Friday, October 20, 2006

The shushing librarian

We all know the stereotype of the librarian as middle aged woman with glasses and a bun shushing the noisy users. I am having great fun today watching Les Lloyd, our Associate VP of Information Technology. Les enjoys teasing me about librarian stereotypes as much as anyone. Today his RCC class is building a sculpture in the library foyer illustrating how much paper Rollins uses every week (about eighteen trees if you are counting.)

As you can imagine, this is a noisy business and every so often Les has to quiet things down -- with "amazing shushing action." I love it

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Here is another idea

I saw this entry in Gary Price's Resource Shelf (great resource for keeping up to date by the way even if you aren't lucky enough to be a librarian!)

It is about some of the excellent support that libraries offer to businesses in the community and quotes a BusinessWeek article that makes the same point.

So this got me thinking, what if a college like Rollins supported its business programs (in our case that would be two very different programs, the various Crummer MBA programs and the International Business department) in a similar way?

Business education is increasingly emphasizing entrepreneurship and group work. Could we model our assistance to these students as support for small businesses rather than the traditional academic reference/instruction model? The physical collection would be housed in a separate "center" and specialized assistance would be available for this group of users and organized around focused, user-centric, problem solving and information gathering. Online support would be organized in the way that some of the sites Resource Shelf list do it rather than as part of a larger academic whole.

Maybe it is a crazy idea, but it is Friday afternoon. A perfect time for crazy ideas.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Transforming the physical experience of visiting the Olin Library

One way libraries will remain important in higher education in the 21st century is as places of study, interaction with others, and relaxation; rejuvenating physical spaces in an increasingly digital world. At Rollins we have to build on the work that previous librarians have created in the Olin Library. It is a beautiful building that offers some great opportunities. It should be a destination for students and faculty on campus.

A number of things about the second floor of the library have been floating around in my brain and they recently came together so I thought I should record them and see if they make any sense. Let me know what you think.

This list is organized as though you are entering the library through the main doors.

  • If you visit the main library of the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando, the first thing you notice as you approach the building is the soothing music wafting from above the entrance. With a gorgeous entrance way at the Olin Library we could do something similar.
  • Rollins is looking for spaces like the courtyard between Orlando Hall and Woolson House that can be designed as relaxing gathering spots on campus. The loggia that runs along the front of the Olin Library would be a perfect spot for benches. A lovely spot for taking a study break with friends and wireless accessible too.
  • Fire regulations mandate that both the entrance and exit doors be designated as exits as you leave the Olin Library. But both doors are solid wood. If someone leaves via the entrance there is the potential to inadvertently hit a person trying to enter at the same time. If we put glass panels in the doors this problem would be solved and more light would be brought into the main lobby of the library.
  • The lobby contains our main exhibit cases, but frankly they don’t really improve the feel of the place. We have some people on staff who enjoy creating exhibits but no one with special skills or training in creating professional grade exhibits and programming that link the library to events on campus.
  • Our Circulation services are located behind a rather imposing counter of wood and glass. The glass lets you see a lot of rather messy shelves and workspaces but not to interact with the staff. The wood paneling darkens the whole lobby, and users are funneled into one relatively small space for service.
  • As some of the staff in Circulation have noticed, users often come to this desk with computing questions rather that library circulation requests and, because staff are not trained to handle these issues, are sent downstairs to (or directed to phone) the IT Help Desk. The library’s Video/DVD collection could be moved elsewhere and the IT desk moved upstairs (conveniently nearer the labs), physically integrated with streamlined circulation services, and some cross-training provided so that users questions about any aspect of information – the technology or the information itself – can be answered from one location. If we want to get really ambitious we can integrate the reference desk (currently located far away from where users first encounter the library) into this space as well for truly “one stop shopping.”
  • This would free up a rather nice space on the ground floor, in what is now known by some users as “the tombs,” for a pleasant group study/conference room.
  • The current Bookmark café offers coffee from 7-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Pretty inadequate hours if you ask me. I am working to increase those hours. But I also think that the space can be made more like a coffee shop and less like a library. Warmer colors on the walls, more funky furnishings with a few sofas and low tables, moving the McNaughton books into the café instead of having them block the café from the entrance, adding food to the menu, and scheduling some events in that space and the Bib Lab next door (poetry readings, music, etc.) It is already wireless accessible, so it can be a lovely little cyber café.
  • The computing lab next to it is pretty forbidding as well. The IT master plan calls for upgrading technology teaching spaces around campus. Perhaps that space could be next.

Physical spaces are only one piece of the picture. We need to get our services right and our customer service needs to exceed our users expectations every time. But physical space matters. I think what I am suggesting here could transform our users’ experience of visiting the library and, combined with the right services, collections, and customer and educational service from our librarians and staff, could make the Olin Library a destination on campus – somewhere people immediately think of when they think about spending time on campus.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

To praise or not to praise?

An interesting management issue arose this week. Part of our strategic planning involves getting input from our users, so I am spending a lot of time attending various faculty (and I hope soon, student) meetings. I want to make sure everyone in the library hears what our users are saying so I send the notes to the whole library. I am also thinking about ways to keep these available, may be a website. Obviously some of what we hear is positive and some is negative, but the point is to get outside our box and listen.

I think this is new for the Olin Library, and it is a little challenging for some. It is made more challenging by a very different style on my part. As you may have noticed if you read this blog, I believe in open communication and sharing lots of information and multiple perspectives. I think you generally end up with stronger decisions even if it can be a bit messy getting there. Traditionally the Olin Library seems to be a low-conflict, high-consensus organization. To avoid conflict and achieve at least the appearance of consensus information and communication has been carefully managed by everyone in the library. Kinda the Thumper's mother school of communication -- if you can't say nice, don't say anything at all.

I disturbed this culture by giving everyone the unedited notes from the meeting I attended, but -- and this was worse -- by specifically singling out certain individuals who had been mentioned positively by those at the meeting and thanking them for their contribution.

Naturally, those who were mentioned are those that the faculty interact with. There are many people working in the library who do excellent work without which the library would not function, but that work is not seen by our users. This is a persistent problem in libraries. Public services get thanks, technical services do not, reference librarians generally get to help users find stuff and so users think they are great, while circulation folks have to fine users for overdue books etc. and are often seen as the bad guys. As a director I have to find ways to overcome this and make sure that everyone's contribution is recognized.

However, the way to do that is not to praise no one. If individuals do good work that is noticed, I intend to let them know and let everyone else in the library know as well. But I also need to find ways to reward excellent work that is hidden from our users but makes a real contribution to our operations.

I also need to get people used to the idea that "a full and frank exchange of views", as the diplomats would say, is a good thing as long as it is done in a constructive and respectful manner because it will eventually lead to stronger shared decisions and purpose. These kind of organization culture changes take time, but are worth doing.