Lessons from Ray Bradbury

“The night was sweet with the dust of autumn leaves that smelled as if the fine sands of ancient Egypt were drifting to dunes beyond the town.”

-Ray Bradbury in Something Wicked This Way Comes

If you work in a small library it can be a struggle to find the time to do all that needs done.  Leading the library and doing “director” type things like strategic planning, staff training, and performance evaluations must be balanced with day to day tasks like covering the desk because someone called off sick or unclogging the public toilet.  It can be overwhelming reading Library Journal or American Libraries and seeing all the innovative things larger, wealthier libraries are doing. I have found that “Keeping up the Joneses” can be a cancer to the soul.  We must balance staying relevant and battling complacency with serving our communities in the best way possible with the budget and resources we have available.

As I write this, I think about why I got into librarianship. I think about the simple joy of finding a good story in the library stacks and losing myself in that world.  When the stresses of the job get to me, I sometimes grab a cart and a stack of books and go into the stacks and shelve. The order and logic of shelving soothes my mind.  There is something fulfilling in simple tasks like shelving that is akin to the joy that people who work with their hands often feel.  I never fail to find a treasure in the stacks when I shelve. Sometimes it is a classic that I reread and sometimes it is something that I take a chance on.  Recently, I discovered Ray Bradbury’s autumn classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes. Written in 1962 and taking its name from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes), Bradbury’s tale is a magical concoction of the surreal and supernatural with the nostalgic sameness of small-town American life.

Set in the fictional town of Green Town, Illinois, Bradbury’s tale tells the story of two 13 year-old best friends, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, who get sucked into a battle between good and evil, light and dark, when one October night right before Halloween a traveling carnival show steams in by rail and sets up shop in a clearing on the edge of town.  “In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two boys will discover the secret of its smoke, mazes, and mirrors; two friends who will soon know all too well the heavy cost of wishes. . .and the stuff of nightmare,”(William Morrow Publishers).

Ray Bradbury is famous for his rich word choice and Something Wicked is no exception.  As a librarian, I was captivated by how the public library played such a central role to the story.  As library regulars, both Jim and Will use the library to feed their endless curiosity and their penchant for mischief.  “Jim and Will grinned at each other.  It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its green-shaded lamps and papyrus dust.”  Will’s father Charles, the custodian at the town library, regularly wanders the darkened stacks of the library long after closing time, reading and dreaming from the ancient books on the shelves.

Although Disney made a film version of Bradbury’s book in 1983 starring Jason Robards and Jonathan Pryce, the librarian in me must say that Bradbury’s tale is captured much more powerfully in print than on film.  It all begins with these words….”The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.  He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day…”  To find out what happens to Will and Jim and the denizens of Green Town then don’t be afraid to wander in your stacks for a copy of Bradbury’s classic.

Sometimes all you need in life is a good story.  Don’t be too busy to remember why you fell in love with your job in the first place.  Take a moment to get lost in the stacks and to take a chance on a book that finds you.

-Jim Gill, Director
Dover Public Library


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“We salute our robot overlords!”

So if you’re looking for something different to worry about, how about the future of work in a time of smart machines and artificial intelligence.  Here in Ohio we all are well aware of how computers and robots in combination with rapid overseas industrialization changed manufacturing forever and drastically reduced the number and kinds of jobs that were the basis stable blue-collar work.  Now the machines are coming for the clerical and white-collar jobs.  Pew Research has done some work on this topic, Public Predictions for the Future of Workforce Automation    takes a look at public attitudes this year, and  AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs collected opinions of various experts in 2014.  Lee Rainie from Pew gave a talk this year in Australia that touched on this topic as well other questions about the future role of libraries in The Puzzle Librarians Need to Solve.  A cover story in The Atlantic last year, A World without Work, starts with the collapse of the steel industry in Youngstown and goes on to discuss what how the same disruption is happening in many other parts of the economy.

For a deeper dive, take a look at several recent books:

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future by  Martin Ford

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Humans Need Not Apply: A Guide to Wealth and Work in an Age of Artificial Intelligence by Jerry Kaplan

Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines by Thomas H. Davenport and Julia Kirby

While these books each take a somewhat different tack, all pivot on the question of with the question of what effect the increasing automation of work will have on society.   If the service and manufacturing sectors can produce the same output more profitably and cheaper with ever fewer workers, what are people going to do?  OLC is asking us to submit stories of how we are helping our communities and individual patrons with improving job skills and workforce.  In the short term, there are many useful things we can do, and are doing.   But, the future seems more uncertain.

Tom Dillie, Director
Minerva Public Library

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A Healthy Reading Reminder

There was an article in USA Today the other day that discussed several recent studies about the benefits of reading books.

We probably all are familiar with the general findings. Reading books makes you smarter. Reading books gives you a larger vocabulary. Reading books makes you more empathetic. Reading certain books can help with certain ailments. (Although there is some debate about that one.)

Nothing in the article is actually all that new, except maybe for the fact that reading fiction books is actually “better” for you than nonfiction books. And at least the suggestion that reading printed books has healthier effects than listening to audiobooks or reading eBooks.

What makes the article important in my mind is just its appearance in a major publication. I get the feeling that people are reading books less and less. I know they are in the community we serve.

Libraries are doing a lot of different things these days to remain relevant. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. I understand the need to change with the times, to be on the cutting edge, to be able to survive in a world with Amazon and Apple and Facebook, to try to keep giving people a reason to come back.

But I think our most important responsibility sometimes gets lost among the attempt to keep up with the flashy. We need to be promoting the importance of reading books. People need to read for all of the reasons mentioned above. People need to read books so we are not stuck with a Presidential election like this year. People need to read books to make the world a better place.

And if libraries do not promote reading books, who will?

Chris Owens
Blandford Public Library

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Library Feel Good

I’m coping out of writing a blog post this month, but it’s the middle of Summer Reading ’16, and like all of you, we’re super busy here.

So, here it is: a TEDx Talk to remind you why you became a Librarian, why libraries are awesome, and most importantly, why libraries continue to be relevant in the 21st century.

So, when the kiddos have cleared out of your Library, and you can find a quiet moment among the craziness of Summer Reading, put your feet up, grab a cool beverage, and watch this:

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Making Library Conferences Better for Small Libraries

I am very fortunate that I am able to take my employees with me to our OLC Chapter Conference every year. It is always a great day to gather new information, network with other librarians, and get out of the library together as a group. We usually take two cars full of people, and it’s interesting to listen to the conversations on the way home.

There is always a common sentiment after spending the day getting new ideas: the presenter/presentation was great, but I don’t see us being able to do that in our small library. I do not hear this from only employees. I have sat with fellow directors during presentations and when mention of cost or staffing comes up, you can usually see the small library directors look at one another and make the same expression that says “Yeah, right!”

There is no mistake the OLC Conferences we are attend are some of the most valuable experiences in our careers. We learn from one another and we always come back to our libraries with new ideas, more confidence, and renewed friendships. We wish to see more sessions with the “small library” focus.

Apparently we are not alone in our feelings. Here is some feedback from this year’s Chapter Conference in our area:

  • Some would not apply to smaller libraries, but great ideas.
  • Could you make the presentation more applicable for small libraries?
  • From a small library standpoint, it was not worth it.

And when asked for topics attendees would like to see in the future, there were numerous votes for small library information.

We are all doing great things in our libraries. Even if we feel as though we are only doing our job, we are doing our job really well. You can help make the Chapter Conferences better for attendees from small libraries.

  • Reflect on what you currently do. What good ideas do you have? What good things do you do?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What programs at your library have had positive feedback?

If you were able to think of answers to these questions then you can help contribute to your Chapter Conference. As a disclaimer, I am not on a Chapter Conference Action Council; I am not soliciting anyone to contribute. I simply know we are all doing great things, and there is no reason why we cannot take part in conference presentations.

There are a few ways you can help. Perhaps you have great ideas, but you do not like to speak in front of a crowd. That is okay. You can contact anyone on your Action Council to give them your idea. You can also contact any of us on the Small Library Division. If you do not want to present then we can go with your idea and look for those who could present on the topic. You could also suggest your topic and let us know that you would be willing to contribute, but you do not want to speak. Naturally, the final option would be for you to actually give the presentation yourself. Bonus: You attend the conference free of charge if you are a presenter.

Two years ago I gave a gentle nudge to employees wanting to see more for small libraries. Two employees got together and made the decision to present their programming/outreach ideas at the 2015 Conference. It has been one year, and they both get excited to talk about the experience. I asked them to sum up the experience in one word. One said it was “exhilarating” and the other said it was “exciting.” I attended the session; the room was packed and more chairs had to be brought in. They also received very positive feedback because they were reaching out with ideas that were feasible for a small library. The best part is they were able to present on a topic that was exciting to them. Their love for what they do was shown in their presentation.

We love attending the Chapter Conferences and Conventions. We love hearing ideas from all sizes of libraries. We hear you when you say you need more sessions for small libraries. If you have an idea for a conference session, or you are excited about what you do in your own library, you can help make the conference even better than it already is.

Betsy Eggers, Director
Napoleon Public Library

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Stay Curious My Friends

A few years back there was a beverage commercial that, as I recall, ended with the spokesperson looking into the camera and directing the public “stay thirty my friends.”

As I think about life in a small library, I think one of the things that is very easy to do is to become so engrossed or even overwhelmed with the details of the day, as to lose sight of what I think brought many of us into this profession, curiosity.  Back in the halcyon past, when the public would regularly come in and ask reference questions, one of the things that I liked about the whole interaction was the opportunity to learn something new about the world around me.  No matter how minor, mundane or trivial the information was, I became as curious, or in the case of some school age kids who just wanted to finish an assignment, more curious than they were to find the answers. Once asked, I wanted to know what the capital of Namibia was (Windhoek, by the by).

That level of curiosity carried over in the role of a library director, with a new wrinkle. I wanted to know is there a way that we can do this faster, cheaper or better. Better still, I wanted to know is there something that we’re not doing now, that we could be doing that the public would really appreciate. You can divine some of this information through a sound knowledge of your community, and if you have the means, through surveying or other statistically relevant community analysis. However, before you can go there, one of the things you need to know is what things are possible that you are not doing now.  To put it another way, I have heard told that Steve Jobs once eschewed market research by saying “I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”‘.

You need to know what is possible, before you can even start to think about what you will do tomorrow, and the way to do so is to stay curious. To wonder, to explore and to research.  At the moment I can think of three or four things that I could point to that I or a group of people, both at my library and beyond, are working on to either improve what we do (outreach initiative to non-users), to save money (LED light bulb replacements) or to better our little corner of the profession (proposing to bring a small national-level conference to our region).  All of these things and many more require two things. One, devoting at least a small amount of your time to ask “What’s possible?”
The second is to stay curious.

If this is not a current habit, what I would suggest is to start small.  Look at one area of your library, one thing that your library does and ask yourself “is that the best way to do that?  Is there something we could do differently that would be better?”  Once you’ve had a little bit of time to think about it, ask your colleagues.  As a director, I’ve found few ideas are received better than those that are proposed by my staff that we then run with. Ask folks from other libraries around Ohio, around the country if need be.  Once you’re comfortable with where you are with the first initiative, start a second.  This will be a different place for different people, and that’s ok.  Sometimes you will find a new initiative because of something someone at another library says, or something a member of the public says.  Sometimes, the germ of an idea will come from what you read in a book, or a magazine article, or even from a TV commercial.

At the end of the day, above all else, stay curious my friends.

Joe Knueven, Director
Germantown Public Library

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Making Your Library Mobile Friendly

A recent article, published by eMarketer at http://www.emarketer.com/Article/US-Internet-Users-Rely-on-Mobile-Devices-Digital-Access/1013649, looked at trends in accessing the Internet.  It reports that in 2016, 31 million Internet users in the United State will use mobile technology to access the Internet.  It goes on to show that users are ditching their desktops and instead using mobile devices, with one out of every ten exclusively using a mobile device.

It is evident that mobile technology is here to stay.  As libraries, it is important that we are considering how users access our catalogs, collections, and resources.  If we want to play an integral role in the lives of our patrons, we need to meet them where they are.  That means we need to be exploring ways to make the library’s Web presence more mobile-friendly.  For smaller libraries, it may be a challenge to implement mobile-friendly features due to limited staff, knowledge, and money; however, there are some affordable and sometimes free solutions available to small libraries.

In some cases, ILS vendors and developers have responded to the demand for mobile access and have improved styles to accommodate mobile access.  It is quite frustrating trying to do a search on a screen so small that you can’t read the text or so large that you need to constantly scroll.  The simplified user interface allows for easy navigation and readability.  You may want to check with your vendor or support team to see if your catalog supports mobile devices.  If not, ask if it is in development.

Just like the library catalog, the library website should also be mobile-friendly.  Many patrons may be out and want to check library hours or calendar of events.  A mobile-friendly site will make it much easier for them to get to that information.  If the library is using a content management system, such as Drupal or WordPress, there are many themes and plugins available to make the site mobile-friendly.  If you have built your own site, there is plenty of documentation online, such as W3Schools (http://www.w3schools.com/css/css_rwd_mediaqueries.asp), that provides information on how to format your site for mobile devise.  A search for “css mobile” will bring up many more.  With some simple tweaks to your site, you can be mobile-friendly in no time.

Finally, you may want to consider investing in a mobile app.  An app facilitates easy and seamless access to the library.  In many cases, it can also integrate other features like online databases, ebook collections, and calendar of events, so patrons only need to go to one place to connect to all the great services your library provides.  While libraries can contract with programmers to develop a custom app for the library, a more cost effective approach is using a vendor like Boopsie (http://www.boopsie.com), who specializes in mobile apps for libraries.  Since Boopsie has already developed an app for libraries, they simply need to configure it and brand it for your library.  What is more, through OHIONET (http://www.ohionet.org), you can get a discount on Boopsie.

You may be thinking that your patrons don’t use smartphones or tablets. However, eMarketer reports that 80% of the U.S. will use a mobile phone in 2016, and of those users, four out of five will be using smartphones.  Likewise, the use of tablets continues to increase.  When you consider how more and more people or adopting mobile technologies, it is critical that we at least begin to explore ways to make our small libraries more mobile-friendly.

–Chauncey Montgomery , Director
Community Library, Sunbury, OH

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