Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Management

Three Things that Small/Rural Libraries Should Be Doing: 2017 Edition

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Over the past two years, I have learned many things about libraries but one thing has stood out to me above all of the rest: focus on your community and ditch the hype out there in the rest of the world. I’m just not into an ideas that there’s a one size fits all approach to libraries. Heck, there’s even part of me that thinks that public/academic/special libraries should be called something different since we’re all doing such vastly different things but all use the word “library”.

With those things in mind, I tread carefully with a post like this where I’m going lay out a few things that small(ish) and (slightly) rural libraries should be doing. My thoughts and ideas are not the magic bullet that will be the best fit for your library. These are the things that have worked for me in my position, and my hope is that through sharing them they may work for you as well or inspire you to think a different way and/or try something else for your library and your community.

Before we jump in, here are the stats for my library so you can get a vibe of the community we serve and the work that we do:

  • Service Population: 14,904
  • Visits in 2016: 60,143
  • Circulation in 2016: 66,529
  • Total Registered Users in 2016: 5,575

LISTEN

The most important thing a person can do in a small/rural public library is to listen to their community. When you listen to your community in any setting you will succeed but you will especially succeed in a small/rural public library. Why is that? It has everything to do with the tight knit community that usually surrounds a small town. You know the phrases “everyone knows everyone around these parts” and “everyone is related to everyone else in this town”? There’s a reason why people say these things…it is because they are VERY TRUE. In small towns, everyone talks to each other. Everyone listens to everything that everyone says and watches everything that everyone does. It is just the way of life in these types of towns and nothing is going to change it.

That’s why it is so important for you to listen as a small/rural public library director. Keeping your ear to the ground allows you to better understand the community you serve. By listening, you will be able to develop better programs and collections for the people that surround you. When you do this, there is nothing for your library to do but SUCCEED.

WEED YOUR COLLECTION & DO NOT HOARD 

Small/Rural libraries are often the most guilty of being intense library hoarders. There’s a deadly combination in every small/rural library where budgets are strapped mixed with every librarian’s “we may be able to use that someday” attitude. The end result of this is usually shelves overflowing with materials, out of date materials staying much longer than needed, and a basement/attic/weird room to the side full of things that, let’s face it, you are never going to use because you are never going to find them again.

Taking care of your library means getting rid of things. Yes, I understand how hard it may be to get rid of that book that you enjoyed reading 10 years ago that you remember buying. I’ve been through this myself. But having a messy collection and a messy storage space does nothing but drive patrons away by making it hard to find what they really want and it frustrates staff.

When you downsize everything, you’re also able to fill your library with the stuff that you actually need. One of the most brilliant things that I think the Chattanooga Public Library did during my time there (and it continues to this day!) is to have a collection policy that emphasized patron requests. When you get the stuff that people want, your circulation and visits will increase. When you have less clutter to wade through on a daily basis, your staff will be free from some stress. I truly believe that these things lead to a better public library which in turn lead to a better community.

TAKE CARE OF YOUR BUILDING

Your building is your lifeline to the community. It is where you will do most if not all of your library related business. I’m not saying that small/rural libraries don’t do outreach…they do…but for some libraries there just isn’t the staffing to get outside of the building.

Taking care of your space does two things: it makes people feel welcome when they come to the library and it also instills this feeling that the library is a special place. A well kept library will be remembered by anyone that visits it. A few months ago I had the chance to visit the Stone Memorial Library in Conneautville, PA. This library had a great location: a wonderful Main Street location, big windows, and a recently renovated space that used to be a store front. The library was small and very welcoming. It felt like the staff and the community loved the space. The other thing that it does is that it gives back to your community. Small towns are not doing so well as more people flock to urban/suburban areas. To keep these towns alive, we need to take care of them. We need to invest in the things that make these areas special. A library is a good place to start. Libraries can give back to the town by cleaning up and using a building instead of leaving that space unoccupied. When this happens, you drive through a small town and instead of seeing abandoned storefronts you see life. You see a community that cares about its surroundings. The public library does so much more than just loan out books: it can breathe life into an entire community.

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Benson Memorial Library, Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

“You are loved and respected. Your work is well done. Your choices are good.”

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The title of this post comes from something my friend Peggy said to me recently. I needed to hear this. Sometimes we need to hear that we’re doing something good and positive in the world. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the work that we’re doing and the work that we’ve done in the past.

With that in mind, I’ve been updating my work resume recently. In late 2016 I deconstructed my resume. What I started to see on it was way too much bragging and buzzwords that equated to nothing. I looked at resumes of others, mostly people I have worked with, and in their resumes too I saw the same amounts of bragging and buzzwords. The need to embellish a resume seemed to have taken over the world and I did not want to have any part in it. So, I “trimmed the fat” as they say. I cut out the stuff that I did not think needed to be shared. Sure, I was given an award of some sorts by a prominent library publication 4 years ago, but did that matter? I told myself that it didn’t and I cut it out. What mattered was now and the work that I could do in my day to day life. One of the most inspiring people in the world (and a person on my “if I had friends this is someone I’d like to be friends with” list) Josh Homme said this recently:

“Now is all you’ll ever get, and there’s no reason for you to wait. If you wait to do something, you’re probably making a mistake.” -Josh Homme

from https://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/josh-homme-on-queens-of-the-stone-ages-new-villains-lp-w490156

This idea that now is all we ever have rang deep inside of me and it informed my decisions and my actions over the past year.

In recent weeks, I’ve been going back to this idea and I’ve recognized that I need to balance it out. Balance is the key to any healthy life and if you’ve read my posts over the past few months you can probably tell that I’ve been way off balance. With that in mind and with the words of encouragement from some friends, I’ve decided to get that balance now. I started updating my resume once again, adding back in some of the things that I’ve done in the past while trying to remain mindful of how I present myself. I still want to steer clear of the bragging and buzzwords. I think I’m getting there. In the meantime, you can find my updated resume here. In order to keep doing great work in libraries, I have to be proud of the work that I’ve done in the past. I have to remember that I have had a positive impact on the the people that I have met in libraries. I have to keep moving ahead in a positive way.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries

The Summer of Bathroom Issues

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A random gas station bathroom image I found on the Google

Nobody really wants to talk about poop, pee, blood, and other things you don’t want to find in a library bathroom but guess what? That’s what we are gonna talk about. Why are we gonna talk about it? Because even though we’ve had an amazing summer at our library (visitors and circulation are up!), I will forever remember the summer of 2017 as THE SUMMER OF BATHROOM ISSUES.

Compared to large urban libraries, I know that our issues in the bathroom are quite small. In my time in New Jersey, we had to deal with a patron who loved to chug vodka and leave the evidence hidden in the ceiling tiles. I can’t tell you how many times we dealt with used needles when I was in Maine. And in Tennessee, I remember alcohol and prescription medication bottles being the things we found the most. Here in Titusville PA we mostly deal with poop, pee, & blood, either on the floor, the toilet seat, or the walls. But here’s the thing: it shouldn’t matter what you’re dealing with in the restroom. All of this is unacceptable. And for some reason, its been happening more frequently here at my library. What’s going on in the world? Where is this acceptable? Is there something that we’re doing wrong? I ask myself these questions a lot. I think about poop, pee, and blood more than a normal person should.

I’ve had to remind myself a lot this summer to remain positive. Maybe they just missed the toilet? Maybe they’re embarrassed about what was very clearly an accident to them? I don’t know what causes these things to happen, but I do know that in order to continue working in libraries I’ve gotta stay positive. As the director at my library, I’ve gotta also remember to keep my staff positive. Of course we’re allowed to have a moment or two where we want to give it all up after we find a wad of toilet paper that has very clearly been peed on and then stuffed behind the toilet (for three weeks or so). In the long run though, we’ve gotta do our jobs, remain positive, and always remember that we’re doing work that is good work. Nobody wants to deal with this kind of stuff, but sometimes we have to so we do it, we have our little grumble, we remind ourselves why we’re in the library biz, and we move on.

To end, I’d like to share something very positive that came out of this. Yesterday a patron found something in the restroom that needed to be cleaned up. He asked me for some paper towels and I obliged, but I asked him if I could help. Here’s what he said to me:

“There’s a mess in the restroom. You don’t wanna see it and I don’t mind cleaning it up. I work as a janitor so I am used to this. And y’all have been so nice to me that I don’t mind helping you out.”

Despite all of the poop and pee that we’ve come across this summer, this interaction sums it all up: stay positive and be kind to everyone. Do your job and do it well.

Interested in more talk about messy bathrooms and all things icky about libraries? I suggest Matt Finch’s Code Brown: Design Thinking & Beyond feat. @jeromical / Part 1

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Life

Small Town Library Outreach

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll have noticed that we hired a Historian at the Benson Memorial Library last month. I’ve talked about the reason behind this before, but I’ll sum it up here again: our town and community have an extremely rich history due to the discovery of oil here in the 1860’s. With that came a lot of national attention and money, some of which still remains to this day. When a community has a rich history like Titusville does, it makes perfect sense for the public library to be the place where community members can learn and become engaged and informed about the past. When we’re all aware of what has come before us, we can make solid decisions about the future that contribute to a stronger today. 

Cut to a scene at a local gas station about one week ago: someone there walks up to me and says “hey, you’re that library guy right?” to which I reply with a very positive “Yes!”. The best library outreach happens in situations like this, so when I was first approached with this question I knew this was gonna be good. Our conversation went like this:

“I saw in the newspaper that you hired a historian. That’s a really great idea because we have so much history around here. In fact, I have something I’d like for you at the library to dig up.”

After that, I listened to the story and it was quite an interesting one regarding a now ghost town just a few miles up the road from us called Pithole. I got the contact information and basic details I needed, went back to the library, and handed it off to Jess, our Historian.

Over the next week, Jess got into the nitty gritty of the patron’s requests and found out some information that they were looking for. Jess sent all of this information to the patron via email. Here’s what that email looked like:

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Pretty good, eh? That’s some nice and thorough work there. But that’s not where it ends. Jess got this kind email back from the patron:

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And now every time I stop at this gas station to fill up my car with gas or get some of their delicious chocolate milk I see this person and we have a nice kind chat. Libraries are all about bringing people together, and this is just an example of how we do it here in Titusville.

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Management, Tales From The Library Trenches

Tales From the Library Trenches, Part 3: Choose Your Own Adventure

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Part 3! Enjoy! 

Head on over to Information Today and check out part three of my series titled Tales From The Library Trenches. In this installment, I got a chance to chat with my former boss at the Cape May County Library (NJ) and still big time library inspiration Deb Poillon about project management, planning, and more. Deb rules. She’s one of my library inspirations, as her approach is so community and staff focused and she does it in such as way that not only gets things done but gets things done well.

I’ve created this category (click!) to keep all of the writings in this series together. Next month I will be back to share my fourth and final part. Stay tuned!

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Library Director, Management, Tales From The Library Trenches

Tales From the Library Trenches, Part 2: A Year of Firsts

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I forgot to post this in June, but better late than never!

Head on over to Information Today and check out part two of my series titled Tales From The Library TrenchesIn this installment, we talk about connections, library boards, and your new role as a community leader.

If you’re up for it, try to connect all the dots and find all the Prince references in the piece. What album was I listening to when I wrote this?

I’ve created this category (click!) to keep all of the writings in this series together. Stay tuned for more!

Benson Memorial Library, Libraries, Titusville, PA

Blogging at the Library (yes, it’s still very important)

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The piece “Origins of the Dick Kraffert Pool at Burgess Park, Titusville” by Jess Hilburn, originally written for a library blog and then republished in a local newspaper, the Titusville Herald.

Before we start, let me clear things up: you are not reading a blog post from sometime between 2001-2007. This blog post was written on June 22, 2017. Why am I saying that to start? Well because if you’re reading this you may have been told that “blogging is dead” and that the “library blog scene” is irrelevant. My aim with this piece is to show you otherwise. The word “blog” or “blogging” is dead but that’s a good thing. Blogs and blogging was always just writing and publishing with a hip new fancy name attached to it. The “blog” switched the power from the big publishers and news agencies and gave it to the people. (for the rest of this piece, I’ll continue to use the word “blog” when I refer to the written words I am talking about but honestly its all just words and information)

Here’s a great example from my library (Benson Memorial Library) on why I believe why libraries should continue to write and share information with their communities. A few months ago, our Historian Jess Hilburn started up a blog called NWPA Stories (Northwestern Pennsylvania Stories). As our Historian, Jess digs up a lot of interesting stories about individuals and events in our community.

One of the recent discussions happening in our community was the possible closing of our swimming pool, the Dick Kraffert Pool. As with every story, there are two sides to this one. Over the last few years the pool has fell into disrepair and has been losing money. The City of Titusville operates the pool, and like the pool the city has been losing money due to declining industry in the area and lower tax returns every year. These are the things that are happening in small town American. On the other side, there is a community full of individuals who want the pool to stay open and remain an option for all local residents. It’s a tough issue and we’re not here to discuss the pros and cons, but now you’re basically all caught up on the story.

This is where the library comes in. With all of the discussion happening around the Dick Kraffert Pool, one thing was missing: what’s the history behind all of this? How did the pool start, what was the pool like back in the day, and who the heck is Dick Kraffert?  This is where Jess Hilburn comes in. As our Historian, finding out this kind of stuff and sharing it with our local community is one of big “to-do’s” on Jess’s job responsibilities list. A library historian isn’t just there to find out stuff for individuals who have research requests. A great library historian shares the research and history that they’re digging up with everyone in the community. I believe that when community members are engaged and informed about their past, they can make solid decisions about the future that contribute to a stronger today. This is that example in action.

After publishing the post and sharing it via the library Facebook page, we quickly noticed it was resonating with the community. According to Facebook stats, the piece has had a reach of 4,607, has been shared 72 times, and has 23 likes on the original post. There were plenty of positive comments on the piece….and that’s when the local newspaper the Titusville Herald messaged us (once again, on Facebook). They asked for permission to reprint Jess’s work in the next issue of the Herald, scheduled to be published tomorrow. Our only request was that they add the “Editor’s Note” that you see in the photo of the piece above).

Why’d we do this? As I said above, it is all about sharing and informing community members about the past that surrounds them. The Titusville Herald is an excellent newspaper that is read by many of our community members. Increasing exposure to our local history, especially when that exposure originates from the public library, is a great thing. It provides our community with a better understanding of their surroundings, it increases exposure to the library, and it further cements us as a local organization dedicated to providing all citizens with quality information.

Here’s the link to the original piece as it appears on NWPA Stories

The next time someone tells you that blogging is dead, try to remember this example which I just shared. The act of writing and sharing information will never die no matter what it is called. Libraries: learn, research, share, and connect. This is what you do.