Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, ebooks, Libraries, Library Director, Technology

When The Circulation Has Gone: Helping Your Community Understand the Worth of the Public Library in the Modern Age

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What’s this that you see above? I call this the Benson Memorial Library circulation scorecard. What this circulation scorecard is doing is keeping track of our overall circulation from January 2010-Present. I could go back even further (we have the records) but I kept it at 2010 for the time being. I use it as guide to see what we’ve done, what we’re doing now, and how it relates to each other. Is our circulation up? Is our circulation down? If either one of these situations is the case, why is that? This scorecard is a nice and handy way to check up on all things related to circulation.

I don’t think that any library’s circulation number should be the number by which the library is judged, ranked, understood, etc. Every library’s circulation number by day, month, or year will first depend on the library that community serves. Is your community one that loves to visit the public library? If so, you can expect your circulation to represent that. In our service area of 14,904 (based on 2016 State Library stats), having 5,269 circulations in the month of September was a good month for us. A total circulation number of 5,269 for one month may look horrible to another library that serves a larger area or it may look shockingly amazing for a smaller area. That number looks just about right for us. This number will look different for everyone. It is up to you at your own level to interpret and understand that number.

As I said above, I don’t think that any library’s circulation number should be the number by which the library is judged or understood, but here’s the kicker. This circulation number is a big deal to a lot of people. To those people, a public library is a place which loans out materials to people in the community. When a person has this belief, the best way they can understand how their public library is doing is to see this number. With that said, yes, the circulation number is an important number for the public library.

But as the world changes and the way we read, watch, and look for information or media moves towards the internet or something digital, our circulation numbers are set to look like they’re decreasing. They are. Let’s face it: people don’t come in and borrow books on how to do things/fix things/research things anymore. They Google it or they go right to YouTube where they can get a step by step video. I’m a librarian, and this is exactly what I do. Why do I do this? Because this is the quickest, easiest, and probably the most efficient way of doing things these days.

So, as the title of this post asks: what do we do when the circulation has gone? If our circulation numbers decrease, we need a different way of sharing the value of the public library with the community. With that said, here are some ideas that I’m having these days.

CIRCULATE OTHER STUFF

This seems to be the big thing of the moment: fishing poles, museum passes, and gadgets galore, libraries are branching out and lending out things that you may not have seen in libraries before. One library in my region, the Oil City (PA) Library is doing just that. They call it the Cool Stuff Collection. Adding these unique items to your collection may draw more people into the library and help boost your circulation.

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY AS AN EVENT SPACE

This is a great one. Public libraries all around the world have amazing spaces, and one of the best ways we can show off that space and bring people into the library is by offering great programs. There are so many libraries out there doing this and I could provide hundreds of examples. Here’s one of them: the Darien Library in Connecticut. Their schedule is always packed full of great programs any day of the week. When a library focuses on public events, the attendance at these programs as well as the number of events held at the space becomes a great statistic to share with your community.

THE DIGITAL STUFF

The digital stuff, most of which is probably offered through your website, is another way to show the value of the library. While they’re no longer all the rage, eBooks are still around and are used by a segment of the population. Showing off the circulation of eBooks can boost your circulation number but it can also be used to show your community the changing nature of how we read.

My favorite “digital stuff” statistic these days is the number of connections we have to our wifi network and the number of logins we’ve had on our public computers. What have I noticed? That our wifi connections are going up while our public computer logins are stagnant or going slightly down. Yes, there is still a very strong need to offer public computer access, but as the cost of devices (laptops/tablets/and the big one, phones) comes down and more people are able to access them, I think we’ll see the public library become more and more of a spot in the community that offers free (and hopefully reliable and safe) wifi for everyone.

The title of this post was inspired by this most excellent jam

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Life

Something To Think About

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Quote by Judd Apatow from this NYT article

I read this quote in a NYT article yesterday and felt like I had to share it. I think it nicely sums up something that I’ve been trying to articulate for awhile now. It is very easy to get caught up in the internet and all things digital. The internet connects all of us and provides us with a nearly infinite source of entertainment. It is a great place to be! I’ve seen myself and pretty much everyone around me get sucked into it from time to time. This is ok! It is perfectly normal and fine to be pulled to the internet.

At the same time, I believe in balance and the flipside is that we need to remember that our actions on the internet also need to be balanced with our actions in the physical world. I have begun asking myself how I can translate every tweet/share/post that I am a part of on the internet into something else in the physical world. These things don’t have to be big personal acts…they can be as simple as holding the door for another person, saying hello to a stranger, or just simply being kind in any moment.

Libraries, Technology

Hire awesome people, make rad stuff

Yesterday I was reading Breaking Up With Libraries by Nina McHale.  I had a few thoughts.  First and foremost, I was bummed that our profession was losing such an amazing and talented person.  Nina has done amazing work for libraries and she will be sorely missed in this field.  Secondly, this one passage of Nina’s hit me really hard:

Also in the mix is my general frustration with library technology. We pay BILLIONS to ILS and other vendors each year, and for what? Substandard products with interfaces that a mother would kick to the curb. We throw cash at databases because they have the periodical content our clients need locked up inside them, and over a decade after the failure that was federated searching, we STILL do not have an acceptable product that provides a user-friendly interface and makes managing the data behind the scenes as easy as it needs to be for library staff. – See more at: http://ninermac.net/breaking-up-with-libraries#sthash.F7Wn43FP.dpu

 

I had been thinking about this same thing for the past few years when I made an attempt to look into a digital product for teens.  My thoughts with that product were:

1) Wow, I don’t know any teens that would use this.
2) Wow, this is so expensive and there is no way I could ever afford this.
3) Wow, this product has such horrible design.

The outcome?  I did not buy that product.

It was not until a few days ago that while under the influence of Nina’s post and seeing the amazing work that Dan Eveland (Web Developer, Chattanooga Public Library) and Mary Barnett (Social Media Manager, Library) did on the Chattanooga Public Library website that I had it hit me: we really need to start investing in employees who can make amazing things that do what we want them to do.

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The calender over at chattlibrary.org. Made by Dan Eveland and Mary Barnett. It looks great and the back end (where we do our work) is easy to use and well put together.

Like these calendars, databases, and whatever else that we buy from vendors, hiring awesome people to build stuff just for us is an investment. Sometimes your investment may not work out.  But don’t think about that.  You can always try again.  But what if the investment in awesome people works out?  You get awesome things that were built for what you need them for.

Made by Dan Eveland and Mary Barnett with input and ideas from myself. I think it turned out pretty awesome.

A good example is the website you see above, teens.chattlibrary.org.  About one month ago, the team started talking about what we wanted to do with this site.  We got some ideas and Dan put up a template and we slowly worked on it.  Mary gave the project a deadline and said “let’s get this done” so all last week we put our hardhats on and did it.  Dan and Mary built teens.chattlibrary.org to reflect what I thought teens would be looking for: quick awesome tidbits of information, news of big things going on for teens at the library, a hub for the Teen Advisory Board (TAB), and a contact page.  All built with Drupal on The 4th Floor in about one month by some amazingly talented people on the Chattanooga Public Library team.  The best part?  It’s works super well, is easy to manage, and it is exactly what I was hoping for with the teen site.  Another great part?  If it needs fixed or modified, I only have to head up two floors to talk to Dan and Mary and it’s done.

Hiring awesome people to help you realize your library dreams?  To me, that’s the way forward.  Not only do you get amazing products that you can actually use for what you want, but you get to surround yourself and the library staff with talented and kind people who contribute to the positive vibe of the community.  A win in every area.