Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Problems, Creative Measures

Not often do I find enlightening reading about libraries in The Stranger! So imagine my surprise, a few months ago, when I read about something happening in my own field, one bridge away. But read it I did: "Not Keeping Quiet."

Every day there are more libraries closing, more schools phasing them out (the entire Bellevue School District, for example), and more desperate librarians and patrons trying to find creative measures to solve the problem of shrinking budgets with growing demand for service.

New problems call for creative measures... though I don't think this is the type of thing most of us had in mind, Tattooed Ladies of Texas Library Association Calendar (which my good friend at This Decaying World pointed out, knowing I would get a kick out of it - Thanks!), I am in awe of their unique, fun approach to fund raising and my hat is off to their beautiful tattoos.

Thinking out of the box is the only way to survive, the only way to thrive in today's library market. It is something that I have been struggling with for a while, particularly this past week.

As of yesterday, at 4:05pm, I've made it my mission to extend the library into the resident halls. Now, though it wasn't my idea at all, I am going to take it and run! Getting the information into the dorms on campus and bolstering word-of-mouth would significantly bolster the effectiveness of our programs.

We'll see how this goes! Any thoughts?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

La Vie!

I've spent the morning arguing with many of T-mobile's fine customer service representatives, all of them very friendly but not helpful with my problem - a problem that makes me incommunicado for a while due to a dead battery and an incorrect SSN. Needless to say, I am a little stressed, so I chose to dedicate today's post to some lovely things... French things!

The photos are of my petite maison, the room I let when I was teaching English in Nantes. Just seeing them makes me calmer already!

"But Heather!" you shout, "what does this have to do with libraries and books?"

Well, as a devoted francophile, I have been compiling a few information resources that I love - all things French! Both of these sites are great places to visit when you need some beautiful French visual documents!

Mostly art and culture related, these sights and others like them are unique expressions of information services. I've been researching the best use of visual archives in attempting to tackle the mess of photos we have stored in the basement. Now librarians have, at their finger tips, more photos and other visual media than ever before. Media that our students and patrons can use, if they only knew it existed!

à votre santé!

1) Elliot Erwitt not only took many of the iconic photos of 1950s France, but many of America too. Please, if you have a few minutes, take a look at this beautiful slide show of his work. Many you already know, but others might be new and soon-to-be beloved favorites. This site was something the wonderful gourmand, Dorie Greenspan, noted in this blog post (which you should check out - she is so kind, witty, and lovely!).

2) Need some French Ephemera? This photostream is where you should go! Complete with high quality advertisements and beautiful vintage designs. (Funny! it was mentioned today: Dinosaurs and Robots, this post).

Those are my two current favorites! Any others?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Building a Loyal Following

I'm one of those unfortunate people who constantly have the script of The Office running through my head - whether it is because it is always applicable or whether I just watch it too often, is up for debate.

There is one scene where Ryan the temp is quizing Michael about business (I believe it is in the fire episode) and asks him something like, "Which is more cost effective, getting a new client or maintaining an old one?" For most business-minded people, this might seem like a moot question, but it something that runs through my head when I think about loyal followings.

When I made the move from retail bookstore to library, I was amazed how important building that loyal base still was, always assuming it was a retail/sales based issue only. At the store, we focused on return sales with our membership- and gift card-focused sales pushes.

But libraries are the same! We rely on remaining valuable to the community and our funding is based upon how much of that community we are able to sell on our services.

This is what leads me to two different business interactions I have had recently:

1) I was cat sitting for a friend and at some point, during a tv-inspired nap, the cat decided to eat the nose piece to my glasses. This made wearing them uncomfortable, resulting in a trip to Bella Vision (Bothell, WA). The staff helped me immediately and fixed my specks while I waited. What else is there to do but browse the wonderful selection (I LOVE their glasses, it is where I bought my current pair)? Of course I found the most spectacular pair that only my lack of money prevented me from buying. A few minutes later, my glasses were fixed and when I went to get my wallet out, I was stopped short as she said "You are good to go, have a great day!" Shocked, is what I must have expressed on my face because she quickly followed with, "We always do that type of this for free - it keeps our fingers nimble." As I walked out of the store, all I could think about was how I am going to afford those glasses that I am certainly going to come back and get?

2) The other night, I was returning home from a friend's house in the city when my front tire blew (random shout out to AAA - THANK YOU, and if you ever need them in the greater Seattle area and Andrew comes to help, tell me he is not the sweetest, handsomest person you have ever met!). A trip to the tire store was now in order, but I have never done that before. Shocking, I know. Anyway, a call to my mother started her on a 20 minute rant about the horrors of a certain tire chain and the blessings and praises of Discount Tire, Co (also in Bothell, Wa). Though not that close to me, I decided to make the trip, armed with all of her wonderful stories about how many times they have helped us and how wonderful the staff was. This was what was running through my mind when they informed me that the tire could not be saved (4 nails, 2 giant screws shredded the thing!) and I would need to get 4 new ones - I knew that they were not lying and that they were honestly trying to help me the best they could. That is why I didn't bat an eyelash when they, successfully, up-saled me a better tire.

In both these cases, the honesty, kindness, attentiveness, and effort these companies exhibited created a return customer. Actually, not only that, they created an evangelist. Isn't that who bookstores and libraries need?

A few years ago, a major book retailer started acquiescing to consumer demands for search terminals and new visual standards. That company took a beating because they lost sight of their true customers - loyal evangelists - who, whether or not they thought they wanted it, fell in love with the store because they were greeted, interacted with, and listened to.

Wow, if you read through all of that, then I thank you for putting up with my rambling stories... now to the real question: how do you build this in libraries?

Off the top of my head... 1) Caring staff, 2) Helpful staff, and 3) Honest staff. It is about the people!

Any other examples?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Clubs, with Prejudice

When I was in high school and college, I often dreamt of the day when I would have more time to read for pleasure and join book clubs (preferably those in some forgotten back corner of a dusty used book store, with a cat that runs around... but I digress).

Now that seems beyond laughable! I barely have time for coffee with a beloved friend, let alone a project that requires reading a book then talking about it! Ha! The silliness!

A few weeks ago, I picked up the book The Dante Club from the library - one of those impulse check-outs. The reason I had avoided it in the past was, what I would like to call, "The Book Club Factor." At the bookstore, I would pass this title on to the customer who wanted "something light and easy for the book club that has read every other book-club-book, one that they could read in a week, but that was serious and thought provoking, had no naughty scenes... oh, and in paperback." It was forever stained with this in my mind.

Perhaps this is a bookseller/librarian thing or some sort of book elitism (which is probably closer to the truth), but the title, cover and tag line of such books make me want to throw them across the room. Is this the type of thing that all book clubs read?

Thankfully not, but at the same time, yes!, one of my favorite places to go for news and thought pieces, has a book club - The Audio Book Club, that is. One that takes these "book club books" and other reads, and tears them apart both for better and worse.

Have I been prejudiced? Yes. Am I going to go out and buy Eat, Pray, Love? No.

The only podcast I have listened to, so far, was for Omnivore's Dilemma, which I have read. I found the hosts' comments valid, important, and sometimes frustrating (in a good way).

This is what caused me to pull The Dante Club off of the shelving cart and take a look at the back, giving it a chance... then I read that some "New England Saints," my favorite authors, were solving a crime where the murder was reenacting the circles of hell from Dante. SOLD!

Currently I am halfway through (hey, I was on vacation! And that, for someone who works and loves books, means little reading and lots of tv watching) and enjoying it. Funny thing is, basically, the book is about the powerful impact of book clubs. How discussing and debating books with like- and differently-minded people dramatically increases the effect of the material.

Lesson learned: Book Clubs can inspire good reading, or, at least, an enjoyable bashing of a popular book... and if that fails, you might be able to solve a murder along the way.

As I move through some of the books that I have recommended to hundreds of customers and patrons with less prejudice than before, maybe I'll find a group of like-minded paraprofessionals who alternate between the light (popular) and heavy (depressing) reading. But who, most of all, meet in an abandoned corner of a used bookstore... preferably with a cat.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The First Words in Ghostbusters... "HAAAAA!"

Oh, vacation is so close... I and the stack of books on my coffee table are longing for some serious, quality time together. The hopes of profound thoughts next week are making my current thoughts a bit lazy.

However, earlier this week, I was working on one of my summer projects in the basement archives, elbow deep in dust, mold, other things - all of which should not be in an archive, but are. I was pushing a large book cart down the dark stacks when it suddenly hit me! What I had been thinking about without knowing it... the whisper of deja vu I had been fighting to name.... I was living the opening scene from Ghostbusters!

What? You don't remember that pivotal scene in the best movie ever made?

Well, not to give too much away, it involves a librarian, a basement, a ghost. But there was something about the sound of the cart I was pushing, the dimness of the overhead lights, the oldness of the books that brought it all back.

Something that the videos I've been watching lately (we are redoing our Orientation Video, so there is a lot of YouTube-ing going on) have made me think about is the traditional stereotypes of a librarian and his/her work. From time to time, these versions are right - like in Ghostbusters, but not always.

Though I have been a bit video heavy this week (remember, I am lazy), I couldn't resist sharing this clever one.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gorilla Librarian

Continuing the theme of fun for the week and, after all, no self respecting librarian can go a day without playing this clip in their minds: I give you Monty Python's Gorilla Librarian.

As the library's fine enforcer (I forgive no fines!), I always think of this when a student wants their $7.50 back for returning their book 3 months late...
"I love seeing the customers when they come in to complain about some book being damaged, and ask to see the chief librarian and then ... you should see their faces when the proud beast leaps from his tiny office, snatches the book from their hands and sinks his fangs into their soft er ..."
Sometimes I start quoting it, but, sadly, very few people get the joke.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Librarian Militant

In honor of my lack of concentration...

The librarian must be the librarian militant before he [or she] can be the librarian triumphant.
~Melvil Dewey

In our User Services meeting today, our librarian quoted Melvil Dewey - randomly that is... well, you know, that is how we roll.

Anyway, I was looking for that exact quote he referenced when I came across the above line. Anyone else laugh at the notion of "librarian militant?"

Probably Dewey didn't mean something like this...

...but we do have to raise our barcode scanners and DEMCO labels and tattle tape to declare something, anything really, triumphantly!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Pushing the Carts

Coming back from a week off (not a planned week off) and heading into another week off (this one oh-so planned), I am finding it hard to concentrate. Let alone think creatively about issues facing libraries and the future of the book world.

So, with that being said, I think this week should be about fun things! Librarians are often portrayed as sticklers for the rules, uptight shhhh-ers, but that is certainly not the case. Even we need to find ways to occupy our more... uh... down moments.

Here is a great link to the application for the ALA Book Cart Drill Championship contest that my friend Brenda pointed out. Now being an expert Book Cart Driller - that is some dedication to our craft!

An example of the high caliber work, from last year, that may have graced the championship hall last weekend...

This past June, during the Pride Parade in Seattle, I was so excited to see the Seattle Public library put on quite a show with their amazing feats of synchronized showmanship... a little clip I found... Go home team!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

FREE - the book

I'm back, after a little jaunt to warmer climates... yes, I went somewhere warmer during the summer. Who says Librarians are smart? Not me.

So, to give me some time to clear out my inbox and get thinking again, I am just providing a link to something particularly interesting.

Chris Anderson's new book, FREE, is now available, free, here.

Why should you read this? It is free.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Librarians of the Past

Very beautiful and still rings true!