Monday, November 27, 2006

Santa or Scrooge?

I am very proud that our library has not been timid about exploring emerging library technologies; but I can not take credit for any of our technological accomplishments. It is not that I am anti-technology; it is that like many other library directors I find myself in the role of "Scrooge" far more often than "Santa."

A big part of my job is dealing with numbers: budgets, statistics, demographics, costs... (yawn). When a tech savvy staffer comes up with some cool new thing that he/she thinks we should try my Scrooge like reaction is to ask, "How much does this cost? Who is going to do/maintain this? What impact is this going to have on our Library?" I do manage to refrain from asking them if they want the WHOLE day off to celebrate Christmas.

Many libraries will blame cost, and/or staff limitations for not implementing new technologies. But I think the real reason is that it is almost impossible to measure the impact these cool new techy things will have on the Library. Most emerging technologies were not designed with libraries in mind; getting accurate user stats is somewhat difficult. If the Director knew and could give hard numbers to the library board that this new fangled-thingamajig was going to be more popular than story hour, I bet the library would find the money and the staff. Even without hard data, the Kankakee Public Library's motto is, "Informing, Enriching, and Empowering." When we implement new technologies that is exactly what we are doing.

Cindy Fuerst
Library Director

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Race by the Numbers

Race is an illusion. Ok, ok, I know what everyone will say. Race impacts employment, housing, social situations, education and on and on and on. It is true. But the only reason it has an affect is because race is an illusion we all believe in. I'm proud to say that we at the Kankakee Public Library don't believe in race. What does that mean? It means that when a candidate for a job enters our library, they are guaranteed to be judged on the content of their character, not on the color of their skin, to paraphrase Dr. King. We believe that if we simply hire people based on their talents, the staff will reflect the community. So, how has this "color blind" attitude in hiring panned out? Let's have a look:

According to the United States Census of 2000, the City of Kankakee is made up of 50% White, 41% Black, and 9% Latino.

As of today, the Kankakee Public Library is made up of 38% White, 52% Black, and 10% Latino.

Within the various Library ranks, 57% of the Library supervisors are White and 43% of the supervisors are Black. 45% of the clerks are White, 41% are Black, and 14% are Latino. And among the pages, 86% are black, 14% are Latino, and none are White.

That's how believing in ability turned out, by the numbers.

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director
Kankakee Public Library

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Miss Information

My husband gave me the nickname "Miss Information" back when we were dating. Little did he know that years later he would be portraying "Miss Information" in front of hundreds of children and their parents at our Library. Miss Information personifies everything that we hope we are not. She is loud; she is always throwing her credentials around yelling, "Q.U.I.E.T." (Quincy University Intellectual Educational Teacher). She is out of date and out of touch.

We came up with this idea of "Miss Information" in 2005 when our Kennedy Middle School approached us about hosting a Family Reading Night at our Library. Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth graders can be a tough audience. We wanted to convey the Library's rules in a fun and entertaining manner. We thought that a man in drag with big hairy knees peeping out from between his nylon knee-highs and polyester skirt, stating ridiculous rules such as that the fines were $1,000.00 per day, and that you had to be 81 to use the library, would have the students howling. But the kids and many of their parents did not initially get the gag. We probably were two minutes into our act before they realized this was a put-on and that Miss Information was full of "misinformation." She was so popular that she has been requested to make other appearances.

I have asked myself why the students and parents did not immediately recognize Miss Information for what she was. Was my husband's performance as a woman worthy of an Oscar nomination? Well... he did a good job, but he wasn't as good as Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. Does Kankakee have the most polite children in all of library land? Well ....they are pretty great, but I don't think that is the reason. Could it be Miss Information was a little too real? I hope that's not the answer. It is rather frightening to think Miss Information may actually be a real librarian out there somewhere in libraryland.

Cindy Fuerst
Library Director

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Talent 2.0

Our library is not huge. Our library does not have a giant budget. Our library can not afford to hire a lot of people with elegant educations. You may expect me to write next, our library doesn't shine. I'm very proud to say our library does shine, and shine quite brightly. We have the metaphorical champagne on a beer budget. How do we do it?

Organizational theory talks a lot of resource management. Most administrators interpret that to mean budget management. Money pales next to the most important resource any library has, talent.

All too often, especially in larger settings, bureaucracy creates tidy little job descriptions into which staff are jailed. What this mathematically driven system does not take into account is that human beings are complex creatures with more than one ability. A person may be a whiz at answering reference questions, but what if they can also sew a very convincing Sponge Bob costume? Will the Youth Services Department go without this asset because costuming is not in the job description for reference? Maybe your cataloguer is expert at Microsoft Access. Will he/she be allowed to work on a database for the Circulation people, or will it be more important to protect one's turf?

Our library looks expensive because we have a cataloger doing an RA newsletter, a reference clerk writing music, and circulation clerks putting up displays. Does this make our organizational chart a little fuzzy? Maybe. Welcome to the human race. And I dare you to find a bored KPL staffer!

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director
Kankakee Public Library

Sacred Cows Make Good Hamburgers

They have fought a brave and gallant battle, but the fight is showing signs of ending. Sacred cows are becoming an endangered species in library land. The vertical file, the paper card catalog, The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, Books In Print....can no longer be found at the Kankakee Public Library. They are gone, but not forgotten; they were replaced. Libraries can no longer afford to offer the same old services, and the same old programs the same old way just because that is the way it has always been done. Times are changing; demographics are changing, and technologies are becoming more affordable and accessible to the masses (including for us in library land). Our diverse and tech savvy patrons expect more from us. Policies, procedures, programs, and services need to be continually evaluated. They need to make as much sense today as they did a few short years ago.

Even though our numbers are way up when compared to a few years ago, we are continually evaluating what we are doing and why we are doing it. According to the 2000 Census, Kankakee is roughly 50% White, 41% African-American, and 10% Hispanic. It is important that our collection, services, and programs reflect the diversity of our community. That we are meeting the literary and information needs of everyone who resides within our service area.

We are finding that some of our tried and true core programs and services have become old and worn. For many years our Library conducted book discussion groups for children and teens. They were moderately successful, but last year, attendance dwindled to two or three participants in each group. Our Youth Services Supervisor, Camille Rose, and her team talked with the children and their parents to brain storm a new approach. Instead of discussing one book in detail, the staff does booktalks on several titles along a common pop culture type theme. The themes so far have been "Fear Factor", "Iron Chef", and "Grossology." The event also includes an age appropriate hands-on activity that goes along with the theme.

Our Youth Services team recognized that what was important about the Library's book discussion program was not analyzing the plots and character development, but getting the children connected with the right book, to get the children excited about reading, and to get the children excited about visiting the Library. If they could do that, the children would talk about the books on their own, and they would want to visit to the Library more frequently. Have they been successful? More than 70 children and teens, plus their parents, now participate in this monthly event. I am very proud of Camille and our Youth Services staff; they are right on target!

Like many of you in library land, we are doing our best to stare down those Sacred Cows. We are looking for ways to reach more people, looking at who is using our library, and who isn't and why. We are going out into the community, forming partnerships with the schools and other organizations. We are listening to parents, teachers, teens, and community leaders and addressing their needs. We are embracing new technologies and exploring new ways to offer traditional services. We are breaking down barriers, changing perceptions, and proving that public libraries are a great value to everyone.

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director

Monday, November 13, 2006

Is the ALA out of touch?

Imagine this scenario. You are a library staff member charged with monitoring the library's public internet computers. A known "problem patron" comes in and begins an internet session. This patron is known to have been "on the edge" of violating library policy in the past. While walking past him and shelving some material, you notice he is looking at pornographic images depicting people you believe to be under the age of 18. You nervously go to the phone and dial 911 to call the police. Noticing your nervousness, the offender ends his session and quickly leaves. The police arrive and ask for the computer user's name, address and session history. Do you give it to them?

The people of Kankakee - who pay our salaries, financed our new building and keep our doors open by patronizing our resources - would demand, I suspect, that we give the police what they want to get the creep off the street. That is certainly what our staff would do. I wonder though, would the American Library Association say the same?

This scenario is similar to the one depicted recently in a WBBM Chicago TV report called "Library Confidential". The report sparked a discussion in a library staff supervisors' meeting about what we should do if such thing were to happen on our library (which I might add NEVER has!) We concluded first that such viewing of child pornography is an egregious violation of library policy, and would result in the banning of the offender from the internet computers and most likely the library itself. However we were not sure if Illinois law requires us to demand a court order before turning over the name and viewing history of the internet user. The Illinois library law reads:

75 ILCS 70/1) (from Ch. 81, par. 1201)
Sec. 1. (a) The registration and circulation records of a library are confidential information. Except pursuant to a court order, no person shall publish or make any information contained in such records available to the public.

That doesn't seem to cover the history on computers. But what does the American Library Association have to say on the matter? Though the ALA demands that libraries follow all applicable law, it states in its privacy guidelines "General monitoring by staff of patron content or use of library materials and resources in any format is inappropriate in all instances with the exception of observation for the purposes of protecting library property." Our library monitors internet activity constantly. In fact we have positioned the computers purposefully so that staff can observer user activity. The ALA suggests a hands-off approach. "Libraries may address the concerns of unwilling viewers in a number of different ways, including the strategic placement of workstations and the use of devices such as privacy screens or recessed monitors." Using those methods I fear we'd quickly become the Kankakee Public Peepshow.

The ALA privacy guidelines has this to say about cooperating with the police: "Neither libraries, their resources, nor their staff should be used in any scheme to elicit and catch criminal behavior." I suppose I can agree that we should not engage in "sting" operations that would "elicit" criminal behavior. But what does "elicit and catch" mean? Does that mean the ALA would demand we not hand over the computer history of the suspected sex offender?

I fear the ALA has become hopelessly out of touch with the concerns of real communities that finance public libraries. I don't understand why it would be acceptable to ask a loud patron to lower her voice, but the ALA would not have us ask a patron viewing shocking pornography on a publicly viewable screen to stop.

If we follow the ALA philosophy - what we don't see we don't have to be responsible for - we will be buried in proposed filtering legislation that none of us want.

More information: ALA Privacy Page

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director
Kankakee Public Library

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Public Libraries are Public Spaces

Psst.. I have a secret. If you are a frequent library user, you probably already know this secret. But apparently Chicago's CBS 2 News did not. They aired a special investigative report entitled, "Library Confidential." In a nutshell, they discovered that public libraries are indeed public places.

As public buildings and American institutions, we believe that you are innocent until proven guilty. We believe that you, as a tax payer, have a right to be in the library. We believe that your intentions are honorable until your actions indicate otherwise. We don't require you to sign-in, to go through a metal detector, or to have a back ground check before allowing you through the front doors of our buildings.

While we expect everyone to act appropriately, not everyone does. Your safety is of the foremost importance to us. We don't tolerate inappropriate behavior. Howeve, we also try to keep things in perspective. A group of teens talking loudly isn't a threat, but if the staff asks them once to settle down and the behavior continues, they will be asked to leave the Library, if they don't leave, the police are called and they risk being banned from our building for an extended period of time. I hate to tell you how many times I was kicked out of my neighborhood public library when I was a teen - I thought it was a great place to catch up with my friends. Back then it was no big deal - unless your parents found out. I guess in our post 9/11, 24-hours-a-day Cable News, Reality TV world this would now be sensationalized into a newsworthy event.

CBS 2 News knows that we like our news in glossy little snippets. Not bothering with the details and using numbers out of context made for a much more enthralling report. If anyone is interested in the truth, the vast majority of people using their public libraries do know how to act appropriately. According to the American Library Association, Americans made 1.3 billion library visits in 2004, yet less than a handful of those visits resulted in a newsworthy event. Public libraries are indeed public places and I think for the most part, they are safe places, but I guess that's not much of a story.

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director