Ditching The Hype and Focusing on The Community

This is where I live. This is the community I serve.

Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.

I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.

The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:

  1. The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
  2.  The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
  3. I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.

I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will.  Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.

The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.

Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.

How do we change the conversation? 

  • We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
  • Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
  • Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.

Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.

Thank you Marigold Library System!

A big thank you to everyone at the Marigold Library System and everyone that attended their 2014 Members Workshop.  I was so honored to give the keynote for the event.  I talked about experience, community, and where libraries are heading in the 21st Century…..and I learned so much from you!

Marigold Keynote Selfie!
Marigold Keynote Selfie!

Post Holiday Library Technology Help

Like most librarians in a public library, I am expecting a sizable number of patrons visiting the library after the holidays in search of technology help.  For the last few years, I’ve watched this phenomenon grow a spattering of random technology questions to something that libraries need to plan in advance for.  Luckily, we’re already doing that.  I point to these two awesome examples:


Over the next few days, the Princeton Public Library in Princeton, NJ is having a number of programs focused on helping patrons with their new devices.  The program mentioned above, Help Desk for Holiday Gadgets, is just one of many offerings that the library has to help out their community.  You can click here to see the full list of programs being offered by the Princeton Public Library that focus on post holiday technology help.


The Maine State Library tweeted about their Getting Started with eBooks page and it caught my eye.  If your library can’t have programs like the Princeton Public Library, offering an online walk through will no doubt help out your community.  You can view the full Getting Started with eBooks page here.



The Darien Library in Darien, CT does a great job at throughly collecting technology help resources for you at their eBooks page.  They offer both print and video resources to help you navigate your new devices.  Double bonus points goes to them for offering this digital only catalog: http://digital.darienlibrary.org

And finally, why not give YouTube a try?  There are many public libraries out there utilizing YouTube to share video walk troughs for their community to view.  I really liked this well put together video by the Hennepin County Library.  It is well made and very clear and easy to follow.

In closing, I pose this question: Should public libraries begin to look to next year when there will most likely be even more of a need for technology help?  Should we look to establishing year round technology help departments in our library?

Digital Resources

I don’t post  a lot about digital resources in libraries anymore because 1) I really don’t care for debating the pro/cons of every digital resource 2) I’d rather focus on doing something cool for the community than talking about stuff all the time 3) I just really don’t have the time.

However over this past weekend I signed up for a 48 hour trial of Spotify Premium and felt compelled to write something.  I downloaded their app onto my iPhone to take advantage of the new Spotify Radio, which is free for all Spotify users to use .  With that, I also got 48 free hours to listen to all of the music in the Spotify catalog.  I can only use one word to sum up how I felt about this: awesome.

I came to a few conclusions about digital resources this weekend:

  1. I’ll be signing up for a Spotify Premium account soon.  Who doesn’t want access to as much music as they can digest at all times?  I’ve also got Netflix at home and while I don’t have access to everything that I want at the click of a button, I’m more than happy with their selection.
  2. Libraries have very little place in the world of streaming content.  I can’t imagine any scenario where any kind of library product (Freegal, Overdrive, Alexander Street Press) would be better than something like Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even YouTube.
  3. Having access to Spotify for 48 hours reaffirmed  just how important these excellent words from Mick Jacobson are when it comes to libraries moving forward.

I dig the fact that I can share music with the click of a button.

The snag in my argument: all of these services cost the individual money (plus some kind of internet/data connection) and some people may not be able to afford these services (like all of the teens that I serve).  The only comeback I have to this: in the grand scheme of things, these services are relatively cheap (Spotify is $9.99/month, Netflix streaming is $7.99/month) for the amount of quality things you get.

Conclusion: I just can’t see any reason why I would want to invest any of my library budget in any kind of digital resource at this time when there’s so much better stuff out there that isn’t tailored towards libraries.  I’d rather pay $18/month for Spotify and Netflix and move the library towards a place where cool stuff can happen.

Choice quotes from “All Hat, No Cattle: A Call for Libraries to Transform Before It’s Too Late” by Jamie LaRue

Click on this image to read the whole article

I really enjoyed reading Jamie Larue’s post All Hat, No Cattle: A Call for Libraries to Transform Before It’s Too Late.  It was very refreshing to hear such a positive and inspiring call for librarians to change.  I especially like Larue’s call to action for librarians, especially the following:

  • Engage. Pay attention – the e-landscape changes weekly.
  • Become a publisher. Acquire the means of e-content production and management. Build an e-publishing platform as easy to use as Amazon’s.
  • Budget for investment in technology.
  • Build new acquisition and review systems. Experiment with alternative collection development strategies.
  • Reach out to your community to grow authors. DCL has begun compiling author resources to make would-be writers better: writing clubs in the area, writing classes, lists of copyeditors and book designers.
  • Talk to more than librarians! Strike up some conversations with your local bookstore, with local media, with local civic groups.
  • Be positive. In public, at conferences, on panels, project excitement and confidence.

Choice quotes from two must read pieces

Over the past few days, I’ve come across two must read pieces for librarians as we move ahead into a very interesting and exciting time for public libraries.  I’ve included links and some choice quotes below:

Services More Meaningful Than Ebooks by Aaron Schmidt
Why are we obsessed with libraries as places of access to commercially published material? It’s traditional, it’s easy, and it makes for easily measurable circulation. But the publishing industry—an integral part of our ability to provide commercial content—is experiencing upheaval. For the most part, we’ve taken the bait, responding with complaints and, in some cases, boycotts. Something else is going on though. We’re really so upset because we see in publishers’ erratic behavior a reminder that we’ve built libraries on a now shaky foundation.

Unfortunately, this focus is distracting us from the realization that we don’t need to treat access to commercial content as our primary mission. Yes, we’ve put a lot of effort into it in the past, and we’ve done it well. But it’s time to take a step back.

Libraries as software  by Hugh Rundle
What libraries have all too often focused on in the past is hardware – buildings, books, journals and rooms.  Librarians get caught up in hardware questions continually – hardback or paperback, how many PCs, should we buy Blu ray discs, lend Kindles, subscribe to downloadable talking books, throw out our cassette tapes….?  In this context, we can consider things like journal databases, ebooks and other downloadables as hardware as well – we treat these things as artifacts, things to be collected and stored…The real value of libraries is not the hardware.  It has never been the hardware.  Your members don’t come to the library to find books, or magazines, journals, films or musical recordings.  They come to be informed, inspired, horrified, enchanted or amused.  They come to hide from reality or understand its true nature.  They come to find solace or excitement, companionship or solitude. They come for the software.

Great stuff, eh?  I’ll leave with a doozy of a quote from Rundle’s piece:
How we change the software – the services we provide, the way we make information findable, how we help people to make connections between things – will determine the future of libraries and the communities they serve.  

Thank You Belfast Free Library!

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the Belfast Free Library hosting a Technology Petting Zoo program for their library patrons. This year, they’re celebrating 125 years of enlightening and inspiring the people of Belfast.

We explored the latest and greatest in technology, apps, video games, ebooks, and more. It was great chatting with the library members and seeing where they’d like to go with their library in the next 125 years.

Please feel free to read/download my handout which I prepared for this program here: http://goo.gl/zPDgZ