Wednesday, November 15, 2006

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


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