30 December 2009

Stuck in the Age of the Source

Reference service has always been about finding the exact information to answer a question. But since the advent of the Web and search engines, there's been a sea-change in the method for finding that information. Problem is, a lot of us (on both sides) are unaware of the change. Our unawareness is making our jobs harder, and making the library's resources more opague to patrons.

In the Olden Days, before the Web and search engines, the key to being a good reference librarian was to know your sources. Picking the right source was essential to getting the answer. (If you look very closely, you'll see that one of the behaviors correlated with reference success is still "finds answer in first source consulted.")

It's hard for librarians who have grown up with the Web to appreciate how important it was to be familiar with sources. Take a simple example: Which U.S. President was the first to speak on the radio? Now before you hit Google, let's pretend that there's a power failure and you have no internet access. I guarantee you, the answer is in your branch: what is it?

If you are aware of the reference book Famous First Facts, you will be able to find out that Warren G. Harding. If you aren't, you'll still be looking when the power comes back.

Another one (remember, no internet): When was Hurricane Agnes? You could scour the weather books, or you could look in Chase's Calendar and find it was June 14-23, 1972.

The point here is not that knowing the proper reference source can help when the power goes out. The point is that in the past, knowing the proper reference source was all there was. The source wasn't just the first thing, it was the only thing.

Today we don't need to worry about being familiar with sources. We have search engines, which keep up with the sources much better than we ever could. Today, the source isn't the first thing, second thing, or often even the tenth thing; the first thing is knowing how to structure your search terms.

We are no longer in the Age of Source; we are now in the Age of Search.

Trouble is, some folks who came up during the Age of Source have not made the adjustment. Some of them are not even aware that there's an adjustment to be made.

We still train our new people as if we were in the Age of Source. We have a Core Reference Collection of the "best sources," and our new folks spend incredible amounts of time familiarizing themselves with the Core Sources. Enormous amounts of time and effort go into updating and maintaining the Core Reference training assignments. I don't know who sits there correcting page numbers and writing new questions every time a print source is updated, but I have to wonder if their time couldn't be better spent.

We treat databases and websites as if Source was the only thing. First of all, on our website we separate paid databases from recommended websites...to enormous confusion among staff and patrons. Imagine that someone asks you which President was first to appear on television -- and your immediate response is to wonder whether the answer will be in a paid database or on a free website?

Second, click on our "databases" menu option. Go ahead, click on it. What do you get? An alphabetical listing of databases. Talk about putting the Source first! Before you can even start to find the answer, you have to know the bleeding name of the database.

Who arranges things that way? Those who are stuck in the Age of Source.

Is it any wonder that most patrons turn first to Google, or that they accept the first answer they find (usually in Wikipedia)? Reference librarians, be honest: except for the few databases you use all the time, don't you usually go to Google first?

So what would be better? For training, sure, review sources: but concentrate much more on search strategies. Stop quizzing people on print sources and endlessly updating those quizzes. If the power goes out, we're just going to have to muddle through.

One the website, let's eliminate the distinction between databases and recommended websites.

And if not an alphabetical listing of databases, then what? Ideally, we would have what patrons expect: a search box, which would use some kind of magical federated searching to select the right databases and websites for the questioner. I know that's beyond our means right now, but fortunately a second-best solution already exists: a subject index to databases and recommended websites. Staff and patrons shouldn't have to be intimately familiar with the sources; they should concentrate on the question.

Let's make a subject listing of databases and websites the default. The alphabetical index can still be there, just don't make it the first thing that comes up.

The Age of Source is over. Except for power failures...and during a power failure, you can't access the databases and recommended websites anyway.

The Age of Search is here. Has been here for a long time. It's a new millennium, a new century, and we're coming up on a new decade.

When will we give up the past and join the present?

23 December 2009


Here's one of the ornaments that I gave to staff here at BCY. These were designed & made by my husband Thomas Atkinson (@darthmarmalade on Twitter). They're acrylic, about 3 x 2 inches. You can't really make it out in the picture, but they are laser-etched with the inscription "BCY HAPPY HOLIDAYS 2009" (except they don't say "BCY," they have the real branch abbreviation).

Some were green, some were red. There's also a single black one, which I kept for myself.

12 December 2009

Jabberwabby or Something

I just found these notes that I jotted down following a staff-patron interaction from sometime in the 1990s. This was too good not to share.

(And yes, I do know who the "Clueless Wonder" was. The person is no longer associated with our system, but I'm not going to give the name.)


I set the scene. Don is standing at his station, placing holds for a large thousand-year-old woman ("Grandma") who wanted every book that Oprah had ever featured, discussed, or thought about. A staff member we will call “C.W.” (for “Clueless Wonder”) is at her station, to Don's left.

A teenage girl (let's call her Ashley) approaches C.W., with appropriate sound f/x of snapping gum and three "y'knows" for every two actual words.)

Ashley: My teacher said I had to read a poem called, um, Jabberwabby or something.

C.W.: (frowning) Uh...do you know how to spell it?

Ashley: Uh, hold on. (rummages through her backpack, pulls out a crumpled paper, squints) Uh, it's J...A...B...

C.W.: "B" like "Boy"?

Ashley: Uh, I guess. Here (hands C.W. the paper)

C.W.: (squinting at paper) Oh...kay. (types furiously. frowns. types again. frowns again. clicks the mouse a few times for good luck. types again. frowns and grunts.) Hmmm. I don't see it listed anywhere.

Don: (aside, to C.W., while holding a finger up to silence Grandma for a moment in the middle of The Deep End of the Ocean) C.W., it's in Alice in Wonderland. (returns attention to Grandma, knowing full well that it's actually in Through the Looking Glass, but figuring that anyone with at least a Bachelor's Degree would know what he meant.)

C.W.: Oh, okay. (types furiously, frowns, types, clicks, frowns, grunts, frowns, clicks, clicks, types, types, grunts, frowns) (to Don) Uh, I can't find it.

Don: (aside to C.W., while holding a finger up to silence Grandma in between Drowning Ruth and The House of Sand and Fog) Try "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

C.W.: Oh, okay, thanks. (types, clicks, frowns, grunts, and then executes the ever-difficult triple-click-and-frown with double grunt, earning a 9.3 from the Russians) Uh... (silent appeal to Don with deep, brown eyes that have never been tainted by the slightest trace of a clue)

Don: (aside to C.W., not even bothering to pause Grandma at We Were the Mulvaneys) C.W., just go check the shelves under "Lewis Carroll" and you'll find it.

C.W.: Oh, okay, thanks. (to Ashley) Come on. (Departs the desk, leading Ashley in the direction of Adult Fiction) [Alice, meanwhile, is on the Children's Fiction shelves.]

Don: (sighs and explains to Grandma that no, she doesn't want the Bible, she wants The Poisonwood Bible)

Ten minutes later, C.W. returns to the desk with Ashley in tow. C.W. is triumphantly clutching a tattered paperback of Alice. She quiveringly holds it in Don's direction.

C.W.: I finally found one in the Classics section. Uh...

Don: (face frozen in Professional Smile Number Six, the one that shows his venom-dripping canines to best advantage) Here, let me see. (flips through the book, gets to Through the Looking Glass, recognizes the White Knight and so knows he's in the right neighborhood, then opens to p. 134-136. Briefly considers pointing C.W. toward the mirror-image first verse, but then takes pity on her and indicates the start of "Jabberwocky" without a word.)

C.W.: Oh, okay, thanks. (hands the book to Ashley.) Does this look like it?

Don turns away, thinking that it was much pleasanter at home, when one wasn't always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits.

04 December 2009

The More Things Change....

The More Things Change...

Did you know that our organization once practiced censorship? It's true. Just like the Vatican, we had a list of "forbidden books" that would not be purchased and could not be ordered through interlibrary loan.

Here's a quote from the January 1987 Newsletter, reporting on the November 1986 Board meeting:
Mr. Marshall replied to the Board's request for information on the list of books that will not be bought by the system, and may not be requested through MILO. A Board member questioned why these books were not available through Interlibrary Loan. Mr. Marshall explained that it was felt that the system should not give its problems to another system by offering this option, and that after making the decision not to buy these for our patrons we should stand by that decision. After discussion, the Board indicated that the list should remain.

Today we have no "forbidden" list of items that can't be ordered through interlibrary loan. And incidentally, the staff member who reported this was to succeed Mr. Marshall many years later. I'm just sayin'....

...The More Things Stay The Same.

From the Staff Newsletter March 1979:
The staff development meeting on merchandising techniques held in January received high marks from staff members in their overall impressions of the meeting...

Odenton arrived at an entirely new floor plan based on the techniques articulated at the meeting; moving of furniture and materials took place there on February 28. Most participants felt they would apply material presented directly to displays created in the branches -- using face-out stocking where possible and experimenting with vertical shelving techniques so that all sizes of patrons could reach materials easily. Most also agreed that the most serious obstacle to more effective merchandising of materials was the lack of appropriate display fixtures and shelving...

24 November 2009

25 Years Ago

Selections from the Staff Newsletter November 1984:
(as always, names of current staff and branches have been disguised)

September 1985 Board Meeting

"Financially, the...Library System is in good shape with all figures in the black. In the new 1985 budget, personal services is up $700,000.00 dur to six new positions in the library system and also several additional benefits for retirees. Mr. Patterson said that funds may need to be transferred to the education fund which is used heavily by the staff. He reported that the majority of courses (70-80%) are taken at the...Community College and most others are completed at the University of [our State]."

"Ms. Pinder mentioned a number of changes that will take place at the West Street Branch to accommodate an automated syst4em. The circulation desk will be raised and a new information counter installed. Following this introduction, John McGarty, Chief of Technical Services, conducted a tour of the information area at West Street and demonstrated the computer for trustees. West Street is wcheduled to be on-line by December 31, 1984."

"In the Administrator's Report, Ms. Pinder stated that circulation statistics were down with West Street and McKinsey figures being most notable. All agreed that the opening of the new Cape St. C Branch probably had affected the statistics of these two branches. Video circulations were also down, but a borrowing rule to allow one video check-out per card rather than one per family may help, it was reported."

"Ms. Pinder also reported on the many varied activities that took place in the branches for the summer reading program. The program drew 1,667 children countywide."

"For this year, Mr. Hall suggested that the Board consider closing the branches all day Christmas Eve, as the 24th falls on a Monday and only four branches are open to the public Monday mornings. This proposal was unanimously approved."

"Mr. Hall informed the Board of the all-day General Staff Meeting on October 31 at the Ft. Meade Officer's Club. The staff has become too large to fit comfortably into a branch, especially for an all-day meeting."

"Building projects and problems were discussed briefly. The Fort M Branch site will be proposed and defended before the County Council on October 1, plans for the West Street addition are moving ahead, and money is available for the Mayo Branch site. Land adjoining the Odenton Branch will be graded for better visibility exiting the parking area."

Nancy Rea
Staff Association Representative

The four-page Newsletter from November 1984 is available in pdf format here. It's in the AACPL folder.

23 October 2009

The Part of the Question You DIDN'T Hear Answered

At today's General Staff Meeting, the Administration answered pre-submitted questions from the Staff. It appears that only one question was submitted. Something was read, and the Administration response was given.

What you don't know is that you only heard part of of the question. I know, because I am the one who submitted it.

Here's what the Administration responded to: "I was disappointed that staff were asked to pay for their own incentive awards through the Staff Association. It seems to send the message that [the orgnization] appreciates us as long as it doesn’t cost anything."

Here's the rest of the question, which you didn't hear, and which the Administration did not respond to:

"Was any consideration given to funding the awards by asking Board Members to each kick in twenty-five bucks or so, or taking up a collection from senior management?"

We can all guess why this question wasn't read or answered. It would embarrass the Administration. And the fact that the question wasn't answered tells us what the answer is: no. No consideration was given to having the top brass chip in to fund the incentive awards.

Now maybe that's because their consideration hadn't reached that point when the Staff Association volunteered to pay for the awards. That's an innocent enough explanation. But if so, why bother to avoid the question?

I guess we all have to draw our own conclusions.


UPDATE: Please see Nancy's answer in the comments.

And a side comment to those who've told me how surprised they were that I asked the question to begin with, or who told me that they didn't send in questions because they were afraid: I felt completely comfortable with my original question and this blog post because it's my experience that our Administration is willing to answer questions and address staff concerns. The Administration understands that disagreements are a fact of life, and simply asking a question is not going to get you in trouble.

It didn't used to be like that here, and I understand it's not like that in a lot of other organizations. Freedom to ask questions and voice concerns is one of the real strengths of our system.

12 October 2009

Why Do We Say "21 Days"?

When we tell patrons how long they can check out materials, we always say "21 days." (Well, okay, sometimes we say "3 days" or "14 days.") Have you wondered why we never say "Three weeks"?

As with everything else in our organization, the answer begins with the words "Many years ago, we used to..." So here we go:

Many years ago, we used to use a primitive checkout system based on McBee cards and a huge, hulking camera device called a Regiscope (which rather resembled a huge Mr. Coffee without the carafe).

Here's how it worked. Every week, we opened a new box of McBee cards with a pre-stamped due date (due dates were always on Saturdays). For each checkout, the staffer would open the back of the book to reveal a pocket bearing typed details about the book: Author, title, subject, copy number, etc. (Actually, this pocket was usually a duplicate catalog card glued down on the sides and bottom, leaving the top open.) I couldn't find a good picture of this arrangement online, so I took one, with a pink bookmark standing in for the McBee card. For procedural reasons (and to maintain the illusion of confidentiality) I must tell you that the name of the institution on the card probably has no relationship at all to the real institution I work for.

Next, the staffer placed the patron's library card underneath the pocket, with (typed) name, address, and phone number showing. All of this was slid under the Regiscope lens. (If you imagine the Regiscope as a giant Mr. Coffee, the open book sat on the hotplate, facing up towards the outflow spout.)

Staffer pressed a button, there was a flash of light and a whirring sound, and the Regiscope took a picture of McBee card, book pocket, and patron library card. Then on to the next checkout.

That was Step One.

As the Regiscope's film spool filled, it was taken out and sent down to Headquarters. At the end of the week the film came out, filled or not. Saturday afternoon, all the films and unused McBee cards got packed up and sent to HDQ. Each McBee card had its own unique serial number: the branch kept track of which numbers had been used and that gave us circulation statistics.

On Monday morning (or Sunday if your branch was open), the whole dance started again with fresh films, a fresh set of McBee cards, and a new due date for the week.

That was Step Two.

Step Three came as patrons returned their books. Staff pulled out the McBee cards and tossed them in a bin. Now the sorting began. (Actually, sorting McBeen cards was a continuous process that occupied circ staff every minute of every day.)

Returned McBee cards were first sorted by due date. Then, circ staff attacked them with McBee needles. I wish I had a video of this process, because it was really something to see; I'll try to paint a word picture.

Start with a stack of McBee cards -- not the puny few in the pictures above, but dozens, even hundreds. Stick the needle in the first hole and shove it all the way down the stack. Pick up the whole stack by the needle and shake. Some cards will fall out: move them to the back of the stack and repeat, this time sticking the needle in hole #2. Shake, move, repeat until you've done this for all the holes.

The trick is, the holes on the sides of the McBee cards were notched in a very clever pattern such that when this whole process was finished, you were holding a stack of cards in perfect serial number order.

That was Step Four.

Eventually, if all books had been returned, you would have all the McBee cards that you'd used for a particular due date. But we know that never happened -- inevitably, some books were not returned by the cutoff date. (I don't remember how the cutoff date was determined...was it three weeks after the due date? A month? Six weeks? I don't know. Someone help me out here.)

Step Five, and this was the key step, involved looking through the returned McBee cards to identify which ones were missing. Those represented books that hadn't been returned.

So now the circ staff sat with the in-order McBee cards and counted them off, noting which ones were missing. The missing serial numbers were carefully written down and sent to Headquarters.

Now the poor clerical staff at HDQ went to work. Remember, they had all the Regiscope films for all the branches, filed by due date. A clerk sat at a machine something like a microfilm reader/printer and scanned the films for the missing serial numbers. When they found one, they printed out the image. (You can see how important it was for the branch to use McBee cards strictly in serial number order. Each Regiscope at the branch had its own independent supply of in-order McBee cards.)

Finally, those images were gathered together and sent to patrons as overdue notices ("Our records indicate that this book was not returned...")

In theory, there was the potential for further follow-up...but I don't know if we ever did any. (Did we send out second or third overdue notices? Anyone know?) The clerks were alert for the names of heavy abusers, and every once in a long while there would be a memo with the name & address of some patron with multiple overdues, so staff could be aware.

And the missing McBee cards? In the fullness of time (I don't know if this was months later or what), replacements were made for any cards still missing, and whole batches were stamped with a new due date. Ah, the eternal cycle of nature begins again....

Besides the intense labor needed to keep this system running, there were plenty of opportunities for mistakes. A McBee card that became mangled or ripped was hard to process and might wind up the entirely the wrong place (oldtimers might remember the saying "do not fold, spindle, or mutilate.") Sometimes staff missed pulling a McBee card out of a returned book. (Pages were trained to open the back of each book before shelving it, to check for McBee cards and for branch ownership -- that's why you might occasionally see a real old-timer absently open the back cover of a book and stare at the back page for a moment. Often we're not even aware that we're doing it.) And gods help the staffer who dropped a stack of in-order McBee cards....

McBee cards went astray in the strangest ways: stuck behind drawers or fallen down cracks in the desk; playing hide-and-seek on the shelves or elsewhere in the branch; falling to the floor of the delivery truck; eaten by the family dog. On at least one occasion, a truck carrying a whole load of McBee cards suffered a door malfunction and lost a few boxes on Ritchie Highway. (This gave us a foretaste of what a hard drive crash would be like.) Patrons returned books without the McBee cards all the time. (And you think it's tough getting them to leave the orange bands on MARINA items!)

Unscrupulous patrons learned that they could bring McBee cards back to the library and leave them hither and yon, thus getting away with stealing books. In my high school, this was a tactic well-known to all the kids. Sometimes the Regiscope went wacky and a single frame (or possibly a whole roll) was ruined.

Plus, the whole thing was so labor-intensive that cataloging, pocketing, checking out, and sending overdue notices cost five or ten dollars in staff time per book. So when we started carrying paperbacks, we didn't bother cataloging them or using the whole Regiscope/McBee process: we just stamped them with a due date and tallied the number checked out for our circulation count. Did we lose a lot of paperbacks? Who knows?

One more note: On the book pocket pictured above, you'll notice a lot of handwritten numbers in various colors. This was our ingenious solution to the problem of tracking checkouts. When a book was returned, circ staff wrote the number of the month on the pocket. Each year had a different color. That way, when info people were reviewing their portion of the collection, they could see how many times the book had checked out (or not) and how recently. A book with very few handwritten numbers didn't check out very often, and so was a prime candidate for weeding. (Catalog cards had an accession date, which was also helpful.)

So now you know way too much about the way we used to check out books. Now we can get back to the question I posed at the beginning: Why do we say "21 days" instead of "3 weeks"?

Well, you see, back in the Bad Old Days all materials, no matter what day you checked them out, were due three weeks from Saturday. When we started phasing in our computer circulation system in December 1983, due dates changed to an exact 21 days from the date of checkout. We needed to re-train both staff and patrons who were used to the old state of affairs. So we started to refer to the due date as "21 days" in order to highlight the difference between the old and new systems.

That was 26 years ago; the transition to the computerized system was complete more than 20 years ago. Interesting how patterns like this, once established, can stay for decades. I suppose that's part of what makes anthropology so fun.

One final thought: Just in case you think of your pre-computer predecessors as being simple and hopelessly unsophisticated, remember that every single person who worked with this bizarre and complex system understood exactly how it worked. It isn't that we were simple; it was just that our heads were all too full of all this nonsense to allow much else. :)


ADDENDUM #1: Skip reminds me of two things I forgot. First, the machine at HDQ that made prints used the old wet-copy process: special paper (which tasted awful) and smeary, blurred copies (which looked awful.)

Also, for the last three years or so, while branches were computerizing, we saved money by not having film in the Regiscopes at all. That's right: we just went through the motions of checking out books, but no record was kept and no overdue notices sent.

I seem to remember that each Regiscope had a little manual readout like the odometer on your father's Oldsmobile: at the end of each day we recorded that number, which gave us that day's circulation numbers. (Imagine getting circ figures on a daily basis.) Since the odometers worked even when there was no film, we were still able to keep circulation statistics during this period.Thanks, Skip!


ADDENDUM #2: Apparently the habit of saying "21 days" is not as widespread as I thought. It turns out that a fair number of staffers say "three weeks" as a matter of course. Good. It shows that habits need not last for 20+ years beyond their rationale. We can grow and change. :)

28 September 2009

From the Newsletter September 1987

(As usual, name have been changed when necessary)

Ending an Era

Editor's note: Our organization was one of the first public libraries in the area to provide book catalogs of its holdings for library patrons. Since the catalogs were introduced in the late 1960s, Science Press in Steling, Virginia, has been the library's only vendor. The decision to move to a CD-ROM-based catalog brings the long and happy relationship between us and Science Press to a close. Mr. Hall sent a letter to Alfred Baker, vice president of Science Press, thanking the company for its quality service and database work which has "made our conversion to an automated circulation system much easier." Following is the letter he received in response.

    Dear Mr. Hall:

    Thank you very much for your kind letter of July 16. I understand completely your reasons for changing over to a CD-ROM based catalog. I'm sure that it is a wise decision.

    Both Agnes Wise and I have enjoyed working with the library staff through the years and we have always appreciated the spirit of cooperation we received from everyone.

    Again, on behalf of the management and employees of Science Press we thank you for your letter and for being such a faithful customer through the years.

    Best wishes to your entire staff and particularly to John McGarty who has worked so closely with us for the past several years and to Mary Vittek before him.

    Best wishes,
    Al Baker


For those who don't remember those Science Press catalogs, they were phone-book-size hardcover books filled with column after column of dense print. There were three volumes: author, title, and subject, and they were printed every couple of years. Periodic supplements took care of materials that were added to the collection in the in-between years.

These listings -- supposedly conformed with the Master Shelf List at HDQ (which itself was supposedly conformed with each branch's Shelf List) -- reflected almost everything the Library had purchased and not formally discarded. (Paperbacks were not included.)

There were no branch locations, no authority control, and very little provision for inventory control. (Every once in a long while, maybe once a decade, branches did an inventory, comparing their holdings to the Shelf List...I don't recall what provision we made for books that were checked out.) With all due respect to the hard-working clerks in Technical Services, too often the catalog looked like it had been typed by an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters.

Information service was something of a crapshoot, to say the least. If a patron requested a particular title, we would start calling branches, on the phone, for a "book check." Remember, we had no way of knowing if a particular title was checked out. Down the alphabet we would go, until we found a copy ("Good, send it here") or -- much more likely -- ran out of branches.

After a time on the Information Desk, you got to know which branches were more likely to have particular types of books. This branch had a good collection of boating & sailing books. That branch had a lot of car-repair books. If you wanted older fiction, call this other branch...they never threw anything out. Ah, those were the days when experience really counted...you young whippersnappers don't know how good you have it! (Did I mention that we had to walk ten miles to work every day...uphill? In the snow?)

If the book wasn't in anywhere, out came the dreaded "pink slip" (aka Intralibrary Loan Request). The pink slip included call number, author, title, branch, and patron name/phone number. Every day, each branch sent out dozens of these pink slips. Every day, dozens more arrived in delivery. Branch staff took the received pink slips and went to the shelves to search for the books. Those that were found, were sent to the requesting branch. Those that weren't found joined the outgoing flood.

So went the pink slips, round-robin fashion, from branch to branch. They probably took weeks to make the round trip of the system. I don't remember how many times a slip would make the rounds, although I seem to remember some that were marked "2nd try" or "3rd try."

In the fullness of time, if a book wasn't found, we would phone the patron: "Two months ago you requested this book...do you still want it?" If the patron still wanted the book, the request went out by ILL -- to other library systems that were undoubtedly doing the same laborious process.

The downside of this complex and pointless-seeming dance was that patrons very seldom got the book they wanted.

One upside was that patron expectations were not really high. On the rare occasions when someone did get the book they wanted, they were thrilled.

Another upside: With staff constantly calling around to other branches for book checks, we all got to know one another pretty well. (It was kinda like Twitter.)


The CD-ROM catalog that replaced those Science Press volumes was almost as useless. It took up a lot less room, but it also required staff to train every patron who walked in the door. (Kinda like today, come to think of it...)

That's okay. Although we never give it a second thought today, the computer circulation system/catalog was a revolution, and a most welcome one. And I say that as the staffer who has served the public with that system the longest: since December 1983. (Yeah, yeah, I know...but she went to Headquarters three Directors ago; he's been there for two Directors\; and as for her, she retired last year. So I'm the only one of the original crew left in direct public service.)

Anybody else have memories they want to share?

18 August 2009

The Time the Union Guys Came

This was in the early 1980s: it must have been 1981 or 1982. It was a very different world. In those days, the Administration had a different structure and completely different personnel. Ed Hall and Patsy Harris were in charge; both are long gone now. Elmer ruled the Board with an iron fist. There are probably only a dozen or so current staffers who remember those times.

I was but a novice, a newly-hired LA with bright eyes and blissful ignorance of all that was going on.

It was a dark time for the System. Budgets were tight, and tensions between the Administration and the rank-and-file were high. Tempers were very strong on both sides. And eventually, someone unofficially contacted a Union organizer to come speak to the staff.

The meeting was scheduled for one evening after work time, at the Knights of Columbus Center. Ed Hall and Elmer, who were both completely livid, contacted one of Elmer's friends who was high up in the Knights of Columbus and had the Center shut down and locked. So the meeting took place in the parking lot.

I would say that a majority of the staff was there to hear what these Union guys would say. The Administration was absent.

What transpired was an education to this young waif. The Union guy, who looked like a stereotypical stevedore, jumped up on the back of a pickup truck to address the multitudes. He was flanked by a couple of associates who looked as scary as him. I firmly remember that they did not carry torches, although it seemed like they did.

The Union guy proceeded to tell us that if we wanted a Union, he would get us a Union. "We'll do whatever we have to. We'll bash in car windows. We'll bust heads. We'll get you a Union."

The crowd was silent. It was clear that no one had been thinking in terms of bashed windows and busted heads. (Well, maybe one guy was. He left the System not long after.)

Finally, the Union guys distributed cards for everyone to sign & turn in if they were interested in the Union. Those cards listed the Union dues, which were over $100 a month and possibly more...certainly much more than our hardworking, underpaid staff would ever consider. (I guess all that window-bashing and head-busting wasn't cheap.) The dues, even more than the scary talk, effectively killed any interest in the Union. We never heard anything else about it.

Things have changed since then, and it's a completely different world. I'm sure Unions of today are a lot different than they were in those days of yore. But I will always remember that scary night, under the glare of parking lot lights, when the Union guys came to assure us that they would bust heads if they needed to...and probably did the Administration a much bigger favor than Ed and Elmer every realized.

If you remember that time (and you know who you are), leave a comment.

16 July 2009

From the July 1986 Newsletter

[Names of current staffers have been disguised and secret identities have been used for current branches. Look in the sidebar to the right to decode these secret identities.]

Lightning Bolt Strikes HAR

A lightning bolt apparently made a direct hit on the HAR branch roof during a severe storm Thursday, June 12. The jolt knocked out power and phone lines and forced the early closing of the branch.

"It's kind of extraordinary. We're not the tallest building around," Jane Wilson, acting branch manager, said. HAR staffers kept cool heads and promptly ushered patrons out of the building, which closed at 5:30.

Although a small fire caused some minor damage in the wiring above the Information Desk, the damage was quickly repaired. Phone lines were back in operation before long. The effect of the jolt on the terminals, however, has been longer lasting. Both the phone company and CLSI have been working to determine why the terminals have been operating so slowly since the storm hit.


Intruder Alert at ODN

ODN branch manager N.C. awoke from a sound sleep at 12:30 AM Tuesday, June 17, when Best Security called to report that the ODN alarm had been set off.

Arriving at the branch shortly before 1 AM, she cautiously entered the building behind Police Officer Fleming (Badge #759). The door squeaked open, ever so slowly, and there he was! The intruder - a helium balloon from the Summer Reading Kickoff Monday afternoon, bobbing along the floor.

"We discovered another balloon gaily floating through the air in front of a motion detector in the record area," N. wrote in the Alarm Call Report.

"Officer Fleming and I tried jumping up and down and climbing on furniture in an effort to corral the intruder. We finally had success with a pincer movement -- I batted the balloon with the long pole Don uses to wash our high windows, while Officer Fleming jumped on a bookshelf and apprehended the culprit. All in a day's work for us both."


May Board Meeting

The May meeting of the Board of Trustees was called to order May 15 at 4:30 PM, at the West Street branch.

Minutes from the April meeting were approved as presented.

The first new business was the Treasurer's Report...Mr. Patterson explained the [organization] Revenue Report from July 1, 1985, through April 30, 1986. He also reported that the new Ricoh photocopying machines had been installed and that branch feedback was favorable in terms of copy quality and special features. Unfavorable comments, however, included the difficulty of initial use, the loudness of the beeping, and interference at some branches between the copy machines and the security system.

Ms. P. reported that circulation for the month of April was up overall, although leveling off at CSC and PAS. She commented that some CSC patrons might be going to MCK now that MCK has a video collection.

As the next agenda item, Ms. P. provided the Board with a copy of the proposed 1987 holiday schedule, to be voted on at the June meeting.

Mr. Hall presented an update on FTM and commented that the library will have good visibility, being the prominent building in the shopping center. He reported that there is now a consultant on board for the parking lot and driveway projects at ODN.

Mrs. Williams raised a question about changing the color of library cards so that they could be more easily distinguished from other cards, as are the blue video cards. Ms. P. replied that there will be an investigation of new library cards once all branches are online.

The meeting was adjourned at 5:45 PM.

S.K., PAS branch

02 July 2009

Ghost of Summer Reading Clubs Past

I looked at tee shirts, I pulled out old Newsletters, I looked through old photographs...and this is the best I can come up with. I'm hoping that others can fill in the blanks.

I only went back to 1974 because that's the year I started on the payroll as a Page at AIR. I doubt there's anyone left who can remember further back...but if so, please let me know.

Put additions, corrections, or anything else in comments, or email me, or Twitter me @meerkatdon.

(Scroll down; I don't know why the table is so far down the page.)

2009Be Creative @ Your LibrarySneaksNational
2008Catch the Reading BugSneaksNational
2007Reading Road TripSneaksState
2006Clue Into ReadingSneaksState
2005Wild About ReadingSneaksState
2004Readers RuleSneaksState
2003Blastoff to ReadingSneaksState
2002Race to ReadSneaksState
2001Buggy About ReadingSneaksState
2000Reading RhythmsSneaksState
1999Catch the Reading WaveChesterLocal
1998Thrills and Chills at the LibraryChesterLocal
1997Camp Read-A-LotChesterLocal
1996Ready, Set, ReadChesterLocal
1994Don't Become Extinct, Read!ChesterLocal
1993Dive Into a Good BookChesterLocal
1992Passport to ReadingChesterLocal
1991Space/Planets (don't know exact title)ChesterLocal
1990Reading is NiftyChesterLocal
1989Dinosaurs (don't know exact title)ChesterLocal
1988Be a Monster Reader(?)Blue Reading Monster(?)Local
1987What's Hiding at the Library?Inspector O'HareLocal
1986Salute to Lady LibertyNoneLocal

25 June 2009

The E.A.G.E.R. Beaver Award

A sad chapter in the history of our fine organization can now be told. Brace yourself: it's not a pretty tale.

It was 2003, or maybe late 2002, and all employees were sent to training sessions to learn about respecting one another. In the spirit of mutual respect, we were told, a new program was starting up. Inspired by the acronym E.A.G.E.R. (Everyone Always Gets Equal Respect, isn't that clever?), the Administration had reared back and created the "Eager Beaver" award.

(No, wait, it gets better.)

Here's how it would work. There were three "Eager Beaver" awards, which would be sent out to three deserving staffers who had...demonstrated respect? deserved respect? inspired respect in others? The criteria were a bit vague. Each of those staffers would pick another deserving recipient and send the Beaver award along. And so it would go, like a great game of tag, until everyone had received the award.

To add to the fun, each Beaver award came with a little notebook detailing its travels. When you sent someone the award, you were supposed to write the date, the recipient's name, and what they had done to deserve the honor. Everyone who received the award was supposed to share these inspirational anecdotes with those around them. The result would be a positive pandemic of respect.

And the trophy that our administration chose to symbolize how much they respected us?

A stuffed beaver.

Three of them, in fact. In airtight tupperware containers.

I am NOT making this up.

Each E.A.G.E.R. Beaver Award was an actual plush beaver stuffed animal, about half lifesize (as near as anyone could tell).

Perhaps the definitive statement on the whole concept was made by an anonymous coworker at the meeting I attended. (No, it wasn't me.) When the administration proudly showed off the Beaver triplets nestled in their adorable little coffins, the staff's stunned silence was broken by a female voice saying, "Oh, my, what an unfortunate choice of animal."

Unfortunate or not, the E.A.G.E.R. Beaver awards continued for over a year. (One staffer joked that E.A.G.E.R. really stood for "Everyone Always Gets Exasperating Rodents.")

In their travels, the Beavers somehow acquired various accoutrement. One got multiple piercings in ears, nose, tail...any appendage that stuck out. Another showed up with a beehive wig and a tiny cigarette. And yet another one didn't survive his journey: when the coffin was opened, his eyes were little X's and there was a stake in his heart.

After a while, the originator and champion of the E.A.G.E.R. Beaver award parlayed her success into a cushy position as Director of a cozy little town library somewhere in the wild of New England, where presumably she was able to watch real beavers in their natural habitat.

Her poor successor not only had to keep the E.A.G.E.R. Beaver award going (on life support, as it were), but she had to deal with an increasing barrage of beaver-related humor.

First, there was a letter from the law firm of Castor, Canadensis, and Claustrum. Although this entry is getting long, I feel honor-bound to quote:
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dentis T. Canadensis of the law firm of Castor, Canadensis, and Claustrum.

It has come to our attention that our client, Bucky B. Beaver, has been in the employ of [your organization] for several years without receiving the pay that is legally due him.

We calculate that Mr. Beaver has served at least 5,850 hours without due recompense for his services. At Federal Minimum Wage of $5.15/hour, Mr. Beaver’s back pay currently amounts to $30,127.50.

If you do not remit the above sum in a prompt manner, our firm will have no choice but to begin legal proceedings.

Please note: In lieu of the full sum of $30,127.50, the equivalent in birch and soft pine is also acceptable.

I anxiously await your reply.

Next, a new casket appeared on her desk, with a previously-unknown stuffed beaver and the attached note:
Hello. I am Betty Beaver.

My ex-husband, Bucky Beaver, has not paid child support for the last three years. The no-good son-of-a-gun ran out on me in 2001, and I’ve been looking for him ever since.

Recently, someone told me that he was working for your [organization].

So where is the b*st*rd?? I’m not leaving until I get some answers!

Postcards began arriving from Bucky Beaver, sent from various locations all around the country. Most were variations on the theme "Having a great time, wish you were here."

Eventually I found a source for plush beaver finger puppets and ordered a dozen or so. They started showing up in interoffice mail, each holding a little sign that said "Where is my daddy?"

In the fullness of time, with an upcoming full staff meeting and its associated gathering of the clans, the administration issued a memo calling for the return of the Three Beavers. Then there was another memo, its tone a trifle more pleading. Finally came the personal appeal, passed down through the Managers: where are the Beavers?

To my knowledge, only one of the Beavers was ever recovered in one piece. I believe its remains were cremated in a private ceremony.

And that is the story of the short-lived E.A.G.E.R. Beaver award.

19 June 2009

Team Achievement Award Nomination 2009

I'm sending in the following nomination for the Team Incentive Award. I urge everyone to nominate this team for the award. Use your own wording, or feel free to borrow mine.

I nominate the following team for the Incentive Award for Team Achievement for 2009:

Name: Staff Association

Members of the Team: Too numerous to list

1. Criteria: Teamwork
Description: When AACPL had budget problems, the Staff Association stepped up to fund the Individual and Team Awards. Since we paid for it, I figure we should give it to ourselves.

2. Criteria: Creative Change

Description: When AACPL had budget problems, the Staff Association stepped up to fund the Individual and Team Awards. Since we paid for it, I figure we should give it to ourselves.

15 June 2009

Summer Reading Program 1996(?)

Before the national program, before Sneaks, before the statewide program...even before it was a Club...every year we chose our own theme and had a Summer Reading Program. This year, which may or may not have been 1996 (does anyone know for sure?), the theme was "Be a Monster Reader." (Click picture to embiggen.)

ABOVE: Long before Sneaks, we had the Reading Monster. It was a very computer-literate monster.

This was back in the days when every branch library in our state had a high-tech computer (complete with CD-ROM drive, wooooo) for searching the interlibrary loan system. No, not through the Internet (wazzat?), but on the CD.

ABOVE: A very courteous monster it was. And a good library user, too.

ABOVE: In this long-ago era, children's toys were made of wood. (No, not really.)

09 June 2009

Roast of Marion McFaden

This is the roast I presented at the retirement ceremony for the legendary Marion McFaden sometime in mid-1983. To those who loved and feared her, Marion was known as "the M." For the sake of anonymity, I've disguised the names of branches and people who might still be alive. About one-third of this is exaggerated; the rest, sadly, is all too true. Please note: This was in a simpler time when Branch Managers were Branch Librarians, there were no computers or three-letter branch codes; a time when men were men, women were women, and Librarians were terror-inducing figures who weren't afraid to pucker up and give the whole world a great big Ssshhhhhh!!!


My first exposure to Marion McFaden was in 1974, when I was a green and innocent page at the Airport Branch, fifteen and a half years old, and she was already Branch Librarian at McKinsey. When in the course of my duties I first entered the basement of the Airport Branch, I was confronted by a sign what said "DO NOT CLOSE THIS DOOR -- M. McFaden." Little did I know that this was only the first in a long series of M's signs that would haunt my days.

There were simple signs: "This door must not be unlocked." "Return these scissors or lose your life." And my personal favorite, "Do not drip on the toilet seat." There were authoritative signs: "Anything left in the sink will be thrown out!" and "Refer all scheduling complaints to M. McF." And there were the charmingly M-ish signs: "Godammit, if I ever find out who left these magic markers on my desk, I'll stuff them one at a time down your throat!!!!!" Even patrons weren't immune from such cheerful notices as "DO NOT PUT BOOKS IN THIS SLOT WHEN LIBRARY IS OPEN" and "NO STAPLE REMOVING ON COPY MACHINE. Use Table. Staples have been the cause of THREE RUINED ROLLERS."

M has always known how to take proper action to deal with any circumstances. On her first day on the job, back in nineteen mumble-mumble, she was assigned to help on the bookmobile. Well, in the course of the run it broke down, causing a traffic backup the equal of later lineups at the Bay Bridge. While her supervisor struggled to repair or move the stranded bookmobile, M seized upon the root of the problem and responded by standing in the middle of the road and laughing.

Later came another example of M's ability to do the right thing at the right time. She was in the children's room helping a young boy, when the kid chose that moment to upchuck. M, never one to be outdone, leaned over next to the lad and vomited herself.

I don't want to give the impression that the big M doesn't know how to cope. Indeed, coping is the best thing she does. And she quite often forces others to cope a bit more.

When Esther King needed someone to run the Airport Branch out of an old trains station, M was picked. And run it she did, with the legendary McFaden iron fist. I thinkit was at that time that the grand parade started, as employee after employee fell under that iron fist.

Some lasted only a few days, like the elderly woman who couldn't cope with our cataloging system. "JE's, JP's, one dot, two dots, three dots..." the woman muttered one day while shelving books in the children's room. Shortly after, M was forced to let her go when the woman went on a rampage and started pitching books out onto the train tracks.

Some employees lasted longer. A certain Librarian, for example, who started in children's services and then managed to escape, only to return in a fit of what could only have been masochism. This Librarian is still with us today, although I won't embarrass her by mentioning that her name is Susan B.

And then there was a certain Librarian who lasted several months at the job and then, in a conference with M, asked when she would get time to think her "deep thoughts"....

The train station years passed quickly, with little of note except various tipsy staff members and other minor adventures. Many people don't know the real reason that M left the train station to open the new Airport Branch. Some have speculated that the old branch became too palstered with notes and signs, forcing the construction of a place with larger wall area; but tonight I'll tell you the real reason. You see, M was cleaning one day, and when she finished throwing things out, well, the library was gone. The Administration decided to start over with a more durable building made of brick.

So M started a new hobby: opening library branches. She's opened three of them, you know: Airport, Big City, and McKinsey. As a matter of fact, when Bowie was built it took three strong men to hold her back, so firmly was the habit established.

It was during the Airport years that M began to communicate her philosophy of patron service. One employee remembers a day when the Library received a brand-new information service called Value Line. She spent hours trying to figure out the mysterious charts and graphs, until finally M came to her rescue. "Just learn where it is," she said. "If anyone wants to use it, they'll know how."

Eventually it came time to move on to Big City. The Big City branch is right next to an elementary school; and the little darlings who flocked to the library after school were a constant source of amusement and high blood pressure. Once again, though, she managed to cope in true McFaden style -- even when that involved chasing kids on top of the book stacks with a baseball bat.

There were adventures at Big City -- remind M to tell you some time about the snake in the bookdrop -- and there were also warm moments: like the staff member who used to spend Saturday mornings in a large comfy chair sleeping off the effects of his Friday nights.

In due time, M moved on to the McKinsey Branch. The community thought they were ready for her, but in truth she was ready for them. M always had a special relationship with patrons. Take Colonel Lamb, for example, who took it upon himself to issue a weekly newsletter of his opinions to the whole community. One day the good Colonel presented the library with a box of past newsletters, which M accepted with (I'm sure) her usual squeals of glee. Much later, Colonel Lamb visited and found that his precious offerings were not being maintained in correct order by the staff, and wrote a letter bemoaning the fact. Fortunately the branch had been vandalized recently, and M's soothing reply to Colonel Lamb managed to blame the disorder on the vandals, not us.

And then there was the time when a child was being more than unusually noisy in the branch, and M commented that she'd like to pay someone to strangle the kid. Unfortunately, she made this remark to the child's mother.

M has always had a special relationship with her staff. As a matter of fact, whenever a few of us get together off work time, one name is absolutely sure to come up....

But I mustn't let you think that the big M is all business. She has a fun side, and nobody has seen it better than we who worked with her. Who can forget M's memo on proper patron service, in which she proposed some different -- and honest -- answers to such questions as "Where is the Xerox?" and "What does F mean?"

Then there was the time that M spilled something on her dress, and had to wander about in a housecoat while the dress dried. By the time she returned to the staff room, her dress was gone -- it took her nearly half an hour of shouting and swearing before she found it, hanging from the ladder halfway up to the roof.

This story reminds me of the inventory we took when M was preparing to leave. Here's a partial list of what we found: Two dozen apples, three pounds of cheese, two copies of Winning Through Intimidation, five sweaters, two dresses, three pictures by Pat Batovsky, two tablecloths, a hundred and four receipts from Hutzler's for returned merchandise, and sixteen pairs of shoes.

M was always tolerant of people -- to a certain extent. One thing she couldn't tolerate in an employee, though, was tardiness. You haven't seen anything until you've seen Marion McFaden at 5:06 on a Friday evening, waiting beside the road for the night crew with a big clock in her hands. M was subtle, she was.

A lot went on at McKinsey that M knew about -- and one or two things she didn't. For example, each day started with one question uppermost in our minds: what kind of mood would M be in? We discussed the matter, gave our opinions, tooke bets, and then waited apprehensively. If she entered the back door in curlers and humming, then we knew we were safe!

M has always had a sense of justice. I can think of no better example than the social event, one of many, in which all the participants were supposed to bring some home-made goodies to eat. When one person showed up with store-bought cookies, M refused to put them out on the table.

In May of 1977 McKinsey suffered vicious acts of vandalism that did nearly six thousand dollars worth of damage. After that, the county installed burglar alarms in all of the libraries, and in the years since these alarms have been a thorn in everybody's side. Let me share with you a memo that M sent to Headquarters regarding a particularly bothersome alarm malfunction. This memo is presented exactly the way M typed it.




A while ago I mentioned the grand parade of employee after employee that has worked under Mrs. McFaden, and in a way I was being unfair. I don't want you to leave here with the impression that M uses up staff members the way other people use up kleenex.

As a matter of fact, we were going to have everyone who ever worked for M to this party -- but Madison Square Garden was booked for tonight.

Right now, once and for all, I'd like to put to rest the rumors that McKinsey Branch Library under M was known as "the Death Camp." Just to prove that turnover is no higher than any other branch, we've put together a little list of the people who worked there, as near as we can all remember. You'll see that the rumors are wrong.

First, the Professionals. Alphabetical order would be simplest, I guess. Mary B, Susie B, Susan B, Nancy C, Ruby G, Lois Ann G, Gail G, Sue G, Maryann H, Penny H, Andrea M, Lena P, and Diane T.

Now the Library Associates. Jane B, Carla B, Ann C, Jack D, Kathy F, Stanley H, John M, Cathy O, Lita R, Connie R, Don S, Sue S, Irma S, and Sarah W.

Things have been a bit more calm among the clerical staff. Er...let me rephrase that....

Our clericals have been: Pat B, Lynn C, Beverly C, Sandy G, Jean G, Donna H, Jan J, Kay L, Dee M, Jean O, Dorothy S, Barbara S, Nola S, and Jim T.

In addition, we've had three Custodians: Charle G, Buck P, and Bob K.

And then, of course, there has been a constant procession of Pages: Mrs. Dulaney, Helena, Cathy, Barbara, Margie, David, Clayton, Jan, Karen, Rosie, Tom, Jean, Eileen, Ginny, Mary, Kim, Bob, Bet, Nathaniel, Cheryl, Cheryl, Petra, and Alvin.

By my count, that makes 44 full-time staff members among thirteen positions and ten years. And people say we have a high turnover rate....

But things are not as bad as they seem. A little calculation shows that if M has kept up the same rate throughout her career, there ought to be over a hundred and ten people out there who worked for her at one time or another, in one branch or another. A hundred and ten people who have worked through good times and bad times, and each one of them has learned from M, you can be sure. A hundred and ten people, including among them Branch Librarians, teachers, tour guides, workers in private industry, full-time parents and grandparents, writers, artists, and a lot of people making big contributions to the Library System. For all that we kid her, this is not a bad legacy for M to leave behind now that she's done with the System.

And I know that each and every one of those hundred and ten people wishes her the very best of luck as she makes an equally big impact upon the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen...I give you Marion McFaden -- the M!

11 May 2009

Long Range Plans

You gotta love our organization.

I just ran across the binder containing our previous Long Range Plan, and noted the dates: "July 2004 - June 2007"

In the past, we used to have (in the best Soviet tradition) Five Year Plans. Then it was decided that five years was really too long, given the modern pace of change.

So now we have Three Year Plans...which take a year to plan, three years to execute, and an additional year to evaluate.

Our next Three Year Plan will start in July 2009...exactly five years after the last one started.

Just think...if we planned and evaluated more deliberately, we could have a One Year Plan that takes two years to plan and two years to evaluate!

Gotta love our organization.

08 May 2009


I recently ran across the best footnote ever in the history of publishing. It appears on page 140 of Why is Snot Green?: and Other Extremely Important Questions (and Answers) by Glenn Murphy. Here, in all its glory, is the Best Footnote EVER:

* See What would happen if you sneezed and farted at the same time? (page 158) for more details about snot.

It just doesn't get any better than that.

Incidentally, this reminds me of my all-time favorite bit of errata, which appeared as a special page at the beginning of a long-forgotten book about World War II:

ERRATA: The caption to Plate XII should read: "Winston Churchill in the bombed House of Commons."

Sure enough, when you turned to Plate XII, the existing caption read: "Winston Churchill bombed in the House of Commons."

22 April 2009

A Fable

(This is a work of fiction. No resemblence to any real organization or people is implied, or should be inferred.)

Once upon a time, there was a business that really valued its employees. Although the business was small and struggling, each year it gave awards to outstanding employees. Those who won the awards split a small honorarium.

Then came bad budget times, and money for the honorarium was cut. This presented a problem, because the business really, really valued its employees, and wanted to continue demonstrating that with the awards. But where to find the money?

The Board of Directors really valued the employees...but not enough to chip in $25 or so apiece to fund the honorarium.

The CEO really valued the employees...but not enough to cover the honorarium out of his or her own pocket.

Upper Management really valued the employees...but not enough to take up a collection among themselves to fund the honorarium.

All seemed lost, until someone in Management said, "I know! Let's ask the employees to fund the honorarium. That way, the business gets credit for awarding star players, the employees will know exactly how much we value them...and it won't cost any of us one red cent."

Someone else said, "Oh, the employees aren't that stupid."

The first person answered, "Oh, I think they are."

And guess what? They were!

...And they all lived happily ever after.

08 April 2009

Computers in Libraries

Here's my report on the Computers in Libraries Conference in Crystal City, VA. I attended on Monday March 30, 2009 and Wednesday April 1, 2009.


The first session I attended was Digital Preservation, E-Government, and ERM. The presenters were from MERLN: the Military Education Research Library Network. They have a website that indexes government documents relating to international matters; i.e. under "Iraq" they have everything that the various Federal departments put out about US involvement with Iraq. Their database started with the second Bush administration. In addition to government documents, they also index several journals and popular news sources.

Their biggest challenge came with the 2008 election. Until then, all their listings were links to content on other government websites. With the new administration on January 20, all those websites would change, and suddenly the MERLN site would be nothing but dead links.

Responding to this challenge, they downloaded and archived all the government documents to which they had previously just linked. That effort, involving tens of thousands of documents, was finished well before Inauguration Day.

In designing a user interface for searches, the MERLN team were guided by these principles:

-Give users what they want.
-Don't startle user with changes
-Limit how much metadata you show users
-Be flexible
-Ongoing usability testing
-Never limit to one product or one way of doing things

"What do users want as an interface for databases? Hint...it starts with G."

Presentation slides (Powerpoint) are here.


My next session was Digital Rights Management (DRM), Copyright, and Creative Commons. In this session, presenters talked about Librarians' changing roles in the world of Digital Rights Management. Libraries and Librarians are faced with two sometimes-contradictory missions: as Librarians, we want to disseminate knowledge & information freely; but as agents and customers of publishers and database vendors, we want to control access to the same knowledge & information.

Slides are here.


Following lunch and a visit to the exhibits area (where I saw a familiar face at the Sirsi booth: former AACPL staffer John McGarty), I proceeded to Moving Libraries to the Cloud. This was a fascinating presentation by Roy Tennant and Andrew Pace of OCLC on their efforts to assist in moving library applictions & services to the internet.

The benefits include: low cost, don't need local resources & staff to maintain them

Among the major drawbacks to this approach are: dependence on network connectivity & speed, loss of control

Amazon offers S3 (storage) & EC2 (computing power)

Cataloging is moving toward a cloud-based model - allowing wiki-like editing of Worldct records - fix something as soon as you see it, and changes propogate to all member libraries

API Programming allows output from one program to be read by other programs in a structured manner - so output from several different programs can be arranged to suit user (ie pass ISBN to Amazon to retrieve & display cover)

According to the presenters, libraries (like most organizations) spend 70% of time building systems & infrastructure, and only 30% on their core mission - by moving applications & services to the internet, the team hopes to reverse that ratio

Example: Why should IT run a mail server, listservs, spam filters? Move all that to GMail so IT can concentrate on other matters.

More information, including various library-specific web apps, is at the team's website worldcat.org/devnet/.



I returned to the conference on Wednesday. My first session was Mobile Practices and Search: What's Hot?. I learned that one of the new buzzwords is extelligence (vs intelligence): knowledge and information stored and available on the internet rather than kept in the brain. Mobile devices are excellent portals for accessing extelligence, and Librarians are in the business of making extelligence accessible.

There is a new top-level internet domain for sites optimized for mobile devices: .mobi Many libraries are putting out mobile versions of their pages.

Worldcat has a mobile version at www.worldcat.org/m/

DC Public Library has an iPhone app for accessing their catalog.

Some vendors are working on a function that would send call numbers from the catalog to a mobile device via SMS (text messaging) so that patrons don't have to scribble down call numbers before going to the shelves to find an item. If the catalog has mobile access, patrons can browse the catalog while standing in the stacks.

Some libraries are deploying services like our "Ask a Librarian" or "Ask Us Now" via SMS texting so they are available to mobile device users. I wonder if Ask a Librarian or AUN use SMS texting?

A pdf of the presentation is here.


My next session was Mobile Usability: Tips, Reserach, and Practice. The biggest tip I picked up from this session is that patrons can easily send text messages from their cellphones to an email address (i.e. reference questions to Ask a Librarian or a branch email address). All of the cellphone companies have this functionality built in. Messages are usually short (i.e. 160 characters). You will recognize them from the format of the return address: it will phone-number@cellphone-company.com. Replies should also be short in order to fit within the 160-character limit.

This functionality requires no additional software or effort on the part of the library IT dept. It is there right now. Libraries can (and should) promote this on their website (i.e. "Ask a Librarian is available thru your phone: send text message to this address.")

As far as I know, AACPL does not take advantage of this functionality.

Powerpoint slides are here.


On Wednesday we got a free box lunch. I suppose I shoudln't call it "free," considering what prices were for attending the conference.

My last session was Mobile Library Apps. First, folks from the University of Connecticut Health Center Library discussed their PDA Program - the library provides training & support for PDAs (which students are required to purchase.) The Library also has sync stations for updating databases, and negotiates contracts for databases. The main thing I learned from this presentation is that Windows Mobile comes in a bewildering number of variations, and which version you have matters a whole lot.

Slides from their presentation are linked on this page.

Then DC Public Library presented their iPhone app, which works with Sirsi/Dynix EPS discovery tool & could work with other Sirsi/Dynix tools. The app allows searching their catalog and placing holds, as well as branch names, hours, and contact info. Their IT department wanted to do this because it's fun, and also because everyone is dissatisfied with their OPAC. Other projects are in the pipeline: A Blackberry version, new OPAC interface. They hope to use the upcoming iPhone 3.0 software to allow patrons to pay fines & fees via their iPhone, etc.

There have been 2200 downloads, and 85 people used it to place holds last week. Took about 100 hours to create app - the whole package will be available for download for iPhone developers. DCPL can help libraries who wnat to set up similar apps.

DCPL SMS text messaging capability was added to catalog in mid-February. They use it for Notes & Announcements (hold pickup, overdue, etc.) there's also a link to renewal page. SMS is also used for PR for programs & events. Patrons opt-in on website registration page. Aimed at gen x, gen y, but also parents/guardians who are comfortable text messages to communicate with kids. Messages tailored to requirements of SMS - short, abbreviated, to-the-point. 1 text per item. No cost to library once all this is installed. Text messages are scheduled differently than emails and phone calls. Currently system generates about 100 texts per day. Uses email gateway to send text messages on back end.

In designing their iPhone app, they did extensive user testing with pen-and-paper mockups. Potential improvements include using the iPhone as a barcode scanner: for example, in bookstore a patron could take a picture of a book's UPC barcode, then place a hold on that title at the library.

The DC Public Library website is www.dclibrary.org.


I shared a Metro ride back to New Carrollton with Joanne Trepp, then returned home through the legendary B/W Parkway traffic.

And that's my experience at Computers in Libraries 2009.

30 March 2009

Computers in Libraries: Monday Morning

Greetings from the Computers in Libraries conference in rainy, dreary Crystal City, VA. Today I got to play Urban Commuter. I drove to the New Carrollton Metro station, and took the train to Crystal City. There, a shuttle bus took me (and various other librarian-types) to the Hyatt Regency for Computers in Libraries.

Until I have time to put up some more details, here are some pictures to get you started:

Digital Preservation & Government Documents

Librarians with Laptops


24 February 2009


I see that it's becoming trendy to send email messages consisting of only a subject line, along with catchy little abbreviations like EOM (end of message), NRN (no reply necessary), and other (increasingly cryptic) variations.

(Here is a post that lists a good many of them; I'm sure there are similar lists elsewhere.)

I applaud the impulse to save time and effort. If I receive an email whose subject line says Got your request and sending item EOM, then I don't even have to open the message, which easily saves me a second or two. Those seconds add up; over the course of a BUSY work week, we could be talking whole minutes saved!

[Although I must deduct points from the staffer who ended a subject line with EOM (end of message) -- I mean, if you had time and room to type the phrase "end of message," why use the acronym at all?]

Anyway, in the interests of saving those valuable seconds, I offer the following list of email subject-line acronyms:

IID: It's In Delivery
IBIDFTWN: It's Been In Delivery For Three Weeks Now
FIIBOTHSAAA: Found It, It's Been On The Hold Shelf All Along
DIBITAHFSE: Discharged It But It Trapped A Hold For Someone Else
OIWIWDIDN: Ooops I Withdrew It, What Do I Do Now?
OITM: Order It Through Marina

SiP: Sirsi Problem
SaP: SAM Problem
SuP: Sunday Problem
SoP: Same Obnoxious Problem
SeP: Somebody Else's Problem

LITPAPM: Look In The Policies And Procedures Manual
TTTSHS: Then Try The Sirsi Help Sheets
ITIITCDM: I Think It's In The Collection Development Manual
MTEPM?: Maybe The Emergency Procedures Manual?
HYLOTI?: Have You Looked On The Intranet?
IGBOABOWOS: It's Gotta Be On A Blog Or Wiki Or Something
IKISIIAMTOW: I Know I Saw It In A Memo The Other Week
IWITMFSMOO: It Was In The Minutes From Some Meeting Or Other
NMIJCA Never Mind I'll Just Call Around

WYMUYCITL? Would You Mind Using Your Cellphone In The Lobby?
WYMUYCITNC? Would You Mind Using Your Cellphone In The Next County?
WYMFYCDTT? Would You Mind Flushing Your Cellphone Down The Toilet?
PPYPOSOV: Please Put Your Phone On Silent Or Vibrate
PPYCOSOV: Please Put Your Child On Silent Or Vibrate
PPYVOSOV: Please Put Your Voice On Silent Or Vibrate
PVSOOH Please Vibrate Silently Out Of Here

I've spent enough time on this; now I'll turn it over to y'all for more suggestions. EOM

PS: Oh, yes, the title: For Your Information, Reply At Leisure, Nor Reply necessary, Thank You, End Of Message

19 February 2009

Shady Character

Reginald Kenneth Dwight, a Shady Character

We're having a Forensics program on Tuesday the 24th. Today some of us dressed up to have our pictures taken so we can be suspects.

I'm not going to give away the solution to the crime...but if Reginald happens to visit you, you might want to count the silverware before he leaves.