Tuesday, February 14, 2012

If I Could Speak Honestly...

As a person who has been outside the library world for a bit, I have had some time to reflect on my experience in public libraries. During my seven years in the industry, I realize that there are some common mistakes that libraries are making. Well, let's not call them mistakes. Let's refer to them as missteps:  
Too Much Energy is going into the "Moving of Books"
Think about it. Instead of facilitating programs or supporting literacy, many libraries spend most of the time packing, unpacking, checking in, and driving books around. This Oprah-like "Ah-ha!" epiphany dawned on me the other day. Is this what the public really wants from libraries?
Lots of Introverts in Customer-Facing Roles
Let's think about this--in the past, many people went into library science not because they wanted to facilitate interactive programming, but because they liked quiet places to get work done. The library today is no longer a great place for shy, regimented personalities. Instead, they are better suited to loud mouthed, gregarious, friendly, community activists who can multitask and think nonlinearly.

Underestimating Non-Traditional Strengths & Views
How much of your workforce has had an experience outside of the traditional education path? I'm not talking about overseas studies here-I'm talking GEDs, Certification programs, or maybe just unique life experiences. If you are serving a diverse public, don't forget to invite these employees to contribute, connect, and even host programs.
Being Afraid of Free Technology
Do it. Seriously. Use it. Small savvy tech companies use it--so should libraries. I'm talking Youtube, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, Google Apps, Screencast-o-matic and tons of other free resources. It will make your life easier, less expensive, and streamlined. 
Using an Outdated Definition of Privacy
People are going to argue with me on this one, but honestly, the public WANTS to track the books they checked out last week.  In fact, If you're interested in stalking my reading habits, you can find them easily if you Google me. You'll find my obsession with bad romance novels heavily documented on Goodreads. LIbraries must embrace the social aspect of books. Get your librarians and patrons to connect on Goodreads, Amazon, and other resources, and drop the traditional view of privacy. 
Trying to be Everything to Everyone
I see this a lot with public libraries. As technology has displaced the traditional research foundation that libraries used to stand on, they are attempting to do everything they can to draw a crowd. I'm not suggesting that libraries shouldn't try to be fun--I am saying that each library needs a plan that will best serve the needs of the community. This plan should be used as the basis for hiring, employee reviews, customer surveys, and more.
Bypassing Obvious Collaborations
When people suggest that libraries are helping people find jobs, it makes me think that there should be some official collaboration between organizations. Perhaps even shared space? I worked in a library that also housed an Illinois Worknet Center, and it was the best thing that could have happened to both our staff and our patrons. 
Chasing Papers
Too much paperwork is almost as bad as spending too much time moving books. Digitize routine paperwork with online forms, collaborative reports and more. Good "paperwork" is usually "paper-less" and will allow data to be manipulated into charts, mashups, and other tools. 
Ignoring Their Own Uniqueness
Public libraries are funky. I mean it. Each library system is unique. Some places are ritzy and have fireplaces while others have, uh, "retro" furnishings and "retro" staff members to go with it. I say, go with it! Embrace the uniqueness, and market the heck out of it. 

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