Libraries Service for the Incarcerated

This past week I wrote an article about public library service for the incarcerated that was posted to Public Libraries Online. The article looked at the work being done by three major North American library systems to serve a population that is physically unable to come to their buildings. Below is the start of the article.

Libraries have been providing service to the incarcerated for many decades. While this past year has challenged the ability to serve the general public, many library systems continue to reach out to jail and prison populations. Here are examples from three large library systems that reflect the variety of creative programs and the outstanding efforts libraries are making in this work, despite the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

St. Louis Public Library

St. Louis Public Library has been very active serving the local imprisoned population under Director Waller McGuire. St. Louis has provided paperback materials for many years both to the adult population and the Juvenile Justice Center. In years past they provided programming within the Juvenile Center.

To learn more about the program in St. Louis, and then read on to discover what is happening in Salt Lake County and Toronto, please visit Public Libraries Online.

Libraries are an “investment that’s well worth it”

Those who work and frequent public libraries are well aware of the value they provide to their local communities. However, one challenge public libraries face is getting awareness of their value out beyond their core customers. So it is always great to see a national publication or program talk about the positive role that public libraries play in their community.

On a recent episode of NPR’s Marketplace, host David Brancaccio interviewed reporter Chris Farrell about the return on investment that libraries provide to their local residents.

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Brancaccio: Well, do we know that? It’s a decent return on investment?

Farrell: Well, there’s this recent study — this one grabbed my attention — [by] three economists [from] Montana State University, Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Miami University. And they calculate by some measures a healthy return on investment. So among their findings, library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkout of items by 21% and total library visits by 21%. Now, OK, that’s interesting, but increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts.

Read or listen to the rest of the interview online at the Marketplace web site.

Are We Reaching the End of Library DVD Collections?

DVDs have been a mainstay of library collections for the past twenty years. These little plastic discs are often the most borrowed items every year. However, as with all technology, times change to potentially render them obsolete. In this case the rise of online streaming services threatens to push DVD collections to the trash bin alongside the VHS cassette and music CD.

Last month I surveyed members of the Urban Library Council to gain insight into the future of DVD collections. The results of my findings were posted in a new article on the Public Libraries Online web site, a publication of PLA. Below is an except from the article.

An informal survey of over a dozen Urban Library Council member libraries conducted for this article shows a more complicated picture. Based on checkouts, demand for DVDs across North American libraries has dropped. For example Migell Acosta, Director of San Diego County Library (CA) reported that they “Have seen a gradual decline in DVD/Blu-Ray circulation over the past 5 years or so, but not as steep as physical music and audiobooks.” 

This drop in borrowing has local variation. In Pima County Public Library (AZ), Director Amber Mathewson noted that demand remains strong. “In one of our more affluent neighborhoods the children’s DVDs were overflowing …. Our hypothesis was that neighborhood has switched to Disney+, but other locations in our county are still circing DVDs pretty heavily.”

The situation is different in Johnson County Public Library (IN). Kelley Gilbert, Collection Services Manager reported they may need more DVDs. “DVD circulation has been really steady throughout the pandemic, and our patrons are always requesting titles that we’ve managed to miss.”

To find out more, including the perceived diversity benefits of maintaining DVD collections, please read the rest of the article.

Will Libraries Get Credit for their COVID-19 Response?

As vaccines are now widely available and many people have had their first shot or both, life across the United States is returning to something like pre-COVID days. This includes libraries. In Florida, library service has been amongst the most available in the country, such as The Palm Beach County Library System which has been open for over a year! Other libraries across the nation have only recently opened their doors. However, that did not mean they were on the sidelines. Throughout the crisis, library staff were constantly working to help our public in this time of need.

In a recent article on CNN, public libraries across the country were profiled for the great work they did to assist their communities during the pandemic. One example was the work of Ramses Escobedo of the San Fransisco Public Library.

For more than a year, however, Escobedo hasn’t been lending out books. Instead, he’s worked with a Covid-19 contact tracer team for San Francisco’s Department of Public Health.

Covid has affected American schools, hospitals and businesses. But libraries — which often serve people who have nowhere else to turn — have responded in unprecedented ways. Like many of us, they’ve had to pivot, going from providing extensive in-person services and programming onsite in branches to quickly establishing virtual lectures and classes, and contact-less material pickup, as well as services that were strictly Covid-related like Escobedo’s assignment.

As a city worker, Escobedo’s contract states he can be activated in an emergency. After his library closed in March of 2020, Escobedo was reassigned to a disaster service detail.

As well as special duties, libraries also took advantage of their position in the community to help people.

In Hartford, Connecticut, some public libraries became Covid-19 vaccine administration sites. Librarians there also cleared obstacles to allow patrons to use outside electrical outlets to charge cell phones. In Leominster, Massachusetts, about 50 miles west of Boston, librarians installed mobile hot spots at the city’s senior and veterans’ centers, both of which have large parking lots, enabling many more people to log onto the Internet.”Anyone can go to the parking lot and connect to the WiFi for free,” Nicole Piermarini, the library’s assistant director told CNN.

Read the rest of the article on CNN to learn other ways that libraries made a difference.

Public Library COVID Restrictions

This week I provided an article for Public Libraries Online regarding the current status of library COVID-19 operating restrictions across the country. Here’s the opening of the piece:

Fourteen months ago the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country. By the beginning of April the vast majority of public library buildings were closed to the public. Over the subsequent months, some libraries dipped their toes into offering curbside checkouts before opening their doors for limited services. Other systems remained stuck in a full closure aside from virtual services. Now that vaccines are available and virus transmission rates are dropping, public library service is largely being restored across the United States, but at vastly different timelines.

To read more about the current operating restrictions in New York, Florida, California, and Missouri, which following recent CDC guidance are fast changing, read the full post on Public Libraries Online.

Understanding the Role of Public Library Directors

Public library directors fill a unique role in their organizations as leaders in both policy and culture. Whether it is a single building rural library to a multi-location big city system, all library directors face a series of similar problems as they strive to keep operations going. Between budgets, politics, policies, and staffing, no two days are the same.

On Tuesday I will be moderating an online discussion with experienced directors who will share their stories about why they chose this career path, its challenges, and their thoughts on the future of the profession. If you are interested in becoming a director, already a director looking for some tips, or simply want to learn more about the role, this is the panel discussion for you. Even if you are not a librarian, the leadership lessons alone will be worth your time.

Joining me on the webinar will be Roberta R. Phillips of the Prince George’s County (MD) Memorial Library System, Mark Williams of the Milton (Ontario) Public Library, Mary Ellen Icaza of the Stark Library (Canton, OH), and Jessica Hudson of the Fairfax County Library (Fairfax, VA). It is hosted by the Public Library Association.

The webinar will take place on Tues. May 18, 2 pm EST. To sign up, please visit the webinar page. Registration is free but space is limited. This panel discussion is organized and hosted by PLA’s Leadership Development Committee.

Federal Support for Public Libraries – How You Can Help!

Do you know how your local public library is funded?

The vast majority of public library funding comes from local revenue, such as property tax. A smaller portion comes from each State government with large variations across the country. It is easy to forget that the Federal government also supports local libraries.  Most of the revenue comes through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) that is distributed to the states through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

This past year IMLS received additional funding outside the usual appropriations process. This first happened with the CARES Act. For example, my library in Palm Beach County received a competitive grant for $24,316 from CARES Act dollars. With the passage of the American Rescue Plan, $200 million more was appropriated to IMLS to support libraries in their COVID relief efforts.  The American Library Association is also advocating for a regular budget appropriation of $206 million for LSTA grants in the next Federal budget year.

You can ask your Federal elected officials to support more funding for LSTA through the ALA engage platform.

Also moving through Congress is the Build America’s Libraries Act.  According to ALA, if passed:

“The Build America’s Libraries Act would fund upgrades to the nation’s library infrastructure to address challenges such as natural disasters, COVID-19, broadband capacity, environmental hazards, and accessibility barriers. This groundbreaking legislation would pave the way for new and improved library facilities in underserved communities across the country. Join us in the effort to support this bill and #BuildLibraries.”

You can contact your local member of Congress and Senators to ask them to support this Act through the ALA engage platform.

To keep track of all these Federal funding streams, please visit the ALA Advocacy and Public Policy pages.

Leadership in Libraries: Observations from the Director’s Seat

Earlier this month I did a presentation for PCI Webinars titled Leadership in Libraries: Observations from the Director’s Seat. Using information gleaned from dozens of interviews with Library Directors over the past seven years, I shared my biggest insights regarding the profession. If you were not able to tune into the training, I have added the script as an article on my web site. Here’s how it starts:

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Right now is the most exciting and challenging time to be a library director.  With new formats of material, a vibrant in person and online communities, and the need for quiet space in the face of a busy world, public libraries are busier than ever.  It is also the most confusing and unsettling time to be a Director.  Between shifting political winds, a global pandemic, and uncertain financial conditions, the future of libraries is highly uncertain.  How library leaders navigate this dynamic environment will determine the future of libraries in the 21st Century.

As a current library director I am engaged in shaping the future of our profession.  To that end I have spent over hundreds of hours during the past seven years talking to other library directors to discover their views on the profession and the institution of libraries.  In this article I will share insights I learned and provide guidance on whether the path of the library director is the right one for you.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Have Less to Do

Our society values more. We are constantly pushed in our careers to gain more responsibility. Commercials continually encourage us to buy more stuff. Having more to do than can be ever be done is seen as a sign of success. However, having more is only good up to a point. After that, having more is actually an impediment to happy and productive life.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Basecamp, wrote about this in their book, It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. They set out to make their company the opposite of how most technology companies operate. No 60-80 hour weeks; no endless meetings; no pressure to perform every day. One of their fundamental operating principles is that having less to do is better than more. As they wrote on page 172-3 of their book:

Management scholar Peter Drucker nailed it decades ago when he said, “There is thing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all!” Bam!

At Basecamp we’ve become ruthless about eliminating either work that doesn’t need to be done or work we don’t want to do.

I have recently appreciated that eliminating extra items from my work life is the best way to become productive. Just as it is easier to juggle one ball instead of ten, having only a few top projects is easier to manage than dozens of low value projects. I often think back to a conversation with Pat Losinski, CEO of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. When I asked him for advice on being a Library Director, one thing he shared was, “Focus only on what the Director can do.” By that he meant don’t get caught up doing work that other people could perform. Do only the things that are your own responsibility, then delegate or eliminate everything else.

To that end, how can you find ways to purge your workload? After all, the less you have to do, the better you will do what you are doing.