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!)

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