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.

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