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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Sustaining Communities, Sustaining Ourselves

Sustaining Communities, Sustaining Ourselves

Ahniwa Ferrari   /  04 June 2014  /  Comments: 0  /  Rating: 

Aarhus Public Library. Image via jenniferjoan on Flickr, cc-by-2.0"When everything is online, why come to the library at all? The library of the future most certainly is not about storing books, but what is it? Well, we get to decide. That means, we get to do what we want, and everything is allowed."
- Chrystie Hill at TEDxRanier - Libraries Present and Future

Aarhus Public Libraries in Aarhus, Denmark, built their new library using a process they call Participatory Democracy in Action. They did so by asking their community the question in the quote above, "If everything is online, why come to the library at all?" Feedback came from all over, children and adults, and had a huge impact in shaping the plan for the new Aarhus library building, Dokk1, which will open later this year on the harbour front in Aarhus.

What they achieved in Aarhus is not just a beautiful new library building offering innovative services, but a library that was planned, from the ground up and with the participation of its community, to serve the community in the ways that the community said it wanted to be served. Since the new library hasn't opened yet, it's still too early to say what impact this type of participatory planning will have, but odds seem good that the library AND the community will thrive because of this connection between the two throughout the entire process.

When the services and space of the library meet the needs of the community, the library will help to sustain that community and the community, in turn, will sustain the library.

[Take the poll: What makes a library sustainable?]

Chrystie Hill presents at TEDxRanier on Libraries Present and Future. Video uploaded to YouTube on December 28, 2011. Courtesy of TEDx Talks.

Sustainability starts with communication

You can call it advocacy, marketing, or demonstrating impact; you can call it outreach or "embedding" or engagement - whatever you call it, though, sustaining communities (and sustaining libraries) starts with communication. In Aarhus, that involved communication from concept through completion, and it seems like a good model to follow. Of course, we can't all build new libraries just to test this practice, but we can look at the services we are providing, the space we have in our buildings and what we are doing with it, and we can invite the community into a conversation to talk about these things and tell us what they want.

Are we really talking about DIY -- it's starting to feel like 'do it together.' Now what does that look like?
- Beth Farley, Bellingham Public Library (WA)

Some of the creative uses for the Skillshare space at Bellingham Public Library (WA). Image courtesy Beth Farley.In our recent webinar on Transforming Library Space, Beth Farley shared some of her experiences conceptualizing and creating SkillShare, an alternative programming space that's now located in the sweet spot between holds, new books, and the self-check stations that many library visitors never venture beyond. The library wanted a space with fewer hurdles than their traditional meeting rooms, one that would serve as a venue for community members to present and engage in a more informal setting.

But it didn't take shape under library steam alone. Friends groups purchased technology and worked late hours. Architects donated ideas and time. Visionary volunteers emerged and brainstormed. The result was an amazing restructuring of space that was built not only with community needs in mind but with community involvement through every step of the process.

Why come to the library at all?

Everyone who is strongly connected to libraries has their own answer to this question, but does your library understand it's value to the patrons that use it? What about the people who aren't using the library? What answer can we give them to this question that will bring them in the doors and make them active, participating members in the library and in their community?

Every community is different, but there is some broad research that can help libraries get started answering these questions. Lee Rainie, Director of the Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center, has given some excellent talks about people who use the library (and people who do not). In his examination of patron profiles, Rainie explores who our patrons and non-patrons are, what their information needs are, what kinds of technology they use, and how libraries can meet the varying needs of their patrons.

Pew surveys obviously cover a very wide net, but there are many ways that libraries can use similar tools to touch the pulse of their communities. In our recent webinar on Library Surveys for Success, Colleen Eggett from the Utah State Library shared strategies on how to create successful surveys to make, measure, and meet your library's goals.

And if you don't want to make your own survey instrument, there are tools out there for you to use. The Impact Survey, evolved from the 2009 Opportunity for All study, makes the complex job of surveying patrons easy and fast at no cost to library staff. Libraries can implement this survey quickly, run it for 2 to 6 weeks, and the day after they close it they will receive a suite of professional, full-color reports customized with your library's survey results. In addition to graphs and charts analyzing your survey responses, the standard reports include an op-ed customized with your survey results ready to submit to your local paper; an advocacy flyer featuring your survey results with regard to education and employment; and a ready-made presentation about your library's outcomes, ready to share with the city council, commissioners, service groups, or others.

Read more about the Impact Survey in our recent news article, or watch our webinar with Samantha Becker and Maggie Buckholz which covers how to implement the survey and the results you will see.

Lee Rainie presents as the Tuesday Keynote speaker at Internet Librarian conference, 2013. Lee starts his presentation around the 6m 28s mark. Video courtesy Steve Nathans-Kelly on Vimeo.

We get to do what we want, and everything is allowed

The library that is sustained by the community will be the library that sustains the community; the two are inextricably linked. Library staff need to not just be a part of the library, but also a part of the community; they need to talk to other people in the community (both inside and outside of the library) and find out how they can, as people and as an organization, help the community thrive.

The best part is, we get to be a part of figuring that out. Maybe we can't all build a new library on the harbour front, but we can listen and we can learn and we can make changes, and we can tell ourselves and our communities that the library that will hold up for years and years to come is going to be a new library, whether or not it is in a new building, and everything is, in fact, allowed.

A new state library project in Arizona explores yet another e-book path for libraries

Check it Out with Michael Kelley: E-books for Arizona Libraries

A new state library project in Arizona explores yet another e-book path for libraries

By Michael Kelley |        
May 30, 2014

We've heard a lot about the progress libraries have made in the e-book realm. But the underlying story of public libraries and e-books remains nettlesome: research shows that most people still do not know that libraries lend e-books, that the lending infrastructure itself remains fractured and restrictive, and that the content is mostly licensed—not owned—and is often costly. As a result, there has been growing concern that public libraries are losing ground to more consumer-friendly private companies eager to become the exclusive e-book providers of the future.

Just last month, for example, the subscription services Oyster and Scribd announced that they will offer Simon & Schuster's entire backlist (over 10,000 titles), along with titles already on offer from HarperCollins and a growing number of indie presses. Such developments are at once exciting and unsettling for public library administrators, who can't help but question their future in such a digital world.


In response, some libraries have leaned on their traditional strengths—collections and resource sharing—to create new opportunities in the library market. Most famously, the Douglas County (Colo.) Libraries pioneered its own e-book platform. And in the same vein, the Arizona State Library this month signed an agreement with South Carolina–based BiblioLabs to offer a new service called Reading Arizona.

Arizona State librarian Joan Clark said that the project drew its inspiration from the Douglas County Libraries platform, and like that platform, is a direct response to the pronounced shift toward the consumption of digital products. "More libraries are beginning to develop projects like this, where they have their own platforms, select their own content outside of the usual third-party vendors, and find innovative ways to bring content to patrons," she says. "Reading Arizona will not only provide relevant e-books to its patrons—it will contribute to a national conversation about how libraries can best meet growing demand for e-content."

Beyond Bestsellers

Powered by BiblioBoard (BibioLabs' multimedia content delivery platform), Reading Arizona will offer Arizona-related e-books and other materials via the state library's website starting in August, and eventually via local libraries in the state. The program will use geolocation to allow registration from within Arizona; thus, no library card will be required. All of the content will be available for unlimited, multiuser access, and patrons will be able to have up to three books at a time on offline bookshelves.

The collection guidelines include everything from fiction, history, and travel guides to public domain books and manuscripts stored in archives around the state. Resources from other cultural institutions and libraries, such as the Amerind Museum and Northern Arizona University's Cline Library, will also be included. In addition, the project will have a self-publishing portal.

Mitchell Davis, the founder and chief business officer of BiblioLabs, says it is significant that the program aligns with the library's mission: to preserve and promote Arizona history. "They are not trying to provide bestsellers free to everyone in the state," he says. "Rather, they are providing access to books that are much more difficult to discover and, sometimes, to obtain."

Davis has long been invested in finding ways to offer alternative paths to content. He is the founder of BookSurge, which was acquired by Amazon in 2005 and eventually became CreateSpace, Amazon's self-publishing platform. And, in 2007, he launched BiblioLabs, which now has projects similar to Reading Arizona up and running in Massachusetts (MA eBook Project) and North Carolina (NC Live).

Clark says that BiblioLabs is an attractive partner, presenting a powerful platform for hosting statewide e-content, for "a reasonable" annual fee. "We had initially envisioned building our own platform and acquiring content ourselves, but partnering with BiblioLabs provides us with an experienced information technology team, content acquisition, and marketing professionals at a much lower cost."

The agreement with BiblioLabs is confidential, but state library officials say they have committed to spend $50,000 on content in the first 18 months. In addition, while self-published authors included in the project retain the rights to their works, the library, for the most part, owns the items they collect for the program and can move the collection to a different vendor platform, if they one day choose to do so.

Massachusetts and North Carolina had similar motives for working with BiblioLabs, Davis says. By partnering with the company, libraries can spend less time trying to play technological catch up and focus more on what they do best. "We allow them to provide their content on a cutting-edge platform, and they don't have to create and maintain their own e-book infrastructure," Davis notes. "Most libraries cannot absorb these costs and provide solutions that compete with the user experiences that readers are accustomed to from the likes of Apple, Amazon, and Google." Davis says his company invested over $8 million in platform development over the two years leading up to its 2013 launch.

Clark says that it was also important for the library to provide a platform for self-published works that could draw on experts in local communities. "Many libraries are beginning to assume a library-as-publisher role, and, with the coming release of BiblioLabs' self-publishing module, it seemed like an appropriate addition," she explains. "We want content about Arizona that is relevant to Arizonans, so it makes sense to invite authors to share how they interpret the landscape."

As part of the project, the Arizona State Library is also reaching out to large commercial and academic publishers to acquire content, Clark says, as well as negotiating with local publishers, like Scottsdale-based Poisoned Pen Press. State librarians have also provided BiblioLabs with a list of desired titles that the company is working to include in the project. In addition to providing hosting, BiblioLabs has its own collection of content (about 125,000 e-books and five million pages of curated content), which is offered to libraries in modules that they can subscribe to on a multiuser, simultaneous-access basis.

Changing the Game

It may not be a commercial blockbuster, but Davis says projects like Reading Arizona matter—in part, because they show publishers that libraries will spend money to support viable alternatives to the dominant e-book regime.

"Today's library e-book models strive to imitate the print world to the point of absurdity, with hold lists and checkout periods for digital items," Davis says, adding that the protections that publishers and e-book vendors use to "ensure against cannibalization of the consumer revenue stream" for their frontlist titles make it very difficult for libraries to offer a decent user experience.

"If libraries move away from bestsellers and focus on those e-books and collections that offer other value, they can foster different business models that lend themselves to creating an excellent user experience and don't penalize them for being successful at promoting individual books," Davis says. "But if libraries say they want one business model, yet spend their money on another model, the model where they spend their money is the one that will survive and thrive."