Monday, April 28, 2008

TLA 2008 Conference Notes, Day 2: Crawford on Balanced Libraries

Title of session: Balanced Libraries: Books, Bytes, and Web 2.0
Presenter: Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor for PALINET Leadership Network and author of Cites & Insights.

(This was probably the highlight of my conference experience. Not only to hear the guy, but actually meet the guy. Is that cool or what?)

By the way, Walt has an e-handout for this session. Find it here. (no, I did not read them before the program, which means I have to read it sometime later).

  • Though he has notes, he prefers to have a conversation (and once people "warmed up," it did get more conversational).
  • Reference to "slow libraries" (this goes to the concept of mindfulness). Pay attention to what you do and your community.
    • Comment: It may be a good thing federal money to support academic libraries is low. We all know if that money comes, so does the control with the meaningless metrics.
    • Living vision of your community and what your library does.
  • If you believe libraries are doomed, you may be better off elsewhere.
  • Healthy libraries continue to change. Build from strength for a library's continuity and balance.
    • But who are you not serving? You won't serve 100%; you can't reach all of them (this, by the way, was one of the harsh truths I learned early on as a public school teacher: you teach as if you could reach all the students, but you will always lose a few, and it has nothing to do with you.)
    • Public libraries are about the exceptions, the fringes, the ones not served by Barnes & Noble.
    • Question of mission: target 20% techie, online, rich people or the 20% homeless, on the economic fringe people. It is a question of balance. Walt is not saying to ignore the online crowd but don't lose everyone else in the process.
  • Learn from failure. Sharing those failures may be tough, but it is needed. Call it then a learning experience.
  • Tools only help with a plan to use them effectively. Real world is not "build it, and they will come." He pointed out that in the movie, the line actually says, "build it, and he will come" referring to the one baseball player. People have simply kept misquoting the line. Moving on. For example, most library blogs seem to lack evidence of being read by the community.
    • A lot of 2.0 tools are free monetarily. But they are not totally free. (Time is an issue for example. This is something I often try to convey to other folks when it comes to things like the library's blog. It takes time to find content, write about it or write the content, and then if any comments come, you have to reply. And you have to be able to do it consistently.)
    • Getting people to actively participate is "like pulling teeth."
  • Libraries should serve their public, but it should also be over time. Need balance between new and long term needs of the community. Patron desires and needs change over time.
    • Getting patrons involved is always difficult. To some extent, maybe they don't want the library to be their friend.
    • But do ask what they want and have a feedback mechanism in place (even if it is as simple as a suggestion box).
  • Walt talked about telling the library story, prompted by an audience question. Libraries are primarily about the stories and making the community story. How did the library enhance people's stories? Tell how your library story has an impact on other stories in the community.
    • Understand who your community is. Make sure you are perceived as part of the community.
    • 2.0 is one more way to stay in touch. It's another interesting way. It is not the panacea. Your library should have something interesting to change. Whether it belongs on Facebook or similar, that's separate and for each library to decide. But the seeming consensus is that people don't want to "friend" the library.
  • On new services.
    • Does it extend your services?
    • Can the library allow an experiment to fail?
    • Does it allow you to serve other populations?
    • Does it increase accessibility?
    • Are you serving the "haves" at the expense of the "have nots"?
    • Does it create a conflict with library norms? If so, can you resolve the conflict? An example is the issue of privacy and circulation records.
  • Librarians should take a strong stance on privacy issues than patrons may care. This was prompted by a question asking about us caring about privacy when the patrons do not. (This is more significant when it is the kids who do not seem to care about their privacy).
  • The "shiny new toy" peak was in 2005.
    • Is the stuff worthwhile (referring to librarian blogs)? Yes. A lot of good stuff not found in the LIS literature is in the librarian blogs.
    • Do these things matter? Most important literature is not in the professional journals, but in the grey literature.
    • Most people in the field are trying to make things better (Walt here is responding to negative librarian bloggers). He admits that the Annoyed Librarian is a good writer; the problem are the many commenters on that blog. The ZenFoPro is an example of a good blogger who uses tough language as needed and/or appropriate. (Full disclosure: I read both of those blogs.)
  • Check the PALINET site (see link above). It is a leadership resource. Interested in leadership issues. Also stuff for leaders needing to get up-to-date. Read the entry defining a leader.
  • On fighting negativity.
    • Hold on to strengths because they work. The strengths are what works. Build on this and get in contact with the public. Think of "books plus" as a brand.
    • Public libraries should be uplifting, but also provide for needs. Good pop fiction can give a love of language and get you in touch with your own humanity, and these are good things.
    • And once in a while, a library may lack support. If a community is not willing to support a library, maybe that library has to close. But maybe, the community might reconsider.
    • In general, it is troublesome that academic libraries are treating their print collections like orphans (and by the way, this sounds very familiar). Academic libraries trying to restore the love of books to students is hard. (The students lack time to read and have too much stress. They'll probably have more time after graduation. I know that was my experience somewhat, especially in graduate school)
    • Food for thought: Circulation numbers are down not due to more electronic resources but because the print collection was neglected and allowed to age out of date (again, hmm.)
    • When libraries are defunded and more electronic resources seem to take over, we may as well be forsaking the mission of the library to no more than a mere trade school, like the University of Phoenix. (This did strike a chord with me. U. of Phoenix is the last place I want to work for, and if it came to that, I would go into some other line of work. Yet a lot of universities seem to be headed in that direction).
(Overall this was one of the best sessions for me this year.)

1 comment:

waltc said...

Thanks again--and I'm going to print out these notes as further inspiration, since there's no way I could write as good a summary of my mostly-off-the-cuff session.