Tag Archives: community

Transparency. Radically simple.

Read this article and more in WeveLibraries are in the business of change, making small and big changes to services, programmes, spaces, collections. However, often these changes are made behind the scenes, without much involvement of the community.

Is transparency a core customer expectation in your library?

Can your customers easily get the answers they want and need about a library’s services, collections, policies, programmes, funding and outputs? Do you, or could you, easily share the story of the statistical data you routinely collect – from membership numbers, to collection sizes, to circulation figures, to numbers of programme attendees. Is this type of information routinely shared and distributed to your community, not just to your funding agencies?

What about also sharing the quirkier and more interesting data with your community? Share the unusual and more meaningful data from your community, instead of focusing on the overall numbers.

Can you tell the story of your average library user? Who are they? What do they borrow? When do they visit the library? What services do they use most often?

Can you tell the story of your most prolific borrower of your community? How many items does your most frequent user borrow? What types of items do they borrow?

Can you tell the story of your non-member library users? What do you know about the people who use your library but who aren’t actually members? They might still access services, programmes, materials, but they aren’t often “counted” in your statistics because they don’t appear on your membership database. How can you tell their stories if you are only focused on the data?

It comes back to the question of why you collect the data in the first place. Being clear about what data you collect, and why, is about being transparent with your community. If you collect the statistical data to demonstrate your measureable value to your funders, because that is what they need to make decisions, then be honest and tell your community that is why you collect the data.

The 6 statements for The Usable Library are radically simple and transparent. Being interested in your library’s customers is key. Could you tell the story of your community differently? Not based on measurable statistics and numbers, but based on community stories.

Can you demonstrate how many customers have been able to find a job, complete their studies, trace their family tree, undertake research, secure funding for their community project, start a business, learn new skills, simply by being a member of your library’s community?

These stories can’t always be told purely by the numbers. It involves asking your community to share their stories with you. It is about asking your communities to open up about their role of the library in their lives.

Identify someone who uses your physical space on a regular basis, and ask them if they would like a coffee and to tell their story. Be honest about what you want. You want to know more about them, and about how they use the library. You want to know what you could do to improve things.

Invite people to share their ideas about making it better. It might be the layout of the space doesn’t work for people with mobility issues. It might be that you shift the start time of your story time program by half an hour to accommodate that many parents have to drop off older children at a school that is further away. It might be that your students want more, not less, quiet study space.

Transparency about how and when and where and why we do what we do in libraries is at the core of our existence. Could your community benefit from knowing more about the decision making processes that typically take place behind the scenes in libraries?

For example, If you cancel a digital subscription, how do you communicate your decision making process to your customers? Do you have a clear checklist of criteria against which you make decisions? What would happen if you shared this with your community? Invite them into the decision making process by being transparent about what you do. They might make suggestions about the validity of your decision making process, so be open to the discussion to improve the process.

Sharing your decision making process with your frontline staff is also important, as they are the ones who will field the question from customers about the decisions you make. Withholding information from staff is withholding information from our community.

Why do we limit the number of holds per customer?

Why do we charge from premium services?

How do we set the ratio of items per number of requests?

Why is the key word behind being transparent.

Answering why can be hard if we aren’t prepared to be open to discussion, and be honest and transparent about our practices.

What if we truly considered all suggestions for change, and looked at implementing some of the seemingly smaller suggestions, and aim for a culture of ongoing, consistent change. Sharing the reasons for change, and the results of change.

By implementing regular incremental changes, we can aim towards a different service model in five years, which is easier to achieve in small steps than a radical shift all in one go.

Identify some of the most common “complaints” (also known as feedback) from customers and staff about library services. Which parts of your services or collections are most frustrating for your customers? Is it the charges? Is the lack of being able to tailor the services to what they want or need? Ask for their input on ways to improve your services.

Is it the jargon used? If you need to explain the terms used in your signage, maybe you need to change the terminology. Simplify the language to be understood by the majority, not the minority.

Is it cost of borrowing? If you need to raise a percentage of your annual operating costs, then be honest with your community about the amount you are expected to cover through charges. Invite them to offer suggestions on how you could achieve this in a fair and equitable way. Ask if they agree that those who want “preferential” treatment could pay a premium to be at the front of the holds queue. Be open about the expected total income that you need to bring in annually, and ask for their input into ways to grow your income stream instead of charging for services.

Is it the difficulty in getting hold of items in accessible formats? If the cost is prohibitive as an individual institution, could you partner with other organisations to build a larger shared collection?

Is it the different length of borrowing times for different materials? Ask yourself what might be the impact of with implementing one single borrowing period for all materials, or implementing a policy of an indefinite check out period until someone else requested an item.

Or could you find a different way to assist customers to identify what is due back when?

Does your library list items on the checkout receipt alphabetically by title or in the order they were issued? What if you changed the way you laid our items on your checkout receipts? Reorganise the list of items, clearly identifying which items are due back first, rather than the order in which they were issued or as an alphabetically ordered tile list. Be clear, make the due date bigger than the title and the author. Aaron Schmidt clearly demonstrated this in a 2012 Library Journal column – Consider the Checkout Slip – but I have never heard of a library who has actually done it. Is it because we are afraid we’ll lose revenue collected from overdue fines than if we focus on creating an environment where the community returns the items on time?

Treat everything you do as a trial. Share the results with your communities, and that includes your professional community too. Do you know of other libraries using the same library management system (LMS) as your library? Other than using the same LMS, what else could you learn from one another? Even if it appears that your community demographics aren’t comparable, in sharing the small scale trials that you have undertaken, you can learn and adapt from one another. What works for one community could be tweaked and adapted to also meet the needs for another community.

Could you share your cataloguing expertise? Could you share your promotional expertise? Could you share your programming expertise? Could you set up a monthly online meeting session for staff to share their knowledge and experiences? An online lunchtime session, over a cup of coffee, sharing collective knowledge about what you have tried, what you’d like to try and also sharing tales of what worked, and what didn’t with your community.

Developing a culture of ownership and transparency about is admitting to not having all the answers, but a willingness to trial new ideas. Being upfront about your philosophy behind the small scale trials means owning up to looking at ways to make small changes which add up to big differences. It might be that you and your community have identified some clear big picture goals about what the library will be in five or ten or fifteen years time, and you want to work towards those goals, with small achievable steps along the way.

Be transparent about why you do what you do.

Open up to your communities and walk alongside one another into the future of libraries.

Open the door to uncomfortable spaces

Read this article and more in WeveWhile some people actively seek out the new, the unusual, the different, the unknown, for most people, finding comfort in the familiar and the known is what soothes the soul. It reaffirms our worldview, and it reaffirms the space in which we have created our lives. However, it can also isolate us when we experience something that doesn’t conform to the experience of those around us.

In the same way that eating something unfamiliar can be mentally & physically challenging, opening up to the unknown spaces of our understanding and learning about something unfamiliar can be confronting. It can be confronting to learn that life isn’t as we imagined it to be. However, in learning that others also experience this uncomfortableness, we learn to acknowledge that we are not alone in the uncomfortable spaces.

Libraries are used by people. 

Libraries exist for people. 

Libraries are the intersection of people.

But what do we truly know about the people who use our libraries? What do we know about the demographics of our communities? What do we know about the stories of our communities? What do we know about the lives of our communities? How can we better reflect the shared experiences of our communities?

Can we find a way to shift our focus from the differences in our communities to instead unite our communities through common experiences, to show that it is these uncomfortable experiences that can occur in all parts of communities? How can librarians open the door to the uncomfortable spaces that exist in our communities?

Life isn’t always easy. Life isn’t always fair. Life isn’t always what we want it to be. Life isn’t always want we need it to be. It is the uncomfortable spaces in people’s lives that can often show our commonality, our humanness and our place in the world.

Librarians can open the door to these uncomfortable spaces. Librarians don’t need to solve the world’s problems, librarians don’t need to change the world, but librarians can make the world a less uncomfortable place.

Instead of fearing the uncomfortable spaces that confront us, we can acknowledge the reality of the global financial crisis, of redundancies, of trauma, of illness, of being rejected. Libraries can facilitate these community conversations. Libraries can open the door to the uncomfortable spaces. Libraries can show their communities that they are not alone.

Libraries can be kind. Libraries can be honest about the uncomfortable reality for people. Libraries can be a place to face up to, or escape from, the reality of uncomfortableness. Libraries can allow people to share their experiences with other community members. Libraries can be a place to begin the conversation of connection with the community. Ask your community to share their experiences.

Ask your community: when you faced cancer, what book made a difference in your life?

Ask your community: when you lost your job, what resources did you need most to carry on?

Ask your community: when you didn’t get the scholarship needed to go to university, what resources did you access to find a new direction?

Imagine a curated collection of materials in a public library: Cancer sucks.

Stories of hope. Stories of death. eResources for medical jargon deciphering. Links to key support agencies. Stories for the young. Stories of rituals. Stories of loss. Stories of family. Identify the role of genetics. Describe the role of knowing your family history. Discuss the impact of science, religion, faith, community in people’s experiences. There are so many angles to explore. Offer your community a way through the uncomfortable world of cancer and medical trauma.

Imagine a curated collection of materials in an academic library: Being unknown, unpopular and unpublished.

Stories of alternative ways to get published. Stories of using mobile technology to reach out to other academic rebels. Stories of PhD whispering. Stories of honing presentation skills. Stories of sourcing funding from unusual places.

Imagine a curated collection of materials in a school library: Be the best misfit you can be.

High school dropouts. Dyslexics. Geniuses. Everyone is good, mediocre and not-so-good, at something. Find your tribe online and offline. Celebrate talents in music, art, food, sport, writing, reading, hiking, biking, or tinkering. Show teenagers that the world beyond high school does exist. It’s wild, crazy and exciting. And it does get better.

For all librarians, one of the biggest unspoken topics for our communities is the mental health of communities. Don’t go at this one alone. Partner with medical and social agencies to curate the resources. Follow the lead of the University of Otago’s ‘Books on Prescription’ model [1], or Puke Ariki’s ‘Turn the Page’ initiative [2], or Bay of Plenty Polytechnic’s realignment of learning spaces based on an holistic approach to student services [3]. Communities don’t leave their lives at the door when they walk into libraries, they bring all of themselves.

Libraries can share their curated collections, so that we don’t re-invent the wheel all the time, but we can tailor the design of the wheel for our communities. Share the programmes. Share the online resources. Share the collection ideas. Working collectively and collaboratively as a profession means providing better services for our customers.

Find a way forward into the uncomfortable spaces for our community. It might be uncomfortable to open the door on these uncomfortable experiences, but ignoring doesn’t make it go away. Let’s not ignore the uncomfortable spaces in our communities. Let’s invite the conversation and given our communities an opportunity to find the connection with others in the community.


[1] University of Otago Library. Books on Prescription Collection – “to support the teaching and learning of students in health professions, and for the well-being of the wider University community”. http://otago.libguides.com/bop

[2] Puke Ariki. http://www.pukeariki.com/Libraries/Turn-the-Page

[3] Rowe, L., & Heke, J. 2013. Paddling The Waters, Our Journey To Ako Ātea. http://www.lianza.org.nz/resources/conference-proceedings/2013/paddling-waters-our-journey-ako-%C4%81tea

Travel to new places without leaving home.

Read this article and more in WeveJust as the Japanese fishing industry wants to change the way that customers consume their product, libraries can also play a role in changing how the community consumes information. Libraries can tailor the consumption experience for a community, giving them something new to try, to see what happens to their taste buds.

There are no guarantees that dedicating significant amounts of research, time and money towards developing a new consumption habit will result in changing anything at all. However, the opportunity to trial something new has given the Japanese fishing industry an opportunity to push the boundaries of “you are what you eat” to an unexplored level.

If we turn this lens to libraries and their communities, what opportunities await? Take a look at your community, take a look at your library, take a look at your collections, and take a look at your services.

What new information consumption experiences could there be?

Is there a way to curate a travel experience which opens up a new information for your community offering them the chance to explore another worldview, while also introducing diverse collections and services to your community? Could you invite your community to collectively explore the world without leaving the country, opening up new destinations and encouraging new experiences of different countries?

Find a world map. Put it up on the wall (physical and digital). Crowd source the “destination” of your next community engagement programme. Ask your community which country they would most like to visit. Allow your community one month to respond.

Explain that you will be putting together six events, one per month, focussed on the most popular destination. You might also want to ask what they would most like to know about this country, for example, language, literature, cuisine, travel tips, history, science, art, music, movies. However, it might be enough for the community to simply pick the country, and leave the rest of the programme as a mystery to entice people to join in.

Give yourself one month to curate a programme of six monthly topics focussed on this destination. Dig deep into your physical collection. Dig deep into your digital collection.

Connect the dots for your customers.

Allow the stories of the country to be told and shared. Encourage your community to learn to see a country through a new lens of language and stories. What does a fictional story set in that country tell us about the life and experiences of the country? How does this correlate with a recent travelogue? Compare and contrast the experiences of ex-pats with new migrants. Find the commonalities, find the differences, and reflect on the story of the country told by the people of the country.

Collate a list of twenty-five books. Publish the list two or three months before a book group evening. Ask people to join in for a discussion on those books, not expecting that everyone has read the same titles, but that they come to share their experiences of the stories they did read. Discuss the experience in the stories from the books.

You might find that you can make contact with a library in your chosen country (although, depending on the destination, the language barrier and/or resourcing for that country might preclude this). They may be able to assist in identifying popular authors, popular titles, or classic authors. It might also open up the opportunity for cross-country conversations.

One event focussed on the practicalities of travelling to this country may draw in a different audience, giving them an opportunity to explore the logistics of planning a trip to this country, from how to find information about visas online, medical and/or vaccinations needs, language, what to pack, cultural expectations (tips, appropriate clothing, religious considerations). Invite people in the community who have travelled to, or who have lived in, this country to join this discussion.

Delve into online image collections to find unusual and unknown images of people, countryside, cities, sports, famous events. You could also showcase how to access online newspapers and/or magazines from this country.

Opening up the world for your community encourages them to open up their worldviews. There are a number of other areas that you could incorporate into your programme. Explore the regional food variations. Coordinate a movie night, exploring classic films from that country. Find TED talks from or about the country. Customers with an interest in family history might benefit from a focussed session on breaking through brick walls for resources related to that country. There might be specific art forms that are “known” from that country, from silk weaving, to tapa cloths, to batik, to sand paintings. Encourage your customers to read, watch, listen, eat, play – from adults to children, there are many ways to adapt and expand the theme.

Allow your community the experience of travel without leaving home. Encourage your community to bring their own findings to each monthly discussion – whether this is a facilitated face-to-face meet-up or an online meet-up.

By setting your services against the backdrop of a “travel programme”, you can introduce people to services and resources that they might not otherwise have found, such as online newspapers, family history resources, language learning apps. Once your six month programme is finished, find a new country to explore!

If we are what we consume, then our worldview can change as we consume new and different information.

Afford your community the opportunity to travel to world, even if they don’t have the money to physically go right now, you can open up new doorways to travel without leaving the comfort of home.

Don’t make me click #23mobilethings

We’re in the penultimate week of #23Mobilethings. It’s gone much quicker than I thought it might, and I’ve discovered lots of new things along the way. This is my final post, and Sally has asked me about vendor apps to access library content.

As a library customer, I use a range vendor apps depending on which library system I am using to access content (yes I do have multiple library cards!). Some apps are great, seamlessly allowing me to access content without endless clicking & navigating. Others are … well … downright frustrating & I only persevere if I *really* need the content. It’s almost as though no-one ever actually tested the app before they released it to the market!

So I turned my thinking to what kind of testing we, as libraries, do when considering vendor apps. How much time & energy do we actually dedicate to breaking, testing, tweaking, evaluating a so-called “fabulous new spangly app” from our vendors? And how many of us actually ask our customers to test & rate these apps? Not many, if any, is my gut reaction, but I would love to be proven wrong on that front. Getting testing done is hard enough in-house, let alone with non-employees. I know, it’s hard.

Could we develop better partnerships with vendors to make things better? Could we ask our customers to suggest which content they would like to see apps, or improved apps, for and work with our vendors to make that happen? I’d certainly like to try.

So to wrap up our #23MobileThings conversation, I am going to ask Sally to tell me a story.

Reality Librarianship 2013 – Community Centred Learning – the chalkle experience

I’m looking forward to talking with Jo Ransom from Te Takere on Tuesday 11th June about the recent launch of chalkle° Horowhenua.

I’ve been intrigued about chalkle° since a friend in Wellington told me about it. I thought it was an interesting alternative to Adult Education classes, which have traditionally run through local high schools or organisations like WEA. At the time, I thought it would be a good fit with libraries. Te Takere is the first public library to launch its own chalkle° channel.

But how does this new model of community-led learning actually work?

chalkle° flips the traditional learning model, and its tagline “six degrees of education” gives a clue. The audience (aka the local community) is asked to step up & share their passion with other community members – classes can be taught or attended by anyone. It’s about “connecting people who want to learn with people who want to teach”.

Classes are demand-drive, teachers offer up their knowledge & passion, and learners join in. The range of classes offered in Horowhenua demonstrates the wealth of knowledge in the community that has been unlocked through chalkle°.

I’ll be keen to find out more from Jo Ransom, so join us on Tuesday 11th June at 7.30pm. Bring your questions and ideas along this year’s first Reality Librarianship session. Register here. And also please check your technology before the session.