15 June 2010

Past Newsletters Online

Staff Newsletters from 1984-2007 are now available online in PDF format.

This has been my pet project for most of the year, and now it's done. I have nearly 800 individual pages of Staff Newsletters going back to November 1984 in a shared notebook on my Evernote account. (Don't know what Evernote is? Boy, are you missing out!)

I don't want to make this publicly available, so if you would like access just email me and I will give you the super-secret private address.

10 May 2010

Our Intranet

I'm on the new Intranet Task Force. It just occurred to me to seek some input here.

So, loyal readers, please give me your opinions on the following. If you aren't comfortable answering in comments, feel free to email me.

#1: What type of content would you like to see on the next-generation Intranet?

#2: How would you like the next-generation Intranet to be organized or arranged?

#3: What mistakes should we avoid in designing the next-generation Intranet?

#4: Do you, personally, create any content that you think should be available on the Intranet? (I'm thinking of those in-branch things that everyone has, like WST's invaluable index to the History Notes, or someone's really cool storytime templates.)

#5: Any other thoughts? Please share!

Thanks, everyone. I'll have a more entertaining blog post up soon.

03 May 2010

No, You CAN'T Borrow the Stapler (and Other Budget Woes)

During these times of budget cuts and universal brouhaha, I can't help but remember budget crises past.

In particular, there was one set of budget cuts in the late 1980s or early 1990s (any oldtimers out there remember the time period?). Although we had a Director, the System was controlled by the Associate Administrator, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. (This person is no longer with our system, and the position of Associate Administrator has been eliminated.)

In order to demonstrate the impact of budget cuts to the public, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed decreed that we would no longer let patrons use free office supplies. Paper, pens & pencils, paper clips, tape, even staples were no longer available for patron use. Scissors were a grey area: as I recall, we allowed people to use them, but afterwards people had to re-sharpen the blades with their teeth. Gods have mercy on the soul of anyone who asked for a postage stamp. We had to remove all such supplies from sight. If anyone asked to use office supplies, we were to explain that due to budget cuts we could no longer supply free supplies to the public.

The theory, I think, was that outraged patrons would immediately go home and call or write to their County Council members demanding that our budget be restored so that we could afford $1.26 for scotch tape. [At least, that was the public theory. I think there was also a large component of punishment for the ungrateful public who had allowed these budget cuts to happen in the first place. She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed was like that.]

So we started refusing office supplies to the public. Did they follow the plan and protest to their elected officials?

Did pigs grow wings and fly to the tops of mountains?

Oh, the public was outraged, all right. And they did what they always do when outraged: they complained to the poor staff member in front of them. They screamed, they yelled, they cursed, they threatened to have us fired. They chanted "kalimah!" and plunged their hands into our chests, ripping out our still-beating hearts and dashing them to the floor.

Staff started wearing masks to hide our identities, and armored breastplates to protect our hearts. We dreaded coming to work each day.

The result? Staff members killed, maimed, or in therapy: Dozens. Calls or letters to elected officials: None. Are you surprised?

Eventually the budget crisis subsided (as they always do), things got better, and we were allowed to restore the staplers and tape dispensers to the tops of our desks.

So take heart in the current budget situation. It could be a lot worse....

19 April 2010

Some Things I Learned at Computers in Libraries

1. Resourceshelf.com reviews cool online reference resources daily.

2. Some Library systems are making great efforts to help patrons (young and old) create content that contributes to communities: checking out digital video cameras, providing training on video & audio editing software, supporting Web 2.0 communities like MySpace, Facebook, etc., having contests for kids to create digital artwork. They feel that this makes them more valuable to their patrons and more visible to politicians.

3. Many Libraries use Twitter, Facebook, and/or blogs to get the word out to patrons: new books/DVDs, programs, links to databases, appeals to contact politicians, etc. Some put a notice on the bottom of their receipts: “Follow us on Twitter @xyzlibrary” or “Join us on Facebook: xyzlibrary.” @prattlibrary is cited as a superb example of how a Library uses Twitter. One Nebraska library has a pet bird that sends out tweets and has hundreds of followers. Some Libraries report that newspaper reporters have picked up Twitter posts and showed up to write stories about programs, etc.

4. Some Librarians are just not cut out to be proofreaders. One presenter put up a slide that said “Gather as may sturdy brings as possible.” It was supposed to say “Gather as many sturdy bricks as possible.” I don't think she noticed.

5. Open Source systems are a great example of how you get what you pay for. Features that appear in one release (i.e. renewing an item) may suddenly disappear in the next. You need a good ISS department to succeed with an Open Source system.

6. Many Libraries use Google Analytics and Google Reader to find out what people are saying about their library and what people are looking for on their web pages. They adjust their emphasis accordingly.

7. One Library routinely searches for nearby Twitter posts that say things like “I’m going to the library” and answer accordingly: “We’re open until 5 today, we’ll look forward to seeing you.” Patrons are very impressed.

8. At Charlotte-Mecklenberg County PL, where they just laid off 120 staffers and are looking at a 50% budget cut in July, the Administration is so concerned about transparency and getting news to staff that one Administrator sends out twitter posts during Board meetings to keep the staff informed.

9. 80% of Americans own cell phones. By 2015, 2/3 of all mobile handsets will be smart phones. 43% own mp3 players.

10. Type in the address of your website at http://validator.w3.org/mobile/ and it will give you a score on how “mobile friendly” your site is – along with suggested changes to make it more mobile-friendly. Our website scored 3%. (That’s 3 out of 100.)

11. Visit www.worldcat.org/m/ to download a mobile-friendly Worldcat app for your phone. Use it to search holdings at your library. It’s probably more mobile-friendly than your own website.

12. One simple way to get more mobile-friendly is to set up a “charging station” in your branch where people can charge their phones, PDAs, laptops, etc.

13. The Ebook landscape is in constant flux. One presenter said, “Everything I say will be outdated by the time you leave this room.” Experts expect that Ebooks will move away from hardware-specific platforms (i.e. Kindle, Nook, iPad) toward standard formats that can be read on any hardware. In the long run, the Ebook market is expected to look like the music market does today. Black-and-white readers using e-ink technology (i.e. Kindle, Nook) are expected to become economy products very soon. By Christmas 2010, expect an under-$100 version, under $50 by mid-2011. Patrons will have greatly-increased demand for eBooks; if libraries don’t take that into account, we will become irrelevant.

14. We must accept that libraries are going to look very different in the future - in 20 years we will not need as many shelves - paper books are on the way out, especially among the younger generation.

Scratchpad Saves the Day - Again!

My coworker was helping a patron, and she turned to me. "This patrons says that a while ago you ordered a book for her on dream interpretation - do you remember which one it was?"

Did I panic? Did I laugh in the patron's face? Did I roll my eyes and say, "Yeah, sure, I remember every book I've ever ordered for anyone"?

Nope. I consulted my scratchpad, did a search for "dream," and soon found it: "I ordered Zolar's Encyclopedia of Dream Interpretation for someone on January 28th."

The patron nodded. "Yeah, it was at the end of January."

My coworker went to the shelves and pulled off Zolar's, and handed it to the patron. The patron thumbed through it and said, "Yes, this is the one." Success!


So what's a scratchpad? It's simple Notepad document that I keep open on my desktop whenever I'm on the public service desk. In it, I try to compulsively note down every interaction I have. Card numbers I look up, reference questions I answer, requests I place, equipment problems, who was on the desk with me, shelf checks, behavior problems, all those odd dribs and drabs of information that otherwise I would scribble on scrap paper and throw away. I don't get them all, because sometimes it's pretty busy, but I would say I manage to record a good 90-95%.

Here's what part of it looks like (I've edited out personal information):

1:00 PM 1/28/2010 working with xxx

1:10 PM 1/28/2010 phone 21997xxxxxxxxx what do i have checked out & when are they due?

1:10 PM 1/28/2010 phone do county libraries purchase used hardcover books?

1:14 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx request cdl general knowledge test - also: "bible correspondence book" (patron wanted a concordance)

1:42 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx new registration

1:57 PM 1/28/2010 pub04 problem printing yahoo chat conversation - due to layout of page by yahoo

5:00 PM 1/28/2010 working with xxxx

5:50 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx pub07 patron asked to verify his sam printing balance

6:00 PM 1/28/2010 working with xxxxxx

6:33 PM 1/28/2010 pub06 assistance with aacps.org magnet school acceptance website

6:51 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx request zolar's encyclopedia of dream interpretation

6:59 PM 1/28/2010 phone - are you open on president's day

7:07 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx look up card number

8:06 PM 1/28/2010 21997xxxxxxxxx new registration, sam user instruction


This goes on, day after day, until I fill a whole year. Then I archive that document and start a new one for the new year.

It's fairly easy to do: in Notepad you can hit F5 to insert the current date and time, and I cut-and-paste library card numbers and such. I deliberately try to keep it brief so it won't take much time.

What's the point of all this obsessive notetaking? Because in one case out of a hundred, it comes in handy. Sometimes immediately: patron (without their card, of course) requests some books, then comes back 15 minutes later to request more -- I don't have to look up their number again. Patron says they requested a book two weeks ago and forgot to get it, doesn't remember what it was -- I search by card number and find the title. We're having an information survey and I suddenly realize that I haven't filled out anything for the past three hours -- everything I need is right there.

Am I suggesting that everyone do this? No. (If I did suggest it, would people do it? It is to laugh.) But I CAN testify that it's something I've found useful. If you want to do something similar, give me a call or drop me an email.


PS: It helps if you're a little obsessive-compulsive to begin with.

26 February 2010

Sunday Reports Greatest Hits

On Sundays the PIC (Person In Charge) has to fill out a Sunday Report. I've been looking over my files, and here are some excerpts from Sunday Reports I did in the past.

June 7, 2004

Four Staff for the Info Desk under the light
Three for the Circ Desk like checkers at K-Mart
Twenty-two PCs for the patrons (just right)
One Page, pushing a well-laden cart
On McKinsey Road, where the patrons lie.
      One Page to clean up all, One Page to push them,
          One Page to sort them all, and on the shelves to smush them.
On McKinsey Road, where the patrons lie.

December 16, 2001

In his last ten minutes on the AACPL payroll, ----- punched two patrons in the nose; kicked three little old ladies in the shins; told five residents of --------- ------ that they were snobs; renewed one person’s books until April 15, 2106; set the home pages of all the public PCs to hotsluts.com; drew a corndog on the back of Mr. Johnston’s head; and exposed himself to not one but three troups of Girl Scouts. He was last seen headed north on Ritchie Highway, unrolling microfilm of the 1983 Baltimore Sun and cackling “Ron Kozlowski wears funny shoes!” (No, not really. But he WANTED to.)

November 16, 2003

The patrons come in.
We completely serve their needs.
Happy, they depart.

Staffing is an art.
Now too many, now too few.
Today is just right.

A much better crew
More competent and friendly
I could not ask for.

Slow at first but then
As day wears on, more active.
Busy to the end.

The walls stand firmly,
Shelter us from the weather,
Keep the inside out.

I do not know why
This report turned out to be
Done all in haiku.

Sometimes I did a theme report in which I pretended to be someone else:

January 12, 2003

Reported by: Wendy Whiner

There weren’t ANNNY patron Incidents, even though I kept BEGging David to start one, but he wouldn’t even when I WHINED.

There were FOUR Circ and FIVE Info, and all of them were full-time career staff, and I don’t know WHERE we’re going to get the money to PAY them all, we’re going to go broke and we’ll all lose our jobs and we’ll have to MOVE OUT into the STREEEET.

Everybody did reeeeal god today, it makes me feel BAAAD because they’re all BETter than I am.

It was Sloooowww…and we didn’t have ANYTHING to do, and I was sooooo Boooored! I haate it when it’s so SLOOOOOWWW and the day just draaaggggsssss on and on and on and on and on. And I didn’t know what I should DO to make the tiiiime pass more quickly, so we all just SUFfered.

I was soooo sleeeepy and all I wanted to do was curl up and take a naaaap, but nobody would LET me because they’re all so meeeeeean.

And then it started getting BUSY and HUNdreds of peeeeeople came in, and all the phones were riiinging and it was TERRible. All the COMputers were busy, and everybody was PICKING on us and all the patrons were whiiiiiining and I wanted to go home but Bethany wouldn't let me, she's such a poop-head! And then when I fiiiiinally went on my breeeeak, it was COLD in the staff roooooom.

It was TOOO COLD, then it was TOOOO HOOOT, and then the sun came in and it was sooo bright that it hurt my poor little eyes, and then it got DARker and we couldn’t SEEEEE anything and I stubbed my poor toe and it reeeeeally, REEEEEEEally hurt a lot.

Oh, I don’t know what to say here, I never know what to put under OTHER. It’s just not fair that I should always beeeee the one who has to fill out “Other” when there’s NEVer any Other to fill out. Oh, I guesss the only thing I can dooo is WHIIIIIIIIINE!!!

January 7, 2001

Reported by: Lex Luthor

Some guy in blue tights and a red cape came flying in with some complaint, but our emergency chunk of Kryptonite stopped him.

Staffing is an art.We had enough henchmen (and henchwomen) to keep the place operating.

Busy. How is an evil super-genius supposed to plan to take over the world, when all these patrons keep coming in? Despite a Ravens football game, half of ------- ---- and one-third of ------------ and ------ came in to work on their science fair projects. Fortunately, all the evil super-geniuses on staff were able to help.

We showed one kid how to make nerve gas to paralyze a small city, another how to build a digging machine so she could burrow into Fort Knox from below, and helped a third child shrink a Kryptonian city and put it in a bottle.

We may need to recharge the death rays.

I developed a serum to give us all X-Ray vision, but after looking around at the patrons, we decided that we didn't really want to see through their clothes.

We need more Kryptonite.

January 12, 2003

Reported by: Divine Inspiration

Yea and verily, there were no Patron Service Incidents, and for that the Staff were grateful, and they sang the praises of the Lord.

In those days, the Lord provided that the number of the Staff should be Nine, and Nine there were. And of that Nine, the number of the Info Staff was Five, for there were only So Many Computers, and the Lord knew that the Public would constantly importune the Info Staff for aid. And the number of the Circ Staff was Three, no more and no less, for that is the number of the Trinity. And the number of the Pages was One, for the Pages are a lazy and slovenly lot, and few of them wish to work on the Sabbath.

So the Staff numbered Nine, and Nine was the number of the Staff. And the Lord saw that it was good.

Yea, all the Staff deserved compliment. Lisa the Brave, and Linda the Strong, and Diane the Resourceful were pleasing in the sight of the Lord, for they did their Circ work well. And the Info Staff were likewise pleasing to the Lord. And their names were Diane the Sore-Armed, and Barbara the Media-Specialist, and Jill from Riviera, and Mary Jane who is called Pittman. And the Page, Robin the Bold, served long and was devoted to the Lord. All these things are true, for I, Don the Humble, have seen them with my own eyes.

At one o’clock, yea, did the Gates of Hell open, and all the ferocious denizens thereof spill forth, filling the library and sorely taxing the faithful Staff. And even unto the Third Hour did this numberless host bedevil them, nipping at their heels and devouring their entrails. And at the Third Hour did the torment lessen, but not vanish entirely; for the denizens of Hell did no longer worship the false gods of The Football Game, but instead pursued the faithful Staff. Great were the lamentations of the Staff. And it was not until the stroke of the Fifth Hour, and even a little beyond, that the Lord took pity on the Staff and made the Demons Go Away, saying “Begone, you spawn of Hell, and return not until the sun has set and risen once again, on the Ninth Hour of the morrow.”

And the Staff were grateful.

It is written that in the beginning, the Staff displeased the Lord, and He cast them forth from Paradise, saying, “For all your days, you will work in this building, and there will be no escape. And the building will be Too Dark, and Too Noisy, and the Carpet shall be an abomination in My sight. And thou shalt sit on Hard, Uncomfortable Metal Chairs in the Staff Room, and the building shall forever be either Too Hot or Too Cold but never anywhere in the Middle. And the Parking Lot shall be filled with speeding demons who take no account of the Staff or their Safety. And thus shall it be, unto the Seventh Generation, and thou shalt be able to do Nothing About It.” So spaketh the Lord. And it was so.

When the Staff arrived, they found the Copier by Fiction dead, and none of their prayers could awaken it. And then the Self-Check died, and none of the Staff, Circ or Info, could bring it back to life. Then it came that the Copier by the Gates stopped accepting coins, hoarding them all to itself and delivering neither Copies nor Change. And all these Machines were marked with the sacred sign of Out of Order. And the Lord saw that it was good.