Back to busyness

I have been back working in public libraries for a few weeks now and it’s great to feel useful and able to help people with their questions. In general the level of sophistication in regard to technology related questions is notable. Many in our population have become quite adept at using and navigating the Internet and all of the associated technologies. The days where it was assumed that the older generation did not ‘get’ this stuff are behind us. Many people are curious about things like ebooks and will ask about them, even if they decide not to give them a try – just yet.

The busy libraries where I work require an agile mind that can handle a day of mental gymnastics, able to negotiate the barrage of unique questions in quick succession.

portsea_pier_01042014This week I was lucky to work some shifts on the mobile library truck. I took this photo near one of our stops, during a short break.

I have been reacquainting myself with the different Library Management System, as well as the different procedures and work-flows associated with a large and multi-branch public library service. I feel very much welcomed back and I am appreciative of that.

The popular response

We ran a survey. It was part of the requirement for establishing our “Collections Management Plan”. We had to ask our customers and community what they want their public library to supply in terms of resources. We intentionally made the survey brief and open-ended. We did not want to lead them into assumptions we might make. Some questions required a tick of a box, whilst others asked for comments. These were available online and in print. It was prepared and executed in a rush and only given eight days to run; not even the time frame of a loan period of three weeks.

Our response rate was 1.4% of members; not really a great field result for assessment and comparison. However, we can tick the box that requires “public consultation”.

Photo by Kristy Hill for the Portland Observer

Despite asking open-ended questions that asked specifically questions regarding our collections and resources, we received typical responses referring to services, staff, facilities, and programs. So it seems “everyone” wants to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee while they read in the public library. And they want more large print books, and more DVD’s. We anticipated these responses. There are also niche areas of personal interest that always get mentioned – everyone has their niche. We were asked for more Christian books, more manga novels, specific car manuals, access to the latest copy of favourite magazines. We already offer all of these things, but like most public libraries, the latest copy of any magazine will either by “not for loan’ to be read in the library, or out on loan for at least the first two months after publication. Car manuals get borrowed once and never return to the library shelves unfortunately. We try, but a small minority of our community selfishly take hold of property that should be shared.

Managing a library collection is a fluid and dynamic process of attention that responds to the ebb and flow of the culture of the society it serves. So the request for more large print books reflects our increasing aging population; and the request for more DVD’s tells us that commercial TV is being ditched in favour of the freedom of viewing what our customers like and when they want to watch it. Perhaps also, that many people prefer to watch a video than read a book?!

The responses that we received that were outside our collections/resources questions requested a cafe, quiet study areas, and more children’s programs. It is my experience that the resources already applied to children’s programs in public libraries far outweigh the resources committed to all other demographic areas of our community. The importance of instilling a love of reading and books in children can’t be over-estimated, but I think libraries in Australia do that well already and how people can ask for more is hard to comprehend. And therefore “quiet study areas” are almost extinct in our busy public libraries. The “ssshhhh” factor disappeared with the popular acceptance of Dewey, hair-buns, and the ability of adults to discipline children running around noisily in public spaces. Mobile phones too have changed our culture for the worse, I think, and public libraries share the problems that many service industries experience with people speaking loudly and inappropriately.

Personally, as a Librarian, I love the DDC system. Without it we would be left with arbitrarily organised collections dependent on the quirks of the mind of the individual responsible; and that would vary 6 billion times – give or take a few billion. It would look sort of like the pile of documents called the Internet. (tongue-in-cheek)

The value of the free public library by the community can be weighed by the funding dollars provided to allow this service to continue and to continue to be well resourced with new and relevant items. Luckily in Australia, generally, we see the necessity for these services to continue in order to foster literacy, freedom of thought, speech and expression, self-development, and equal opportunities.

It is still a valued service and one comment across the board from our survey, to a question we did not ask, was about the “great staff” we have. And I agree. Libraries are full of them.