Monday, July 27, 2015

Libraries Without Limits: Exploring Alternative Library Models Part 6

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Executive Director David Court and Head Librarian Colleen Crowley of the Desert Foothills Library for allowing me to come visit and discuss the joys and challenges of library service in the digital age. I enjoyed the fellowship and left feeling affirmed that all libraries are more alike than different, no matter how they're funded.

I'd be remiss however if I failed to extend a thank you to the other staff members and the volunteers I did not meet on my visit. Their hard work behind the scenes is a huge part of why the library and its website are so welcoming and useful. Good library service involves aspects not visible to the patron, like the whirlwind of activity in the backroom as materials come and go. 

I did have the opportunity to meet the volunteers who run the used bookstore Chapter 2 Books and I strongly encourage any book lover to go shop there. Just give yourself plenty of time to browse because it will take a while!

The best part of this assignment is purely selfish on my part because I now have a new library to use and enjoy, mere minutes from my home. 

Libraries Without Limits: Exploring Alternative Library Models Part 5

I have quite a lot to reflect on from my visit with David Court and Colleen Crowley of the Desert Foothills Library. Although this assignment is primarily designed to focus on library technology, my real takeaway is this- digital connectivity is no substitute for in-person human connection.

The real area of interest I had for my interview focused on programing and how the staff at DFLA met the needs of their patron population through creative, cost-effectivie programming options. All three of us, myself, David and Colleen, love technology but we cannot dispute this simple fact- digital technologies have advanced so far that library patrons can opt to have a robust library relationship without ever leaving their homes. Through e-lending, digital downloads like magazine and music, movie streaming and database access, patrons can acquire all the information they desire. 

When I worked at the high school, I wrote a library newsletter for staff with this tagline- Ask not what your library can do for you, but what YOU can do IN your library. Programming is what brings the community in the library and creates the opportunity for people to make greater connections with each other, with new ideas and within the library itself.

As I predicted, Teen programming is the biggest challenge for the staff at DFLA. Teens who drive have jobs, activities and a social calendar that leaves little room for library time. I see this trend in my own system. Like a tough reference search, we just keep attacking teen programming from different angles. This year we hosted a LibCon SciFi/Comic book convention for teens. The event was well-attended enough that we plan to expand it next year.

The other area of challenge at DFLA surprised me because I'd never considered it. DFLA is making a targeted effort to create programming that appeals to men. The library profession is traditionally dominated by women, and often programming attendance is as well. It's so obvious you're almost blind to it. 

The programming surprise of the year was a Cold War film series run through a collaboration with the Paradise Valley Community College history department. The series was not only well attended, it prompted a second upcoming series on World War II. 

This type of responsive programming is a huge benefit of being a stand-alone branch where all decisions are site-based. In my own system, programming is planned months in advance and not designed to respond well to trends or hot topics. I have yet to see a sudden add-on event. The flexibility DFLA has to create or retool events in the moment deepens the community connection it has with patrons. 

The goal of any library is to serve its patrons with outstanding resources, support and programming. The Cave Creek community is fortunate to have such a branch in its city limits. All libraries have limits on funding that affect staffing, hours and collection development. To that end, Desert Foothills Library is truly a library without limits because of its commitment to honoring the best of everything a library can do for and with its community. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Libraries Without Limits: Exploring Alternative Library Models Part 4

I had a fantastic afternoon at the Desert Foothills Library interviewing Executive Director David Court and Head Librarian Colleen Crowley. We had a lively discussion that included many common practices, challenges and delights between DFLA and my own employer, the bigger, five branch Scottsdale Public Library. It is exactly this feeling of community that makes library service so enjoyable. Not only did I get some good ideas for consideration in my own branch, I had a few tips to share as well. We were so busy talking, I neglected to take any pictures, so I apologize for using the few that are available on the website, they do not do the building justice. Located a top a hill, I didn't want to get of my car because the view of the desert and mountains was so spectacular.

DFLA is a small community library with a large number of services. From a technology standpoint, it has about 20 public use computers designated for adult, teen and youth use. The annual technology budget is less than 3% of the total budget. The paid staff (11 people to over 125 volunteers) have learned to troubleshoot on a variety of common IT problems; updates, rebooting routers and navigating Office. Without a dedicated IT department, they have administrator permissions to solve most issues customers encounter while using library devices. On the staff side, they are grouped according to a designated area- databases, Polaris (OPAC) and the website. If something significant goes wrong, they call for service, which is built into the budget.

Technology programing is a priority and is well attended. Ms. Crowley, who has been with the branch for almost a year, has included youth in the technology programing area to great success with programs like Minecraft Camp. On the horizon is a new program on Internet Security designed to teach customers how to better project themselves online. Great idea!

We shared some challenges about e-books, e-readers and the learning gap required to get customers up to speed with e-lending. Given the number of devices and operating systems out there, it's difficult for staff to keep up with mastering all the variables. Like a bigger library, DFLA sees a high amount of walk-in traffic with e-book questions that can consume a large amount of staff time.  No matter the size of the library, finding the right balance of staffing or time staff should spend on certain services is  not an exact science.

At this point in time DFLA does not offer any assistive technologies. The building is ADA compliant of course. Part of this is due to funding and the other is a lack of demand, at this time.

The technology wish list surprised me a bit. Program Manager Dereth Dehaan would like event registration software as all reservations are done by hand- call in or walk-in. Executive Director Court would like Office 365 to better streamline Outlook for staff. Budget limits hold them back.

DFLA is a non-profit branch. 40% of the annual budget comes from Donor card holders- the minimum being $40 a year. These card holders have a few more privileges over free card holders, such as reserving books and double the amount of checkouts allowed. Some of the programs have fees and the library takes advantage of funds from the Library Assistance Program from the Maricopa County Library District. It also hosts the biggest most fantastic library used bookstore I have seen- Chapter 2 Books- which provides about 25% of annual funding.  The branch has been able to meet its funding goals each year thus far, which demonstrates not only its value in the community but the skill of the staff and volunteers to maximize all revenue sources and prioritize the budget effectively.

This is all bookstore for shopping!

In most ways DFLA looks and feels exactly like any library. It's welcoming, people are working quietly, expect for the Youth area, where small voices can be heard. It's a library that is used and is enjoyed and reflects the needs and personality of the patrons it serves in a manner that is not always possible in a bigger system where branding and design continuity are important. I saw personal touches throughout the space like a hand-done bulletin board in the Youth area and the display from a local photography contest. 

Circulation numbers are up for both print and digital materials, a trend I believe will become the norm. Print collections are smaller these days, but are being better used through efficient weeding and creative collection development. 

This is a library I could spend hours in. I became a donating member and plan to use it for both materials and programing in the future.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Libraries Without Limits: Exploring Alternative Library Models Part 3

I have my library visit at Desert Foothills Library this week. I'd like to share the questions I've submitted to Executive Director David Court and what the focus of my interview is about. While this assignment is for my Library Technology class, I personally want to include how this stand-alone, privately funded library is both alike and similar to a traditionally funded, like my employer, city or country library system. Unlike the private sector, libraries do not view other library systems as competition. We face many of the same challenges; budget concerns, keeping up with technology needs and programing slumps. How we address those concerns varies from system to system based on a variety of factors. Often the best ideas come from professional sharing.

Here are my technology questions-

1.    What percent of the budget is allocated for technology and digital services or materials?
2.    Managing technology-
Who manages- is there a staff member dedicated to it?
IT support/service- in-house or sent out?
I'm especially interested in how a single library handles IT issues because, let's face it, they pop up frequently given browser updates, software updates and network challenges. When I worked for the school district I had to learn to do a variety of IT support services. While we had an IT department, they couldn't always arrive in a timely manner, so I had to learn to solve the most common problems, which were usually associated with updates (or lack of updating!).
Programing- Types of technology programing
                      Age groups served
This is another area of high interest to me since the Scottsdale Public Library stopped doing computer training and all those services went to Parks and Rec as fee-based classes. Digital literacy skills are vital for all patrons now.
Assistive technologies available
3.    How can you best describe the organizational structure for making technology decisions in your library model?

4.    If you could have/add a technology service or device and budget wasn’t a concern, what would it be?
Very curious about this one! My tech wish list is an e-book center with all devices so customers could see how to check out e-books on their own device.

1.    General questions-
What is your most challenging program area/customer group? (In terms of selecting meaningful programs and getting attendance, not customer behavior.)
If I had to guess, I think they will answer that Teen Programing is challenging. Teens have jobs, schoolwork and activities that keep them pretty busy, it's a struggle to find programing that brings them in, especially during the school year.
Programing surprise- ever tried something you had doubts about and it turned out to be a big hit?
This is a purely selfish question because I love hearing new ideas or new ways to approach traditional programing. 

Circulation and services- growing, declining or steady? I’m of the opinion that library services are more needed than ever.
Given that Desert Foothills serves a small, mostly affluent community, it would be easy for people to assume no one needs a library. As I know from working in a system that also serves a largely affluent population, this is a huge myth. People depend on libraries for a variety of services, most importantly, in my opinion, the staff who are always ready to answer their questions.

Come back next Thursday to read about my visit and see if my predictions on some of the questions were correct!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Libraries Without Limits: Exploring Alternative Library Models Part 2

At first glance at the Desert Foothills Library website you might think I'm wrong to include them as an alternative Library model. The events calendar is full of programing options for all ages, including after-hours activities for teens on a few Friday nights. The mission statement, vision and values are in in alignment with the American Library Associations Library Bill of Rights.

Scroll around a bit more and you'll discover that the branch offers free home delivery of library materials. Given that Cave Creek has a population a little over 5,000 (2010 census) this isn't surprising, but the fact that it's offered demonstrates how connected the library is to its community.

That same level of hospitality applies to the staff if my communication with Executive Director David Court is any indication. Mr. Court responded to my email request for an interview for the purposes of this blog project promptly and with enthusiasm. Within thirty-six hours I had an interview with both him and the Head Librarian set up.

As I study the website more, I will be compelling a list of questions that I'll submit to him in advance.  Currently, I'm curious about the role volunteers play and how their responsibilities differ from the volunteers in my own system. No library can survive without volunteers. And naturally I'm eager to understand their membership and funding structure. 

Check back next week for my list of questions!

Libraries Without Limits: Exploring Alternative Library Models Part 1

The media offers a contrasting view of library services today. One on hand you see the importance of a library's role in the community celebrated, as was the case during riots in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD. On the other, bookless, 100% digital libraries are heralded as the future. Where does the truth lie in not only public perception, but, more importantly, in practice? In this six-part series, I'm going to explore a library model that is both vastly different and nearly the same as the one I work for.

Meet the Desert Foothills Library, a privately funded, free public library. Yep, such a thing exists! How is this possible? Here's a brief snapshot from the membership brochure (yes, you read that correctly, membership).

I'm looking forward to learning more about this stand-alone branch (which is located in my own backyard) and how it survives (and seemingly thrives) in today's library budget-cutting cilmate.