Sunday, March 25, 2007

California Dreamin'

On March 13, several of the Palos Verdes Library District (PVLD) staff, trustees and volunteers attended a workshop on the “Future of Libraries: Perceptions and Realities” at the Burbank Library, Buena Vista Branch. Joan Frye Williams and George Needham gave a lively and informative presentation on the changes in the library, alternating between George’s data and Joan’s stories.

At the 10,000 foot level, the trends in public libraries include self service, dis-aggregation and collaboration. Information was once expensive and scarce, but now the library value proposition has been “turned on it’s ear” because information is everywhere, it's cheap and “time is money.”

The question today is, What is the new Library brand? The stat’s reveal some of the trends. Today, 65% of library users borrow print books, 63% use our reference books, 54% get assistance on research and 38% use the library internet services. Libraries do a good job providing these services, but we could do better. To the question, Which fits my lifestyle perfectly?, search engines got the top score (54%) with libraries coming in second at 18% followed by bookstores at 15%. Furthermore, 31% of patrons report that their library usage has gone down, compared to 25% that have gone up.

Part of the cause for the decline in usage relates to the internet. When asked, Which sources of information would you rate favorably?, respondents gave the top score (88%) to search engines, followed by libraries (79%), bookstores (77%) and library web sites (46%). This ranking is partly due to familiarity, as 55% reported being familiar with search engines, compared to libraries (46%) and library web sites (15%).

When asked, Where do you begin searching for information?, the divergence becomes marked, with 84% saying search engines compared to only 1% who begin at the library web site. As for usage, 71% have used Google while only 21% have used their library web site. Furthermore, 70% of users find no difference in trustworthiness between search engine sourced information and library information, and search engines are still in their infancy.

George concluded, “the information war is over, and we lost.”

Thus, there is a need to evolve the library brand. The question is, What is the library’s primary role? Today 85% of patrons see the library as a place to learn. That increases across the age brackets from 69% of 14-17 year olds to 94% of 65+ year olds. Voluntary learning seems to be the transformative trend in library usage. It could be part of our new brand.

Joan stressed that libraries are an option for busy people, and what we can do to make that option more attractive. She emphasized a warm welcome, clean and comfortable surroundings, natural light, community rooms and to be a source of pride. Still today, too many people come to the library “expecting to get into trouble.” Fasting and vows of silence are not welcoming. We need to treat patrons like guests in our house.

We also need to de-mystify the library experience. Too many of our tools are un-necessarily complex, as is our nomenclature. And we need to evolve from just answering questions to solving problems for our patrons. Our highest value adds are service and ideas, not information. As community specialists, we need to show that we care more about people than about information. The library should become the “idea laboratory.”

There is a wide range of opportunities on the library web sites. Blogs are a growth opportunity. How about a PTA blog? A new parents blog? Users group blogs? Links from YouTube and Wikipedia to What is Technorati saying about PVLD and the Annex? In a year or two more money will be donated online than by check. We need to build our online donations and create relationships with our donors.

And we need to listen better to our customers. They want convenience and abbundance; more workstations, fewer OPACS (only 9% of library users ever use the OPAC in LAPL); browse-worthy collections with face-forward books; story-time classes, emphasizing learning; new things (art, music and ballet in the library); online payment of fines (call them “extended-user fees”); Net-Flix style circulation (offer to send out held books); record and podcast programs; better support the school district (eg. stock reference textbooks); provide simplified wayfinding and virtual tours. In general, we need to partner with the community to learn what they want, to be customer-focused and then judge our performance on results not transactions.

After the presentation, six local librarians talked about some initiatives their institutions were taking. From George Needham’s web site:

David Campbell from PVLD talked about a
staff training opportunity the library had launched. The training consists of 10 exercises, including starting a blog, posting a photo album to Flickr, and create an RSS feed. Everyone who completes the training gets an MP3 player and is entered into a drawing for a digital camera, an iPod or a Wii.

Nanette Schneir of the Santa Monica Public Library demonstrated the
Vocera communication system her library uses. The Vocera Communications Badge allows staff to range throughout the building while still being able to handle reference calls or back up the desk. The reference librarians at Santa Monica were please with the change.

Karen Schatz described the new Help Desk that replaced the old reference desk at the Oxnard Public Library. It's staffed by trained (but not-MLS) employees, it's placed in a very visible, highly strategic location, and it allows the reference librarians to provide more quality and quantity time with customers who really need help.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like you expressed the situation very well [ Am I agreeing with you for a change?]. I agree that the internet has taken the research away from libraries but I think there are a lot of folks who don't have computers that will continue to get info from the Library.

Children's programs continue to be popular at the Library I believe. There is still a major place for the Libraries, I guess innovative ideas will help.


11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


If we could only convert you back to that ole liberalism!


11:38 AM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Thank you, that's praise indeed.

If you look closely you will see that I am the embodiment of that "ole liberalism" of the 50's. Remember, I am a direct ideological descendant of John and Robert Kennedy and Scoop Jackson. Nixon was not my cup of tea.

If we explored issues in detail, you'd find that I take positions that the Kennedy's and Jackson would approve. Sadly, liberal ideology has taken a stark turn to the left, where Ted Kennedy, Kerry and Hillary abide. They are not exemplars of that good ole liberalism.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Free Agency Rules said...

I think Libraries are great, but as usual, I think they should be run by anyone but the government.

Next thing you know we will even subsidize transportation...Oh, wait, we already do.... :)

Mybe we have a "right" to have a library?


3:20 AM  

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