Monday, May 26, 2008

Public Library Heaven

All my professional life, I have believed that Ohio was public library heaven. I may have been, to quote Rick Blaine, misinformed.

I'm writing this from the OBA, the public library in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This building opened less than a year ago, on 7 July 2007 (7/7/07). In its first six months, it drew one million visitors, more than twice the number who had visited the old facility. It now averages 5,000 visitors a day, with 8,000 to 10,000 visiting on weekend days. The strikingly beautiful building sits on the Oosterdokseiland, the Eastern Dock Island, close to the city's thrumming transportation hub. This is a redevelopment area for the city, and new cultural attractions and housing are following the library in moving here.

But it isn't simply the new facility that has drawn attention, it is the new attitude. The director of OBA, Hans Van Velzen, said that the library has moved "from a lending library to an adventure library." He said that one of the major drawbacks of the old building was that there was "no invitation to explore."You came in, you got books from one section of the library, and you departed. You never knew what else was in the library." That is not the case in this building. Your eye is constantly drawn to new spaces, interesting places.

This is a library by the people, for the people. The first thing that surprises you is the operating hours, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm (excuse me, 10:00 to 22:00), seven days a week. Mr. Van Velzen said that the point is to be open so that anyone can use the building on his or her own schedule.

The next thing you'll notice is a stroke of architectural genius: from every floor, you can see at least two other floors. You never feel like you are isolated in one section; rather, the whole library seems to open up to you. The judicious use of windows and skylights also makes the building bright and airy, while being fairly green.

There are 600 internet PCs available, open to anyone (including this visitor from the States). They were all busy as I wandered around, but it didn't take long for one to open and for me to take a turn. No sign-up sheets, no 30-minute limits, just people quietly checking e-mail, playing chess or blackjack, listening to music or watching videos (with headphones), and reading the news or other websites.

The government has made a major effort to teach every resident, especially Holland's large immigrant population, the Dutch language. So the library offers a large and apparently well-used collection of what we would call hi/low materials: high interest, low reading level materials for adult new learners.

There is a theater that offers 25 programs or events a month, all of which are tied into library collections or exhibitions.

The library has a fairly small staff for an operation this size. They can do this for several reasons. They buy all (I repeat, all) their materials shelf-ready through a national buying service for Dutch public libraries. Their technical services department, for the central and 27 branch libraries, has 12 workstations. They use self-service check-out, renewals, and returns almost exclusively. And they have a mechanical sorting system for return books which I don't understand but which seemed to work amazingly well. (Rube Goldberg came to mind.)

There are a few things that would seem out of place in a US public library. There is a €24 fee (about $38 at today's exchange rate) annually to become a member of the library. The fee is waived for those under 20 years old, and cut in half for those over 64. You must be a member if you want to check out books; anyone is free to use the collections and services free of charge onsite. You are limited to having 10 items checked out at a time, with a three week circulation period, and charging out CDs or DVDs will cost you €1 each. The library has 175,000 members, and the membership fee only represents about 10% of its budget, so you can see this is a well-funded institution. Also, the library has covered parking for twice as many bicycles as cars.

Mr. Van Velzen noted that the change in attitude has been to become "a combination... information/education/culture meeting place." From what I've been able to see, he and the staff here have accomplished that objective in spades. I wonder how long it would take me to learn Dutch and apply for a job here...?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just Read It

OK, back to libraries.

I occasionally complain in my talks that libraries don't show their sense of humor often enough. Worthington Public Libraries has again made me eat those words with the new video for their summer reading program.

Bring back the railroads

OK, except for the fact that I travel a lot to speak at libraries, this post really doesn't have anything to do with libraries.

American Airlines announced today that they are going to begin charging $15 to check your first bag. $15 for the FIRST bag. Not the second bag, that's $25. Not the one that weighs more than 50 pounds, that's $50. Not the one that you're trying to smuggle your 8-year old in, that's priceless.

So that left me with two questions.

First, are they actually giving any better warranties that these bags will show up where they're destined? I doubt it.

Second, do they realize how much more junk their passengers are going to carry aboard, and how much longer it's going to take to load and unload planes at the gates now?

Oh, and just for good measure, they're cutting way back on the number of flights they offer each day this fall. Want to get home from Los Angeles this afternoon? You don't mind spending the night at the Denver airport, do you? Bring back the Super Chief.

I may need to start a second blog just to complain about the airlines. Nah, that's too crowded a field!

PS: Just read the fine print on the Baggage Allowance page at American Airlines. I won't have to pay the fee because I qualify for the AAdvantage Gold program. But if the airline treats me like something on the sole of its corporate shoe, why should I want to keep flying with them? I'm not really that masochistic!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Pasadena PL Asking the Big Questions

Joan Frye Williams forwarded a post from the California Library Association's listserv CALIX about a series of 16 one hour discussions focusing on some of the big issues to come out of the recent PLA conference. The series is being held at several locations of the Pasadena Public Library. Among the questions to be discussed between May 20 and June 11:
  • What if we implemented change with urgency and enthusiasm?
  • What if we didn't make our customers work so hard?
  • What if we were in charge of our customer's experience?
  • What if our focal point was the customer instead of the staff?
Heady stuff, especially to be discussed in such a compressed time period. I spoke to Catherine Haskett Hany, the Communications Director for the City of Pasadena's Information Services. She told me that the goal of this program was to continue the discussion that started among the staff that attended PLA (virtually and in person). She said that so many people had come back energized by what they'd heard, that they wanted to do more than just a straight recitation of programs attended.

Ms. Hany also said that if other librarians were interested in doing a series of programs such as this (HINT, HINT), she'd be happy to discuss how they set it up. Contact her by e-mail for further information.

OCLC at ALA in Anaheim

Alice has just posted about the OCLC Symposium at the ALA Conference in Anaheim, but registration is now open for all of our events there.

You can see and register for OCLC's Anaheim events and receptions at, including the WebJunction reception, the OCLC Developer's Network meet and greet, and several other really good programs. One example of those really good programs: Cathy De Rosa and Jenny Johnson will do presentations on the new study report "From Awareness to Funding," on Saturday and Sunday, something all public librarians should attend.

OCLC Symposium at ALA Annual 2008

Heidi has been kind enough to prompt me.
The topic for the OCLC Symposium this year is "The Mashed Up Library."

We're still finalizing the details--so don't take the description below as the final final. But the idea we're exploring here is--mash-ups are not so much about technology (while interesting) as they are the idea of taking something traditional, twisting it, combining it, and making it fresh again.

Here's the semi-official blurb:
"Developing new library services can now mean mixing data and functionality from several sources into “mash-ups” to provide a unique and powerful user experience. Some librarians have discovered how to use Web applications to adapt or create new services. Others are investigating this trend and looking for further guidance. Still others have found creative ways to deliver traditional programs to new populations. "

The keynote will be Michael Schrage, author of Shared Minds—The New Technologies of Collaboration and columnist for CIO and MIT’s Technology Review.

Then we'll also have a panel of three librarians who have developed their own mash-ups:

*Susan Gibbons, Associate Dean, Public Services & Collection Development, University of Rochester (NY) River Campus Libraries
*David Lee King, Digital Branch & Services Manager, Topeka & Shawnee County (KS) Public Library
*Mary Beth Sancomb-Moran, Librarian, University of Minnesota Rochester.

So come one, come all. It's at the Marriott Anaheim, Platinum Ballroom 1-5. Register now, for all your OCLC events. If you're not coming to conference, I am sure there will be enough tweets that you'll get the gist of it.

What cool mash-ups do you have going at your library? Or that you WANT to have going at your library?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Geotourism Challenge

One of the projects on which I've been helping, the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route, is up for a major award (no, not like the one in A Christmas Story) in the National Geographic and Geotourism Challenge., sponsored by the National Geographic and Ashoka Changemakers'. Our entry in the challenge can be found here.

If you have been following this story, or if you have an interest in the route and its important role in both improving minority health and learning about US history, check it out and maybe leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

where's the party?

Many of us are getting ready for ALA in California, but I've got something coming up a tad more quickly that's keeping me from settling on any ALA plans. I'll be in Dublin, OH next week along with some of my WebJunction colleagues for a face-to-face meeting with our community partners. The purpose of our meeting is to train partners on the use of our new platform at WJ, and we're excited to further (and finally) show it off to everyone, not to mention having them get in there and start playing with things themselves. I say finally because we had to push off a partner preview period in order to, well, get a few things in order before showing it off. Surprises abound, let me tell you, anytime you're planning and implementing a major platform switch-a-roo.

I feel a little like a party hostess getting ready for guests (who've been asked to come a few weeks later). Online facilitation often feels like party hosting. But the stakes are higher now that anticipation is mounting *and* we'll all be together for the first time since last June, not to mention a few more additions to our partner group. I am in constant amazement of my colleagues here at WJ and all the hard work they've all done to make sure the meeting and all its preparations are a complete success.

At this meeting we expect to show off improved functionality the new site brings both to WJ members and admins. This includes enhanced personalization, professional networking, and ease-of-use. Contributions can take place in-line right from the page after a member is logged in (right now we use a separate, back-end content management system). Pages can be tagged and bookmarked, friends and groups will form, surfacing more relevant content based on your interests. Altogether, we think we're onto a much more engaging experience for members. On the admin side we'll show off easier management of content, courses, and users, and well as the ability to better message groups, control access to private resources, and track member engagement. What's more, our course catalog will be much improved, with Mac accessible 'just in time' course content offered in a much more blended online learning environment. All around, we're excited to hear what our partners think of the work we've done on the platform so far, and look forward to working with them over the coming months to get ready to show it off to everyone who'll be visiting and using the new version of WJ coming later this year. Woot! Woot!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Where in the world is Carmen San Diego? With George

April was a blur of speaking engagements, meetings, budget crunch time at OCLC, and a bad case of bronchitis for the long-suffering Joyce. And May is going to make me wish for the good old days of April.

While it was a blur, some wonderful moments stand out from April's speaking engagements:
  • The discussion with the archivist in Oklahoma about how far we need to go make special collections accessible and useful for the public
  • Speaking at the Small and Rural Libraries conference in Columbus, with an audience that included all the other speakers, such as Steve Coffman, Glen Holt, Leslie Holt, Rivkah Sass, Denise Davis, and Blane Dessy---sort of like singing karaoke in front of Jose Carreras
  • Hearing the question come up again at the Library of Virginia about how public librarians can work more effectively with classroom teachers to improve services to students. Someone should offer a large cash prize to the person who can develop a scalable, effective solution to that conundrum.
  • And the beautiful setting and excellent discussion at the annual meeting of the Academic Libraries Section of the Kentucky Library Association in Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
My only May speaking engagement got canceled, but this month, the IFLA/OCLC Early Career Development Fellows are in residence here in Dublin. My colleagues Nancy Lensenmayer and Susan Saggio are the brains and the brawn behind this project, but I get to go along on some of the field trips. Photos of our trip to DC, including the Library of Congress and the Folger Shakespeare Library are here.

Also, this month includes meetings of Members Council, the OCLC regional service providers, the WebJunction Advisory Committee, and two more trips out of town with the Fellows.

There's an excellent article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal about how Best Buy's internal social networking application ( resulted in some very positive unexpected consequences for the electronics chain, including increased employee retention and participation in the 401k plan. According to the login page, BlueShirt Nation is "the place we go to talk about stuff. To connect with each other. To make stuff."

So how could this apply in a library setting? A similar internal network could feed information throughout the library on what is popular, what is or isn't working, policies that might need other words, all the stuff that the front line staff can see that administrators might not.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Blue Screen of Death

I had it this morning.
On the new computer.

Happily preparing for ALA antics. There will be a blogger salon, hands-on play with WorldCat social tools workshops, a somewhat offbeat game show (complete with prizes) and much, much more.
And I just booked my flights. Oh, the anticipation of it all. Wha Hoo!