Rural Librarian: October 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

E Equals Everyone: West Virginia Library Association Meets in Shepherdstown

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the West Virginia Library Association's annual fall conference in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. While the rainy and cold weather was uncooperative, it was still a great conference full of energy, ideas, and, of course, some wonderful librarians from all over the state.

Many librarians are concerned about the future of libraries. And it's no wonder since the printed word has gone through a huge loss, with many magazines and newspapers closing shop. So it was refreshing and fun to listen to Peggy Cadigan of the New Jersey State Library talk about the future of libraries. She talked about how libraries will have to be innovative and creative to survive and maintain loyal patrons. What I liked about Ms. Cadigan's presentation was that she compared her home state of New Jersey to West Virginia. New Jersey has the most diverse population in the US, while WV has the least diverse. (She had the sources to back up her facts, as well. Good librarian.) Ms. Cadigan is a member of the Association of Professional Futurists, which has intrigued me no end. Futurists are not about predicting the future, they are about anticipating changes. I like that too. Ms. Cadigan also gave out prizes based on answering trivia questions during her presentation which was charming and fun all at the same time. (The prizes were boxes of salt water taffy from the New Jersey shore.)

How To Get a Levy Passed

Later in the day I went to a talk by Brian Raitz of the Parkersburg and Wood County Library, and Erica Reed about how to Get Your Excess Levy Passed. An excess levy is a request for more funds from tax payers that is decided on by an election. In Randolph County, WV, our previous county superintendent was able to get a levy passed for the first time in decades. How did Dr. Phares get a levy passed? He held meetings at many schools in our county and answered every question about where the money would go and how it would be used. Dr. Phares is a natural politician who campaigned for the extra funds and was successful. Our Randolph County libraries receive $10,000 every year for the five years that the levy is enacted. Our levy expires in two more years and I am thinking about the future of our libraries. That $10k represents almost one-third of our operating budget. What will we do when that money runs out?

Mr. Raitz talked about the behind-the-scenes campaigning that is necessary to educate voters and cultivate library supporters. As librarians, we are limited by ethics and the law about how we campaign for our libraries. We are not allowed to ask people to vote for an excess library while we are in the library. We may not use library funds to promote the levy or legislation. We are not allowed to directly ask our politicians to vote for legislation that increases our funding. Librarians are allowed to talk about the benefits of libraries. We may talk about innovative programs that we are using to engage, empower, and educate our library patrons. If your library has a Friends of the Library organization, they may print and distribute signs and flyers. Nonprofit Friends of the Library groups may solicit politicians to vote on legislation to benefit libraries. The bottom line of this presentation was that librarians and avid library patrons need to toot their own horns about the power of libraries to change lives for the better.

There were a couple of events that I missed that night that included a "Banned Books, Bordeaux and Beer", sponsored by the Intellectual Freedom Roundtable of the WVLA, and a movie and a pub crawl through historic Shepherdstown. (I had to go to class that night online...sigh.)

Data and Communication

The next day I went to a presentation by Dr. Majed Khader, director of the Morrow Library at Marshall University in Huntington, WV, entitled "Data On Demand: Federal Government Information at Your Fingertips." Sadly, because of the government shutdown many of the census bureau sites that he was going to use for his presentation had been shuttered as well. However, he had planned ahead and had some great references handouts for us courtesy of the United States Census Bureau. So, why is it important for librarians to have access to census data? The data can be used to write a grant, to inform our legislators, and to get a better picture of the makeup of our communities.

I also attended a presentation by West Virginia Library Commission Secretary Karen Goff, who spoke about "Communicating With Your Elected Officials". Even though we are librarians (not professional lobbyists) it is important to have a few details about what makes your library special ready to talk to your state and national representatives. When your representative says, "We love your little library", be sure to tell them how many children's programs you had last year. Or how much money you raised at a particular fundraiser. Or your annual attendance number. Make sure that your elected officials have real facts about the awesomeness of your library. ('Cause your library is Awesome!)

Later in the day, I had the honor of making my own presentation on "Developing Alternative Revenue Streams For Your Library." I had about 20 attendees who listened to me talk about how I sell books on Amazon to profit the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. I also talked about how you can create a blog, like the one you are reading, and monetize it through Google AdSense. It's really easy, free, kind of fun, and it's a great way to keep interested library patrons informed about goings on at your library. I also talked about joining Amazon Associates and writing book reviews on the blog with links to Amazon to buy the books, audio CDs, or e-books. I also included plugs for selling books via Better World Books, and for encouraging patrons to use Kroger cards to send money back to your library every time they shop. My goal is to use the Internet to bring in money to my library in every creative and clever way possible, as alternatives to bake sales, cake walks, and other typical fundraisers.

Later, we had a Library Director's Roundtable where I got to meet library directors from all over the state.

The Evening Buffet

That evening, we had a pleasant buffet dinner and listened to Dr. Sam K. Hastings of the University of South Carolina's School of Library and Information Science talk about the importance of professional, degreed librarianship in West Virginia. Dr. Hastings generously offered to match dollars with anyone who wanted to enroll in the University's distance education degree program. Entertaining and inspiring, Dr. Hastings made a lasting impression on many librarians that evening. I was also honored with a cash scholarship from the WVLA in acknowledgement of my enrollment in the Master's of Information Science program through the University of Tennessee. I am truly grateful for this scholarship. Even though I have my tuition paid for via the ITRL2 scholarship, I still have fees each semester and textbooks to buy. Several other library students were honored as well, and I am so proud of all of us who are working and going to school to pursue professional librarianship. Thank you, WVLA!

I left the West Virginia Library Association's fall conference with batteries charged and lots of ideas swimming in my head, some of which were showing off with colorful swim caps and doing synchronized swimming, but that is just my unusual imagination. I am looking forward to the next WVLA event, the Spring Fling in 2014. Will I see you there?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Top 10 Things I Have Learned About Rural Libraries

It has been a little over a year since I became the director of the Pioneer Memorial Public Library in Harman, West Virginia.

While I have lots of library experience, it was primarily in urban areas. This is the first rural, remote library that I have ever worked in. While the size of our collection and our patronage might be small, I have learned some BIG library lessons here. Please allow me to list in descending order the Top Ten Things I Have Learned About Rural Libraries.

10. I cannot please all of our patrons. Although it may cause me sadness when I cannot find the book or material that a patron requests, I can feel good knowing that I have tried my best for them. If our library doesn't own a book, I can offer to buy the book (if it will appeal to others) or inter-library loan the book.

9. Being in charge of a library is a lot like owning your own home. You will always have projects on your "to do" list, and it is impossible to have everything perfect. Somedays, the hours fly by and I realize that I have been so busy helping patrons that I have had very little time to do other things, like cataloging, ordering library supplies, or eating lunch.

8. My best ideas for the library and for buying books come from the patrons. Don't let salespeople at publishing companies persuade you into previewing books. Your patrons are your best source of ideas for books to buy for your library.

7. The patron who is in front of you is more important than any task at hand, unless your library is on fire. Good customer service is the key to a successful small library. Listen carefully to every complaint and suggestion. This is better than any focus group or survey.

6. Know the difference between a teaching moment and when you can just provide a service for your patron. While it is great to try to teach someone how to use a word processing software, if they have limited reading and writing skills, you may both be better off if you just type and write for your patron who needs a flyer created or a letter written.

5. Keep an updated list of talking points for community members, members of the legislature, your board of trustees, and potential donors. Your library is important. Why is it important? Make a list, spell it out, make sure you have a few bullet points that you can tell someone else to remind them of the services offered by the library. An example, "This year, we are reading nonfiction books about animal habitats to help reinforce Content Standard Objectives for Pre-K to third grade."

4. Don't make any major changes for the first six months to one year. Take time to assess the culture of your library and to absorb the process that has evolved. After time, evaluate what works well in the library and what does not. Try changing or tweaking small aspects of your library to improve services or information organization. Evaluate your changes to make sure that they are in line with the mission of your library. (Also, remember that when you effect change you are also changed by the thing you are changing.)

3. Genealogy and tourism play an important part of the activity at a rural public library. At least once or twice a week, we receive visitors who are researching their family trees or copying their genealogies. We have many local genealogies that have been lovingly collected, typed, and hand-written by local researchers. Tourists use the library as a place to use the restroom, stretch legs, get directions, and check email.

2. Libraries have a long and loyal following. The wonderful thing about libraries is that so many people have a warm, and perhaps nostalgic, connection to public libraries. It's easy for me to sell the value of reading and libraries to this natural audience.

1. A small library in a small town may be more important than a big library in a big town. Why? Because in urban areas the general public has a variety of access points for the Internet or buying books, from Starbucks to Barnes & Noble. In a rural community, people may not have access to broadband Internet or bookstores. And it's not just my crazy theory--The Institute of Museum and Library Services conducted a recent report that says the same thing here.

I still have a lot to learn about Harman, West Virginia at the Pioneer Memorial Public Library. Maybe I will report back in another year on the lessons I have learned in our sweet, rural library in Randolph County.