Present Economic Times and Public Libraries Monday, Mar 1 2010 

Many commentators are indicating that the United States is in the worst economic decline since the depression of the 1930’s. As one looks at the local government financial picture this viewpoint is confirmed.

Public libraries are a service of local government. Depending upon where they are located, and how they have interacted with and served their user communities,  public libraries are viewed as an essential government service, something that is nice but not essential, or a frill that can be dropped without concern for the community’s health.

My personal career aside, I  view public libraries as an essential service of government. Without public libraries, individuals from every  Socioeconomic category would lack a place where information representing  all viewpoints is confidentially available without further cost. Using the information obtained in, or through, their public library individuals are then able to make their own decisions on what to believe and what to act upon. Access to information from all viewpoints free of doctrinal pressure or influence  is necessary for a democratic society to function and grow.

In these hard economic times public library use is increasing dramatically. As mentioned in earlier blogs, individuals without home computer access are coming in to file unemployment applications and apply for jobs. People are coming in increasing numbers to find materials to help them endure the tasks of daily living. Some individuals just want a warm, or cool, place to pass the day or a friendly voice to listen to their life story (another public library service often overlooked). Public libraries are also community centers where communal learning and social networking takes place on a daily basis.

Yet, many localities are in the process of decimating their public libraries. In Virginia  the strongest example of this trend is Fairfax County Public Library where the FY11 budget proposal for the Fairfax County Public Library includes a reduction of 81 positions and a fiscal reduction of $3,400,000. If approved, this budget will be 33 % less than the budget of FY09. In addition to the drastic staffing cuts, fourteen community libraries will be open 47 hours a week and 8 regional libraries will be open 51 hours a week. Disabled customers will no longer be able to order library books for home delivery and 35 deposit sites at senior living facilities, nursing homes and adult day care centers will no longer receive rotating collections of library books.

In a time of economic recession/depression all institutions must share in the pain. However, in many communities throughout America it is obvious that public libraries are being asked to shoulder more of the pain than other governmental services.

Has the country’s economic condition hit bottom? It depends upon where you live and which economic guru you talk to. In any case, once bottom is reached, local government fiscal health takes two or three years to begin to recover. This is longer than the general economy and is due to a variety of factors including revenue resources that take longer to reflect recovery than in the private sector.

What does this mean for public libraries? My prediction is several more years of severe financial pain that will include further decreases in staffing levels,  the ability to purchase current materials for public use, and increasing  pressure on service hours.

So long for now!

First Amendment Friday, Jul 24 2009 

Earlier this month I was able to attend a program honoring the 40th Anniversary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. It was held in the newly opened west wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. While the evening was mostly a celebration and remembrance of the life of Judith Krug, who is discussed in an earlier blog, the McCormick Freedom Museum was presented with the Civic Achievement Award at the event.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” guarantees all individuals the right to express their ideas without government interference and to read and listen to the ideas of others.

The McCormick Freedom Museum is a recent outgrowth of the McCormick Foundation which was established in 1955 upon the death of Colonel Robert McCormick the long-time editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Since its founding, the Foundation has been dedicated to the three passions of Colonel McCormick; the First Amendment, Civic Engagement, and a love of Chicago.

The McCormick Freedom Museum was opened as a physical structure in April 2006 and in March 2009 left its building to become a virtual presence organization.  The Museum focuses on the five freedoms outlined in the first amendment – assembly, religion, petition, press and speech. As its web page indicates its mission is to engage citizens of all ages in dialogue regarding freedom and the First Amendment.

While directed primarily to the Chicago area community, it sponsors a national student expression contest, Seen and Heard, in which high school students can express their thoughts on contemporary social, political or economic issues through the following formats: editorial cartoons, film, photojournalism, and digital design.

Why are organizations such as the McCormick Freedom Museum important to individuals such as this blog writer who live many miles away from its primary action area?

The first amendment is essential to the work that I have been involved in since my first paying library job in 1959.  The freedom to read is essential to a functioning democracy. By providing  access to information and ideas across the spectrum of social and political thought public libraries serve a vital role in enabling all people to chose, without outside interference, what they want to read, view or listen to.

This right is always under attack from those who want to proscribe certain viewpoints or desire to limit access to viewpoints different from those that they find acceptable. Organizations such as the McCormick Freedom Museum are a necessary and vital force in the efforts to educate and remind all Americans, and particularly our younger generation, of the importance and value of first amendment rights to their daily lives.

So long for now!

Passing of an Era Friday, Apr 17 2009 

This past Monday I opened my e-mail to receive several communications concerning the passing of Judith F. Krug on April 11, 2009 in Evanston, Illinois.  I had known that Judith had been ill for some time, but her death still came as a shock.

As some know, one of my personal passions is Intellectual Freedom. A society that observes Intellectual Freedom is one that “makes an equal commitment to the right of unrestricted access to information and ideas regardless of the communication medium used, the content of the work, and the viewpoints of both the author and receiver of the information.” Intellectual Freedom Manual, Sixth Edition 2002.

Judith Krug was an inspirational leader in the struggle to educate the public concerning the right to the free expression of ideas. Since 1967 she had directed the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. In this position she was the Association’s voice for Intellectual Freedom.

For over 40 years Judith was the individual that librarians and others looked to when censorship of library materials was an issue; when government sought to limit access to materials or ideas; or when you needed a sympathetic, understanding voice to hear what you were facing. She was strident in her efforts to oppose censorship and intellectual intolerance, whether it was local community efforts to remove material from school and public libraries,  the Communications Decency Act,  or Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Judith dedicated her life to upholding First Amendment principles. As a First Amendment absolutist, she often drew criticism for her stands. Judith had an abiding faith in the ability of individuals to make personal decisions on what they should read or view and often argued that the government should not interfere in a citizen’s right to obtain and examine information.

I was privileged to observe Judith in action and to work with her as a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the American Library Association and in other American Library Association activities.   She was always willing to go anywhere to any meeting. When I was teaching a graduate course in library administration at the University of Illinois, she came down to lead the class session on Intellectual Freedom.  This class session was the liveliest and most  informative session that semester.

In a lifetime you meet few people  of Judith’s caliber and dedication. I am one of the lucky ones to have been in her orbit. Her dedication, humor and unwavering intensity left a mark on me that will be there as long as I live.

March Meanderings Wednesday, Mar 25 2009 

As spring slowly pokes its way along the Virginia horizon several observations come to mind.

First is the difficulty in getting individuals and organizations to properly acknowledge the library in print. I have been here over 8 years.  During this period I have lost track of how many times Patrick Golden, our program services director who handles media relations, and I have worked with local organizations to correct how our name is presented in publications and programs. You would think that one communication with each organization would handle it, but it does not work that way. Just the other day I went to an event where the library’s name was actually correct on one page of the program but totally wrong a few pages later. This organization has been strongly reminded on several occasions in the recent past as to our correct name. Maybe I should count one out of two as progress.

Second is that it is becoming difficult to separate the essential from the non-essential in how the library communicates with our public. The Williamsburg Regional Library is currently undertaking a thorough review of its web presence with the goal of introducing a new web site in 2010. While our current web site continues to receive recognition for its clarity and design, we acknowledge that it needs to be better. Any new web site must  incorporate  technology such as RSS feeds, podcasts,  and improved searching options  to more effectively reach and inform all individuals within our community about library programs and services.

This process brings up the question of how far does the library go in employing technology in communicating with our public.  Does the library use  technology such as Facebook, Twitter or Second Life simply because it is there and embraced by some in the profession and in our user community? I am not sure that this way of dealing with technology is either wise or the best use of limited resources. I am also concerned that individuals, and institutions, can spend too much time “communicating” and not enough time in accomplishing the essential tasks necessary to provide quality library service to all our users whether they come to us through the Internet or in person.

Third is as I look out of my office in the Williamsburg Library and see city grounds crews at work trimming bushes, planting flowers and cleaning up library grounds from the winter slumber, I realize how lucky the library is to not have to deal with outside maintenance at either of our facilities. Both James City County and City of Williamsburg grounds maintenance staff take pride in maintaining library grounds. For that I am immensely thankful.

The final observation at this time of awakening hope that it will finally become warm enough for the duffer in me to lose golf balls again (I do not do winter well) is how wonderful it is to be part of a  staff that takes pride in giving quality service to all library users.

So long for now!

Nomenclature Wednesday, Aug 13 2008 

I knew when I agreed to try writing a blog that there would be times when the mind would not want to cooperate in this endeavor. This is one of them. I have been searching for the topic for my next post and coming up short, very short in fact.

Maybe part of the difficulty is that it is August and I am here while some library staff have left for Austria, Texas and other points of the compass. O well, my time will come and I am looking forward to a trip to see our grandson the end of the month. It will be nice to see the terrific and terrible two’s from a non-responsible position!

So, why nomenclature?

In recent years, as we ponder the changing world around us, librarians have had discussions on what should we call those who use our facilities.The most common term for those who enter our establishments is library patron.

As libraries and librarians are made aware of the newest operational trends, many of which speak of the library in business based terms and encourage adoption of the business related model of the moment, the question arises as to what is the proper term for those who enter our premises or find us through our on-line or virtual presence? Are they now users, customers, members, or something else? I have been to presentations in recent years where all of the above have been suggested. It has also been suggested that individuals who do not have library cards should be referred to as guests.

What is more important to me than how we refer to those who use us, is how we treat those who enter our doors or find us through other means. Are we giving the best possible service? Are we treating each individual as a person and not a number? Is our facility clean, well maintained and projecting a welcoming presence to all? Can individuals easily locate what they came for? Can they easily access us (are we on public transit routes or have adequate on-site parking)? Is our web presence easy to navigate and does it contain access to needed information? Do they leave us happy with their library experience or do they find us lacking?

If we can provide positive answers to these questions we will be a success! Most individuals do not care how they are referred to if they are receiving excellent personalized service from pleasant knowledgeable library staff.

I will grant you though that the term library patron does not sit well with me. I prefer the term user or customer, but that is only my preference. What is yours?

So long for now!

Privacy Thursday, Jul 31 2008 

In today’s technological world where new information sharing devices and systems are developed on what seems like an hourly basis, the ability to keep ones personal information to oneself is becoming increasingly difficult. For some this is not a problem. For others, such as myself, it is of concern for I have lived long enough to see what serious harm can be done when personal information is used for misguided, immoral, unethical, or illegal purposes.

What is privacy? and Why do many individuals place such a high value on maintaining personal privacy? Roger Cook an Australian who has studied in this area for many years states that,” Privacy is the interest that individuals have in sustaining a ‘personal space’, free from interference by other people and organizations”. This is as good a definition as any.

As each of us is a member of society our desire for ‘personal space’ must be balanced by the society’s need for personal information in order complete the transactions needed for the society to exist. Taxes must be paid, living places acquired and maintained, health and welfare information gathered, essential functions of commerce provided for and so on. Each of these requires that we as individuals give personal information of one type or another to other organizations in order to function as members of our society.

Libraries are in the forefront of any discussion of privacy as they have historically protected the right of individual users to maintain privacy in what they read, view, or see in the Library setting. Library records in most states are protected by confidentiality statutes that require that a court order be obtained before the library divulges information concerning the individual’s use of the library.

Recently in my role as a member of the Board of Directors of the Intellectual Freedom Round Table of the American Library Association, I have been involved in an effort to begin a National Conversation on Privacy. As an initial step, small discussion groups have been held in all areas of our country to gather information from citizens on what privacy concerns they have. Information from these meetings is being evaluated and work is progressing towards the development of a format for this National Conversation.

Some of the questions asked in these small discussion groups are ones that all of us need to think about as we look at how our society influences our ability to maintain our ‘personal space’ in our daily interactions. Think about the following:

1. What is important to you personally about privacy?

2. What information about yourself are you comfortable in giving out?

3. How do you feel about privacy? What concerns do you have about privacy?

4. What types of information could hurt a person if made public?

5. What information about others do you feel you need to know?

6. What trade-offs or compromises would you be willing to make with your privacy?

Think about these questions and how you would address each one. Discuss this with your family and friends. I will keep readers informed as to the progress of the National Conversation on Privacy.

So long for now!

Core Values – First Post Wednesday, Jun 18 2008 

In my May 16 post I promised to discuss the Library’s core values. As it is now mid June the time has come to deliver on that promise.

What is a value? The Free Dictionary defines a value as “a principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable”. This is as good a definition as any. In reality, a value is something that is held in high regard or esteem by an institution or individual. Values drive anything that an institution or individual does whether they are stated or unstated.

In committing to a set of values the Williamsburg Regional Library is declaring the institutional basis for its programs and services.

The current Williamsburg Regional Library strategic plan lists seven core values. They are :

  • We value free and confidential access to information.
  • We value all residents in our community.
  • We value a literate community.
  • We value strength found in diversity.
  • We value our staff.
  • We value ethical, fiscally responsible stewardship of public resources.
  • We value working cooperatively with groups in our community.

In this post I will briefly discuss the first four of these values, leaving the last three for a later post.

We value free and confidential access to information – The Library’s mission statement indicates “free access to information is a foundation of democracy”. In fulfilling our mission statement the Library supports the right of residents to select the information appropriate for their individual needs. Access to this information is not restricted, except where required by law, and the library through its confidentiality policy and procedures ensures that this access will be remain private.

We value all residents in our community – The Library pledges to provide each individual with courteous, respectful, and friendly service. We value individuals input regarding all that we do. I enjoy receiving “Ask the Director” Comment Cards and have had many delightful (and to be honest, some not so delightful) discussions with individuals as a result. As we look into future revisions of our strategic plan this value may be clarified to define community to being the residents of our funding jurisdictions. As recent events have shown, the Library is not able to provide full service to non-residents of our funding jurisdictions.

We value a literate community – As our strategic plan indicates, “Literacy is important to the successful functioning of a democratic society”. It is also essential to the successful operation of a public library. Without literate users, libraries cease to exist. Through all our programs, services and collections the Library promotes lifelong literacy. One of my community services, as mentioned in an earlier post, is serving on the board of a local adult literacy provider. This service has given me an increased awareness of the value of literacy to both individuals and society at large.

We value strength found in diversity – Our community is a diverse community embracing many cultures, values, and lifestyles. The adult literacy provider mentioned above had as students in the past year individuals from 50 countries speaking 32 different languages. Each summer brings many international student workers to the library on a regular basis. Through personal interactions with the many members of our community we are enriched and become a stronger and more vital institution.

So long for now!