Monday, August 04, 2014

ALA 2014, Part Two

Cleveland Heights Library Computer Lab

There were several sessions that dealt with Readers Advisory Services and the future. The first one that was of interest to me was “My Librarian: Personalization and the future of RA” with
Terrylin Chen and  Alison Kastner (and special guest Laural W, one of the brave souls who is  a “My Librarian”) of Multnomah County Public Library.
Multnomah is at it again! Now they’re transforming relationships into online RA. As they see it, sharing=vulnerability, which is the key to interaction with their customers. So, they have taken online RA to its next logical place -- introducing their customers to individual librarians, letting them get to know what’s of interest to those librarians, and letting the public request reading suggestions from whichever individual appeals to them, rather than the computer. Munltnomah does still maintain their personalized reading list option, but it pales in comparison to the reaction they have had to My Librarian. They had several reasons to head in this direction, including the fact that privacy rules tend to hamper our ability to retain information for our customers (likening it to the public having to deal with librarians who are apparently memory impaired, since they have to be told everything over and over again). Another reason was that they did some focus groups, which pointed out a dismaying fact; for their customers, librarians came in dead last as a source of suggestions for reading. Even the bookseller’s clerks beat us! It’s not that they don’t respect us, it’s that they “don’t want to waste our time”. Sigh. So, they secured grant funding (the librarian’s best friend) and began to transform their readers advisory services. They have always done basic RA training with all staff, but those who volunteered received more specialized training. These staff members also participated in what they referred to as training on “zesty blogging”, since each librarian maintains their own blog of what they are reading/doing.  Multnomah hired a professional photographer to take pictures of these librarians for the website and these pictures were meant to mirror what that particular librarian was passionate about, be it cooking, crafts, cinema or whatever. And then they brought up the page in January 2013. Since the inception of this service, they have had 800,000 clickthroughs on their homepage to the My Librarian site. Pretty amazing.

I also had the privilege of listening to Duncan Smith from Novelist and Tina Thomas, Director of Marketing for the Edmonton Public Library at the session: Turning Books into a Cool New Tool: RA Marketing in the age of Maker Spaces. Duncan Smith began with an extremely apt quote from Marshall McLuhan, “A new medium does not extinguish the old, it transforms it”. It is Duncan’s contention that books are the original “Maker Space”, since that is where most of us find the inspiration, know-how and ideas to further our reach. His use of simile was exemplary -- he decried thinking of our brains while reading as mere photocopiers and reminded us that the brain, while reading, more closely resembles a 3D printer. We create worlds, scenario and characters out of everything we read. No two people have ever read exactly the same book. You bring yourself to what you read, and by doing so, transform it. This led him to remind us that although books are the “brand” of most libraries, our business is reading. However our customers access our materials, whether they read, e-read, listen, watch, they are sharing the author/creators work and transforming it according to their own understanding. We need to get out from behind the desk and engage more than just the passionate and engaged reader, and to help all of our customers make the connection between reading and their own lives.
Tina Thomas went beyond Duncan’s cerebral approach and talked about how Edmonton Public Library markets their RA services. By the way, she began her talk by telling us that EPL’s mission statement consists of 2 words; “WE SHARE”. How utterly simple and lovely. She began by reminding us that the narrowing of choice is more powerful than overabundance. Too many choices can paralyze a customer. She also described the difference between reference and RA, using the new term for RA -  discover - by explaining that in reference, you are looking for a specific bit of information, while Readers Advisory is actually a form of discovery, because it is a chance to be delighted by something you didn’t even know you were looking for. In the minds of our users, end-caps are recommendations straight from the library to the reader. Figure out a way to standardize staff picks, either through shelf talkers, bookmarks or displays so people know where these picks are coming from. Find ways to converse with people individually. Tag your experts in the community for reading lists, but remember that while personality is important, content is king. You may have a terrific and colorful expert, but if they don’t choose relatable material, don’t use it.  RA may be everyone’s job, but specific responsibilities are necessary, to ensure that it is done at all. As for staff, it’s best to have generalists with some specific areas of interest or passion. And finally, set expectations accurately and up front. If you falter, get up and keep it going. Her personal mantra seems to be: INCUBATE, CREATE, MEASURE, REPEAT.


Environments by Design:  was a chance to see several interesting redesigns of both interiors and exterior additions to various libraries. Four separate buildings were looked at from the perspective of restoration, refurbishing and reuse. The building from the 1940’s (Cleveland Heights in OH) bought an old YMCA gym which was situated across the street from their Central Library. The gym was re-purposed into a computer lab, a quiet space and a collaborative space over a period of 18 months and with a budget of $800,000. Pretty amazing transformation, actually. Big takeaway: Don’t force something to be what it’s not. Less is more sometimes.
The 1960’s building was at the Cleveland University, and was in need of space for a Math Emporium. They weathered the loss of around 300,000 old periodicals (which were largely available online) in order to accommodate the change. Timeline: 8 months. Budget:  $789,000. Takeaways: Focus on the big picture, don’t get bogged down in the process. Be prepared to make sacrifices to get it done.  Be prepared for unintended consequences.
The 1990’s were covered by Arnold Hirshon of Case Western Reserve University. By applying what he referred to as experimental method to space planning he was able to transform a classical library into a tech wonderland. Once he had the trust of the students and faculty, and proved that if an experiment did not go well that it would be changed, the ideas came thick and fast.  He created an in-house art gallery using the frames of unused shelving units, among other eye openers. Timeline: 3 years, Budget: $1,000,000.00 spaced out over several projects. Takeaways: Involve the community. Don’t be afraid to experiment and change again (or even back to the original) if necessary. Create a plan for continuous change.
And, last but not least, Adrianne Ralph of King County WA talked about several of their new buildings, and some of their more appealing virtues.

Other sessions that were useful and quite well done will be noted in brief here with links to their Powerpoints or other notes:

Finding Dead People: Highly recommended for anyone doing geneaology:

 --Doris @Central

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