Friday, July 23, 2010

While I'm gone...

I'm going to take a little vacation, away from all my technology. What's that you say? You need something to read while I'm gone? You got it!

Good blogs. That should keep you busy for a while!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Top Ten Things You Can Say to Irritate Library Workers

Thanks to many librarian friends for contributing to this list!
1. You don't look like a librarian.
Oh? What do librarians look like? This? (Nancy Pearl, famous genius librarian. She has her own action figure.)
Or maybe this?
2. It must be nice to sit around reading all day.
Uh...sure. And computer technicians play computer games all day, park rangers spend all their time on leisurely walks in the woods, bankers just roll around in swimming pools of money, and teachers play with kids all day.

Yeah. That's not what we do.

3. Tell those kids to stop talking!
That's not really our world anymore. Most public libraries aim for an atmosphere of quiet and relaxation, but we're not going for silence. Quiet areas - study rooms or 'quiet floors" - are usually available if you need silence. Outside of those areas, people are free to converse.

4. I guess you charge fines to make money for the library.
Not really. With all the processing that goes into your $2.00 fine, it probably ends up costing us more than it makes for us. The point is that fines provide an incentive for you to return the books.

5. Can you help me sort through these online dating profiles to figure out which ones I should respond to?
No. We're available to provide assistance with the computer, but...come on, man.

6. Have you read all these books? (gestures at entire library)
Time for math class, kids! There's like a hundred thousand books in one of our libraries. If I read two books a week, that's 100 books a year; it would take me a thousand years to get through them. Exactly how old do you think I am?

7. I need this book tonight, my book report is due tomorrow!
Okay, this isn't exactly irritating, but it is a little frustrating - mainly because we want to help you, and in this situation there's often very little we can do. If all the copies are checked out, or if the book has to be brought in from another library, expect it to take at least a couple days, maybe even a week or more, for your book to arrive. We'll do our best,'ll get better results if you help us help you.

8. Li-berry
There's an R in there, people.

9. What do you mean I have to wait half an hour for a computer?! I don't have time for this *$%!
It's free, guys. Free internet access and free printing. So, a) don't yell at me, b) are you really surprised that other people are using it too, and c) stop complaining, it's free.

10. Libraries are obsolete because of the internet.
Man oh man, that is the big one. Library workers hate hearing that. (I sometimes wonder if despite their protests, librarians have a secret fear that it might be true, but we won't go into that now.) Here's a link to an article that seems to epitomize that attitude:
And here's the lecture you can get from any librarian in response:

The short response: Only if you don't read.

Some people can afford to buy all the books they want. Not me. I read about two books a week. Now, a hardback book costs $20-$25, and a paperback book costs $5-$10, so let's settle on an average cost of $15 per book. At two books a week, let's call it 100 books in a year? That's $1,500 dollars. Now imagine if I had kids! I need my library.

The more complete response: Libraries aren't just about books.

The books are actually pretty important. Anyone who can't afford to buy books for themselves and their children needs the library, especially during the summer. Reading during the summer keeps children from losing educational ground when they aren't in school - there's a measurable difference.

Libraries also provide free internet access, which is important to everyone who doesn't have a computer or high-speed internet access at home. Kids use the libraries for homework. Jobseekers use the libraries to write resumes and apply for jobs online. Many major employers require applications to be submitted electronically - how can we reduce unemployment if the people who can't afford computers can't apply for jobs?

In the library where I work, we like to focus on the idea of the library as a community gathering place, where many different groups of people can come together in a local, convenient, nicely equipped environment. Need a quiet, neutral location to meet a client? Use the library! Need to host an SAT study group? Use the library! Want to hold a book club meeting? Chess club? Quilting club? Business networking society? We're here for you! Want to take the kids to a storytime, or hear a concert, or learn about whaling? The library offers these programs!

Of course, I guess you could just stay at home and talk to people on the internet. Face-to-face interaction is so obsolete now.

Article from the New York State Library about the importance of summer reading.

Interlude: What I'm Reading

The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Oh, how I love these books. They're fun science fiction adventures, but way better than average. Bujold has a sense for the vulnerable hero; in the terrifying situations of science fiction, her characters are terrified. You think to yourself, "Yeah, that's what I'd be feeling if I was in that situation." And while dealing with their despair, doubt, fear and weakness, the characters rise to great heights; not with ease, but with difficulty. They're flawed, they make mistakes, but they're good. That's why it's so easy to love them.

This is a great series to sink yourself into. There are a lot of books, and they're all fun. Start with the two-book compilation "Cordelia's Honor." Yeah, I know it looks and sounds like a trashy romance novel, but it isn't. Trust me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Usage Limits: Why I (Respectfully) Disagree

Recently, my library (like so many others) has experienced a drastic change in our budget. Hard choices were made, positions were eliminated, open hours were reduced, and the materials budget was cut. Accompanying these tragedies were some policy changes:

-The number of items that a customer can check out was reduced by more than half.
-The number of items that a customer can place on hold was drastically reduced.
-Items may not be placed on hold as soon as they are ordered; customers must wait until they have arrived at the library.

I have serious concerns about these new policies, because of the message they send. Setting such newly-stringent limits on usage conveys the message that usage is a burden to us. "Please check out fewer items," we're saying. "Please place fewer holds. Please use us less."

From a marketing perspective, I'm cringing. What kind of thing is that to say to your customers?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

"Style" vs. "Design"

Check out this great article I found today:

I was actually looking for an image to make that little crease between facing pages in a book or magazine. What on earth is that called? And of course, how on earth did this article get into my search results? Well, I'm glad it did.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tiny, Tiny Text; or, Information and Advertising in Library Publicity

I can't even tell you how many times I've had this conversation:

Designer: If we want this to fit on one page, we'll need to cut some of the text.
Librarian: That reminds me, I thought of a few things to add!

Librarians are "Information Professionals." Connecting people to the information they need is part of a library's core mission; it's not surprising that librarians always want to add one more link to the website, one more sentence to the description, one more book to the list.

This is not usually a good idea. Why? Well, in order to answer that, let's talk about the function of whatever-it-is I'm producing for you.

If the purpose of the piece is to advertise something - say, a weekly "teen gaming" activity - then it's important to concentrate on the basics: let people know when and where, and make it look appealing. Now, information professionals usually want to list the games we have available, or include some information about how gaming increases literacy, and maybe some links to some articles. Soon, the flyer is covered with tiny, tiny text. When-and-where is hidden in a mass of other information, and the appeal has been lost. No teen would ever pick it up this document, because it looks like homework - an academic paper, complete with footnotes, crammed onto a half-sheet of paper. Advertising pieces can only EFFECTIVELY convey a bare minimun of information, so choose carefully. Decide in advance what the piece needs to convey, and then limit yourself to those necessities.

But what about informational documents? Actually, the rules remain true. It's equally important to prioritize your content - decide what you must include and what you'd like to include if there's space. You don't want to risk leaving out or obscuring something truly important in favor of something that's only tangentially relevent.

It's also important to remember, when you're making a list of selected resources, that "selected" is a key word here. People don't want to wade through every book in the business section; that's why they need a librarian's help in the first place. By the same token, they don't want to wade through a list of every book in the business section. They need us to narrow our focus so that we can help them narrow theirs.

I hope my librarian co-workers understand this - that when I ask them to trim lists and cut text, I'm not trying to limit the flow of information for the sake of "making things pretty." It's all about function and usability.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I like your style

Some favorites:
Steve Krug, usability expert and author of Don't Make Me Think. His great advice about making websites intuitive can be applied in a much broader context.
Woot, a deal-a-day site with a great sense of humor. I have a marketing-crush on their copywriter.
Grand Rapids Public Library turns out some nice print material.
More locally:
Art 180, Gallery 5, John Tyler Community College (I know, I know, but they've got at least one GREAT graphic designer on their staff. The junk mail they send me ends up on my design bulletin board.)

I am not a librarian.

"Librarian" is a professional title, and in order to lay claim to it one usually needs an MLS (Master of Library Sciences) or more recently an MLIS (Master of Library and Information Sciences). I possess neither of these degrees. So while I work in a library and love it, I am not a librarian.

I work part-time in the marketing department of my county's public library; "Publications and Promotions," we're called. Four people crammed into one small office, with our boss in the office next door.

I don't actually have a marketing degree either, nor journalism, communications, or graphic design. What I have is a Bachelors in English Lit (which I freely refer to as a major in 'Making Crap Up'), a decent eye for design, a comparatively high level of technological deftness, a desire to do good, and a ravenous intellectual curiosity.

Let's see what happens.