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Come Back Next Year!

IL 2015 is now over.  It was, as usual, a great conference in a wonderful place.  And the weather was really outstanding!

Dates for Internet Librarian 2016 are

October 17-19, 2016

There will be some major changes for next year’s venue.  The Monterey Conference Center will be undergoing a major renovation and rebuilding, so the conference will be held at the Monterey Marriott Hotel, just across the street.

See you there!

Monterey Marriott

Monterey Marriott

The Future of Libraries: Closing Endnote Panel

Closing Endnote Panel

Closing Endnote Panel: (L-R) Ken Haycock, Susan Hildreth, Kim Bui-Burton

The closing panel on the challenges facing future libraries and strategies for addressing them was moderated by Ken Haycock, Research Professor at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. Panelists were Susan Hildreth, Executive Director of the Peninsula Library System, and Kim Bui-Burton, Community Services Director, City of Monterey. The following is an edited summary of the discussion.

Susan: We still have the challenge of the community understanding and acknowledging what we do. We can address that by embedding ourselves in the community. Some individuals in our institutions and communities are not ready for this.  A recent report, Rising to the Challenge by the Aspen  Institute, addresses many of the issues. The Gates Foundation is closing its investment in libraries and identifying thought partners like Aspen to create a framework for discussing libraries in the 21st century, including key characteristics of libraries as people, assets, and platforms. We don’t just dispense information, but we connect it with people. Getting great connectivity and providing a variety of formats are some of the most outstanding challenges we have right now.

Kim: One of the biggest challenges is funding. When times are good there is enough money for the library; in tough times, they are one of the first things to be examined.  We are in that fight over and over again.  Monterey is a tourist community; this conference center is a way of selling hotel rooms. There is a connection between serving the community through free services like the library and hospitality services like hotels and restaurants.

The conference center was built in the 1970s and needs to be rebuilt. [Editor’s Note: Rebuilding will begin in late 2015 and will continue for about 18 months, which means that IL 2016 will be held entirely in the Monterey Marriott hotel.] This will get more funding for the city and therefore libraries. Support libraries by not working directly in them.

Ken: The Monterey Public Library is not in the business of library services; it is for the people of Monterey. The public good is dead; now we have the public value.  How do we show that there is value here in investing in the library?

Susan: Libraries are “free”; the recreation world used to be like that but it is now expected to bring in revenue.  People have the perception that if it is free, it is worth less. If people have needs, they pass the library by. We need to hold events for the leaders so they can see what the library does.

Kim: Thinking strategically about the impact of library services is very important. The ability to show the impact we are having in people’s lives is critical. How do we determine that impact? Libraries are not constantly in communication with their users. California has a deeply embedded culture of free library services, which is not true throughout the country. The library is nice to have, but it is not a “need to have” service. It can be challenging to get the “need to have” message across. We must articulate why the library is a basic service in the community; it  needs to develop partnerships with other community departments, so that the partnership organization will defend the library funding.

Ken: How do we reposition ourselves as critical infrastructure? People know why they support the fire and police departments, but do they know why they support the public library?

Susan: We need to be prepared to listen to city planners, etc. and understand their needs.

Kim: When the Affordable Care Act was launched, we knew there would be a large impact on public libraries for access to that information.  The role of the library became the mediator between the general public and public services, which is one of our most valuable aspects. The library provides a much more welcoming and helpful atmosphere than that of many public services.

Susan: Another value we have is being a place where people can use the wi-fi, etc. We need to make sure everybody knows what the library has to offer—a place where they can be welcomed.

Ken: Some libraries have repositioned themselves as community centers, but they are finding that there are already community centers. Who is providing services to the greatest number of people at lowest cost? How do you respond to that?

Kim: It is critical that you can collaborate to tear down silos and be open to identify your unique role.  Libraries are not really community centers; they are community knowledge centers. We are at a point where we can have those discussions. What is in the best interest of our audiences?

Susan: Knowledge management and literacy are important because you don’t find them in community centers.

Ken: How do we establish a national, state, and local research agenda?

Susan: The IMLS has funded research, but we need to have a broader conversation about that. The Gates Foundation has identified some key indicators of value. The impact issue is challenging and complicated. There are different pockets of data about literacy that are collected, but it is hard to pull them all together.  Are we showing the best return for our funders?

Kim: There is a lot of high quality data that is not being aggregated and synthesized for decision matters. What should be the unique expertise of our professional staff that’s different from a teacher, social worker, community center staff, etc.?

Susan: Staffing strategies, patterns, and costs in libraries are challenging and should change in the next 20 years. Entry level staff should receive skills at the entry level and then identify deeper expertise at the master’s level.  Our unique skills are in connecting individuals with what they need.  Even though we have lost the battle of reference, we still have a role in helping our customers to be as literate as possible in the world of information.  We can be guides to help people succeed. We are there to supplement and complement what is being presented in a required setting and help them to be successful.

Kim: We are taught to be welcoming to all. We don’t have an agenda; we really are there to facilitate, which is rare in these days.  We are open to lifelong learning.

Susan: Read BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey. It is a description of the unique roles that libraries can play in the digital age. [Editor’s note: John Palfrey keynoted CIL 2015; my blog posting on that is here.]

Hack the Library: An App Building Competition

Wikipedia defines a hackathon as “an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects in competition with other teams”. Stan Bogdanov and Rachel Isaac-Menard (presenting via video) described how Adelphi University organized a “Hack the Library” event.

Stan Bogdanov

Stan Bogdanov

Hackathons are also known as “hackfests”, “codefests”, “makeathons”, or “techfests”.  They occur over a short period (usually 24-48 hours), and involve intense collaboration on a common goal or specific topic. To “hack” has had negative connotations in the past, but it has come to mean something different now—being creative and innovative to create something new. Benefits of hackathons include:

  • Learning in an intense manner and in context, often as much as in an entire traditional course,
  • Earning (often prizes or rewards are given),
  • Networking with like-minded individuals and connecting with people who are interested in similar topics, and
  • Contributing to the topic and teaching fellow classmates.

Libraries can benefit from hackathons too:

  • They can get ideas for problem solving tools (find a book, communicate with different departments, etc.),
  • They can engage with students, and
  • They can market themselves as a place where you can go to do fun things. When we think of games, we think of fun, and when we think of learning, we think of work. The library can put things into a different perspective for participants.

The Adelphi Library sponsored a hackathon this year—see its web page. Here is one of their marketing posters:


Bogdanov shared his thoughts on organizing and running a hackathon:

  • Get both internal and external buy-in from administration, IT, legal, graphic design, and computer science. Create a legal waiver so the university can use the results afterwards.
  • Make sure you have wi-fi, power supplies, etc. in the event room.  Reserve the room as early as possible, and consider dates carefully; don’t schedule a hackathon near other events like exams, holidays, etc. Try to find alternate venues in case problems arise with the first one selected.
  • Establish a budget as early as possible, and get external sponsorship from both library and external organizations.
  • Get prizes. The best ones are technological products (smart watches, etc.). Try not to get them too far in advance so they won’t become obsolete. Set a sufficient budget for the prizes.
  • Pre-event marketing is critical to get students to participate. Get creative. Ask the graphic design department to create publicity materials. Capitalize on successes and do post-event marketing, and show photos of what happened to generate enthusiasm for the next event. Put a banner on the website after the event.
  • Food is big draw for students. Involve the school’s caterer. Get pizza, coffee, and snacks.
  • Recruit volunteers and judges from the library and a diverse set of departments.
  • Managing it all: create a chart to show due dates, who does what.
  • Build a core team and involve it early in the planning stages.

At the conclusion of the hackathon, the student participants were required to give a presentation on their idea and app regardless of how finished it was. Each presentation was strictly limited to 5 minutes to keep the competition fair, which caused the students to learn how to present the idea and make the “sale”.

Bogdanov suggested consulting Hacker to obtain further useful information on hackathons.

Mobile Makerspaces: Tips and Tricks

Jenny Minich

Jenny Minich

Makerspaces are currently a popular topic, and they are being established in many libraries.  But there do not seem to have been any reports of mobile ones set up, like bookmobiles.  This presentation, by Jenny Minich, Branch and Outreach Services Librarian at the La Porte (IN) County Library, described the creation of SparkLabs, a mobile makerspace that was successfully created in less than a year with limited resources. Besides the considerations involved in launching a traditional makerspace, some special issues surrounding the mobile aspect must be addressed.

A makerspace was included in the library’s strategic plan.The decision to make it mobile was driven by the library and the varied community it serves—mostly a small rural population plus the city of La Porte, which has a population of 22,000. The library is the center of community life with a focus on reading, lifelong learning, and public involvement. The city has a transportation system, but it operates only within city limits, and it is not free.  Many people cannot afford to pay for trips to the library, so for the library to be a center of community life, it must travel to where people live. Another reason for making the makerspace mobile was that the main library did not have space for tools, equipment, and supplies. The mobile makerspace can be set up in a meeting room, branch library, community building,  or on the premises of a business; space can be created virtually anywhere.  Vehicles is used to transport the makerspace, and signs on them serve a marketing function, alerting attendees that the library sponsors the makerspace. The makerspace team includes staff, business community members, and volunteers.  It is important to network with community members invited to meetings. A spreadsheet was established to track the interests of the community.

Never underestimate the power of collaboration; a volunteer and the library collaborated on the makerspace. Manufacturing makes up 14% of jobs in the county. Many manufacturing companies are expanding, but they have difficulties finding qualified applicants.  They need people with STEAM skills, which can be provided to the community with a makerspace.

When the library obtained funds, the needs of SparkLab took first priority. A laser scanner and 3-D printer were pieces of equipment to be purchased. A graphic designer was hired to create a logo, posters, and signs.

SparkLab Brochure

SparkLab Brochure

The signs are taken to all events. The SparkLab webpage includes announcements of upcoming classes and a form to volunteer to help teach classes. The classes have generated much contagious excitement in the community. Photos of events are shared on social media platforms.

The first people that must get on board with makerspaces are library staff members. The La Porte library involves the staff in support activities like making displays, etc. as well as how to use the equipment. Strategic language emphasizing the educational value of the class is used when communicating with community members. Nontraditional resources like students, interns, and retirees help with the makerspace. A 3-D printer kit was purchased for $599 and was assembled in the earliest makerspace classes.  The community was introduced to the concept of a makerspace, and people wanted to donate their time to it.  Many participants have progressed from being observers and now serve as experts in their subject area. Local businesses are providing job opportunities to makerspace participants using the skills they have learned in the classes.

SparkLab equipment includes a 3-D printer, laser scanner, soldering kits, MakeyMakeys, Squishy Circuits, and littleBits kits. Growth has been incremental; equipment is purchased as funds become available. Demand may dictate which equipment is purchased.  Lessons for staff training are available from Lynda, which is available in the makerspace. Extensive use is made of volunteer experts when they are available.

SparkLabs has reached over 2,000 people in 8 months. Several curricula have been developed. Classes are conducted as self-directed informal education, with the pace set by questions from attendees. The first time a class is held, informal demonstrations take place. Initially, not much commitment was required for demonstration sessions, but as demand grew, a reservation system for the equipment became necessary.  Equipment for each class is stored as a kit in a portable bar-coded tote that is checked out on the staff member’s library card. Extra materials for staff to practice on ahead of the class must be ordered, and the use of consumables must be tracked and reordered as necessary. Before conducting a class, several important steps must be taken (as noted above, some of these are unique to the mobile environment):

Safety: Make sure that all supplies for safety are on hand. The lab staff members must find out about each place they will be visiting before the class and make sure the environment is safe. Appropriate safety equipment using proven technology is purchased and packaged in a bar-coded kit. The SparkLab staff checks the kits when they are returned to make sure everything comes back.

Legal issues: Copyright law signage is displayed at every 3-D printing class to protect library legally, and users are asked to take responsibility for their printing projects by pressing the print button.

Power and communications: What are the arrangements for wi-fi? How many power outlets are available, how far away are they from the demonstration area (will extension cords be needed)? Are the power circuits in the room able to handle the additional load put on them by the equipment?

Repairs: All staff members who teach classes must be trained so they are able to make simple equipment repairs on the fly, and the necessary tools must be included in the kits. After each class, the kits must be checked to replenish consumables and fix any damaged parts.

Long-term goals include a “Science 2 Go” bus to accommodate up to 24 students. And eventually, the library would like to have a permanent makerspace.

(If you are interested in another library’s extensive activities in makerspaces, check out my article on the FabLab at the Fayetteville, NY Public Library in the October issue of Information Today.)