Actual presentation may not exactly match these notes.
Apologies to all Buddhists in attendance. Seriously, each library will have their own path to Nirvana. Best practices are a good guide – to what worked a decade ago. The best practices for a 21 st century library are in development and you get to develop them. Having your target properly determined is essential to hitting it. Slow and sure can win the race – if you are on the right track. If you are off the track, your speed doesn’t matter much. If nothing has changed for a decade, nothing is likely to change in the next decade. If all your furnishings are where the architect drew them 20 years ago, you have a problem. Everything else in society has changed and you haven’t evolved. OTOH, if you are constantly tinkering, those small changes add up. They build momentum and experience. The cycle of planning| trial solution| implementation | evaluation | planning again is very business-like. Moving to an age of abundance has consequences for libraries. During WWII, people came to the library to see where Guadalcanal was, because it was an age of scarcity. Now GoogleEarth will show me the tent my son lived in while stationed in Iraq. Anyone suffering from a shortage of “information”? Additionally, libraries are (should be) so networked that they have access to millions of items. In effect, even large libraries are branches backed up by a huge cloud based collection. Patrons have powers beyond that of any 1980’s librarian to order items from other libraries.
As you manage a library, how can you know if you are on the highway to heaven or the road to perdition? Does it fit within the Five Laws of Library Science: Books are for use. Every reader his [or her] book. Every book its reader. Save the time of the reader. The library is a growing organism. Is it easy on the public, even if it is work for your staff? Are people working to fit the technology or the other way around? Is it harder to use than a gas pump? If you have to explain it twice, it is too difficult. Patron level skills should not require repeat training. Technology should be better than people have at home. So, Blu-Ray projectors, recent PCs, flat screens (on PCS and as TV). Will it wow people? Or bore them? Don’t be afraid to compete with other libraries.
The unlikely named Paco Underhill is a genius, having invented a new field of study – retail anthropology. Of course, it just means that his crew watch people in stores. Which way do they turn (right), at what point do they look for signs or assistance, how much do they handle items, what can we do to encourage transactions? All of his books are worth reading, especially his last, which deals with retailing to women. His main findings aren’t too surprising: Comfortable, easy, practical, fast. But do we meet that standard. Most business find they don’t. Design is a means of managing people and how they move, where they go and when they ask for assistance. Design is also a form of theater – setting the stage for a quiet scene or a children’s area. It has both a physical and emotional impact – so have an intent. One test here – if a TV crew was coming to film a segment at your library, what would you change? A bunch.
If you are customer driven, then self-service is an option, not something you force people to do. By Paco Underhill’s guidelines, self-service is often the best service – easy, practical and fast. Holds pickup, self-check, Internet signup, self-renewals. Non-service is rarely the best option. If I can’t find help when I need it, I leave the store and don’t return. Most businesses staff their self-checkout. Prevents thefts, but also provides assistance. Staff stays busy with other tasks while overseeing 4 stations. For efficient self-service, retrofitting is necessary, maybe not in phase 1, but before it can be considered done. This involves changes to staff duties, staffing patterns, desks, signs. Otherwise, self-service will be an add-on. Self-service needs to be infused throughout the library’s program /design / staffing.
Most library users (and most business customers) do not ask for assistance. Depending upon how you count, 60-90% of walk-ins don’t ask for assistance. Since they are operating as self-service users, the best help we can provide is Wayfinding. If we were serious about customer service, this would get as much attention and time as your Information Desk. A library needs to be intuitive and capable of being navigated without assistance. If a person can come into a library, wander for 10 minutes and not find anything that attracts their attention, we have failed them. Just as a business would in the same situation. Wayfinding involves how the library is designed, how furniture and shelving is laid out. Even how areas are decorated should be important clues for patrons. You should be able to spot a children’s area 50 yards away. Librarians are often concerned about their own sightlines and rightly so, both for supervision and to identify patrons needing help. Patron sightlines are also important. There are landing and decompression zones where patrons will stop, look around and actually see signs. These spots need good sight lines. Signs is a good place to use business practices. A few large ones to be read from a distance, some smaller ones to help when you have reached the right area. Simple, declarative, jargon free. No scolding, no passive aggression. Signs can be read from a distance. Handouts have to be within arm’s reach to read. Don’t post handouts.
Simply put – display more of your materials. I reject the notion that these kinds of displays or arrangements make libraries bookstore-like. [anecdote] I find it makes us library-like. It is part of our tradition being brought out of storage for today’s use. It is in keeping with our best traditions (see the Five Laws). Good way to start is by increasing your genre collections. It is easier, now that genres are included in the bib record. Genre and BISAC are good for librarians because they are a standard, unlike tagging and other folksonomies. BISAC/Genre collections (displays in general) also reward the in-house patron. We spend a lot of time and money enabling the remote user. This is something we can do to enrich the experience of the in-house user. They deserve it. Think of browsing areas. Shelving units with associated space / chairs / tables. Stacks - efficient way to store books, poor way to display them. Give MCM example. Wider aisles if at all possible – to combat “butt brush” factor. In this, size seems to matter. Smaller libraries and branches can go 100% display, medium size libraries (see McMillan) usually keep some stacks and larger libraries may be limited to newer materials only. As academic libraries would tell us, large collections require complicated classification. This can also be implemented incrementally. This is something you can ease your way into, no matter what your size. Try more genres, try it on new materials, learn lessons.
Display is something we are in the process of implementing at MCM. We started with display shelving for our new book area, then broke the new books into 11 genres and 17 BISAC collections. We sized these to have critical mass – enough new materials to constantly reward an occasional browser. Our goal was to make this a destination within the building, a place that people would return to. Easy – comfortable – fast. [anecdote re: Thrillers] We moved all AV to display shelving. Slanted shelves, no use of the bottom shelf. Wider aisles. We added more permanent genres – Christian Fiction/Fantasy split for SF/ 3 flavors of graphic novels/ classics (yes, they have to be clean copies). Larger collection = more genres. Wherever possible, we now try to build display areas. 50% of fiction is in a display/genre area. Still the other 50% is in stacks – so far. We view this as a layered approach The display collections get a lot of use Stacks are where we store items that will continue to get regular use We keep other items in a remote storage facility – known as the other libraries in our system. For our patrons, we are the HQ library and the rest of the system is just where we keep our other books.
Just in time came originally from car manufacturing. Instead of keeping a large inventory of parts, factories would have them delivered just in time. This spread to retail, so that WalMart and grocery stores display most of their inventory and keep very little in storage. For libraries, being in a shared system and having a good delivery system make this work. Leaner, targeted, more up-to-date local collection. Easier to display a smaller collection. Our three levels are: Our library has a solid collection designed for our community –like a bookstore might. Our system has a huge collection, with 2-3 day delivery – like Amazon For the very few items that are beyond that, we have ILL, which is like a specialty bookstore. Our goal is to have 80% of our circulation be from our shelves. In an open system, with lots of remote use, this can be a difficult target.
Libraries zone, but not enough. This is like zone heating. Different zones are designed for different purposes and audiences, so they should have different rulesets. Children’s Room is already a different ruleset. Louder, crying allowed. Often, the rest of the library is one zone / one ruleset. That zone can’t really be kept quiet nor can it be used for social purposes. This leads to unenforceable rules – no cell phones, no water, talking in normal conversation, no laughing. It can also lead to an entire social zone or an entire quiet zone (which means you aren’t meeting the other need).
When a business changes operation, it changes staffing to reflect that – right away. Businesses have more flexibility than government bodies in staffing. Adding staff may require several levels of approval. That makes libraries very unwilling to downsize, since they have a difficult time recovering the lost staff. When one says “right size”, they are almost always talking about cutting staff. Hard for that not to affect services. Right staffing, OTOH, means moving staff from one unit to another, from one classification to another, cross training. This may be restricted too, by contract or policy, but is more likely to be internal to the library. This goes beyond mere FTEs. Administration should re-examine position description to see if they have remained relevant. That is also a good time to see if the work being done matches the class assigned. Some clerical tasks have been de-skilled by technology. Some position descriptions are too narrow and inflexible. Try Position classifications for Wisconsin public libraries (WAPL 2005). Re-examining all this will help protect the library if it has to justify salaries/classes, while making operations more efficient. Structure runs top to bottom. Businesses often have team approaches, whereas libraries tend to remain departmentalized, which is less flexible. If cuts are coming, be proactive and get the library in order before decisions have to be made. If a task is sufficiently de-skilled and doesn’t involve confidentiality, volunteers may be used. We use the term “patron level skills” for things every patron can be taught simply and that volunteers can be used for. Contracts and policy may limit this.
Probably only real cutting edge thing @McM. Though we adapted the concept from academic libraries. It is a social zone for all ages at all times. The dominant user group varies by time of day. It imports some of the relaxed ruleset from the Children’s room for use by adults/teens/tweens. Food, drink, cell phones, group gaming, chatting, flirting. We sell food and drink. No, we haven’t lost any PCs to drinks, which we allow everywhere except two meeting rooms. This is a relaxed ruleset, not relaxed enforcement. Running, shouting, hitting, etc. all get you tossed and even banned. We use teacher aides from the jr. high after school for consistency. Creating a social zone help us enforce a quiet zone in the adult room and kept teens out of the Children’s Room. Instead of tossing loud people, we just redirect them.