Thursday, December 28, 2006

Library Confidential: Part 2

A few weeks ago a young man had his bike stolen from out front of our Library. The bike was left unlocked near our entrance. We are now discussing having bike locks at our circulation desk. Why should a library provide locks for their patrons' bicycles? Because our patrons hold us responsible for what happens here - good or bad.

Growing up I was told that you don't want to tempt a good person to do something bad. I locked my bicycle, didn't flash my allowance around, avoided dark alleys, and walked with a friend to school. I was taught to avoid being an easy mark. As a library director, I do everything I can to make our Library safe. We have good sightlines, cameras, a well lit parking lot, and an evening monitor. We also have policies. A few weeks ago Steve posted, "Too Young for the Library." Our Library's Unattended Children Policy, which requires children under the age of 13 to be accompanied by an adult, struck a sour note with some of our readers. Many people, including myself, have fond memories of visiting the local library alone as a child. Was the world really safer place back when I was a kid? Or were we all just blissfully unaware? Last week Chicago's CBS 2 News aired another installment of "Library Confidential." This one was entitled, "How Safe Are Our Kids In Public Libraries?" My answer: They are as safe, and no safer, as they are in any public place.

Cindy Fuerst
Library Director

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Reference is Dead, Long Live Reference

I'm a recovering Reference Librarian. I spent seven years doing reference before being "kicked upstairs" two years ago. Last week our current Head of Adult Services and I got into a conversation about the value of our print Reference collection. She said very nearly nobody uses it anymore. And that includes staff, who is now married to the internet. Only a handful of the thousands of titles ever make it off the shelf. We budget something like $20,000 a year on Reference materials. The trends suggest that money is wasted. So I recommended to our Adult Services supervisor that we should dump the print collection all together and spend that money on online databases with home access. We can count the stats from the database home use as Reference interactions. A bank of computers for the databases would fit nicely into the spot occupied by Reference shelves. I worry this may spread the "digital divide" even wider, but the time is coming when we will need to get even more radical about finding ways to deliver the services our patrons want in the format they want it. More and more that is going to be online. Another of Cindy's sacred cows teeters on the brink.

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kankakee Public Library's Incredible, Amazing, Super-duper, Tight, Groovy, Cool, Bee's Knees Top Ten List for 2006

It is December, the time of year when just about everybody is coming up with their picks of "the best" of the previous year. So, here's my list of the best things that happened at the Kankakee Public Library in 2006.

#10 - Blogs and Flickr - In November our Library launched two different Blogs - An administrative blog , "She Said, He Said," and a staff blog, "Library Musings;" as well as a account. We hoped that they would be well received, but the response has really been incredible. Two of the most positive repercussions of these initiatives have been the discussions and the excitement that they have generated among our staff.

#9 - Presidential Royalty - Across the pond they have a Queen; here we have a President. Over 200 people came to hear Clifton Truman Daniels, author and grandson of President Harry Truman. Mr. Daniels was witty, entertaining, interesting, personable; in short, wonderful. It was a great program and a great evening at our Library.

#8 - Cool School Groves - We love collaborating with Kankakee School District #111! We usually register around 200 new library users a month, but in August this year more than 400 people registered for public library cards in a single day during school registration. Whew! This year we also collaborated on Family Reading Night programs with most of the schools in the District - attracting crowds of 200-300 students plus their families at each event.

#7 - Project Next Generation - We were surprised and delighted when we received a call last Spring about this state initiative. This grant program from Secretary of State and State Librarian Jessie White and the Illinois State Library enables us to mentor at risk teens using the latest technologies. It has been an inspiring program which is allowing our Library to make a real difference in these young lives.

#6 - ALA Says Were #1 - We were very proud that American Library Association awarded our Library with the 2006 Swap & Shop Best of Show for our Teen Reading Program. We received our award in June in New Orleans at the ALA's Annual Conference.

# 5 - Newbery Author, Lois Lowry Visit - Ms. Lowry is to children's literature, what the Beatles are to popular music. She is a prolific writer, and just about everyone connected with libraries, or books is a fan of her work. We had over 300 people hear her speak at our Library in March. Many, Many thanks to our Friends of the Library group who arranged and paid for her visit to our community. Other groups that helped cover the expenses were our Regional Office of Education, and the Two Rivers Reading Council.

# 4 - Vodcasts and Podcasts - Technically we started podcasting in December 2005 when Arlo Guthrie visited our Library, but that was our first attempt. Since then we have learned a lot and the quality of our recordings has greatly improved. We have received international recognition for our podcasts and vodcasts - which alone is enough to make any library's "Top Ten" list, but I think the real value of producing the podcasts and vodcasts is that they allow us to contribute content to the vast array of information available on the web. Libraries are about sharing, which means giving as well as taking. We're giving back, and giving our Library, and more importantly our community, a voice on the web.

# 3 - The Community Connection - As a city library, we have an entire network of people that help us make the impossible, possible. The best example of this is our Family Fun Day at the Farmer's Market. The vendors of our fabulous Farmer's Market along with our local Kiwanis group pay for the entertainment at this Summer Reading Program Celebration. Over 500 children plus their parents saw the Jessie White Tumblers defy gravity. Along with the entertainment, there was a dunk tank filled by our Fire Department (they also debuted their brand new Fire Safety House). The Mayor and City Clerk serving snow cones, the City's IT Guru offered free computer advice, the Junior High Principal did face painting and got in the dunk tank, our State Representative was on hand to help pass out prize bags, the Friends of the Library sold books, the local Semi-Pro Football Team helped with games. All year long, the support we receive from the City's departments and the community is AWESOME! They are the wind beneath our wings.

# 2 - The Luis Urea Experience - When our Friends of the Library group asked Pulitzer Prize nominated author Luis Urea to speak at a program, I don't think that they, or anyone else had any idea of the repercussions. Over 300 people came out on a cold January night to hear Mr. Urea give a wonderful program. Our Mayor presented Mr. Urea with a key to the city. Mr. Urea was very impressed by our community and Library and blogged, "Kankakee Rocks!" It caused quite a flurry, was in the local newspaper, passed out at City Council and made us all really proud. In June Mr. Urea wrote a column for the New York Times, again speaking very favorably about Kankakee and our Library. All I can say is, Luis Urea Rocks! We have gotten calls from all over the country about what our Library is doing to revitalize our community. Luis Urea is not only our favorite author, but a legendary hero around these parts.

# 1 - Increase Library Usage - This is what is all about. For the third year in a row our Library has broken records for computer usage, visitors/attendance, number of items circulated. All the technology, all the programs, all the accolades pale in comparison. When all is said and done, our goal is to inform, enrich, and empower the people of Kankakee and we are getting better at it every year.

It has been a GREAT year for our Library and we are working on 2007 to be even better! I sincerely hope that 2006 has been great for you too! Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for the New Year from all of us at the Kankakee Public Library.

Cynthia Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director

Monday, December 18, 2006

My Hypocritic Oath

I had an unusual experience recently, at least unusual for me. I was called a hypocrite. Well, not personally, but a group I clearly belong to was called hypocritical by its nature. That group consists of people who work for a municipal library but do not live in that library's home city. In my case, I work for the Kankakee Public Library but live in Bourbonnais. In case your not familiar with our county's geography, Kankakee, Bourbonnais, and Bradley, Illinois are conjoined cities, not neighboring, but actually bordering in a way that makes it impossible to tell when you leave one and enter the other without reading the "Welcome to..." signs. Still, each has its own government and its own municipal property taxes, and it's true that the property taxes of the apartment building I live in go to Bourbonnais Public Library District, not to Kankakee Public Library. I have lots of rationalizations for why I am not a hypocrite: my pay is fair compensation for the work I do, so I have the right to spend it any place I want; my commitment to my employer could not be greater even if I lived next door to it; I am in complete compliance with all library and city laws and policies; my elderly mother lives only a mile from me in Bourbonnais. But still it niggles at me. Am I not showing confidence in my library's community? Why did the accusation sting if I didn't feel a bit guilty about it?

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director
Kankakee Public Library

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Walk the Talk

Librarians are very proud of the role they play in society. Libraries and librarians are the great equalizer in this digital information age. We are the ones that help bridge the gap between the information "haves" and "have nots." We pride ourselves on being open minded, liberal, and most of all inclusive. Librarians have been known to boycott vendors, reschedule national conferences to different venues, and even lose their jobs in our zeal to protect civil rights and the freedom of information. While we are all proud to be part of this noble profession, I sometimes wonder if the majority of us only talk a good talk, but don't do the walk. Is there is a disparity between our words and our actions?

As a white woman, I am not qualified to write about this topic; but perhaps it is because I am white that educated colleagues have said to me, "Black people don't read." "Black people are not library users." "We can't have this program at night in Kankakee because it is not safe." They make these comments without blinking an eye, stating them as fact. To prove their point, public libraries that serve primarily white middle to upper-middle class populations often have dramatically higher statistics than public libraries serving similar sized diverse communities.

The American Library Association reports that 80% of library workers and 90% of MLS librarians are white. I think we do a great job of selecting materials that we like, providing services that work for us, offering programs that interest us... us being white, middle-class, women. I think most libraries are not doing a very good job of reaching out to non-traditional users. Non-traditional users being people of color, men, the disabled, etc...

The Kankakee Public Library is doing its best to serve our diverse community, and has had some great successes. We started an African-American book discussion group, Soul Collections, at our Library more than a year ago. It is our most popular book group, attracting 15 to 30 readers each month. As we do with our other book groups, we interlibrary loan copies of the title to be discussed each month from other libraries. We have great difficulty finding enough copies for our African-American book group. Now, I know that there are people of color living outside of Kankakee, but few libraries in the Prairie Area Library System, which encompasses most of the top third of the State of Illinois, seem to purchase materials aimed at this audience. If libraries are going to remain vital in the 21st Century, we all need to think about how our collections, services, and programs are going to be relevant to all of the people that live in our community today, tomorrow, and ten years from today - and I guarantee you they are not all going to be white middle-class women.

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director

Monday, December 11, 2006

Too Young for the Library

Last week a well experienced library professional, currently an administrator in a library school, questioned our "under 13" policy. The policy states that anyone under 13 years of age must be accompanied by an adult over 18 while in the library. The guest librarian argued that we are cutting off many needy patrons from our library by enforcing this rule, characterizing the policy as "staff centered" rather than "patron centered." On its face, the policy appears to function only to make the library environment more comfortable for the staff. However, it was put in place when a child was injured in the library and a parent could not be found to deal with the emergency medical personnel. Moreover, we were concerned with the possibility that a child could be snatched from the library from an adult stranger. The public often confuses libraries with schools. School employees have all sorts of powers relating to minors that libraries don't. We are very aware that we are cutting off our services from some young patrons because they can't get an adult to come to the library with them. Still, how do we manage this loss with the delicate balance of child safety? Why is it ok to leave your 10 year old in the library alone, but unwise to drop them off at Walmart or the local shopping mall? Maybe people have an overly romantic view of the library, that is ultimately just another public place.

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director
Kankakee Public Library

Monday, December 04, 2006

To be (an MLS) or not to be (an MLS).... Is that the question?

The prevailing wisdom in Library Land is the more MLS (Masters in Library Science) librarians a library has, the better the library. It might surprise some people that our Library has only two MLS librarians who are part of our team. Today's public libraries are complex multifaceted organizations. Techno gurus, youth advocates, media aficionados, community activists, avid readers, former educators - people with different educational backgrounds and different work experiences bring different skills and different perspectives to our Library. The diversity of our management team makes our Library a better, stronger, and more relevant place to our community.

While I do believe that there is no substitute for a formal library education, be it the mighty MLS from an American Library Association accredited institution or the powerful LTA (Library Technical Assistant) certificate from a respected community college; I also believe that there is no substitute for enthusiasm, great people skills, creativity, ties to the community, and good old fashion experience. I would much rather have a non-degreed person with library experience, who was innovative and willing to do back flips for the good of our Library and community, than a professional MLS librarian who has no people skills and no interest in our Library or community - other than collecting a pay check.

I would encourage anyone who is seriously interested in making libraries their career to pursue the MLS, and if pursuing the MLS is a little too daunting at this stage of life, go for the LTA. This is an extremely exciting time to be a librarian. We are in the process of redefining library services for a new generation of library users. Librarians are the pioneers, the astronauts of cyberspace. You could help determine the fate of libraries, influence the availability of books and information, empower the masses. Is this your destiny? It is up to you to decide.

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director

Friday, December 01, 2006

With Great Power, Also Comes Great Snobbery

Tonight our Library is hosting a talk by comic book artist Don Kramer, current penciler on DC's Detective Comics. Don's visit set me thinking about libraries' and that venerable art form, the comic book. It's true, lately; comics have crept their way into public libraries, but only under their high minded secret identities, "The Graphic Novel." I personally don't know any libraries that subscribe to a monthly comics title. The attitude still remains that comics are for the simple minded and that they don't constitute real productive reading. Let's consider for a moment the impact comics creator Stan Lee has had on our culture. For starters, he co-created Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, Daredevil and legions more. I'd like to know what other writer has had more of his characters featured in their own movies. If movies are not high minded enough, a Spider-Man quote written by Lee is on a plaque outside the Rhode Island Attorney General's office, "With great power, also comes great responsibility." I sure want my Attorney General to keep that in mind! I'll admit, I loved and still love comics. I think their impact on me was all positive. By the time I was twelve years old I knew what "doppelganger" and "verisimilitude" meant. Do you? I learned those words in "simple minded" comics. In primary school I was in the advanced reading class because of comics, though my teacher wouldn't acknowledge it. Reading and vocabulary isn't the only positive impact comics have had on me. Because, of Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, and John Byrne, I taught myself how to do this:

I'm not sure who I'd be without comics; though I am sure I don't want to know.

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director