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!

Thoughts On Assuming A New Position Tuesday, Oct 27 2009 

Your first thought upon seeing such a title to this month’s blog entry might be “where is he headed now?”. However, I am not leaving the Williamsburg Regional Library.

Last year in elections held by the Virginia Library Association, I was elected to the position of vice-president/president elect. Since October of 2008 at the end of the Association’s annual conference held in Williamsburg,  I have had a year to become acquainted with Association activities, programs, budgets, concerns and fellow executive board and council members. Hopefully I have learned something and am now prepared for my year as president of the Virginia Library Association.

As I look forward to this week’s annual conference (again being held in Williamsburg) and the opportunities that this brings for networking, listening, learning and the sharing of ideas, I am struck with how short a time a year is. Maybe this is the result of advancing age.

In any case, what can I realistically hope to accomplish during my tenure as Association president? The president chairs both the executive committee and the council. These bodies meet four times a year. In addition I have already selected a conference committee chair for next year’s conference (in Portsmouth, not Williamsburg) and will be a member of that committee as it works during the year to plan the conference. Most committee chairs and committee members are appointed by the second vice-president so I have only suggestion opportunities here.

At our annual executive committee retreat to be held on November 12 and 13 we set a plan for the year and prepare a budget for the Association. As a part of this planning I have prepared, as have presidents before me, a designated agenda for the coming year. Much of this is boiler plate as the Association must continue to perform  routine maintenance  items in order to provide members with the expected publications, meetings and services. Where my emphasis will be is on seeing what can be done to recognize more members for service to our profession,  in continuing efforts to reach all segments of our library community and continuing the effort to educate all Virginians on the importance of libraries in their daily lives. This is vitally important as the coming year looks to be one of financial hardship for all types of libraries in Virginia.

In sum, a year is a short time and a president has limited opportunities to install new programs or ideas, even if they are warranted. What I hope to do during my year is be a good spokesperson for the Association when called upon, enjoy my time as its president, and leave the Association in as good shape as I found it. In short do no harm. Although, I do leave open the possibility for a little tinkering along the way!

So long for now!

Tennessee Library Event Wednesday, Nov 26 2008 

In the past few days, I have been following the fallout from the November 20, 2008 press conference held by Nashville, Tennessee Mayor Karl Dean. At this conference, he announced that the city library would begin taking over the operation of school libraries system-wide in January 2009. After the press conference Nashville Public Library Director Donna Nicely confirmed to American Libraries that she and Mayor Dean had been conferring with each other for several months about this possibility. She was quoted in an American Library Association release as follows;”We all talk about thinking outside the box, but here’s an idea that truly could transform the public library and the school libraries because we would be enfolding them into the public library structure”. Further she indicated that the idea was “strictly a proposal at this point” and “Its just a matter of organizing it and understanding how it all works and going forward with it.” These two last comments seem on the surface to be contradictory.

As one who has a good understanding of how public and school libraries operate and whose Ph.D. dissertation was a study of combined school/public libraries, I can talk endlessly on the differences in mission, clientele, services, staff training, educational requirements and organizational structure between these two institutions.

However, I am a firm believer in cooperation. In Williamsburg, the Williamsburg Regional Library has a strong partnership with Williamsburg/James City County Public Schools. Our focus is on the community from birth to death while each school library’s focus is on supporting educational instruction for the students in their school. Within these separate focuses, the Library and the School System have developed cooperative programs and services that make use of the individual talents and experiences of staff from each entity. In this approach both entities and their users are enriched.  However, combining our operations would be like making pumpkin pie with oranges and apples and expecting the result to be a pumpkin pie.

I am also a firm believer in thinking out of the box. There are always new approaches to issues and problems and many solutions are found when new thought processes are put to old issues. However, when one wanders out of the box it must be done with all parties in mind and being fully cognizant of the ramifications of your thought process. In Nashville, it appears that all parties are not yet a part of the process. When that happens failure is a guaranteed result.

Yes, this could be a transformational event. I would encourage all parties to back off of where they appeared to be on November 20 and sit down and discuss the possibilities for public library/school library cooperation.  Hopefully, it is not too late for this to occur. A lot of what Nashville Public Library Director Donna Nicely mentioned in her recent comments such as combining school library and public library catalogs, the joint ordering and processing of library materials and extended hours for school library service can be accomplished through partnerships which leave each entity separate to serve their unique user communities.

In any case I wish the Nashville Library community the best as they enter a challenging time in their corporate and individual lives.

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!

Planning – Mission and Vision Friday, May 16 2008 

As mentioned in a previous post, there are several steps to planning. This post will consider the Library’s mission and vision.

A mission is defined by Webster’s New Ideal Dictionary as “a task or function assigned or undertaken”. Mission statements need to be concise (it is best that they be two sentences or less) and be able to convey the core purpose of the institution. This is no easy task. The Williamsburg Regional Library’s mission statement, ” Free access to information is a foundation of democracy. The Williamsburg Regional Library, a basic government service, provides that access through resources and programs that educate, enrich, entertain, and inform every member of our community.”, is a reaffirmation of the role that public libraries play in the provision of information to all citizens. It also highlights the importance of access to information as an essential part of citizen participation in a democratic society. This mission statement is the result of considerable discussion by library staff, board and community members at our planning sessions for the first strategic plan. It has stood the test of time.

The library’s mission statement also reminds us that that information comes in a variety of forms and is received through all our senses. Thus, a story-hour program, a community discussion opportunity, or a musical concert is as valuable a conduit of information as reading a book, viewing a DVD or looking at a newspaper or magazine. Sometimes this is forgotten and all of us suffer as a result.

A vision in the sense that the Williamsburg Regional Library uses the term is “a mental image produced by the imagination”. In other words, a vision is what collectively, our staff, board of trustees and community would like the Library to be. The library’s vision statement;”The Williamsburg Regional Library inspires people of all ages and backgrounds to expand their knowledge, pursue their dreams, and enjoy the rich cultural tapestry of our world. The Williamsburg Regional Library enriches the life of our community by encouraging and supporting interaction among all our residents.”, indicates that collectively we have a desire to inspire and enrich the lives of our citizens.

During the course of our strategic plan, the Williamsburg Regional Library is working to achieve this vision trough a set of strategic directions that are based upon community input, community demographics and our mission statement and core values. What are our core values? For this you will have to wait until a later post.

So long for now!

Planning Introduction Friday, May 2 2008 

Over the coming weeks I will be discussing library planning. This post is an introduction to planning at the Williamsburg Regional Library.

The Williamsburg Regional Library has, since 2000, gone through two strategic planning processes. The current plan adopted by the Board of Trustees at its November 30, 2005 meeting covers the years 2006 – 2010.

Planning is important to any organization. Without planning, programs and services are based upon what has always been done, the whim of the moment, what is desired by someone with power within the organization, or by the individual or group with the loudest voice, or any number of other reasons. There is no effective evaluation of either programs or services because there is no agreed upon basis for such an evaluation.

As an organization owing its existence to local governmental entities and supported by tax funding provided by the citizens it serves, the Williamsburg Regional Library has a fiduciary responsibility as well as an ethical obligation to provide programs and services based upon sound planning that reflects the needs and desires of the community it serves.

Planning involves many steps. Included are the gathering of information on the community being served, input from those being served (community residents) as well as those providing the service (library staff) and the development of statements which delineate the library’s purpose (mission) and role within the community.

All successful planning is based upon a set of assumptions. This set of assumptions serves as the core upon which the framework of the plan rests.

It is important that the institution have a vision that can be clearly enunciated. It also needs a set of values that can be used to measure any activity or service provided or proposed for provision.

Once the above items are in place, a successful plan will indicate where the institution is going during the time period of the plan. Some plans will be goal orientated with detailed specificity as to what is desired to be accomplished. The approach adopted by the Williamsburg Regional Library is to provide strategic directions for programs and services with underlying expectations as to how these directions will be accomplished.

So long for now!