Friday, May 7, 2010

The User Experience

The second article by Aaron Schmidt on the User Experience appeared in the March 1, 2010 Library Journal. The title was “Learn by Asking.”

The concept here is that user interviews can help librarians to see their patrons as people and to learn what motivates them to come or not come to the library. A simple survey will give you information but only from those who use the library or choose the complete the survey. Non-users or those that do not respond are never heard from when the library is seeking to change or add services.

Mr. Schmidt provided simple steps in conducting user interviews. They are:
1. Identify a problem
2. Recruit Interviewees
3. Conduct the interview
4. Transcribe the interviews.

Approaching data gathering through interviews takes time and some skill but the information gathered is worth the effort. Try it!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Classic Cars

No I don’t have a classic car but if you have a car club or car enthusiast in your community or family tell them about this free database. The title is “Classic Car Database”. You may wonder just how I learned about this gem of a site. Well it came in the mail; you know one of those letters that look like advertisement and a generic library name address label.

What this site has is specifications for American cars manufactured between 1910 and 1975. There are also dealers in classic cars and parts, museums, and car clubs listed on the site. I took a quick look even though what I know about classic cars would fit in a thimble, even I could find information. So the next time someone wonders how many cylinders a certain car had or what type of brakes or even did it come in red. Check it out at

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

User Experience (UX)

User Experience (UX)

The January 2010 Library Journal had an article by Aaron Schmidt titled “The User Experience.” His focus was on user experience design. He included three aspects of design: interaction design, information architecture, and visual design. Visual design” deals with the surface characteristics of an object or document.” This is the color of the carpet or the shape and layout of the circulation desk. Interaction design is the “process of creating how something behaves and how people must behave to engage it.” Think workflow, how people navigate through your library when you think about interaction design. Information architecture (IA) is about “organizing and structuring data.” In libraries this is often used in designing web page layouts and how they are labeled.

Whether we know it or not, we are the designers of our library services and use all three of these aspects in the work we do every day. How well are we doing? Not sure just what this all means? A series of articles on User Experience are planned for Library Journal. The first two are online at the links below. Want to read more about design? A list of books accompanies the first article.

January Library Journal Article

March Library Journal Article

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tax Caps

Tax Caps are nasty things. They are passed in counties and people think their taxes will not go up. But they do and they don’t understand why. For those taxing bodies under the caps such as villages, townships, schools, and libraries they are frustrating to work within. Over time tax caps can erode the ability of a taxing body to levy enough funds to run their operations. How does this happen?

When the county clerks figure the amount of money that is being raised, all of the tax rates are combined into one pot. Unfortunately, not all tax rates are equal. Retirement taxes have an unlimited tax rate. For instance when IMRF payments go up, the library taxes for the entire increased amount. Recently some IMRF rates have gone up as much as 8% or more. When you can only increase the total levy amount by 5% or the cost of living which ever is less and an expense such as IMRF goes up, libraries and other taxing bodies have a problem.

Here are the numbers as an example. If the total tax rate is .22 and the IMRF portion of that goes from .03 to .08 that means that when you had .19 to spend for the rest of the budget you now have only .14. If you take away building and equipment .02 then only .12 is left. The corporate rate goes down and the money available for salaries, utilities, books, etc. goes down. Where you may have had the base rate of .15 for a library you are now at .12 and that is even below the Per Capita rate requirement.

What can a library do when this has happened to them? They have been fiscally responsible, tax conservatively and still there is not enough to keep the building open and staffed. There is only one option and that is to go for a referendum to raise the corporate tax rate. This is very hard to do but is the only way a taxing body can survive under tax caps.

If your library is in a tax cap county what can you do? First stay aware of the assessment figures in your area. If there is new growth, be sure to levy enough to capture it. Once lost it is lost forever. Second always ask for the maximum you can and a little more to be sure to capture all the tax money that is due to your institution. Even libraries not under tax caps should be sure that they are levying amounts that will return the full tax rate level. Third, speak to the county clerk and see if they will let you decide how to split the money between the various taxes. Fourth, if you don’t understand what is happening, ask questions of the county clerk or your library attorney.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Library Buildings

As a member of the Illinois State Library Construction Grant Committee, I have seen a troubling pattern in the grant applications. Libraries are asking for money to do repair and replacement of building infrastructure such as painting, new roofs, new carpet, new HVAC systems, tuck pointing, etc. All of these items routinely must be redone or replaced. Yes some of them are big ticket items; however, I feel the library should be planning on how to replace, update or repair these things with their own funds and not rely on grants.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that the Library Trustee is responsible for the planning of library services and maintenance of the library. If they let the building fall into disrepair, then they are not meetings their responsibilities as a trustee. The second reason is that grant funds are hard to come by and may not be available in the future to do this type of work on a library building.

A better way for libraries to approach this issue is from the beginning when a building is first remodeled or built as a library. Look at all aspects of the building, what is the life span of the furnace, 20years? The roof is it 15 years? Carpet, paint, parking lot what is their life span? Make a list of all these items and more, computers, printers, or furniture. Once the list is made create a schedule of when the work or replacement will be done and an estimate of the dollar amount that will be needed.

Now the Library Board must look at the finances of the library. Do they have enough to operate the library and meet community needs? Is there any extra money that can be set aside for the future? If not, how can the library accumulate the funds? Do they use all the taxing authority they have such as the .02 building and equipment tax? Have they created a Special Reserve Fund where unexpended tax dollars can be saved for future improvements? These questions need to be a serious discussed at a board meeting.

If is fine to go after Grant funds but to rely only on grant funds is not wise. Library Boards and Directors must plan for building improvements just as carefully for the library as the y do for their own home or business. Don’t delay, start the discussion at your next board meeting.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Americas Regional Council (ARC) First Meeting

At ALA Mid-winter the Americas Regional Council of OCLC had its first meeting. It began with the following brief presentations.
Every Member has a Voice—New Ways to Communicate with OCLC by Patrick Wilkinson, Chair, OCLC Americas Regional Council
New Governance Structure by Jan Ison, President, OCLC Global Council
Engaging the Membership by Jay Jordan, President and Chief Executive Officer, OCLC
The Value of the Cooperative by Larry Alford, Chair, OCLC Board of Trustees (Note you have recently received a mailing from OCLC that contained a printed copy of Larry’s remarks. I hope that you did read it as it is important information to know and understand as OCLC Members.

There were three breakout discussion groups: Record Use Policy, The Cooperative’s Shared Values and Social Contract, and Emerging Technologies. Reports from the individual groups were given to all the attendees followed by a brief question and answer session.

You can view video of each of the sessions by going to OCLC Americas Regional Council page. I encourage you to do so.

The next meeting of ARC will be the annual meeting. This will be held before ALA in Washington DC. The dates are June 24 & 25. You do not have to go to DC to be a part of this as you will have the opportunity to attend virtually.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Changes in Library Automation Landscape

If you ever want to be entertained, educated and frustrated all at one time, then attend one of the RMG Consultants Seminars at an ALA Midwinter. Rob Magee, is the president of the company and his name should be familiar to RPLS LLSAP members as he helped RPLS and the User Group with the RFP when we went to the Horizon system. What Rob does is bring the presidents of various automation vendor companies to be on a panel. They he has a coupled of featured speakers and a couple of commentators.

The companies represented were:
  • Auto-Graphics
  • Equinox
  • Ex Libris
  • Infor
  • Innovative Interfaces
  • LibLime
  • OCLC
  • Polaris
  • Serial Solutions
  • SirsiDynix
  • Sky River
  • TLC
  • VTLS

The presidents when they were introduced were asked to talk about what the key focus of their company. Improving patron experience, discovery of resources, link resolvers, serving the libraries community, and management services moving to the cloud were some of the answers. SirsiDynix President Gary Rautenstrauch was the one who said, "Improve patron experience and to held libraries cope with budget challenges."

The Seminar lasted for three hours. Those vendors in established firms put down the efforts of libraries like Orange County and the Lyrasis consortia who are venturing into the creation of their own products via open sources software. The speakers stated that the features the librarians and users wanted were not available and the vendors did not seem responsive to developing those features. The vendors felt that they really were listening to their customers and responding. Definitely a disconnect. Also in general the vendors were not receptive to what OCLC is doing in this area.

One of the comments that came from the audience was this,
“Libraries need to look at what their value is and make the
library key, important, indispensable to the user”

I agree with this comment. The best, whiz-bang automation system will not make a bit of difference if we as librarians do not take to heart that statement, know our values and make the library indispensable to the user.