Serving our unique communities

In an effort to drum up focus group participation for our strategic planning process, I wrote an Open Book column for the Arlington Advocate and the Robbins Library blog discussing how public libraries are unique from one another, and need to be unique to serve the specific needs of their communities: 

When I am traveling, whether around New England, across the country, or even internationally, one of my favorite things to do is visit the public library in the community I am visiting. I do this for a lot of reasons, sometimes to take advantage of free internet access, and sometimes to learn more about the place I am visiting. However, the main reason I visit these public libraries is because I am fascinated by how all libraries are so unique from one another in so many different ways. For example, you just never know what you will encounter inside a library. I will never forget when I visited the Provincetown Public Library for the first time and discovered a half scale replica of a fishing schooner inside!

Sometimes you will discover a library pet in residence, such as a cat, guinea pig, dwarf bunny, hermit crab, or fish. Public library buildings are often so interesting, and they vary greatly from one another. On one end of the spectrum, there is a refurbished 1960’s English telephone booth that has been converted into a library in Clinton Corners, New York. On the other is a former Walmart that has been converted into perhaps the largest single story public library in the country located in McAllen, Texas, complete with a full snack bar called “The Hungry Scholar”.

You can create a beautiful library out of an abandoned Walmart!

Many libraries have unique collections; items that various public libraries across the country circulate include such things as musical instruments, telescopes, cake pans, fishing gear, and even seeds. Think the only types of programming you will find at public libraries across the country are storytimes for children and book clubs for adults? Think again. From hog-butchering demonstrations to libraraoke (karaoke at the library) to competitive LEGO robotics competitions, there are certainly some unique programs you can discover at public libraries everywhere. Many public libraries offer services like technology help or job search assistance, but a growing number offer digital media labs where patrons can share and create videos, music, and other digital projects. Other public libraries have opened makerspaces, like the Westport Connecticut Public Library MakerSpace, where people can collaborate and create art and inventions using high-tech tools like 3D printers.

Oak Park Public Library has turned an abandoned library space into an “Idea Box”, which they describe as “space that each month provides a new and dynamic participatory community experience”.

Why are public libraries so unique from one another? Sometimes, it is out of necessity, but more often than not, public libraries create their uniqueness in order to best serve their unique communities. How do public libraries know how to serve their unique communities? Through learning about their communities by soliciting feedback and listening to the people in their communities. At both the Robbins Library and Fox Branch Library we always welcome feedback from our community, and we provide several ways for individuals to provide feedback. In fact, there have never been more ways for you to provide us feedback. Whether you want to come by and talk to us directly, give us a call, send us an e-mail, send us an instant chat message, post on our Facebook page, send us a tweet, or anonymously drop a comment into our suggestion box, you certainly have lots of options. Next week, we are providing another way for you to provide us your feedback, feedback which will help shape the future direction of our Libraries. As part of our strategic planning process, we are holding a series of focus groups next week on Monday, October 28th and Wednesday, October 30th. You can find more details on the times and locations of these focus groups here. Your participation in the focus groups next week would really help us better serve you in the future.

So please, consider taking a little time to help us out and provide your feedback on what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and what we might do to improve. Maybe you think the library is perfect and doesn’t need to change anything at all, or maybe you think the library needs to improve by adding a seed lending collection and a full snack bar. Either way, we want your feedback! And remember, the next time you are traveling out of town, stop by the local public library and have a look around. You never know what you might discover!

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The Extra 2% (or what libraries can learn from the Tampa Bay Rays)

Picture courtesy Barnes & Noble

The Tampa Bay Rays were once the worst franchise in baseball.  They always finished last in their division, the AL East, very few fans would come to their games, and they didn’t make a lot of money.  They were the joke of baseball.  To make matters worse, any chance of becoming a winner and turning around their sorry franchise was next to impossible because they played in the same division as the two most powerful teams in baseball, the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.  How do you compete against two teams that have some of the most loyal and rabid fans in all of baseball? How do you compete against two teams that generate nearly double and triple the money that you do? How do you compete against two teams that can afford to pay two underachieving pitchers $16.5 million per year and still have a boatload of money to go out and acquire any other player (or players) they desire? Easy, through effective leadership that was willing to analyze every aspect of the team’s operations and bring Wall Street strategies to the organization.  It is all covered in The Extra 2%. If you love baseball and business, The Extra 2% is a great read. Even if you aren’t interested, here are some points I took from the book that we all can apply to our libraries:

1) You need the right leader in place (with the right leadership style):

The first owner of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was Vince Naimoli.  Naimoli was an extremely successful businessman and instrumental in bringing baseball to St. Petersburg, Florida. According to the book, he was known as a fixer, one of those guys that acquired failing businesses, turning them around during their time of crisis, and selling them for a nice profit. He did this by using a very coercive leadership style.  As you might remember from this post, coercive leadership is great during emergencies and when organizations are falling apart, but it isn’t an effective leadership style long-term.  When Stuart Sternberg bought the team, he put effective leaders in place, such as manager Joe Maddon, guys that knew the right kind of leadership styles to use and when to use them.

2) For that extra edge, wipe out your weaknesses:

When you have so many factors stacked against you, if you become at least average in your weak areas, you can gain that extra 2% edge that might make the difference between success and failure.  This is what the Tampa Bay Rays believe.  They do this across many areas, whether they are using the most cutting-edge statistical analysis to evaluate players, bringing in sports psychologists to work with players, or spending time doing drills on how to improve bad base running.  Many of these areas the Rays focus on are areas that other teams in baseball ignore.

3) If you use creative marketing, they will come:

One of the first things that Steinberg’s leadership team did was drop the “Devil” from the “Tampa Bay Devil Rays” to become the “Tampa Bay Rays”, complete with new colors and uniforms.  This was a great move as this allowed the organization a fresh start and a way to distance themselves from Naimoli’s Devil Rays.  The Rays’ also started to schedule big-name performers for postgame concerts in order to attract more fans to games.  Inspired by the popularity of SNL’s “More Cowbell” skit featuring Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, Steinberg had the idea during the Rays’ 2009 postseason run to distribute cowbells at games. They completely caught on and became synonymous with the Rays.  Other quirky and creative ideas the Rays introduced to bring in fans included “Senior Prom of Senior Citizens” night and a “Friday Nightclub” complete with postgame dance music and indoor fireworks!

I really could relate to the Tampa Bay Rays as I read this book.  After all, they are facing some fierce competition, kind of like libraries! What do you think? Are there some other lessons we can learn from baseball’s worst to first franchise?

Photo credit: rzrxtion

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Library programming ideas: don’t ignore the obvious!

When it comes to library programming, many public libraries tend to do the same kinds of things.  Most libraries do storytimes, host book groups, and invite in authors.  Several others do additional programming like host gaming tournaments, teach computer classes, and help people learn job search skills.  These programs are a very important part of what we do, whether we are teaching children early literacy skills or helping the unemployed with their job search when they have no place else to turn.  These are all excellent programs, but they aren’t necessarily the most creative, innovative, and fun programs out there.  If we are going to truly make the library the third place in our communities, the community gathering place between home and work/school, we have to create some programs that are going to generate some buzz in our communities.  But how do we come up with cool and clever programming ideas?

Storytimes have been around for a long time. They still totally rule, but what else can we be doing?

Well, for starters, how about seeing what is hot on Twitter, turning on the television, or reading the newspaper (if you really want to go old school)?  Sometimes the coolest programming ideas are the most obvious ones.  For example, check out the event that the Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library held very, very early on Friday, April 29, 2011…a Royal Wedding viewing party!

Here is the report that Andrew Porteus of the Niagara Falls Public Library gave of the event on PubLib:

“We had 47 participants – one took a taxi from a nearby town & arrived at 3 a.m. (doors opened at 4:30) – she sat in the nearby doughnut shop, and met a lady who had taken the last bus & had arrived just after midnight. Talk about dedication!  It was very festive – lots of comments on the processions, but turned really quiet during the service. The local cable company was there, the TV station from Hamilton stayed all morning & broadcast at various times with interviews & comments. The papers were there also. We received a tremendous amount of good publicity from this.”

Sure, there were some costs involved in organizing this program, but any library could have held a Royal Wedding event like this.  And the idea for a program like this was totally obvious!  What completely obvious yet cool and buzzworthy programs have you had at your library?



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