Has the library gotten “cold”?

Last night, my mother and I were headed to go on a group run. On the way, I had her stop at my library branch so I could drop off the huge stack of books that my son and I had taken out. This got us talking about our library system and recent changes.

My neighborhood library is a small, cozy Carnegie library. There are usually about two or three staff members working, and there is no self-check out. They probably would have installed one, but there is no room. My mother’s neighborhood library has a self-check out that you are forced to use, and it is a bit bigger than my library.

Don’t get me wrong, I think automation is a good thing in many ways, especially in that it frees up librarians to get out from behind the desk and help patrons in the stacks or at computers. However, I don’t like when you are forced to use the self-check out. My first interaction with the new check out system was at a larger library with an excellent children’s room. My son and I had stopped at the branch to pick out some books. We collected the books that we wanted to take home, and headed to the desk. I noticed the self-check, but opted to go to the librarian to have her scan our books. I was coldly told that she would check us out this time, but in the future, “you’ll have to do it yourself.” Yikes.

The thing is, as a librarian, I like self-check outs alright, but as the parent of a squirmy, active 18 month old, I’m not a fan. It is extremely difficult to juggle signing in (since I’m the nerd that knows her card number by heart), slowly scanning the books (why does it take much longer than when the library staff does it?), all the while keeping track of my wriggling son, desperate to leap out of my arms and attempt to pull all the books off the shelves.

As my mother and I discussed how glad I was that my branch does not have the room to install a self-check out, she brought up how “cold” the library has gotten. She misses the days of the kindness and friendliness of the librarians who were there to serve you, and the warm, wooden bookshelves. People still long for the human touch. As much as the future predicts digital libraries and the death of the library, I don’t think they will die. Libraries are not only places for books, knowledge, and computers; they are a community center, a place to interact with others. No matter how digital the world gets, people will always have the desire to interact.

My final thoughts about the self-check outs? I wish my library would give you the option between a real human and the self-check terminal, because not only does it make my life easier to have someone help, I simply like talking to a real person.

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4 Library Lessons I Learned in 2010

Justin the Librarian set off a recent spate of end-of-the-year, things-I’ve-learned-lists with his Eight Things I Learned about being a Librarian in Two Zero Ten. While I’m not a true librarian yet (only one more semester until I get my MLIS!!!), I have been working at an academic library for the past year. So I’ll hop on the library world bandwagon–Here are four things that I learned in 2010:

1. Mobile Technology is exciting and very important to the library’s future. Librarians that aren’t investigating mobile device usage in the library are going to be playing catch up. I see exciting possibilities through the use QR codes, and wrote a “pretend” grant to that affect for a course I took this fall. I just wish it wasn’t “pretend” so I could actually implement it. Adapting websites for mobile devices and incorporating Smartphone use in the library is essential. Just look at Nielsen’s prediction that Smartphone penetration will be at 50% in 2011 – a huge jump from 2010’s 28% of the market.

2. Some people still don’t get it. I get so tired of the fact that people think that libraries aren’t necessary anymore. I recently heard a similar comment from my sister, a law school student – and she is someone who uses the library at her university consistently. This means marketing libraries is important – after all, we exist to serve, and we can’t serve people if they don’t know what we can offer. The best advice I heard recently on library advocacy was to simply, “talk libraries.” Meaning, no matter where you are, even the line in the grocery store, talk about your library. This applies to the online world as well. Get the word out!

3. People who think libraries are no longer needed obviously haven’t been to one in awhile. My local public library is always packed – no matter what time I’m there. Same with the academic library I work at – computers are all full, reference transactions are happening, not to mention all the other fun stuff. Art exhibits, movie showings, gaming days, and much more is all happening at the library. And why not? I believe the library serves an important function as a “third place” for the community. That is, it is a place outside of work and home where people can hang out and be comfortable.

4. Technology moves fast!! It is imperative that librarians keep up. I made a decision late this year, that I was going to immerse myself in technology and its use in the library. New technologies abound, and in order to stay relevant to our users, we need to keep up. I’m especially thinking about mobile devices (again). Usage will keep going up and before we know it, almost everyone will be sporting a Smartphone. Let’s not have to play catch up.

Thoughts? Comments? I know some of this is obvious, but it’s truly stuff that just came to light for me. I’ve just recently entered the blogging/tweeting world, so let me know what you think!

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Don’t fear the future

I remember riding Spaceship Earth at EPCOT when I was 12 – you know, the ride in the giant golf ball? There was a scene about how we would communicate in the future that made me slightly uncomfortable. People were sitting in front of giant TV screens talking to each other. I didn’t like this scene because my overactive imagination feared that in the future, we would be locked inside our houses, only communicating through TVs. We would never leave our houses and probably take pills instead of eating real food. Yikes.

What made me think about this was that this scene has become a reality (minus the locked inside houses thing). Last night, my 16 month old son got to see and talk with his grandparents that live 4 hours away via Skype. It was awesome!

My son was showing off the new nativity set St. Nick brought, slapping high fives, and even giving out kisses to his grandma, all through the Internet. It reminded me of my twelve-year-old self, fearing the future of communication. Almost 18 years later, I’m discovering that there is nothing to fear. Human contact will never go away, but the Internet is allowing the world to shrink. And I, for one, think it’s cool.


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A quick heartwarming note

Leaving work before the Thanksgiving break, something happened that made me keep a smile on my face all weekend, through the holiday madness and Black Friday shopping (which I particpated in for the first time this year).

I work at an Academic Library, so we seldom see young children or families. But as I was leaving last Tuesday evening, a family of four came in. They had two sons, one probably about one and the other around three or four. As the older boy came in, he shouted: “I SEE THE BOOKS!” His excitement about books was awesome. These are academic books that are far beyond him at this point – books on Mark Twain, or Quarks, or teaching Math. But he did not care. There were books, and he was happy.

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Notes on relevance, struggles, and the library

The recent LA Times article, Libraries reinvent themselves as they struggle to remain relevant in the digital age, as well as Michael Gorman’s much-discussed comments – specifically, “If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries” has me thinking about this so-called “struggle” libraries are facing.

First of all, I would not call it a “struggle.” Everywhere I look, there are examples of thriving libraries. Library use is up with the current economic downturn. But I won’t bore you with those oft-cited libraries, they are easy to find.

Here are two reasons I believe libraries are not struggling, and why I believe they will stay relevant:

1. People need help wading through the glut of information. I was explaining to my husband the other day about something we learn in library school – precision vs. recall in searches. Recall in a search will give you everything available on a topic, while a precise search filters out non-relevant items, giving the searcher fewer results to chose from. In this Google reliant world, most people are searching with only recall in place, resulting in page upon page of possible sites matching ones search terms. How do we decide what to click on, how can we perfect our searches? Which leads me to number 2.

2. Information literacy. People will always need help learning what information is reliable, how to craft a search, how to use a database, and so on. In the digital age, this is more important than ever. For one example, a colleague of mine recently performed a search on Google, and the first link that showed up was for encyclopediadramatica, a joke site, but one that looks exactly like Wikipedia. Librarians and teachers may frown on Wikipedia, but I assure you, the information on Wikipedia is far more accurate than encyclopediadramatica. Yes, it is a joke (a distasteful joke at that), and pretty obvious once you start reading the entries, but the fact that it so closely resembles Wikipedia is disturbing. Librarians (and teachers) should be teaching patrons (and students) what can be deemed reliable information and what should be ignored.

There are many other aspects of information literacy, and it is something I am quite passionate about. Technology is all around us, in the “digital age” libraries are “struggling” in and staying relevant is all about embracing technology. After all, as Robert Putnam says, “No longer a passive repository of books and information or an outpost of culture, quiet, and decorum in a noisy world, the new library is an active and responsive part of the community and an agent of change.” And I say that libraries are doing an exceedingly good job, not struggling at all.

PS – Really, I think that the media is “struggling” with new stories to come up with, but that is a whole other can of worms.

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Can’t we all just get along?

Here’s something else I’m over: the print vs. electronic debate. Are e-books going to kill print media? In the future, will we all be iPad or Kindle toting readers?

In this Washington Post article, Gabrielle Miller says that we must absolutely have both. I absolutely agree – and here’s why:

My son, at 15 months, has become a book-devouring machine. Everyday, he brings me book upon book to read to him. He loves to crawl in my lap, listen to the story, and help turn the pages. Every night, he helps his father pick out a book to read before bed. His favorite book, by far, is Tails by Matthew Van Fleet. On every page, there are animal tails to feel or parts of the book to move. And his father’s animated voices and noises only increase the books interest to my son. He loves the tactile nature and the motion of the book.

But – he also loves the iPad. I recently downloaded several apps for him (no books yet, however) and he loves it. He puts his finger on a certain animal, the picture zooms in and the animal’s sound is played. He also had a baby piano app where he can play Baa Baa Black Sheep. Like his favorite books, these are interactive. He gets to be a part of it. I realize that these aren’t books, but more and more books are becoming not only able to be read on an iPad or some other electronic form, but they are also becoming interactive. For instance – using the Internet to expand beyond print. See Interactive books (‘E’ not included) from the NY Times. But the iPad will never take over my son’s love of books, touch and feel or otherwise.

Beyond the realm of children’s books, however, I see a time and a place for e-books and a time and a place for print. I can’t see how it would ever be cozy to snuggle up with a Kindle in bed, but on a trans-Atlantic flight, a Kindle would be wonderful.

But these arguments are not new. And I am not even spinning them in a new way. But what I am trying to say is: why can’t print and electronic books coexist? Why do I keep seeing articles and chapters in books about the possibility of print being rendered outdated or gone from our lives entirely? Yes, librarians and libraries need to stay current and relevant (this is something I have recently become passionate about), but I don’t think our users will ever stop asking for print materials entirely. And let us never forget how people (myself included) love the smell and feel of books. Refer to Stephen Abram’s post, Are books smelly?

What do you think? Can you envision a print-free world in the future?

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I see the glass half full, or, a bit about me and this blog

I’m over it. Or, as I once quipped, I was never under it.

I’m referring to the doom and gloom in the library world. Every day I see articles and blog posts about e-books making books obsolete, or how Google is rendering libraries useless. I prefer to look at things differently. I want to explore how technology and libraries can work together to create a new information world. Working at an information fair at the university in which I am employed, a student and I were discussing the library informatics program we offer. She said, “I hate how everything is so negative…this is an exciting time with all the new technologies available.”

This really got me thinking. But first, a digression.

When I was in college, I was on a figure skating team. At our last national competition, we had a disappointing finish (this was before the judging system overhaul). I was just so happy we skated so well that I didn’t care about the fifth place finish. The rest of my teammates, however, could have done without my positive attitude.

I have called myself optimistic to a fault. Hence, the half full librarian.

My goal for this blog is to focus on the exciting, innovative parts of librarianship. All the while finishing my last year of library school and starting my search for the perfect (read: willing to hire me) job in the land of libraries. Not to mention balancing life as the mother of an exuberant toddler who loves to destroy.

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