant when so much changes so quickly? How do you balance the traditional views and roles of the public library with what it has become and is becoming? It is a challenge for us all but that is why I like the small public library.

Jim Gill
Dover Public Library

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Where do you get your programming ideas?

We’re all looking for program ideas for adults and families, and we’re all familiar with the usual suspects: neighboring libraries, the newsletter from the nearest metro library, some idea you remember from an OLC Chapter Conference or Convention. But there are other sources to consider.

Event Calendars:  Online event calendars are an easy way to find out what programs other organizations are hosting or presenting.  Calendars may be hosted by a Convention and Visitors Bureau: visitcantonstark.com; traveltusc.com;  mansfieldtourism.com , etc.  Local newspapers may host an event calendar: http://cantonrep.eviesays.com/; http://www.vindy.com/events/; http://www.ohio.com/events#/44308-akron/all/today, and either manage it themselves and link through a commercial service. Then there are commercial aggregators such as Spingo.com and Eventful.com which have postings from all over but can limit geographically and by type of program; they might not list events for your specific area, but they both cover much of Ohio. Basic posting to any of these services, including the commercial ones, is free, and it’s a good way to advertise your own programs. In addition, many newspapers have cut back staff, and draw from the newspaper’s online event calendar to generate content for the print edition.

Programming Librarian:  The ALA Public Programs Office completely reconfigured its website in May to create a place for libraries of all types and sizes to share program ideas, take part in webinars, follow programming news, and keep track of ALA-sponsored program opportunities.The program idea database can be sorted by budget, library type, topic, program type and age group. Libraries submit their own program ideas, so the amount of detail and description will vary; contact information is always included so one can follow up with the librarians who submitted the ideas. Webinars are ALA-sponsored, are archived, and almost all of them are free. The website does not require a log-in or ALA membership.

–Tom Dillie, Director
Minerva Public Library

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Customer Service

Customer service is key – on the road and in the library I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about customer service.

The topic is hard to avoid when you are driving in rural North Carolina on the way home from the beach and discover a slow-leaking car tire. We were lucky to find Bert at our first stop, a garage in a small town that triggered thoughts of Mayberry. Bert helped me find the small slit in the tire, which couldn’t be repaired, and helped me put on the temporary spare to get us to the next larger town 30 miles down the road.

This town actually had a tire store, but it was open only from 10:30 to noon on Saturdays. And my plea to the gentleman on the phone that I could make it there by a couple minutes after noon did not earn any sympathy. The next best option was a car dealership that ended up not stocking any tires, but two employees we dealt with did everything they could think of before pointing us toward a Wal-Mart about 30 minutes out of our way.

Never being so happy to see a Wal-Mart, we were able to get a new tire and eventually get on the road again.

The topic of customer service also is hard to avoid when patrons come to you with complaints about your staff. Providing quality customer service has been one of the top priorities in my nine years at the library, but we still have a few staff members who tend to lapse occasionally.

Libraries obviously need to continue to evolve to meet our communities’ needs, but I have a feeling our future success depends upon an even more basic tenet – especially in small libraries – our ability to provide quality customer service and develop strong relationships with our community members that make them keep coming back.

Of course, you can find an abundance of literature regarding customer service. But Mary Rzepczynski, the Assistant Director at Delta Township District Library in Lansing, Mich., sums up the topic quite nicely in her column “Ten Common Customer-Service Mistakes” for the January/February issue of Public Libraries. (I was unable to find the full-text article online, but I would highly recommend it.)

I may be able to condense the topic down even further than Ms. Rzepczynski. If someone called and asked if you could something that would require you to keep the library open a bit later than normal, what would you do?

Chris Owens, Director

Blanchester Public Library

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