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:

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

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.

Support Your Local Library – Its Easy to Do

Do you know how your public library is funded? Most of them survive on revenue from property tax, sales tax, and fees. While most people assume that they will always be there we have seen library systems lose revenue and reduce services in the face of broader economic downturns. As tax funded institutions public libraries rely on the support of local, state and federal elected officials. This makes the advocacy of library card holders essential to ensure their future.

This time of year is especially important for your voice to be heard. Many governments are in their budget planning process for the 2022 fiscal year. Speaking to your elected officials early on in the budget process can make a huge difference. For example in my home state of Florida the State Legislature opened its annual session last week. At stake is funding for the State Aid to Libraries Grant, Public Library Construction Grants, and the five Multi-type Library Cooperatives. To support this push, the Florida Library Association put together an advocacy campaign for increased funding to support libraries as they assist with economic recovery and advancing education. At the Federal level, the American Rescue Plan increases funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services to assist libraries of all types, including schools.

Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

One organization that advocates for public libraries across the country is EveryLibrary. They have made a huge impact in library referendums through fundraising and expanding awareness. As explained on their web site:

EveryLibrary is the first and only national political action committee for libraries. We are a gold-rated non-profit organization that helps public, school, and college libraries secure new funding through tax and advisory referendum, bonds elections, negotiations with school boards, and advocacy at municipal, state, and federal levels. Our primary goal is to ensure stable funding and access to libraries for generations to come.

EveryLibrary carries out its mission through the generosity of its donors. I am a proud monthly supporter of EveryLibrary. If you want to ensure libraries thrive I encourage you to consider offering financial support for this hard working organization.

At the end of the day, don’t forget that the majority of library funding happens at the local level. Send your Mayor and Board of County Commissioners an email or a quick call to share how important libraries are to you and your community. Sometimes all it takes is a few passionate voices to make a difference. Libraries exist for the betterment of the communities they serve. Make sure your voice is heard now to ensure their future.

When Will Amazon eBooks Come to the Library?

Libraries and publishers have had a long complicated history over access to eBooks. Libraries routinely pay multiple times more per copy for each title than the regular public, face limited availability for the number they can order, and have their copies expire after a fixed number of uses or a set time frame. However, did you know that one of the biggest eBook publishers in the world still refuses to sell their eBooks to libraries? That publisher is someone everyone knows very well: Amazon.com.

Recent developments indicate that pressure is building to change this situation. An article in The Hill found that many organizations and even elected officials are working to convince Amazon to change their practice. It might be having some positive effect.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company is in “active discussions” with the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to make its e-books available for library distribution.

The company expects “to be testing a number of different models” early next year, the spokesperson added.

“We believe libraries serve a critical purpose in communities across the country, and our priority is to make Amazon Publishing eBooks available in a way that ensures a viable model for authors, as well as library patrons,” the spokesperson said.

Amazon declined to provide details regarding pricing or the lengths of licensing deals it plans to test in 2021.

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

If Amazon does not create a viable model on its own, it may face legislative pressure to do so.

Two states have proposed legislation that would seek to regulate Amazon’s ban on selling e-books to libraries. State senators in Rhode Island and New York proposed bills this year that would require publishers to offer licenses for electronic books to libraries under reasonable terms.

A spokesperson for state Sen. Rachel May (D), sponsor of the New York bill, said the senator will pursue the legislation in the next legislative session.

“New York’s public libraries are one of the state’s greatest assets. In order to fulfill their democratic function, librarians must be able to access the materials their clients need on fair and equitable terms,” May said in a statement.

Read more about the current status of the Amazon eBook situation.