Tuesday, June 2, 2009

CLA Annual Conference Day 2: core services, omnipresence, and two librarians move me to tears

Despite the timeline of these posts, this post is about cool stuff that happened Saturday, day 2 of CLA, pre-book awards (that's going to be my next post) and pre-pub crawl (blogged here).

Joe Janes was the opening keynote for the conference. Since I was @ the hospitality desk, I missed parts of his session (namely, the beginning and end!) but caught some meat in the middle. When I came in, he was talking about how we are not going to be a print-dominated institution until the end of time. He riffed a bit about changes in our culture (evolution of blogging, microblogging, and texting), including a great interpretive dance onstage about avoiding texters on campus (since they don't look up to avoid stepping on you). He talked about all this information being put out there, little pieces of people, tendrils, sometimes shallow but sometimes more than shallow (I liked the tendrils analogy).

He also observed that libraries need to be "somewhere and everywhere" - physical presence is important, but wherever people are, we must be available, positioned and ready to support/assist/participate on their terms. We should be visible, present in all the places they are, and we should be thinking about online spaces or any other new frontiers as just new neighbourhoods. If our users moved to a new part of town, we would go there - online spaces are no different.

I went to a great session about Brampton's core services review. It's being done on the same cycle as their strategic plan, and was intended to work as a way to foster understanding of libraries as a value to the community, to reach out to target groups (youth and the multicultural community - 57% of residents are members of a visible minority), and to address concerns addressed (via focus group!) that the library was attempting to be all things to all people, resulting in substandard service. What I thought was interesting about the presentation was the emphasis they placed on identifying duplicated services and locating partnerships. This sounds obvious, but it isn't. Two things they eventually IDd as a gray services (for further evaluation) and subsequently removed from their list of core services were their employment service centre and their local history collection (the latter surprised me, but the former made a lot of sense to me - not that we don't get asked about employment services, but should it really be one of our core services? Are other groups/orgs in the community doing it better? Brampton's criteria included finding out whether another organisation was offering the same service, during the same hours, within 5K of the main branch).

Re. core service review process: Brampton's team (including reps from management, coordinators, supervisors, Info staff, circ staff and marketing & communications dept.) listed all services, defined them, ranked them, tested the evaluation process, analysed results, and then refined definitions and developed core services listing. They identified 182 services (!) including 31 types of collections and materials, 10 types of reference and RA, 8 types of circ, and 19 types of outreach. They looked at how these services fit in with their mission and goals, how they supported customer and community needs, and the services' efficiency and effectiveness.

As you can see, the criteria used were pretty objective, but the biggest issue faced by the committee was still fear: fear from staff that the committee had a personal vendetta against a certain service or group of services. I think they had an excellent approach to dealing with gray services that made it seem less "personal" (it wasn't personal at all, but...): non-core services were assigned to an established team for immediate exit strategy preparation, core services with poor ratings were sent for further review, and identified gray services were modified or sent for exit strategy prep., and any new services set up after the review were to use criteria from the review for consideration. Smart. Final inspirational quote: "Developing a core service review has encouraged us to engage our community in the strategic planning process."

One of the best sessions I attended at the conference was a session later on Day 2 called "Changing libraries, changing neighbourhoods," with two librarians from Halifax (Halifax North and Sackville). Halifax North neighbourhood is an urban neighbourhood where 90% of the kids visiting the branch are African Nova Scotian. The two speakers opened by talking a lot about their two communities: demographics and economics, mostly, which was very interesting. People settle in Halifax North because it's affordable, walkable and they want to be integrated in the multicultural environment of the area. The HN branch's staff has tried various ways to engage with the youth in the community, and the pendulum has swung one way (do your homework! Be quiet!) and the other way (getting to know their names, chatting with them - building relationships that Darla observed made it easier to engage them in reading). HN received funding from the Crime Prevention Action Fund (CPAF) to provide programming to the children and youth at the branch. HN used some of the funding to hire three youths to work with younger youth as Youth Ambassadors: they ran book clubs, a focus group called "Growing up black and proud" and a workshop about higher education options. Not only did the YAs get great opportunities to interact with younger youth and act as role models, they also got great job experience and were able to build skills for young adulthood. They were more engaged with the community, and developed leadership abilities. HN also used some funds for extra staff training to work with at-risk youth. One thing they found was that youth in the community responded best to a structured program, rather than a drop-in one (whoops. I used to run most programs @ Rideau as drop-ins...). One great program they talked about was a Youth/Police forum, held during the school day at HN branch, during which youth and police got to ask each other direct questions ("why are you always suspicious of us?") and engage in real conversations. HN also held screenings of the YouTube video, The Story of Stuff, again with teacher cooperation.

Over the past few years, the population of youth and children in HN has been declining overall. In fact, what was happening in some cases was that young families were moving out of lower-income, urban neighbourhoods like HN and moving into "bedrooom communities" such as Sackville. Basically, it was as though a bunch of angry kids were dropped off in Sackville, and the programs and services from HN that had supported them didn't come along for the ride ("I didn't want to move here!" I can just see it. Wait, it was kind of me on a much lesser scale, but rinse and repeat x4). As a result, they were lurking in the library, hogging the computers, and making a general racket.

Sackville used CAP funding to turn their program room into a laptop lab after school (such a brilliant idea, I want to do it!) to get the kids off the public internet PCs, and started working with community health orgs to get them to provide funding for healthy after-school snacks for the kids who came by the branch in the afternoons. Laptops + snax = after-school drop-in program (see, drop-in isn't dead after all!) 2x week! Sackville also started holding open mic nights every two months, averaging 150 kids each time (man, again, I want to do this).

One of the things that Kathleen stressed was to hold community consultations to keep in regular touch with your community's needs. Sackville also hired a community connector to liase with the new Sackville residents, especially the parents of these kids who were coming to the after-school program. This part of the presentation made me tear up repeatedly, as Kathleen told us how regular meetings with about 10 parents were held at a Tim's because about 7 out of the 10 parents were uncomfortable in the library, and with the library in general (sometimes because of fines, etc.) One meeting moved to a local pub after casual conversation revealed that the parent hadn't eaten in two days. In these meetings, parents often identified a lack of parenting support in the community, that they felt helpless with their children's homework, and that they considered the library a safe place for their kids. Kathleen had some truly moving stories, and, coupled with ones about the kids themselves, their development, their growing trust of Sackville staff, and their behaviour, I was in a constant struggle to keep mascara on my eyelashes and off my cheeks. And yes, Sackville's change in direction, and change in attitude, caused some staff turnover at the branch. That angers me just as much as anything else I heard that afternoon, but I also think if you're miserable, or bitter, or against what's going on at work, get the hell out of the way.

The Sackville First Phase Report is here, for those who are still with me. I'll be reading it ASAP. Read also: ALA's Serving the Underserved.

I will blog separately (+photos!) about the evening, which involved more attempts to supress tears, blind dates with fellow BOYA judges, book signings, and pasta on a side plate. Yes, it's the CLA Book Awards reception!

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