Friday, August 26, 2011

Seen reading on OC Transpo

  • The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie (little-known AJY factoid: I read every Agatha Christie, except for the Marples, at age 12)
  • The Necromancer by Michael Scott
  • something by Chuck Klosterman
  • A Harlequin en français
  • A Will and Kate picture book for grown-ups (le sigh) (bonus point for library copy, however, so my guess is it's one of these)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bookmobile news round-up

  • "In Pictures: Devraj Urs Mobile Library in Bangalore" by Lavanya Srinivasan, from My Bangalore
    "The primary objective of the mobile library is to facilitate citizens through home lending. Though there is no membership fee, a small deposit of Rs. 40 must be made as refundable security. To become a member, all you need is a passport photograph and an address proof with the application form attested by a gazette officer."
  • "Reading on the run" by Jonathan Allen, from the West Ashley Patch
    "Charleston County has been bringing the library to them since 1931 with its Bookmobile. The bus [...] stops at more than 40 locations twice a month."
  • "Kids cheer for private bookmobile party" by Erin Pustay, from
    "On the perfectly sunny Wednesday afternoon, the big blue bookmobile rolled right up in front of his Navarre home. It brought with it all the adventure and fun packed into the books it totes, as well as a craft and a story. “When the bookmobile pulled up,” children’s librarian Laura Klein said, “they were literally jumping up and down and cheering. They were so excited.”"
  • "BiebBus: Amazing Dutch Children’s Library Pops Up Inside a Shipping Container" from
    "The BiebBus Library can pull in, pop up and let kids participate in a parable or two in small Dutch towns." (First heard about this via IFLA's Mobile Library Guidelines, but now it's everywhere, even Yahoo)
  • "Free Library Service in Brazilian Taxis" from PFSK
    "The Bibliotaxi contains a number of books inside the vehicle. Passengers can read any of the available books during their trip or borrow the books by registering their names and returning them to the taxi or other city locations."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seen reading on OC Transpo

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book trailers: YouTube as the "first stop" for publishers, or books as the "quiet place"

The Toronto Star has an interesting look at book trailers, with quotes from Emma Donoghue (for) and Jonathan Franzen (against).

Meanwhile, Oppel has a Frankenbook coming out? Nice!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On the road with Homebound Services

The image on our Homebound delivery bags.

So, I know I've been writing more about Bookmobile than about any of my other areas. FYI, my department, "Diversity and Accessibility Services," includes Homebound Services, Bookmobile, Library Volunteers, Services to Older Adults, Accessibility, Diversity and Literacy. My position as coordinator of the department includes direct involvement in Homebound, Bookmobile and Volunteers, and marginal involvement in the other areas. However, we have two vacancies in our department, an Outreach Librarian (the "Diversity" area) and an Accesibility Librarian (both were recently posted ... are you a librarian looking for work? I hope you applied!). The vacancies mean that I have also spent some time recently dealing with seniors stuff, accessibility questions, and services for new Canadians (Diversity), including coordinating the work of the library settlement workers.

After spending the first four months as Acting Coordinator focusing mostly on Bookmobile, I am now turning more attention to Homebound Services (Volunteer stuff is mostly status: maintain, for now...). Basically, to crib from our website, Homebound "staff and volunteers regularly select library materials and deliver them to [borrowers'] doors every month." The service is available to individuals of "any age who are confined to their home or residence for more than three months" - or the winter months! - "because of age, illness, frailty or caregiver responsibilities."

So, Homebound staff use their amazing readers' advisory skills to select materials for Homebound borrowers (some computer-literate Homebound borrowers also request online via our website), and staff and volunteers deliver materials every month to them (borrowers get longer loan periods and other extended privileges). We visit people in their homes, and also in continuing care centres, auxiliary hospitals and senior residences.

Recently, I did selection for 4 hours. We keep records for each Homebound borrower that include all their past loans (this is a special module in our ILS, specifically for libraries with Homebound departments), as well as a "profile" of the borrower: their likes, dislikes, etc. Most of our staff rely heavily on their own knowledge of (and expertise with) the collection to select for patrons; they also use tools such as Novelist (free to all OPL cardholders!) and in-house booklists for further ideas. I selected a total of 75 items for four patrons in my four hours (so about 19 items/hour, and remember, Homebound serves hundreds of borrowers a month!). For a patron who enjoys the contemorary historical "blockbusters" of Leon Uris, I chose Edward Rutherford's Dublin Saga, Sandra Brown's Rainwater, as well as titles by Beverly Swerling, Barbara Wood, and James Michener. For a Peter Robinson fan, I went with some Ann Granger, Kate Atkinson, Elizabeth Adler, Beverly Cleverly, and Ann Granger. A "certain type of" biography fan will be unpacking a bag filled with The Bride of Science : Romance, Reason, and Byron's Daughter by Benjamin Woolley, Letters of a woman homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart, The Great Western Beach : A Memoir of A Cornish Childhood Between the Wars by Emma Smith, and The illustrated Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. For someone who enjoys the romantic suspense of Barbara Taylor Bradford (with a side order of historical fiction and family sagas), I chose Jayne Krentz's All Night, as well as titles by Karen Robards, Jo Ann Ross, and Suzanne Brockman. I had one patron who wanted some "coffee table books," so for that I . I also threw in some curve balls (read: literary "stretches" that also happen to be titles I have read and enjoyed), including Nicole Krauss's The history of love for a romance/family saga lover, and Kate Mosse's Sepulchre for a mystery / women's lit reader. There were many other treasures in there... I really should have taken pictures.

Selecting was an excellent way to exercise my readers' advisory muscles, get to know the collection at Main Library much better (I rarely browse there), and, of course, become more familiar with the work performed by the employees I supervise.

I also went out on two recent visits made by Homebound Services staff: one was to a long-term care facility, where we delivered new material, and picked up old material, to several residents, and one was to what we call a mini-library. A mini-library is pretty self-explanatory: we set up large boxes with a selection of our collection (see at right: novels, romans, nonfic, large print, PBs, A/V) in a seniors' care facility. It was really interesting for me to visit one of these: aside from the nerdy librarian "that's so cool!" factor, it was fun in a way I had trouble pinning down at first. Here it is: with all the other library "busy work" removed from the equation: staffing, equipment, managing patrons, Internet usage, facilities, etc., it was so lovely just to do checkout and readers' advisory. It was our service stripped to bare bones, with one meagre laptop (offline) and just our own wits to guide us. That probably sounds really lame, but it was a blast just chatting with the patrons about books and rummaging through the bins to help them find something to read. Extra points to the colleague I went with: since she helps select the material in the boxes, she knows the material like the back of her hand (and it's pretty diverse - although we can definitely say that some things are popular, like political biographies and romance novels). Working with her I observed probably some of the best readers' advisory transactions I have seen in a long time.

More on Homebound in the coming weeks....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Seen reading on OC Transpo

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

(Measuring) The value of libraries

This TPL thing has really been getting me down recently. Then, just for extra fun this past weekend, the Husband (and me, but only marginally) had a raging debate with a federal government worker who thinks that Ottawa has too many libraries. So, below, I am going to outline some salient points about the importance and value of libraries, and how to measure this (the qualitative/quantitative debate), with specifics about Toronto and Ottawa.

This is a very, very long post. I decided not to split it up because I want it to be read as one entity. For those (like me) who have to print out posts this long, here's a PDF. Sorry, trees.

When it comes right down to it, if you stuck a microphone in my face, here is what I would tell you is the value of libraries, to me, as a patron and not as a librarian: Libraries are important to me the way parks are important: you can’t quantify the joy that they bring to people, the smiles, the shared moments and the private ones, the sense of wonder, the respite from loneliness. Statistics about numbers of items borrowed and numbers of computer terminals used are important, even crucial, for us as professionals, but for me as a person, the importance of the library lies in its importance as a place of refuge.

In this case, the quantitative can actually help flesh out the qualitative. I read 56 adult books last year, and an additional 106 children’s books. If you average out the adult titles at about $30 a piece, and the children’s ones at, say $20, then that adds up to a value of about $3800. I probably would not have bought all those titles myself: none of us who read that much would, if only for the lack of shelf space at home. And in reading fewer books, my life would have been much the poorer, but not in any quantifiable way. I would have been missing the joy and the comfort of being challenged, entertained, and engaged with all of those characters and ideas.

I would argue that we need libraries the way we need to be able to see the sky beyond the skyscrapers. When I was working at Westmount Library, back in the days when we all religiously powered off computers and had logins for OPACs, one of my favourite times of day was first thing in the morning, when I used to boot up the OPACs on the second floor. I would stand there, alone with the collection, waiting for the password prompt. Those computers were near 819 – Canadian poetry, and so I used to often pull out some Leonard Cohen or whoever else was at hand on the shelves that day, and read a few lines aloud, glancing out the window and up Mount Royal. That kind of serendipitous experience is necessary, not in a life or death kind of way, but for the well-being of the soul. Those books were there for when I needed them - as an insurance policy against becoming too hardened, too bogged down in the minutiae, as a pre-emptive strike against losing my sense of whimsy. Everyone should have the chance to experience that moment of wonder that comes from an encounter with an old friend in the stacks, or the discovery of a new kindred spirit.

The Annoyed Librarian recently wrote a post entitled “Busy isn’t enough,” about what public libraries do and why they are important. She picked up on Rex Murphy’s recent editorial about ebooks, and poked some great holes in his arguments. I always have a soft spot for AL, because although she is sometimes harsh, or plain wrong, she always challenges me to think a little harder about why I believe the things I believe. Case in point: “You might protest, but if public libraries were essential public services, there wouldn’t be this sort of arguing about them for 150 years. Nobody argues that cities should eliminate police departments or sanitation services, but public libraries are always ripe targets for budget cuts when times get hard. They’re treated by politicians as luxury services for the good times.” Libraries are definitely not essential public services in the same sense as police, sanitation or fire departments. That’s a no-brainer, and AL’s right that we do ourselves no favours when we pretend to be essential this way. As AL points out, “Librarians need to start reminding people of why libraries are necessary, even if nobody is using them. That’s a harder argument to make because it can’t be tied up into a neat little quantified package, but ultimately it will be a better argument.”

That is the argument I am trying to make here: any argument about the value of libraries needs to include both quantitative and qualitative data. I recently sparked quite the debate about this on Facebook (details below....) and some friends made some excellent points about how to measure the value of libraries. One wrote that "there are strong arguments that say cultural institutions cannot be justified on an evidentiary basis, but that that does not make them any less valuable, and which makes it all the more necessary to protect them against the 'efficiencies' of capitalism." I would argue that some aspects of cultural institutions can and should be analysed and evaluated (note I do not say 'justified') on an evidentiary basis. As another friend observed, "specifics - where it's possible to get them - make an argument stronger," and "there are a number of things [libraries] could do a better job at measuring." That's part of the hard truth in this post. As much as it's important for librarians to focus on the work we do, I strongly feel that it is also important for us to focus on gathering evidence (both quantitative - facts/stats - and qualitative - anecdotes, responses, opinions) so that when (and it is when) the day comes when the value of libraries comes into question, we are ready.

One of my friends wrote that "by providing the kind of 'evidence' that would be accepted, all we are going to do is get sucked into the same corporate ideological framework that is causing the problem. By using their language we have to play by their rules. Di Brand [Toronto's poet laureate] is right: this is an ideological question, and no amount of evidence will satisfy an ideological objection [Alex interrupts a second time to point you to Di Brand's great article about public libraries here]. Culture cannot be justified by appealing to economic, fiscal, utilitarian, or 'instrumental-rational' evidence - it can only be appreciated, supported, and defended on its own terms."

I actually agree with that. When it comes to the reasons libraries are important to me, no amount of evidence can quantify that. Exposure to - and participation in - culture, via the library, cannot be defended using the language of the corporate and political world. On the other hand, unless we throw out the current predominant model for public library funding (a combination of various levels of government), we will kind of have to play by their rules, at least in part. Don't think I don't think about a model of public library service that doesn't involve more private funding, and less reliance on government, but never mind that for now. We are where we are, and if we have to play by their rules for the moment, why not try to bend them a little along the way? Rules can be bent in both directions: corporate and political decision-makers can try to adopt a greater understanding and appreciation of the nuances of qualitative, idealogical, "Gross domestic happiness"-types of measurement, and librarians and those who support culture can can also adopt more effective measures to quantitatively evaluate their work.

Oh, what a mess.... I won’t even touch the Doug Ford Atwood comment or the Rob Ford “I can think of a word for her” comment. I think most of you reading this will have heard that funding for public libraries in Toronto was recently up for debate.... One of the responses to the Fords's challenge was a website sponsored by the Toronto Public Library Workers Union, called Our Public Library: Great people, great library, great city. Shortly after this website popped up, a reflection on this website, and the TPLWU movement, was posted by Dr. Ken Haycock, “Why Toronto Public Library Staff Gave Me Indigestion, Part I.” Haycock, a frequent speaker at library conferences about political advocacy for libraries, didn't mince words, calling out the website for trying to advocate via "embarrassing the mayor," and engaging in fear-mongering, intimidation and misinformation; he also pointed out that “if [TPL staff] had relationships with their city councillors they could better make the case than embarrassing the mayor in the hopes of gaining support. They even had six months warning.”

When I posted Haycock's blog post on my Facebook wall, I sparked a fierce debate. One of my friends commented that Ford's efforts at advocacy via embarrassing, fear-mongering, intimidation and misinformation were pretty effective, which is, sadly, true. As the Husband tried to point out to our Sunnyside patron, critical thinking (or even getting all the facts: basic information literacy skills - how ironic!) seems to be at an all-time low (and not just in Canada). I don't have a solution for this problem, but it's beyond the scope of this post, and frankly, it doesn't mean that we should stoop to this level, just because other people have. Another friend expressed wariness at the idea of “putting any kind of significant resources" into political advocacy, "particularly given the current climate of many of our local governments." While I would certainly agree, on a personal level, that the Harper government is a bit of a lost cause in my book, I don't think that any large public library with issues on the table can afford to not put resources into political advocacy to all parties. We're not in this for short-term gains (although hey, those would be great), and we need to be in this despite any personal misgivings or lack of trust: we need to be in this to continuously challenge (and attempt to raise) the level of discourse in this country. Maybe I sound all wide-eyed, naive, "be the change you wish to see in the world," but seriously, I am worried that if we tune out, we're all lost, and in libraryland, if we don't keep cultivating a place at the table, we will lose it.

Thus, without a place at the table right now, we're in a bit of a bind. Instead of focusing on the presumed possibility that “local branches of the Toronto Public Library would almost certainly be closed,” or on a so-short-it’s-embarrasing list of TPL factoids, we should be focusing public and political attention on the fact that TPL is seen by residents as a core service, and that both numbers and emotional tales back that statement up.

The quantitative: Here are some cold, hard facts, sourced from here and here:
  • There was a 4% increase in physical visits and memberships and a 15% increase in virtual visits in 2010 at TPL
  • 72% percent of Torontonians use TPL
  • TPL experienced above-average visits per capita and circulation per capita in 2009
  • Also in 2009, TPL spent an above-average amount of $ on materials in Canada and with Canadian publishers.
  • As Atwood said in the Globe, “Toronto’s system is the second largest, by number of branches, and the busiest by circulation, on the continent. New York City public libraries lent out 24 million volumes in 2010; Toronto’s lent out over 32 million. The system has innovated, offering music and e-book downloads, making Internet access widely available, delivering materials to local branches, and lending out cards that give free access to local museums.”
The qualitative: Since I hope I’ve made it clear that any analysis of the value of libraries has to include both numbers and people, here are some additional articulations of the importance of TPL from Our Shared Stories: Writing the Future of Toronto's Library Toronto Public Library Strategic Plan 2008-2011, which opens with the statement that “the public library is a catalyst for imagination, a conduit to information, and the cornerstone of the local community.” Another great source is TPL’s 2010 Annual Report.
  • Chapter headings of the strategic plan itself are action verbs: “Engaging Toronto’s diverse communities,” “Addressing the growing income gap,” “Expanding access to technology and online services,” “Supporting creativity and culture.” There's the value in TPL: in engaging, addressing expanding, and supporting.
  • The plan clearly shows that TPL patrons value the library as “public space,” as a community hub and as a community partner. TPL branches have hosted everything from storytimes and book clubs to public meetings on the radicalisation of crime and the development of an anti-racist response to guns and gangs.
  • Read the stories of people whose lives have been greatly influenced by the library: speaking about Poetry is Public is Poetry, one of TPL’s contributions to city-wide cultural initiatives and local cultural expression, Toronto poet Rosemary Sullivan says “I never felt so profoundly how important libraries are to our cultural life.”
  • TPL is a place for new citizens to become engaged with the City and feel personally fulfilled: Gail Bowen writes about students who “went on to live lives that would have been beyond the imagining of their grandparents, and they were able to do this because the libraries of this country have always offered people the tools to build new lives.”
I can’t speak for all the librarians at OPL, but I’m willing to bet that most of us are eager for you to ask us about the library. We are sitting at those Information and Reference desks just waiting for citizens to ask us about why we have 33 branches, why we renovated a certain branch, why the fiction section was weeded, why we have those “toys” in the children’s area, etc. The problem, of course, is that many of you who have concerns don't articulate them, because you don't visit the library, or you don't particularly care, or because you think front-line staff can't answer your question (most librarians can, or can forward your query and then follow-up to ensure the question is answered). If the questions aren't asked, however, it means myself and my colleagues need to be doing two things: encouraging more of you to speak up about what you feel is successful and what you feel is not at OPL, and reaching out to library users and non-users to highlight library projects or initiatives, so that the work that is being done is being effectively communicated, before and after the fact. I feel we've been getting increasingly good at the second point above, via our Annual Reports and other documentation, but we need to be better at the first point, as well.

Ten points for the Husband, then, for doing some true outreach. We often run right down the canal from Lowertown to the Lansdowne Park. We cross the canal at the Bank St. Bridge, and run up the opposite canal bank. Since the Husband is faster than me, he circles around the parking lot of the Sunnyside Branch of OPL (sometimes a few times) waiting for me to catch up (by the way, Sunnyside has a magnificent garden!) On Saturday, as he was circling, a patron (male; 50s) was returning some material in the book drop. I heard the Husband say something to him (turned out to be an innocuous enough comment about how it’s great to see people using the library, especially with the stuff going on in Toronto) and I was close enough by then to hear the reply: “Well, you’re not going to like it then, when I say that I think Ottawa has too many libraries.” The Husband proceeded to get into a long debate about libraries (and other services), critical thinking, the hiring of consultants, and seeing both sides of an issue.... Since I didn’t get a chance to respond to several of the comments the patron made about libraries, I thought I would here:
  • "Ottawa has too many libraries" – Well, for this one, I guess my first question would be, what makes you think there are too many? Just the numbers (33 branches + 2 bookmobiles)? Or do you feel they are costing us too much? In any case, here are some points to consider: Ottawa has one of the largest geographic areas (2,778.13 sq. km) of any Canadian city, according to 2006 Census. This makes Ottawa the 11th largest city in Canada (Toronto, with its 99 library branches, is 43rd, and Edmonton, with 17 library branches, is 39th). As a consequence, OPL has many rural branches, and branches are spread out geographically to serve our citizens. The 2011 OPL Operating Budget is $36.8 million and the total 2011 City Operating Budget is $2.6 billion; in other words, the Library represents less than 2% of the total City budget. That’s a lot of service for less than 2%, in my opinion!

  • "Ottawa has a gold-plated library system” – I think this means you believe Ottawa should focus resources on something else. That's definitely an opinion you're entitled to hold.... In the meantime, I am going to take this one as a (partial) compliment, even if it might have been passive-aggressive. I do think it's a little tragic when we aren't proud of our city's successes. Councillor Jan Harder often cites the Library as a great success story of amalgamation... And yet sometimes, Ottawans are our own worst enemies! As part of a larger negative discourse about services and democratic rights, I would go back to Di Brand here and add that "we should be in a conversation about how we will provide broader, yes broader, democratic rights, deeper social care, to all citizens, not how to cut them."

  • "Why does the library provide social services?” - The short answer is that we don't. If by social services, you mean that we provide a space for marginalised members of society to "hang out," read the newspaper or a book, and have a quick nap, then yes, we do provide a place for that - there are hardly any safe public community places left for those things, if you've noticed. But that is not, and was never, our main role and we are not, by any extension of the word, providing the same services as a shelter or a community centre. Most of us, and hopefully especially most librarians, have a clear idea of our role in the community: we specialise in helping members of marginalised communities (and everyone) with answering information needs and strengthening multiple literacies. We excel at building community partnerships and effecting expert referrals to social services when needed. We are called upon a great deal for additional services beyond our scope all the time, from secretarial to psychiatric, and we do our best to exhibit professionalism and compassion in these situations.

  • "Why is the Children’s department so big? People should just go to the neighbour’s house for storytime!" and "Why are there all these toys in here?" - The Children's department got just a little bit bigger, but looks much bigger because they did a great job renovating it to be more inviting, tidy and whimsical! Library storytime is unique for several reasons: firstly, it likely (and definitely, in our case) incorporates the six early literacy skills into it. These are skills that librarians and children's programmers have become experts at: we've been trained to promote the skills in storytime, and we are the go-to resource for parents seeking assistance with promoting at home the skills that help prepare their child to be ready to read when school starts. The toys you see are part of OPL's newer foray into early literacy spaces in branches (read the report to the Board here); these spaces are designed "for families to explore through play and experience the six emergent literacy skills." All renovated branches will include these areas, which will "richly support physical, social and cognitive development, engage and activate the imagination, [and create] a sense of exploration and discovery." Rideau Branch, my heart's home, was the first branch to begin to incorporate some of the elements of the early literacy spaces during a renovation. The spectacular interactive elements in the spaces are from the Burgeon Group.

  • "The people in this neighbourhood should just go to Alta Vista" - For one thing, most of the people in your neighbourhood probably don't want to go to Alta Vista Branch I say that with some degree of certainty because there is some evidence to back it up (see: 2004). There is also a significant amount of traffic and circulation, including more than 3,500 people visiting the branch each week. And even if they "should," in your book, visit elsewhere instead, no one individual gets to choose where members of the community go. Not to mention that traveling further sort of destroys the idea of a community library at the heart of a neighbourhood (again, with the qualitative). And to make it quantitative, do you really want all those additional cars on the road all the way to Alta Vista and back? I don't!

  • "They renovated this branch for 9 months and it’s now less user friendly and they got rid of a lot of books" - So much to unpack in that sentence! First, some great information about the renovation can be found here. They took longer than expected, in part, because of the unfortunate discovery of asbestos (Rideau Branch suffered the same fate...). As for weeding, I could write you a whole other article about that (oh wait, I already did - p. 14). Long story short, many libraries have often been remiss over the years with regular collection maintenance: any collection, like a garden, must be regularly weeded and refreshed. For the library, and librarians, this is a way to increase circulation, free up shelf space, renew the collection and keep us in touch with our users' needs (what they actually check out, what we need more material about, what we need less material about). We use our professional expertise, literary knowledge and awareness of the community in tandem with computer-generated lists and statistics to evaluate the collection and make decisions about weeding, new acquisitions, replacement copies and merchandising. Weeding aside, you're certainly not alone in being critical of some aspects of the renovation. I can tell you, however, that people (including you!) are rocking that external book drop. What can I say? Sunnyside is not my favourite OPL reno: that distinction belongs to Vanier Branch, actually. But that doesn't mean it's not a good job done. Some renos are not as glamourous as others: at Sunnyside, some of the best things are not things we usually get excited about (wheelchair-accessible washrooms with drinking fountains? More meeting rooms? Energy-efficient lights? WHEEE!), but they do make a real difference in the work, and the life, of the library branch and the experience of its regular users.
To me, that's one of the biggest overall challenges for librarians and library advocates such as myself: to highlight the "unseen" in the library, the aspects of our work, or our renovations, that people may not observe or experience regularly, and therefore don't even know exist. Library users, never mind non-users, mostly only see branches (and usually only certain areas in branches, even): they don't see the meeting rooms, or the ESL conversation groups running in them, they don't see us doing outreach to community centres and schools, they don't see our Homebound services staff selecting and delivering books to a local long-term care facility, and they don't see the Bookmobile (but if you do, HONK!).

So, to conclude (oh, you're still here? Well done! Gold star!) the value of libraries is a complicated thing. It can never be measured down to the last decimal point; at best, we can aspire to a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures of the library's - and the librarian's - importance in community life, in cultural discourse, in artistic expressions, and in the advancement of our society and all its citizens. It's the astounding number of items checked out every year, and it's the feeling you get when you put your hand on the battered Leonard Cohen first edition in the 819s. We are large, we contain multitudes.*

*Sorry, Walt. But I bet you would have been OK with the paraphrase.

Bookmobile news round-up

One of our previous bookmobiles, and possibly my personal favourite. Srsly, how freaking cute is it?

Tom Hawthorn. "Bookmobile takes library to the people." The Globe and Mail.
"At the Bookmobile, you do not need money, or identification, or an address. All you need is a desire to read. Even if you have nothing, you can always have that. The books are donated and there’s no fine if you don’t return them."

Photo essay: Mobile Library in Gaza City.

Samantha Bryant. "Georgetown City Council approves library bookmobile." Community Impact Newspaper (Texas)
"Georgetown City Council approved July 12 purchasing a $128,738 bookmobile for the public library that will be financed by the Friends of the Georgetown Public Library. The vehicle [will be] called “Words on Wheels,” or the WOWmobile."

"Clearview Library District's bookmobile proving very popular." The Coloradoan.
What I find interesting about this article is the throw-away line at the end saying the Bookmobile is visiting a local park and an arts festival on the weekend.... Great idea!

"Pakistan bookmobile turns to S.F. library for aid." SFGate.
Heart-warming story about a Pakistani man who visited the San Francisco bookmobile when in SF to see his daugher. Saeed Malik "returned to Pakistan, determined to start a bookmobile of his own. He sought out rural schools that lacked libraries. He persuaded the United Nations to donate two Land Cruisers. And he acquired 2,000 donated books in Urdu and English - the country's official languages - from the National Library of Pakistan and the Asia Foundation, a nonprofit from San Francisco."

Yesterday: serve

Today: return:
"A room that is merely full of books is not a library, no matter how the councils dress it up. Most importantly, how will authorities determine whether a ‘library’ in a sports centre has been a success? Without being able to provide data to prove its usage, how long will it be before the council seeks to withdraw funding altogether? [....] As has been seen before, retailers will not hesitate from removing a book if it is seen to cause offence. How will a library based in a shop manage this? How will they reconcile the needs of two different sets of customers? Will they be pressured by the potential impact on their revenues if they continue to provide access to a controversial text? And what then for those that wish to access such resources?[....] As the mission of the public library is lost, councils will fail, or continue to fail, to understand why they should provide a library service to their citizens."

Side-note: LSSI is really taking a beating these days. I would hesitate to point out that they, and similar library partner companies (please stop saying jobbers!) employ many librarians, and in many cases do excellent work while committed to the same values as the rest of us. But, you know, that allows for a grey area in the discourse. That's not really allowed anywhere these days, right?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Libraries partner to survive in the UK

Well, I guess it's better than nothing. *
The Local Government Association (LGA) and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) released a report on Friday about the progress of several pilot projects in the Future Libraries program, and state that "libraries will increasingly rely on volunteers and community groups, with more books distributed from shops and village halls." Some of these ideas are pretty interesting: collaborations with museums and arts, "Bradford's book borrowing points in shops across the city, Hertfordshire's plans to expand in co-operation with adult social care and children's centres;" some are disturbing: relying on volunteers... how so, exactly? It's one thing to have members of the public on your board (commendable!) but if you cut the number of profesisonal librarians (staff cuts at 6000, no word on how many professionals that includes) providing professional service, you're dreaming if you think that these "innovations" will "increase numbers using libraries."

P.S. to the Guardian - seriously, a photo of a dude with grimy fingers stamping things? No wonder libraries in the UK have issues.... I haven't used a stamp in six years! Plus, would it kill you to show something other than our most mindless task?

*Yes, that is the nicest thing I could think to say right now.....

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seen reading on OC Transpo

Since I spend so much time on the bus now (as opposed to walking to work), I thought I would start a new regular item on this blog: Books being read on OC Transpo buses!

I'll try to do this every week, or every 2nd if you people don't read anything other than the Metro paper (interesting article about that phenomenon here). So, yeah, take that as a challenge, Ottawa. GET READING! (unless you get motion sickness. In that case, for the love of God, don't read on the bus).

Seen this week:
  • Hart's Army List (year unknown)
  • The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (Newbery Honor Book, 1997)
  • Perl for Dummies
  • The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (my review here from 2009; my reading map about this title here)
  • I was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn
  • Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams by Charles King
  • Three books that remained elusively unidentified, despite my best stalking efforts. One might have been a Marc Levy, but that may just be wishful thinking (for something in French) on my part.
  • One dude walking very quickly while reading a Kindle (more than I can attempt at one time!)

Are you sick of these questions? I am sick of these questions. A post in which I snap, finally*

*and by snap, I mean gather the recent flurry of news articles and plop them down in one spot.

That title was an homage to a prof of mine who used to ask questions and then answer them all the time.

I am working on a longer post about the recent craziness at TPL. In the meantime, you are hereby cautioned that the below stories contain Much Angst And Wringing Of Hands. Don't say I didn't warn you.....
  • "Are public libraries an essential service? Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says ‘no’—but he’s wrong," from
    Serves up the somewhat unpalatable premise that "libraries are on the chopping block because they can’t keep up with the times, and because they’re duplicating services performed by community centres" (not bloody likely on both counts, at least in all major Canadian cities... It's more like lack of effective marketing and being stuck in the morass of municipal bureaucracy!) and the more thoughtful realisation that "Libraries should be local hubs, not hubcaps latched onto larger, more central facilities." The further observation that "And while technology has changed the way we consume information services, it’s unlikely that an increase in Kobo sales and Wikipedia searches is going to stop an adult ESL student from taking out the required books to pass his or her TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), or a retiree from picking up the next Nora Roberts installment" warms me more - yes, exactly: technology has changed how we consume information services, but not the fact that we continue to consume them. And just because we consume, that doesn't mean we are thinking critically about what we're consuming! In this and other oft-ignored areas of service is the library a crucial link!
  • "Are Public Libraries Obsolete?: The Shelf Life of a "Dream Vision," from blogcritics
    "Whether libraries should continue to exist has almost nothing to do with what format the information comes in. It has everything to do with free public access to well-curated, well-organised, unbiased information; it has everything to do with libraries as part of the local community; it has everything to do with libraries as a source of entertainment that doesn't presume everyone's lives are an endless race to acquire wealth and possessions." This article also interestingly touches on implications of library closures on publisher and author revenue, and the development of public libraries in South Korea.
  • "Rex Murphy: E-readers turn every man into his own librarian," from the National Post.
    Oh yes, Rex. You had me at the sexist title. Seriously, though, although I often disagree with Rex, I usually expect a more thoughtful or well-researched opinion! I repeat, libraries are not a format, they are a service. We're not just about books. That was never the bloody point. And "portability and accessibility," really? Not universally so. But the fact that Rex has a fundamentally wrong definition of the word library means I really don't feel like expending any more energy on deconstructing his argument. Go back and read a freaking dictionary on that e-reader, then we'll talk. How about you start here - scroll down to Modern public libraries?
  • "Use of Public Libraries In Hard Economic Times," from the Nova Scotia Provincial Library
    Some nice real data here, and anecdotal stuff, too, such as "Public libraries provide free access to all types of materials - books, music, dvds, audio books, newspapers, magazines, downloadable audio books; they provide communities with public space, promoting mutual support and social inclusion. Hard economic times can be isolating, and public libraries bring people together in an inclusive, supportive environment. Public libraries are the original family friendly environment. Public libraries offer strong support for early literacy, as well as free children's programs such as story-times, craft programs, magic shows, film programs, and live performances."
  • "Why We Need Free Public Libraries More Than Ever," from The Atlantic
    A response to a recent article which proposed public library user fees (another rebuttal here). "The impact of the "nominal" user fee would unquestionably be a reduction in the library's use. This is very evident in France, where some local libraries charge small user fees in addition to receiving public support. [...] Libraries stopped thinking like it was 1900 many years ago, and are now providing users with access to online digital resources (and the really valuable ones are not free) e-books and 24/7 online access to library services. And national surveys show that the public considers public libraries the most effectively run of all municipal services."
  • "Public libraries are particularly essential in recessions," from The Providence Journal
    "Contrary to the popular myth that public libraries serve primarily the recreational needs of their communities, the overwhelming majority (over 70%) of visits to public libraries are for non-recreational purposes, [including] personal or family-related needs, such as help with health and wellness issues, personal finance, how to make or fix something, or to keep current with news or find jobs., [obtain access to] jobs databases, civil-service-exam materials, software to help create résumés, and other employment-related information, [...] conduct research [about small business-related] legal, financial and operational concerns, [...] educational needs [not just students but teachers and] adults continuing their education."
  • In the most unexpected article appearing in my news feed this week, "Oakland Library Stays Open Late to Fight Weekend Homicides," from The Bay Citizen (San Francisco)
    " part of the city's campaign to provide youth with safe alternative places to spend their weekend nights."
  • A bit more detail about the animosity between LSSI and library unions: "Outsourcing the local library can lead to a loud backlash," from Stateline
    "Many in the profession were rankled by a quote in a 2010 newspaper article from LSSI co-founder Frank Pezzanite: “A lot of libraries are atrocious. Their policies are all about job security. That’s why the profession is nervous about us. You can go to a library for 35 years and never have to do anything and then have your retirement. We’re not running our company that way. You come to us, you’re going to have to work.” LSSI has a track record of re-hiring staff from the libraries that it takes over, and claims to offer industry-competitive wages. But union protections and defined-benefit pension plans usually disappear, with a company-matched 401(k) plan in its place."
  • Libraries going the way of the video stores? Not likely, if the ideas in "If You Can’t Reach Everyone Aim For The Passionate Users" go viral in the library world (they already have in many libraries)... from ACRL's blog
    "I’ve been emphasizing the importance of relationship building to capitalize on an experience we can provide that our community members cannot get with those nameless-faceless-corporate Internet providers of information. [...] Another potential lesson is to concentrate our efforts on the segment of the population that has the capacity to become the passionate users. The video store owners are conceding the bulk of the community to Netflix. They changed their strategy to focus on the passionate users who need more than convenience – those who want the conversation."
  • And a late-breaking addition: "Downey City Library: more important now than ever before," from The Downey Patriot.
    "We want to help people develop life-long reading habits and help others develop basic literacy skills, but we’re not just a source for books. We meet many of the day-to-day needs of Downey residents, from helping people find consumer information for major purchases to offering bus route information, DMV handbooks, and voter registration forms. People should view the library as a one-stop-shop for different services. [...] The Downey City Library shoulders a great deal of responsibility as one of the only institutions in the city offering literary events, reading programs, cultural events, and children’s programs. Now with the closing of Borders, the Friends of the Downey City Library Bookstore, located inside the library, will be the city’s only remaining bookstore. As a cultural hub, libraries need to be able to shift to meet cultural changes and the Downey City Library is ever-evolving. Read more: The Downey Patriot - Downey City Library more important now than ever before"

I feel better..... do you?