Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Wee Bookworm nibbles the Big Apple

I have been spending this week in New York City and have made a few observations that I would like to share.  I have met up with a couple of friends whom I met in England and are now in NYC - it has been great to spend time with people who are new to the States as well and get their perspective on certain issues I have been having since arriving here such as the day and the month being the 'wrong' way round, teabags coming single wrapped, turn right on red etc.

I paid a visit to the New York Public Library (not just because of its use in Sex and the City) and it struck me as a very peaceful place to work despite the rows and rows of users.  It was amazing to find such a haven of learning in the heart of the hustle and bustle of the city.

A tad of an illegal photo

There was an exhibition on the 100th anniversary of the library, which was an opportunity to see some of the treasures of the library, many of which were clothing or non-book items.  This surprised my companion and I am not entirely sure why so many of the exhibits were non-book related, perhaps the curators felt that these would be more immediately appealing to the masses visiting.  Among the many leaflets available to visitors, such as guides to free programs for children, teens and adults there was a 'Professional Examination for Promotion to Grade 3 1953 Assistant Branch Librarian' - basically an entrance exam for the 1953 assistant librarian.  This has made for interesting reading.  Not only did the candidates need to be able to match 20 names to their positions in the NYPL system but also be able to comment on given titles and discuss the author's point of view and the general locale.  There are also questions concerning changes that the candidates may wish to see in the service, advice they would provide recent library school graduates and evaluation of certain of the library services.

Now, when I picked this up I was expecting to read an outdated mode of selecting staff and was fully ready to scoff at it.  I stand corrected.  Much has changed in the profession but the fundamentals of what makes a good librarian remains the same and this came as a reassuring fact for me (especially as I consider where I am going after Syracuse and am concerned that I am only really qualified to work in American libraries).  Recently I have been pretty annoyed at the library stereotypes still being pushed in society such as on the Literary Gifts website which is normally brilliant but does sell items such as these:

Hmm (and, if you know me or Charlotte, then you'll know that this is false)

Another one was in one of the Macy's windows on 34th street - I initially got very excited (as I am sure some of you do when you see librarians in popular culture) but then realised how wrong it was:

It is a bit hard to see but basically there is a librarian with a pencil in her hair, blouse buttoned to the neck, tweed skirt, surrounded by only books on a ladder, which actually rotates round the shelves (I grant you, I do wish I got to do that).  This does make for a nice window and is part of a Christmas story acted out in several windows but it goes to show that there is a lot of work still to be done if librarians are going to break their mould.  We are not being lent much help from those outwith our profession and this week has only served to show me that the stereotype is far from going away.

I also visited Brooklyn public library, which again was jammed packed with users and has a very busy community calendar with all kinds of events.  One that caught my eye was the graphic novel adult book club, which I had never heard of but is a great way to get a different set of adults involved in library book groups.  The library itself was looking a but worse for wear but had plenty of positives going for it. 

Also, you can buy items such as these:

I would buy these if they had one for my library!
One thing that has really stood out to me in NYC has been the music that is playing everywhere. Wherever possible there is music, live or recorded.  Walking along the street there is music blaring out of the fronts of shops, in the subway, accompanying the windows at Macy's, on the stalls etc.  It is actually very pleasant.  This reminded me of a comment made at NYLA where one of the talks mentioned music playing in the foyer of a library in Europe.  This was a surprise hit and didn't interfere with quiet study space elsewhere since it was only played at the issue desk.  I have found a musical society pretty spirit-lifting (and I am a very unmusical person).

So, these are a few of the thoughts that have occurred to me as I wandered around New York.  Apologies that they are not more profound but, frankly, how could they be when there are sights such as these to behold:

The Blue One

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Management Consultant and Historical Association?

Today I went on a visit with my Management and Preservation of Special Collections Class to the Onondaga Historical Association downtown.  I didn't quite know what to expect since I had had a quick look at their website and saw that they had a museum, gift shop and research centre (the website is not the nicest of things to navigate around and I will deal with this point later).  So, to be honest, I didn't have high hopes of my afternoon.  How wrong I was.

321 Montgomery Street
Karen Cooney, the support services administrator, gave us an overview of the Association and what it does, its principles, organisation etc.  Most of the users of the research centre are members of the public and if they are members then they pay an annual fee and have the use of the centre for free but there is a charge for non-members.  OHA is a non-profit organisation and is privately owned, which means that it is not funded in the same way as council associations.

An interesting point raised was whether the OHA intended to digitise their collection so that their paper documents were available online.  I had only ever considered the expense of doing such a project but Karen pointed out a major issue with this process.  Not only would a lot of money go into the digitising project but also the resulting online database would drain the OHA of a major source revenue.  The OHA depends on users and reference questions to provide them with an income and putting all of their collections online would mean a drastic decrease in paying customers and so paralyse the association.  Tom Hunter, the Assistant Director and Curator of Collections, backed this up by giving examples of occasions where the paper copies come in useful and online resources are not enough.  This all really gave me food for thought and the issue of freedom of information and intellectual property rights were raised.  The OHA are not withholding information from patrons since it is accessible if you physically come to 321 Montgomery Street, the matter is more one of convenience for the user.

One of the many photos in the collection

Tom Hunter discussed some of the '3D' stuff and one thing in particular caught my attention.  The CNY: The Good Life and CNY: Business Exchange both allocate their back pages to the OHA and provide them with an opportunity to showcase some of their items.  Photographs and around 250 words are used to showboat interesting points of local history to snare the readers.  This is not something I have seen before and struck me as a great opportunity to get the work out about a sometimes overlooked association.

BUT the most interesting point came with the Executive Director, Gregg Tripoli.  He has a business background and had a career in management consultancy before retiring and subsequent un-retiring to take up the post at the OHA.  Now, my brother is a management consultant and, if I am honest, I am not entirely sure what he does.  This talk, however, elucidated some of the functions of such a profession and what it can do for museums and archives and I was enthralled.

New shop front of OHA - previously these windows were bricked up
(didn't quite scream 'come in, we're exciting and modern'!!)
His business approach has included rejuvenating Montgomery Street to provide better parking facilities and a history themed restaurant as a response to surveys carried out of public opinion concerning the 'downtown experience'.  This history restaurant is decorated with artefacts from the museum collection and has place mats with trivia about Onondaga County.  The museum now has a shop (with fantastic gifts such as typewriter key jewellery, themed stationery, original Syracuse china pieces and much much more) and no longer has a sole permanent exhibit.  Now there are temporary exhibits that are changed frequently and the OHA also organises exhibits elsewhere in the community.

These other exhibits are sponsored by local corporate bodies and either feature these businesses or local history related to events in the area such as plays that are shown at Syracuse Stage.  The OHA organises exhibits for the public libraries and these travel round the branches in order to cover the maximum area.  For the price of sponsoring these exhibits, businesses reach a wider audience than if they advertised on a billboard on 81.  Quite a sobering thought.  OHA also organise exhibits for companies and organisations and can make use of their archives in tandem with the OHA collections and these portray the longevity and adjustability of the companies and the integral part they play in the community.

Gregg summed up the purpose of these exhibits as "to instil pride in who we are and what we have accomplished."  I do believe that this more than ticks the 'community' box that we librarians are so often banging on about, it ticks it and surrounds it in arrows and exciting luminous stickers.  It is only by engaging the community in their past that we can effectively invest people in their shared future and ensure the survival of such collections.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Free stationery and candy a.k.a. NYLA 2011

Last week I attended the NYLA (New York Library Association) Conference in Saratoga Springs.  I was there primarily as a volunteer on our iSchool booth but also took advantage of the conference for a couple of days.  This was my first major conference and it was quite an eye-opener.

I want to take this post to discuss a couple of the talks I heard as well as reflect on the whole conference situation and, as I am sure those who know me will know, make some loosely related comments on things that excite me (I was going to say no M&M's this week but I have just had my first trip to Walmart...keep reading).

Sunrise on the way to Saratoga

21 More Ideas for 21st Century Libraries (Kim and Rob Cullin)

This talk started very promisingly with mention of the presenters' recent tour of public libraries in Scotland and Europe.  As I suspected, they weren't fans of Scottish libraries since they can be a tad behind the times eg. you cannot browse the National Library of Scotland without a reader's card.  It was interesting, however, to hear their comments on what they thought worked and what didn't.  What they did like about the Edinburgh Public Library was the service desk which was round, at the entrance, and open on all sides.  This meant that the librarians can get out there and 'touch the people'.  This seems like a pretty basic point but can make all the difference for enquirers who are concerned with the approachability of library staff.

Rob talked about the librarian as a 'concierge' and I thought that this was a great analogy.  Knowledge and information is a hotel and we are the ones providing access and direction to what people need.  Again, a very simple change to the way we think can make a big difference to our relation to patrons/members/users/randomers.

'The popular shoppable library' is something I have heard discussed before and we saw it in practice at the Saratoga Springs Public Library where they use front facing displays and topic titles to display their items more accessibly though still how Melvil would appreciate.

Teen reads as you might see them in a book shop

Two of the main things that the presenters focused on were semi-private spaces and quiet study space.  This lead to a discussion of whether a library should support those who work in the library to earn money - libraries are non profit but this does not mean that they have to be non revenue.  Libraries can charge to provide meeting spaces etc. - this is something that is contended but libraries are moving more and more towards needing to accommodate the community and their needs, whether that be space for business meetings or space to play video games with friends.
One of the many priceless items on sale at the NYLA store
Futureproofing Your Libraries (George Needham)

The double winner of Jeopardy talked us through some of the small ways through which we can improve our libraries in an attempt to embrace the future.  As he aptly pointed out, you wouldn't go to a dentist who hadn't updated his techniques since the 1970s so why should people come to a library that hasn't been keeping up with changes.

One basic point he made was that the term 'The Information Place' is completely inaccurate on counts of every word:

THE - the library is not the only place you can get information
INFORMATION - the library is about a lot more than just information - recreation, business etc.
PLACE - the library can be virtual or even mobile

Libraries are now far more than they used to be - they are areas of enlightenment, that should serve to entice people with quality and convenience.

Another simple point made was concerning the language that library staff use.  'Circulation' is a bit of jargon and refers to the job of the staff, not the customer.  'Circulation' means something different in every profession - blood circulates round the body for doctors, it is the movement of people through space for architects etc. so why should we expect our customers to know what that means in the library context?  Why don't we just say 'Pay here' for somewhere to pay fines?

In a similar vein, George discussed the need for libraries to keep up with the socialisation of the rest of the world.  In every other aspect of our lives, we can select our pin code.  At most libraries, however, we have to use the last four digits of out phone numbers.  Why don't libraries just adjust to what everyone else is doing?  We need to assess how users want to use us and then adapt to them - there are a lot more of them than us after all!


What I found most inspiring about the conference was the enthusiasm of the attendees.  Working on the stall helped me to meet many many Syracuse alumni who all had such interest in how the program was continuing and how we were all getting on.  There was great joviality among stall holders and those passing by that I really felt part of the community.  Even when we gate crashed a cocktail party we were made welcome and encouraged to mingle with the congregated librarians.  This will not be my last conference, I have a taste for them now...I feel that I need to build up immunity to tiredness though!

Some of the SU contingent and a stray Albany student


And here is what you have been waiting for!  I have to say that I was somewhat surprised to see these Cherry Cordial ones in Walmart today (though, it is Walmart, I shouldn't be surprised).  Unfortunately I am not a fan.  

Indeed, that is a Christmas M&M (well, Hallowe'en is over!)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

School Librarians cause a Flashback to my Childhood Fear of the Demon Headmaster

This week two school librarians came to share their experiences with the class and, although I know that this is not the path I wish to pursue (school children make me envision things like this),
I thoroughly enjoyed their talks and wanted to post about a couple of interesting points that smacked of relevance throughout the profession.

Sue Kowalski was first up and straightaway her enthusiasm swept through the class.  Her tips included being individual - in this day and age we have to show how we are different and what we can offer over our competitors.  This may sound a bit too business-y for a library comment but she was right - in the school setting librarians have to show how they can offer services that cannot be provided by the teachers or computing staff.  From public to law to academic libraries we have to show how we stand out from the internet, book shops, netflix etc. in order to preserve the unique services that we provide.

Sue's mantra is "advocacy through action" - you have got to walk the talk and show your ideas being implemented.  Bosses are so busy these days that they don't want to hear about your problems, they only want to hear about your solution.  This picks up on what the second speaker, Steve Nabinger mentioned concerning tactics for dealing with headmasters.
Demon Headmaster...mine was actually like this, he had swirly eyes too
(apologies to Americans who probably won't get this reference and
will just say 'Aw, 'headmaster', it's just like Harry Potter'
(I don't tire of this, honestly, it is perpetually amusing))
A point that Sue made that is not necessarily related to libraries but to life in general was about letting go.  She assigns a lot of the exhibitions and projects in the library over to her iStaff (too funny) and allows them to produce work on the library's behalf.  Now this will not be as perfect as she would like it but it is the kids' own work and they are proud of it.  They also act as walking advertisements for such exhibitions and will drag people to see it thus making it far more effective than if she had done it herself.  Sue also focuses on getting the service the customer needs to them as quickly as she can and leaves the office work, reports etc. for another time.  I am somewhat of a perfectionist and know that I have to let go especially in group projects.  I have become far more laid-back since coming here because so much has changed for me that there is no chance I can keep in control of everything but I still have a long way to go.  Sue's advice was good, go with the flow and accept that not everything is going to be perfect...some day I hope it will sink in.