This is an abridged version of the notes I typed up for my colleagues here at work. Nothing too fancy, just getting down my thoughts:

I attended what amounted to a triple session with James (Jamie) LaRue, Director of Douglas County Libraries in Colorado, which included a breakfast address followed by a double session, “Re-thinking Public Libraries.” (I also wrote a short blog post about this inspirational speaker, which can be found here: http://bringyournoise.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/some-librarians-think-passive-resistance-is-a-professional-tool-james-larue/ LaRue’s personal Web site can be found here: http://www.jlarue.com/ and the Library Web site can be found here: http://douglascountylibraries.org/.

These were great sessions with a great speaker who has a great vision. I don’t even know where to begin, really, since I took over 5 pages of notes, which is unusual for me for any one session. A few highlights/sound bites in no particular order:

  • Douglas County (or more likely the state of Colorado—didn’t write that down) purchased an Adobe Content Server for $10,000 so that they can host and OWN their own e-content In addition to owning vendor books such as those from OverDrive (as opposed to leasing them), LaRue envisions public libraries acting as “publishers” for those self-published authors going directly to the ebook market. The Adobe server can accommodate some crazy number like 2.7 million titles published in ePub format. LaRue made the point that it will be impossible for libraries to “filter” every title included this way in a library’s collection, and that as a result, it is a certainty that many “fringe” elements will be included, some good; some not-so-good. Since he has had to address over 250 book challenges during his time as Director, he was wondering how this sort of forward-thinking, ebook publishing model would affect issues like library collection development, selection, “censoring”, and filtering since any library could not possibly preview every new e-title for quality, content, etc. He envisions some sort of user-based filtering that would depend on reviews of readers, etc. It would also be impossible to have MARC records for 2.7 million titles. They are using a template for a “basic” record that does not entirely conform to MARC. When catalogers complain about not meeting the “standards,” LaRue tells them that they are “inventing” the standards. LaRue feels strongly that libraries must position themselves as “essential” to the ebook market.
  • Although he has a clear vision/direction for the ebook market, he also strongly believes that any library’s strength lies in its value to the community and it is through our storytelling and reference transactions that we can make ourselves essential in the community as follows:
  • Enlist non-librarians to talk to non-librarians about libraries. Give them a script with a story to touch the heart.
  • With regard to reference, well, LaRue has taken reference to a whole, new level. His reference librarians work on large, community issues and present their research at community meetings of bankers, business people, and other groups/leaders. His mantra is “librarians will not survive if they stay in the building.” And “Go to the people; they won’t come to you.” He suggests staffing the actual ref desk in the library with non-MLS staff because most ref questions don’t require an advanced degree. He suggests utilizing the professional reference team to research these larger, community issues and presenting not only a list of resources but actual ANSWERS to the people who need them.
  • “Some librarians think passive resistance is a professional tool.”
  • Get rid of the circ desk/circ department. Use this staff to produce stellar, constantly changing, eye-catching displays all over the library, including digital displays that showcase e-content (LaRue uses wall-size iPads). Make sure there is one book facing out on every shelf in the library. Utilize staff to engage the public. Do not use the barrier of the circ desk as a point of transaction.
  • 62% of Douglas County’s collection is checked out at any given time.
  • Pay newspapers (which are dying) to publish stories about libraries.
  • ILL is a waste of library time and resources.
  • Marketing is listening. Don’t ask, “What can the library do for you? Say instead, “Tell me about your life, and I’ll tell you what the library can do for you.”
  • Build and reward a culture of risk-taking.
  • “You get what you permit; you get more of what you reward.”
  • The library is a sensory experience. If your library smells like moldy, old books then your library will come across as moldy and old. To the young(ish), the smell of coffee conveys community.
  • “Group think” in libraries is not good. We need varied skills and perspectives.

OCLC-Perceptions of Libraries: Context and Community 2010

 This session summarized the report, which can be found here: http://www.oclc.org/us/en/reports/2010perceptions.htm

There was a lot of data and statistical information provided in this session, which indicated changes in perception since the 2005 report. The report coined the phrase “economically impacted” (those out of work or under-employed, etc.) and separated some of the usage/perception statistics for this group, which relies more heavily on library facilities and services. A few items of interest:

  • The cell phone is rapidly replacing (or has replaced?) the PC as the primary tool for accessing online services and for communication.
  • 75% of the economically impacted have increased their usage of the library.
  • 0% of users surveyed are starting their information searches at the library Web site. While there is an increase in the usage of library Web sites overall, nobody starts there. The reason most given for not starting with the library Web site is “I didn’t know it existed.” If they do get there and use it, 80% find what they were looking for.
  • There was an overall drop in perception of the favorability of online information indicating that people are less trusting of what they find on the Web.
  • In 2005, 69% of those surveyed indicated that they see “books” as our brand. In 2010, 75% indicated that they see books as our brand.
  • In general, librarians were viewed as more trustworthy and accurate while search engines were viewed as faster and more convenient.

PAForward

 This was an update on a new initiative that will roll out officially to the public early next year. Stay tuned!

Marshall Breeding

 My final session was an address by Marshall Breeding at the College & Research Division luncheon, “Beyond the ILS: Introduction and Future Directions”

The PowerPoint for this session can be found here: http://www.librarytechnology.org/

It was interesting to note that Breeding pointed out that the “Next Generation Catalog” is already about 10 years old. It’s time for a next, next generation catalog. Breeding also pointed out that one difference between the aim of an academic library’s Web site and a public library’s Web site is that the former tries very hard to make all of its services accessible remotely, while the latter tries to engage the user in a way that will entice them to come to the physical building as a community resource.

Breeding would like to see the name “Library Services Platform” replace “ILS”.

The common thread that ran through all of these sessions—Re-thinking Public Libraries; Perceptions: Context and Community; PAForward; and even the one presented by Marshall Breeding, which was geared more toward academic libraries, was the concept that the strength of the future of public libraries lies in its strength within the community. Community, community, community.

It was a great conference!