Gale hosted a 2-day, free online event for public libraries on Sept. 29 and 30 called Impact Live. Its theme was Connect, Inspire, Elevate, and it included talks by librarians, industry leaders, and authors. There were three simultaneous tracks on the first day and two tracks on the second.
Registration was simple and seamless. The same could be said for access to the event. The first day was off to a brilliant start thanks to an opening conversation with Responding to Rapid Change in Libraries: A User Experience Approach co-authors Callan Bignoli and Lauren Stara. Bignoli is the library director at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, and Stara is a library building specialist at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. I was interested to see that she got her library degree at the University of Arizona and then went east, just like I did.
They described their project that studied user experience in libraries with the end goal of enhancing it. In common sense language, they looked to see who their users were, what they were doing, and how they could help. They were interested in “findability,” or the ways that users find the library, enter the library, and locate the program they came for. Things that reduce findability include bad signage, unclear policies, and obstructive architecture. In one example, Bignoli described the communications problems between librarians, who want to generously provide information, and IT experts, who want to lock it up. She said that the feeling of frustration can be used as a model for how patrons can feel intimidated by library policies. Policies should reflect human values and lead to a service philosophy of “Yes, we can!”
Bignoli and Stara also suggested studying people who avoid the library to find out what keeps them away. They discussed possible library improvements, such as cleaner buildings, more self-service options, and special lighting above service desks.
More From Day 1
In one session, Cathy Zimmerman (bookmobile associate and senior outreach specialist at Scott County Library System in Iowa) explained how she created a bookmobile program in her library system with a staff of one—herself. She studied which locations seemed to be underserved and worked out schedules to provide them with library service. After the initial funding to get rolling, she aggressively sought ways to grow the program, such as talking to civic groups, finding grants, participating in farmers markets, and even setting up birthday parties for champion readers. This last item was so popular that she had to rein it in for fear of being overwhelmed. The key to a successful program is to never stop marketing the service, she said.
Later, Charlotte Muller (founder of Breathe Strength) led a session of yoga and breathing exercises. I followed along for a time. For my last program of the day, I saw Rhode Island-based librarians Edward Garcia (director of Cranston Public Library), Beatrice Pulliam (director of technology and information services at Providence Public Library), and Karen Mellor (chief of library services in the Office of Library & Information Services for the State of Rhode Island) discussing their experiences with Gale Presents: Udemy. This is an online learning tool with more than 10,000 video courses in business and technology. Their adoption of this service neatly coincided with the pandemic. It immediately became useful to homebound librarians for professional development as well as a service for the career goals of patrons.
State workers were able to use this tool to enhance their skills in coding, web design, and information security. Providence Public Library was one of 13 libraries nationwide to win a Google and ALA grant to create a business hub that could be used by entrepreneurs and other interested patrons. At the state level, authentication is tightly monitored, requiring a valid Rhode Island library card and an email address with Google or Microsoft. For the future, the librarians hope to use this tool to encourage learning groups, workforce development, and bite-sized learning and to provide for the underserved people in their communities.
The second day featured a suite of programs about data management that got my systems librarian DNA firing. Kelly Clark (administrative analyst at Sacramento Public Library) presented a session on avoiding data silos, which occur when individuals at an institution hoard information to enhance their power. This can result in lost data when the person leaves. A centralized data bank is the solution. It can be set up so that everyone can have access depending on their needs. In addition, it allows for greater collaboration and less redundancy and encourages reports that blend data from entirely different sources. The payoff is a library of data that can be used to develop strategic decision-making. Clark’s crisp and well-delivered talk reminded me of something once said by Andrew Carnegie: “Put all your eggs in one basket, and then watch that basket.”
The next session blended well with Clark’s program. Kelly Metzger (state data coordinator at the Office of Library & Information Services for the State of Rhode Island) and Stephen Spohn (executive director of Ocean State Libraries in Rhode Island) presented Follow the Data Journey: Using Data to Fuel Strategic Planning and Decision-Making. When Spohn began his job as the head of the Ocean State Libraries consortium, he found that the individual libraries had different perceptions of which kinds of patrons should be served. He decided to solve this with a program of gathering data about who their patrons really are.
Thanks to a grant, the libraries were able to work with Gale to create a product that would show the differences (age, income, educational attainment, ethnicity) that are represented in groups such as power users, ILL users, or non-users. They took data from their ILSs and OverDrive and blended it with census data. This helped to add the dimension of book readers, readers of ebooks or audiobooks, and patrons who are “omnivorous” and read every type of book. They took care to preserve the privacy of their patrons and concentrate on the aggregate data. In one example, they paired their circulation data with information about the educational level of their patrons.
The final talk was given by Marisol Quevedo Rerucha (author of Beyond the Surface of Restorative Practices: Building a Culture of Equity, Connection, and Healing. In a combination of a lecture and breathing lessons, she encouraged her listeners to get a grip and learn to be a better person.
Gale’s diverse program offered a wealth of useful, practical information. The thread that I found running through the entirety of the event was the idea of urging librarians to use their empathy and technology to ensure that every citizen in their community can get something valuable from their library. As of this writing, the sessions are still available for replay, and Gale was still taking new free enrollments for those who missed them. There is worthwhile information here for any librarian.