I love Joe

Paterno that is.

Joe, Joe!
He's are man!
If he can't save us,
No One Can!


Title of the Day!

Love Notes

"Love Notes" are the interesting bits of information patrons leave for us on pieces of paper and email print outs. These notes are meant to convey information to us. They are meant to let us know that the patron thinks we are morons.

Thankfully, this doesn't happen often. Most of the time, we don't even recognize it.

But then it pops out at us, and raises are urge to kill.

So how do we deal with these situations?

We have two responses, both of which depend on frequency of the notes.

You don't receive these notes often and the ones that do happen are from patrons who generally think everyone is a moron anyway.

Ignore it. It's not worth the time and effort to be angry over. Just be thankful that they remembered to bring in the required info at all. Many patrons are writing the "love note" because they think it's helpful.

These notes happen all the time and from all walks of life.

Very politely ask the patron what their experience of the library is. Find out if they've been frustrated by service, the collection, or the general disposition of the staff. Ask them to talk about what they would like to see to have whatever occurred fixed. Document what you've learned and refer the patron to another staff member further up the chain of command if necessary. NEVER mention the 'love note.' It may have been unconscious, but it is a sign that something is wrong and we should take the time to correct it.


Penn State Proud

A friend asked me why I didn't blog on Virginia Tech. I said, "I could be blogging or praying. Needless to say, my rosary and I have been cozy."

That said, I am proud of my alma mater's response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Penn State shirts in V-Tech colors litter the campus. Ribbons for those lost are pined to back packs and taped to computer terminals.

But what I am most proud of is this: President Spanier's remarks.

May no act of ours bring shame to the glory of her name.


Are Refence Desks Dying Out?

A great article from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Scott Carlson.

So here's the conflict: Face to Face vs. Virtual.

What do students want?

They want both.

The problem: They don't know they can have either.

I went through my entire four years of undergraduate work and the only librarian I ever met at the library was the one I worked for. Even now, as a library employee, I can only tell you the names of the librarians who feel contact with the public is a necessity.

My library offers virtual service but finding a librarian after 5pm is difficult. Often, your virtual questions are answered by the highly trained staff. Librarians have banker's hours and papers to write for tenure. That's not helpful.

I've done more reference interviews in the last week than most librarians have seen all semester. The head of my department received a letter from a student extolling my virtues in helping her with all things library.

The students are there and they do need help. Sometimes they need it in the oddest places.

Unless you're at the circulation desk, a student isn't going to ask you a question. They'd rather wander around lost than ask the stuffy librarian for help. Some of the best service I've provided for a patron is in the stacks, where they wander around.

The older you are, the less you look like them; the less they are going to speak to you. That's not ageism. That's comfort. I sit at a desk in a t-shirt and jeans and students are writing letters about how much I've helped them. With the current generation, that takes a lot effort.

Students want both virtual and face-to-face. Give it to them. Be there for the students. Our tech help roams around the computers, answering questions with text messaging on a cellphone and answering questions face to face at the same time. Give the students what they want.

Actually, think of it this way:

You will never cure cancer or give us world peace. The student on the phone, on instant messager, in front of your face might. Give them the tools they need.

Gruesome Library Stuffs!

Not for the faint of heart!

"Narrative of the life of james Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias, James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman. Being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts state prison"

Creepy, Creepy!

User Centered(?)

Last friday, I attended a Library Conference on interior design for libraries. While there, we discussed the fact that the libraries must be user centered. Of course, the opinions of the librarians in the discussion weren't very user centered at all.

Libraries are set up for librarians. We sort and catagorize books based on a system that makes sense to us, but not the man on the street. We organize a catalog (online or original card) based on our preferences and not on what makes sense to a user. Considering that our users are also our donors, it doesn't make sense to confuse them.

We are long past the days of the library savy patron. Most people never set foot in a library, let alone know how to use the resources that their taxes often pay for.

My university asked the business majors redesign the business library to be marketable.

These are the original specs: 150,000-200,000 books, 75 journals/periodicals, one student lounge (food enabled), 40 double backed carrels, 20 tables for group work, 20 random comfortble seats, 25 computers (5 public accessable), one reference desk (medium sized), WiFi, 100 laptop ports.

This is what the business students came up with: 5,000 books, no journals, 40 double backed carrels, 30 tables for group work, 50 computers in their own section (set up computer lab style), WiFi, 100 laptop ports, 50 comfortable chairs in arranged seating pattern, 30 low coffee tables, one reference desk toward the back (tiny), portable cafe, entire floor food enabled.

Basically, they wanted Barnes and Noble. In fact, our entire user base wants Barnes and Noble and that shouldn't surprise us. Barnes and Noble is a book seller. Profit is the bottom line. How do you create profit? By making your store buyer(user) centered.

For a long time, libraries have been fighting this. As an academic library, we need the amount of books and journals we have to serve a university community. However, most of our community doesn't even know that we have $4 million in research materials to help them. Google and Wikipedia are our greatest enemies.

But our users don't want all the research. What they actually want is a comfortable place to study and do group projects with others. In a "me" centered world, they don't understand that the book they don't need, someone else does.

Of course, the entire point would be moot if we got rid of outdated or unused (i.e. never checked out) materials. We might be able to cut back the amount of actual books on the floor and give them a compromise on what they want. Give them a little more of a Barnes and Noble feel.

So, what does this have to do with the opinions of the librarians at the conference?

Librarians are a very opinionated lot. They get ideas stuck in their heads and never understand that the general idea they have is taken to extremes. For example: The librarians in my library have been told that too much signage is a problem. End result: no signage for a very confused user base.

Let's touch on some other crazy ideas:
  1. If you have self checkout, that's all you should have. (Because no one would need real human help.)
  2. You should never have self checkout. (Because all those supermarkets are totally wrong.)
  3. Libraries are supposed to be totally quiet. (Especially during the busiest hours.)
At some point, you have to let go of your notions and ask your users what they want. And then use what you learned.

We gathered a bunch of students with the offer of free pizza and asked them to fill out two surveys for us. This is what we learned:
  • The 'Library Without Walls' is a myth. Library users want and need a facility.
  • Quiet areas are a must.
  • Group study rooms must be available and plentiful.
  • Off campus electronic access is essential.
  • Night long hours are desperately needed by day long students.
  • Library Computer workstations are a must.
  • Electronic Periodicals trump physical copies.
  • The library website is must be available and 'live' at all times.
These are the top 8 responses in no particular order except for the first one. A library facility came first 96% of the time. Considering that a physical library was at the bottom of the actual survey list, it's amazing that it received the highest marks.

And yet, our numbers coming in the door are dropping.

And now we go back to the original conference purpose: Library Interior Design.

The interior of your library must attract patrons. The nonverbal communication that your users receive starts the moment they step in the door. The use of real color, rather than whites and creames, brings any room to life. Your flooring should be designed to move traffic the way you want it to move. Furniture should be welcoming and (this is very important for universities) look 'academic' and 'distinguished.' (Look, Ma! I'm at the library!) Lighting also directs traffic and can give a sense of comfort. Ceiling design can make an area "pop" without it being immediately visible as to why.

To demonstrate, we saw a public library that was housed in a former bank. They did their best to hide the fact that the library was once a bank. The library specialized interior designers said: "No Way!" And proceeded to make the 'bank' a motif. The open vault became the children's room. The drop ceiling was torn out to reveal beautiful semi-circular windows that brought natural light into the room. Chandeliers from the old bank were re-installed. The typical oak wood furniture was tossed out for sophisticated cherry. Office walls were torn out and glass installed. End result: 300% in library usage in the first month after the remodeling and that number has been steady.

Remember those windows they were hiding under the drop ceiling? The public loved them so much that the library turned them into the library logo. And that's what we call branding.

When we say a library must be user centered, we mean totally user centered. Small changes can make a big difference. Our basement student lounge needed a serious overhaul. A lick of paint, some posters from a previous exhibit, and some new tables and chairs recycled from elsewhere in the university and suddenly everyone is down there to snack and study. And it only took us 4 days: a day to paint, two to dry, and one to move the new stuff in.

It really works.