Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Love Goes Out the Window

My grandma use to say, "Love goes out the window, when bills come in the door." She was a wise woman. Apparently her wisdom can be applied not only to personal relationships, but to our profession as well. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed the fact that MLS librarians are leaving public libraries in favor of higher paying jobs in the private sector. I have heard a wide variety of reasons why people decided to pursue a Masters degree in library science - a love of reading and learning, and wanting to make a difference are the two I hear most frequently. Librarians know that information is vital, it is power, it is life changing, and it can be life saving. We know that the people at the greatest risk, with the most disadvantages are the ones that truly need great public libraries and librarians. People don't pursue an MLS to get rich quick. While money may not be a motivator, it is a necessity. Our Library has lost several excellent staff members to other jobs which pay more, offer better benefits, better hours, etc...These people loved working here, hated to go, and I hated to see them go. I wish them well, but more than anything, I wish we could have afforded to keep them.

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Green with Envy

Ok, it's official. I have the coolest job around. Last week our set up to do green screen chroma-keying arrived. Chroma-keying is the process by which a background can be inserted into a video digitally. It's the basic method that everyone from the weather guy to George Lucas uses. Believe it or not, we got the entire setup for around $300. Thanks to Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State and State Librarian, we got cool video editing software through the Project Next Generation grant; that was the high ticket item. We just had to buy the stuff to make our little mobile studio. The picture above shows Youth Services Supervisor Camille Rose and me ready for our close ups. Our first use of the technology will be to create a welcome video for our soon to be released Teenzone website. Camille and I are going to be inserted right into the home page. You can be certain I'll be blogging on that when it's done. The possibilities for promotional videos make me dizzy!

Steve Bertrand
Assistant Director

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No Senior Citizen Left Behind

Before there was "Ask.com" there was "Ask Uncle Don." I started Library School in 1989 - in the dark days before the Internet was even a shadow of what it is today. In those days, all library students took a basic Reference class where the instructor would give us a list of ten to twenty esoteric questions and we would try to find the answers before the next week's class. Whenever I was completely stumped, I could rattle off the question to my Uncle Don and inevitably he would know enough about the topic that he would steer me in the right direction of where to look for the complete answer. He is not a librarian, but he would have been an awesome one. He is the smartest person I know, the reason why I am a librarian, and why I am the Director of the Kankakee Public Library.

You probably know my Uncle, or someone just like him. He is an avid reader and life long library users. He's meticulous about returning his books on time and has been known to challenge a library policy or two. To him a card catalog means real paper cards filed in wooden drawers, and the print version of Encyclopedia Britannica still rules as the supreme source of knowledge. He understands the value of the web, but doesn't really trust it. He typifies many of our core library patrons.

Every time our Library produces a new newsletter, like a little kid bringing home a report card, I bring a copy of it to my Uncle for his approval. In our latest addition of the Mane Event, we have a brief blurb about Library 2.0 and all of our Library's techie initiatives. My Uncle questioned me about all of them.

At more than one library meeting I have heard colleagues make statements that their patrons are not tech savvy, that their users barely know how to use a computer. Why invest the time and energy into Library 2.0 initiatives when their patrons are struggling with using a mouse? For two reasons: 1) To reach new users. 2) To educate our traditional users in new technologies. We need to offer services that appeal to the next generation of library users who have never known a world without the web. Our podcasts and vodcasts, rss feeds, online catalog and general presence on the web allow us to meet Generation Y in their virtual neighborhood. But the second reason is maybe even more important. We are educating our community, heightening awareness, assisting individuals to bravely take baby steps into this new digital world. Being a life long learner is no longer an optional scholarly pursuit, it is a matter of survival. I want the people that the Kankakee Public Library serves to do more than survive; I want our community to thrive!

Cindy Fuerst
Kankakee Public Library Director

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Podcasting: What's it for?

Surveying other Libraries recently who do podcasting (there still aren't very many) or other streaming audio or video, I noticed that the preponderance of them use the technology as an advertising tool. In my last post, I moaned about how libraries don't advertise enough, so I'm not going to fault them for trying to get their message out to as many people as possible. Still, when I set up our podcast, it never occurred to me to use it as a support system for other library activities. The KPL Podcasts stand on their own, like author talks or Circulation functions or Reference. Since our podcast goes out not just to our service area, but to the entire world, they provide an opportunity to create a positive image for our city in ways none of our other outreach methods can. Consequently, we want to create content that folks in Atlanta or San Diego or even London might be interested in hearing. It reminds me of a John Lennon quote, "Think globally, act locally."

Friday, January 05, 2007

We've Come A Long Way Baby

January 5th marks our third anniversary in our new Merchant Street home. The last three years have been extraordinary. We have received national and international attention for our unique private/public building partnership, as well as for our innovative services and programs. While our library and staff have been recognized for their efforts, very little kudos has gone to the real stars behind our success - the people of Kankakee.

A public library mirrors the community it serves. Kankakeeans have a long history of supporting public libraries. Our Library was established in 1897 and like the City we serve, we have had our ups and downs. Less than ten years ago, Kankakee ranked dead last by the Places Rated Almanac. Our City was in serious debt; we had a high crime rate, high unemployment, and no public transportation. During this same time our Library was located in a sadly rundown 100 year old building which we had long ago out grown. We had no meeting rooms; duct tape held the carpet together; out of order signs were everywhere, tarps covered the reference books to protect them from the leaking roof, and not surprisingly dismal user statistics. One library professional who was working with our Library Board around this time called our Library "a dump." Ouch.

Our City and our Library have come along way since those dark days. In many ways it feels like I have been the director of two completely different libraries. In the old building, we were always reactive, now our Library is proactive. Where once we spent a considerable amount of time addressing building maintenance issues and mishaps; we now spend time planning for our Library's future and the role it will play in our community. We are exploring new technologies, implementing new programs and services to better meet the needs of our current and potential new users.

The new Library was a piece in the puzzle to revitalizing downtown Kankakee. Over the last three years we have been able to attract droves of new library users to downtown; the perception that downtown Kankakee is not safe has been shattered - repeatedly. As I look out the shiny windows of our Library, I see a bustling downtown with new streetlights, new sidewalks, new shops, banks, office buildings, a satellite college campus and . . . buses. The view looks good from here. Our future looks bright.

So here is to the people of Kankakee! It has been my privilege to be your library director these past eleven years. I have learned so much and have worked with so many extraordinary people. The biggest lesson that I learned is that when a community pulls together, anything is possible.

Cindy Fuerst, Kankakee Library Director

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Humility is Overrated

In talks I've had and articles I've read recently, I've noticed an odd characteristic in librarians. They seem to have developed an embarrassment, almost a shame, about using marketing strategies to promote their services. For example, Jessamyn West posted on her blog Librarian.net an entry titled "I believe there are times when self-promotion is helpful". Why the timidity? I believe the time when self-promotion is helpful is ALL the time. I'm not paid by the people of Kankakee to be humble. I'm paid to talk about how great our library is to everyone, everywhere, in every media. Some have called the "Library 2.0" catch phrase empty and useless. Maybe it is empty and useless, like "fly the friendly skies", "have it your way" or "just do it". But these empty phrases sold millions of airline tickets, hamburgers and sneakers respectively. We librarians like to associate ourselves with the academia that places itself above the unclean world of advertising. However, college professors are not competing with MTV, PS3 and YouTube for the attention of their audience. As Michael Porter pointed out in BiblioTech episode #2 (self-promotion intended) a catchphrase is simply shiny wrapping paper, without exciting content you have nothing. He's right. However, I think he'd agree, if you have great content and don't push it out to the public using smart publicity strategies, your services will go the way of beta video recorders, a great product that got its brains bashed in by the brasher competition.

Stephen Bertrand
Assistant Director