Civil Public Discourse Friday, Aug 21 2009 

Recently I was looking at an on-line publication from the American Library Association. In it there was a link to Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit. I clicked on it and observed his presentation of the Kit on YouTube.

His ten steps, in the form of questions, to detect baloney addresses the need to thoroughly examine what we see, hear, and read to filter out that which has no sound basis.  In this age of instantaneous bombardment through all forms of media, there is a lot of baloney out there and also many individuals who make a good living promoting some of the most odious kinds of it. Look up Baloney Detection Kit in the search engine of your choice to find a direct link to Mr. Shermer’s presentation of his kit.

His tenth step is the question “Are personal beliefs driving the cause”? This ties in to my topic for this blog entry, that of the rapid decline in civil public discourse in this country.

Since early summer, and particularly since Congress adjourned for the August recess, you can not avoid hearing, seeing, or reading in any media of your choice strident voices promoting one side or the other of the health  care situation. Notice I did not say discussion or debate. The hysteria, demagoguery, and downright falsehoods found in all aspects of this situation are downright appalling and do not reflect positively on our ability to listen to each other and discern what the real issues are.

As I or you reach our conclusions on this or any other issue that concerns us, we come to this process with a predetermined belief system. This belief system is the result of many factors, including  family upbringing, place(s) where we have lived, education, economic status, race, sex, religious belief or unbelief, employment history, and social and work connections. None of us comes to anything with a clean slate. It is important for us to realize this as we enter the information gathering process necessary to form our own opinions. This information gathering process is where concepts found in the Baloney Detection Kit can be of assistance in reaching a personal conclusion on any subject under consideration.

Why am I so concerned about the tone of our current interactions on health care? This situation is  another indication that our ability as a people to have civil discourse on issues that concern us is rapidly diminishing and may be disappearing altogether. For a nation to function effectively as a democracy there must be civil public discourse on the important issues that face us.  We must respect those with whom we disagree and express our disagreements  in a manner that does not inflame passions to the breaking point or beyond. We must also be open to the realization that we do not know it all and might even be incorrect in our assumptions and beliefs. Without this civil discourse process, as a nation we lay ourselves open to individuals and forms of government that bear no resemblance to democracy.

Let each of us pledge to work towards restoring civil public discourse to the life of our Nation.

So long for now!

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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!

Its Summer Again! Tuesday, Jun 30 2009 

Summer means many things to each of us.  It is a time of relaxation, vacations, family reunions, picnics, and trips. In Hampton Roads Virginia it can be a time of heat, humidity, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks and a strong desire to head inside and place oneself next to the nearest air conditioning vent!

For those with children who have been released from the educational system until after Labor Day, it can be a challenge. I remember those long days with our kids and what was involved in keeping boredom at bay.

As always, the library has a solution to keeping young minds active and contented. It is called the “Summer Reading Program”. At both our locations and through our Mobile Library Services vehicles, Williamsburg Regional Library staff have planned an active and challenging program for youth from birth through entering grade 12 who reside in the City of  Williamsburg, James City County or York County.

For youth from birth through entering grade 5  there is our “Some Enchanted Reading” program.  For specific information on program activities click here .

For youth entering grade 6 through entering grade 12 the library provides the “Wheel of Reading” program. For specific information on program activities click here.

The library also comes to a variety of community locations to provide programs and reading activities for youth. The Williamsburg/James City County Schools summer school program receives an in class daily reading program, as well as weekly visits from Mobile Library Service vans. Each class reads everyday and records it on a special poster. The students in classes that read everyday will receive a poster at the end of the program. Youth Services and Mobile Library Services Staff are visiting James City County Parks and Recreation sites each week with a variety of programs that promote books and reading. The library is also participating in Camp Discovery, run by the James City County Parks and Recreation, by providing a series of storytimes. During their neighborhood and childcare center stops Mobile Library Services staff are promoting the summer reading program with storyhours and programs.

The Williamsburg Regional Library is able to provide these programs and events for our youth due to the support of the Herbert Friedman Library Fund, Friends of Williamsburg Regional Library, and over 50 local individuals and businesses who provide financial assistance, incentive items and prizes for program participants. Without these fine organizations and individuals the Library would not be able to provide the quality and depth of  summer reading programming that we do. My thanks go out to each of these sponsors and to our hard working and dedicated staff.

So long for now!

Virginia Opportunity Online Broadband Summit Friday, May 29 2009 

For the past several months I have been privileged to be on the Advisory Committee for the Virginia Opportunity Online Broadband Summit. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has selected Virginia as one of seven states for a pilot program to establish Internet connectivity in all public libraries with speeds of 1.5 Mbps or faster. The goal of this program is to build state and local support to ensure public libraries can achieve and sustain broadband Internet connections over the long-term. The Virginia Opportunity Online Broadband Summit is the first step in the Gates Foundation program process for Virginia public  libraries.

In a time of increasing use of public library public access computers to communicate with family members in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, to prepare and send resumes as a part of the job application process, file for unemployment compensation and participate in distance learning, it is essential that libraries have bandwidth sufficient to handle this demand. Many public libraries in Virginia do not have the necessary bandwidth to meet user demand.

The following is taken, with permission of the Library of Virginia,from a report on the summit:

“Ninety-six library directors, local partners, state leaders and technology advocates participated in the Virginia Opportunity Online Broadband Summit held May 13-14, 2009 in Hot Springs, Virginia at The Homestead Resort…

The summit included a comprehensive look at the state of connectivity across the Commonwealth and in Virginia’s public libraries.  Presentations included:

  • Emily Parker, program officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries program (USL);
  • Jorman Granger, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor L. Douglas Wilder and current executive with Northrop Grumman Information Systems;
  • Graham Richard, former mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana and business entrepreneur; and
  • Glen C. Sink, executive director of Virginia Rural Center.

However, it was the comprehensive and exciting panel discussions that properly outlined the need for improved connectivity in Virginia’s public libraries.  The two panels were moderated by Karen Jackson, Deputy Secretary of Technology, and Delegate Christopher K. Peace of the Virginia House of Delegates’ 97th District.

The first panel highlighted the efforts taking place in the Commonwealth to improve connectivity and explored how public libraries fit into the broadband equation. Key points from the discussion included technology resources for rural citizens, the extremes of connectivity, the evolution of technology, the value of a broadband champion, and the importance of advocating the need for connectivity.

The second panel with Delegate Peace examined the need for improved connectivity to Virginia libraries and the opportunities that come with improved broadband connections. Fran Freimarck (director of the Pamunkey Regional Library), Harriet Henderson Coalter (director of the Richmond Public Library), Paula Alston (director of the Montgomery-Floyd Regional Library) and Nancy Bolt (consultant with the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy). The panel provided the following examples as a response to why higher broadband speeds are needed:

  • searching online catalogs,
  • participating in traffic school classes,
  • filing income tax forms,
  • applying for unemployment benefits,
  • downloading audio books, and
  • helping job seekers.

One interesting example is that the Richmond Public Library witnessed 50% utilization of bandwidth on Sunday.  Ironically, the library is closed on Sundays.

Following all the presentations and panels, participants had the opportunity to join others from their geographic region to share their ideas regarding connectivity in Virginia’s public libraries. This table talk proved to be the highlight of the event and allowed candid conversation among librarians, local partners and state leaders.  Topics discussed by the groups included:

  • Services
  • Connectivity
  • Funding
  • Political Considerations
  • Institutional
  • Support

All in all, the summit gathered people and organizations for one common cause: improved connectivity to Virginia’s public libraries.  Every participant left knowing that improved connectivity is imperative for our public libraries and that they can make it happen.”

Another exciting result of the summit was the ability of library participants to explain to non-librarians in attendance the roles that public libraries play in all aspects of community life.

While I was unable to attend the summit due to family illness, I am excited about what this meeting brought in the way of new understandings and partnerships as Virginia public libraries begin the process of improving broadband access in their facilities.

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!

On Becoming a 5 Star Library Friday, Feb 20 2009 

The February 15, 2009 issue of Library Journal published the inaugural Index of Public Library Service. This index rates 7,115 public libraries throughout the United States and ranks 256 “star” libraries as five star, four star and three star libraries.

The Williamsburg Regional Library was honored to receive one of only 90 five star ratings in the study.  All ranking systems depend upon what statistics are used in developing them and a case can be made as to their validity. However, the methodology and statistics used by Library Journal in developing their rankings are as sound as any developed so far. The ratings are based upon four per-capita service indicators: library visits, circulation, program attendance and public Internet computer uses. The Williamsburg Regional Library did well in all categories and finished first in its budget group in program attendance.

How does one become a 5 star library? I am including below the comments that I sent to Library Journal upon receiving notification of the recognition:

The Williamsburg Regional Library has been providing excellent service through a contract for library services to the citizens of the City of Williamsburg and James City County since 1977. The following items are essential to this service provision:

  • Having a contract with its governing entities that outlines the responsibilities of each party. While this contract is not perfect and has been revised over the years, it provides a basis for quality library service.

  • Having local governments that are willing to fund library services at a high level. This enables the library to have sufficient funds to provide quality collections, skilled staff and necessary on-going facility maintenance.

  • Having a well-developed strategic plan that is a part of daily library operations. If it is not in the plan it is not done. WRL prioritizes programs and services based upon the strategic plan. This plan is evaluated and revised on a regular schedule.

  • Having quality staff that is service driven. It is important that this staff receives adequate training and opportunities for personal and professional growth.

  • Having an operational climate that encourages innovation and taking responsibility. Within this operational climate there is freedom to try new programs and services( so long as they fit into our strategic plan) and an expectation that there will be failures along the way.

  • Having fun along the way. Our staff development committee regularly schedules events such as the February 12 Chili Lunch celebrating Lincoln’s Birthday and Valentine’s Day.

To become a five-star library takes concerted effort over many years. The community must desire quality library service, provide the necessary funding to accomplish it, and continually communicate with library staff their needs and their appreciation for what is being provided. Library staff must have a service driven orientation and feel that they are a part of an organization that appreciates and rewards their efforts. While not always on the cutting edge of library service, the library must be continually looking at its operations and services and be willing to move in new and challenging ways to meet the service expectations of its community.

Thanks to all who have made this possible!

So long for now!

Reach the Director Friday, Feb 6 2009 

When I started this blog on April 1, 2008 I set as my goal to have two or three posts per month. As you can see I am falling short of that goal. My intent now is one post a month and I am now a little behind that at this time.

This post is expanding on comments made in my post of May 23, 2008.

I have been a library director of five public libraries and one multi-type library system since 1975.  In my previous positions, my office was  accessible by the public but my phone contact was filtered by office staff unless I gave someone my direct phone line. Here, my office is not accessible by the public as I am hidden behind the circulation workroom in a non-public area, but my direct phone line is listed in the phone directory.

From my large office windows, I can view the public entering the library from a main entrance  and they can observe what I am doing, but they can not meet with me unless they ask staff to see if I am available. I would like an office with more public accessibility but our building design will not allow it.

Having your direct office line listed in the phone directory leads to some interesting conversations. Sometimes, upon hearing that they actually have contact with the “Library Director” individuals will sputter and hang up. I get a lot of apologies for bothering me. To these individuals, I ask how I may be of assistance and then we continue our discussion.  I have learned much from these callers and hopefully have left them with a better feeling about their public library and its accessibility.

I will admit that at times of the year, such as  AARP Tax Preparation Season (which in now underway), when I have answered the 10th phone call of the day for the schedule for our tax preparers a direct phone line becomes less than desirable. But again, each caller needs information, that is part of my responsibilities as library director, and I do have a tax preparer schedule on my desk.

One of my first actions when I became library director at WRL was to end the punch a number phone system confronting library callers. As mentioned in my May 23, 2008 post, library callers  during daytime hours reach a live voice that assists them in getting to the individual staff member who can answer their question. Having my direct phone line listed in the phone directory is but an extension of my belief that in this technological age, the accessibility of a live human being is a vital part of good library service.

So long for now!

Its been 40 Years! Friday, Dec 26 2008 

Recently my wife and I received a letter from our Alma mater indicating that our 40th class reunion would be next spring. Besides a confirmation of our advancing age, it brought back thoughts of how things have changed in the past 40 years.

When we were college students, class meant going to a room with an teacher and receiving a lecture (or if we were lucky, participating in a learning discussion). While this classroom experience remains the norm in undergraduate education, class may also mean hooking up the laptop and connecting via the Internet to receive information in a variety of formats. Class discussions are held electronically and in some cases there is no visual or vocal interaction with the teacher during the whole semester.

In the late 1960’s class notes were handwritten and papers were expected to be typewritten (although a few teachers did permit handwritten papers). Now small digital recorders can quietly record every word the teacher speaks. This can be accomplished while the student is text messaging via a cell phone to someone in the next seat or in a foreign country. The personal computer with its word processing and spread sheet software is now a required part of every student’s educational experience.

The following is but a short list of technological advances of the last 40 years ; (source – inventors.about.com)

  • floppy disk – 1970
  • liquid-crystal display – 1971
  • microprocessor – 1971
  • videocassette recorder – 1971
  • word processor – 1972
  • ethernet – 1973
  • laser printer 1975
  • ink-jet printer 1976
  • cell phones – 1979
  • IBM-PC – 1981
  • Apple Macintosh – 1984
  • Microsoft Windows – 1985
  • Disposable Camera – 1986
  • Digital Cellular Phone – 1988
  • HTTP and HTML Created – 1990
  • Pentium Processor – 1993
  • Virtual keyboard – 2002
  • Intel Express Chipsets – 2004
  • YouTube – 2005

What has not changed over time is the nature of the educational process.  It is still dependent upon what the teacher puts into his/her instruction. Good quality information and a desire to share and be a part of the learning process can be done just as effectively through the use of appropriate technology as it can be through personal classroom interaction.  In other words, good instruction is good instruction no matter what technology is used in its dissemination.  Likewise technology can not help poor instruction.

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!

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