Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In her recent New Yorker review of Cass R. Sunstein’s new book, On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done, Elizabeth Kolbert provides more than ample evidence that we continue to mistake information for knowledge, and knowledge for wisdom. Not that library advocacy is the purpose of her essay; indeed, libraries are never mentioned. Nonetheless Sunstein’s book is a study of the Internet and other emerging technologies, and their aiding and abetting the “growing power of consumers to ‘filter’ what they see,” and I might add, hear and eventually say. Again, according to Sunstein, while many of the major Web sites remain the most popular-CNN, the BBC, and the New York Times-people increasingly turn to information in a customized form, via e-mail updates, RSS feeds, and other vehicles. These allow access to one’s favorite topics-and similarly oriented correspondents-without the discomfort of sifting through, or exposure to information and points of view which in Kolbert’s words, might be “less congenial.”
Libraries are not the sole means of addressing this imbalance and its pernicious results. It is worth noting that with its shelves of periodicals and wide ranging selection of books, DVDs and CDs, -and diverse patronage-libraries can be a counterbalance to the tendency to seek out only those people and that information we agree with, while discarding or ignoring reports and people that might raise questions. While never directly addressing the distinctions between information, knowledge and wisdom, there is ample evidence that libraries provide the resources, expertise and diversity of perspectives to encourage critical thinking, interpret and assess information and nurture the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom.
Kolbert’s review is not the only recent article which merits further consideration. First Monday’s November 2 installment features a lengthy but worthy article entitled “Public Libraries and the Internet 2008-2009 Issues, Implications and Challenges”. While the article confirms what we long suspected based on observation, namely that “patrons and communities have embraced the Internet-related aspects of library services as essential contributions of the library”, it also confirms several points we would rather not contemplate. Chief among these are: patron and community needs for Internet access are fast outpacing the ability of public libraries to meet these needs; and, while libraries in urban areas continue to experience growing demands for Internet services, the library hours of operation have decreased on average, with especially large drops among libraries in high poverty and urban areas. This second point is particularly resonant in Norwich. In each of the last 10 years, Norwich has ranked among Connecticut’s 25 most distressed municipalities. Like its peers in other urban areas, the Otis Library lost operating hours as state grants, which are essential to Norwich’s operating budget, have contracted and the city’s capacity to provide support has diminished. From an average of 59 service hours per week in 2008-2009, the library experienced a contraction to 46 service hours in 2009-2010. The timing could not be worse: “people are using library computers to apply for jobs, and assistance at record numbers, but have to contend with fewer hours that the library is open, inadequate numbers of computers and connection speed, and time limits that constrain their ability to fill out online applications, send e-mail messages to potential employers, and search and apply for assistance.” Fortunately, the Otis Library’s computers are new enough, and the connection speeds fast enough to cope with some of these shortcomings for the near future. Demand is high enough however, to require restrictive time limits of 45 minutes per session.
While the news may not be entirely felicitous, both articles provide ample evidence that libraries remain essential community assets. The multiplicity of ideas and perspectives embodied in library collections, and the provision of free access to the Internet in library computing facilities are two ways in which libraries, and ours in particular contribute to a healthy and sustainable community.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Among the preparatory tasks required were circulating a special issue of the news letter with information on the closing period and other details, arranging for our consortium and the state inter library loan system to defer loan transactions involving the library, circulating information to patrons and residents on alternative library sites, and ensuring that adequate forewarning was provided to the public in order to avoid frustration and upset.
Ironically, even as the library prepared to close, the demand for services increased. While the overall statistics for circulation reflect a decline in absolute numbers, a comparison of numbers of items circulated per service day shows that in August of 2009 about 650 items were circulated per service day, while in 2008, the number was 596. For inter library loans, the figure was 90 per service day, versus 75 in 2008. One other, albeit unscientific measure of the use made of the library is the need, for the first time, of multi-lingual signage that includes announcements in Mandarin as well as Spanish and English. This was based on observations made after reducing hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the beginning of July.
Prior to closing we also prepared a mailing to all candidates for city council and mayor, inviting them to an informal gathering with board and staff following the September 21 board meeting. This proved to be an exemplary event, with board, staff, current city council members and candidates getting an opportunity to discuss their perceptions of the library, the library’s role as a community resource and its essential service as a democratizing agent. The event was well received, and should become an anticipated part of each election season.
I want to recommend to all library patrons a recent article in the on line journal First Monday http://firstmonday.org/ entitled The Relationship between Public Libraries and Google: Too Much Information. There is a popular misconception, glibly espoused in certain uninformed quarters, that all information is available on line for free, thus making libraries anachronisms. For those needing a thoughtful rejoinder to this bit of untruth I encourage you to read and share this article.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
The library reopens to the public on September 1, and perhaps Connecticut will have an agreed upon state budget. As I am sure you know, none currently exists, and the prospects for the development of a document agreeable to both the governor and legislature remain dim.
What you may not realize is that the governor’s current version of the budget includes massive cuts to existing library support. The total estimated reductions amount to approximately $5,000,000, which effectively wipes out a number of essential services. These include:
• Reduce funding for interlibrary loan services by 30%, (-$82,000), which would result in a 50% reduction in federal funding, and potentially cuts in ILL personnel and longer waits for materials to be delivered.
• Suspend Funding for the State-Wide Digital Library, (-$1,968,794), these monies provide Connecticut residents with access to a wide selection of databases and electronic resources to support their educational, cultural, economic and personal interests.
• Suspend funding for Connecticard Payments (-1,226,028), this funding is provided to libraries who allow patrons to borrow and return items to any of the approximately 195 participating libraries. There are approximately 4.6 million loans bringing the reimbursement rate to about .37 per loan. It costs libraries an average of $1.05 to circulate an item. Any reduction in state funding will result in an approximately 50% in federal funding.
I do not mean this to be a definitive list. It does illustrate the deep and likely irreparable damage that could be inflicted on public, college and university libraries if the full implementation of these budget reductions does occur. I recommend that you visit Web Junction CT http://ct.webjunction.org to learn more about the budget process, the reductions envisioned, and the extraordinary levels of library use being reported across the state. It would seem counterintuitive to reduce and eliminate the very small amounts allocated to fund library programs, given the increasing demands placed on those services by the public. Yet, that is what will happen unless the public speaks up. Please visit Web Junction and then let your state representatives know how you feel. In the mean time, my best wishes to you for the remainder of the summer. Please visit us on September 1, and thereafter.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
At the end of June fiscal year circulation figures attain record levels, with approximately 159,000 items circulated, versus 148,342 for 2007-2008. For the month of June, both incoming and outgoing inter library loan totals continued to show steady growth. Outgoing loans rose by 55% vs. June of 2008, while incoming loans increased by 26%. While complete Internet use figures for 2007-2008 are not available due to early software configuration problems, a comparison of those months available reflect an approximately 35% increase during 2008-2009 even with the absence of the foreign students employed seasonally at the casinos. Despite the hard times and fiscal uncertainties, the library's annual appeal and signature "Evening with an Author" fund raising event were enormously successful and combined for a total of over $80,000 in support. Also, despite a shaky economy the library finished the year with a balanced operating budget.
The month of July witnessed a new fiscal year and unfortunately, a reduction in the funding designated for the library's operation. The city of Norwich, like the state in general is suffering through a difficult financial time, so every organization affiliated with municipal government is affected. One of the unfortunate ramifications is a staff furlough and library closing between August 17 and September 1. I hope that this is the first and only time the library finds itself in such a position. The statistics reflect the need for the services provided by the library, and not being available to the public is deeply frustrating.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Her book, The Day Wall Street Exploded, a Story of America in Its First Age of Terror is a study of the Wall Street bombing of Sept. 16, 1920. The bombing, allegedly the act of anarchists, killed 38 people and maimed hundreds more. It was the worst terrorist bombing in the United States until the Oklahoma City attack in 1995, the worst in New York until the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. This image of terrorist acts describes an America that may seem quite alien to us, or at least more volatile, reflecting more dissonant voices and discontent than commonly associated with the early 20th century. Yet these realities are clearly elucidated throughout the book. This dichotomy between perception and reality in turn reminds me of a particularly resonant theme in the speeches and writing of Abraham Lincoln, that being his frequent assertion that a faded or false view of the past can harm the future. Exemplary of this, in his address at Cooper Union (1860), Lincoln complains of "invocations to Washington, imploring men to unsay what Washington said, and undo what Washington did”. Commenting on this passage, political scientist Diana Scab rightly observed, “Being misty-eyed or bleary-eyed about the past leaves us vulnerable to sophistry. Our acquaintance with the past must be fully mindful.”
The Day Wall Street Exploded is the sort of book that helps us to maintain that fully mindful relationship, disabuses us of our frequently ahistorical relationship with the past, and serves as an antidote to the historical amnesia that is lamentably commonplace.
I also believe that public libraries, such as the Otis Library, are an essential part of the anti amnesia therapy. On our shelves, in proximity to The Day Wall Street Exploded you will find books exploring the trial and execution of anarchists Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, dissidents who also appear in Professor Gage’s book. Also nearby is Howard Blum’s history of the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building during a violent struggle between radical union and anti-union factions in that city. That attack left 20 dead and about the same number injured. A few shelves away, Christopher Finn’s From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America provides valuable context for the zeitgeist in which the Wall Street Explosion took place, including the 1919 anti-radical campaign instigated by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, and more commonly and eponymously known as the Palmer Raids. (Lest we think Connecticut was immune from the egregious violations of the First Amendment that accompanied these raids, Finan notes the detention for almost 5 months of 100 men in Hartford without charges and without access to legal counsel.)
What the library offers then, is information, but more importantly, the opportunity to weigh that information, establish a context, and cultivate the critical thinking skills that inoculate us against sophistry. Especially in these hard times, when personal finances are in a parlous state and our patrons may not have other access to books, magazines and the Internet, the Otis Library is an essential resource, not a luxury, and undeniably an asset to the community it serves.
Friday, June 12, 2009
As you know, the city of Norwich faces a very difficult 2009-2010 budget year. Every city department confronts daunting cuts in funding, and the library is not exempt from this reality. In our case, this amounts to 12% of our 2008-2009 allocation, a total reduction of $134,580. In order to adjust to this reduction we need to reduce expenses in several areas.
Therefore, beginning with the new fiscal year starting on July 1, 2009 the Otis Library must reduce its hours of operation. We have reviewed levels of usage, tracked attendance at different events, and attempted to minimize the inconvenience to the public.
As of July 1, 2009, our hours will be as follows:
• Mondays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
• Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (except July and August when we are closed on Saturdays)
• For Fiscal Year 2009-2010 (July 1, 2009 to June 30 2010) the library will suspend Sunday hours;
• During the weeks of August 17 and 24, the library will be closed.
We know that recessions are cyclical, and conditions will improve. We also must approach the current challenges with maturity, fiscal prudence and perseverance.Our hope is that if the economic indicators improve and with them the fortunes of the city, the library will be able to restore hours and recoup the funding that is now unavailable.
Thank you for your patronage, support and understanding during these difficult times.
Robert D. Farwell, Director
The Otis Library
Monday, May 25, 2009
The second person in my thoughts, although I never knew him, is my great grandfather, Albert Benjamin Hayward. He had a much different war time experience, in his case during the American Civil War. Serving in the Union infantry and later artillery, he experienced no major set piece battles, but rather participated in a small, largely forgotten but none the less destructive and harrowing incursion in North Carolina, and later in trench warfare in Virginia. Reading his petitions for an increased pension and descriptions of his desultory experiences after service, his life was bleak, and, though never wounded in combat, he suffered both physical and psychological damage. I am not surprised that my grandmother never spoke of him or alluded to his service. For those who wish to understand men like Albert Benjamin Hayward, those who were scarred and traumatized but whose wounds were either unrecognized or misunderstood, I recommend Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering.
There are of course innumerable other sources, perspectives and experiences to be consulted, but these represent good places to start. My principal hope is that these suggestions will give readers reasons to reflect on Memorial Day, its continued relevance, and the types of sacrifices made in service to this country. These are, in my opinion, estimable goals.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Despite the awkwardness of the language-and the arcane mathematics involved-the points made are salient to this library’s role in the community. This library is not an island, and while we can offer a respite from the frenetic pace of life outside our walls, we are not immune to the affects of social problems, economic hardships and pressures generated externally which may affect efficiencies. If we see a change in populations served, as we do now with a growing number of unemployed and possibly homeless youths, age 16-24, we have to act on that knowledge. If constituents need a location in which to perform community service, court ordered or otherwise, we will accommodate that need. If we need to adapt fines on materials to help patrons in straitened financial times, or work with new Americans who need library cards we will explore the options. If more family groups now spend longer periods of time at our programs, request more programs, or simply use the library for extended periods, we have to address the issue or opportunity. By Hemmeter’s yardstick, efficiency is also affected by the energy expended in accommodating the growth in Internet use-61% for adults, April of 2009 vs. April 2008-and incoming interlibrary loans, which increased 62% between April 2008 and April 2009. Finally, the library must help fashion solutions to problems seemingly unrelated to its operation. For example, during the winter, many folks waiting for the Buckingham Shelter to open patronize the library between 5-7 p.m. Come next fiscal year, as a result of financial constraints, that option will disappear on 2 week day nights. While it is not, strictly speaking our responsibility to design a solution, we have an obligation as a center of community activity to help craft a response in collaboration with the Department of Social Services, and St. Vincent De Paul Place. This is part of our role as a community center.
In summary, the roles and responsibilities of a public library evolve to meet the needs of the community it serves. In the case of the Otis Library, that now includes services quite unlike those associated with libraries in less dissonant times. It also means in the foreseeable future addressing demands and responsibilities with fewer resources, fewer staff, and fewer dollars and materials to draw on. That too is reflective of the times we live in.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The paradox here is that while we are needed even more when fiscal distress leads to straitened personal circumstances, we, like other departments in Norwich, will have fewer resources to work with. The forthcoming fiscal year, 2009-2010, and likely the one following that will feature diminished funding for many types of municipal functions. The figures are there in the City Manager's proposed budget, which can be viewed on the Norwich city home page. These are the results of an agonizing process, reflective of the severity of the problem. Taking a longer view, conditions will improve, and we will approach the future determined to provide exemplary service to the citizens of Norwich. That is what our constituents deserve regardless of circumstances.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
We have two students from Norwich Free Academy preparing to start community service projects at the library. This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce young adults to the library, and also allows us to implement some further audience research. In particular, we could use more information on the methods of transportation employed by our patrons. Based on the results of our last two survey, there are noteworthy differences between those who drive and those who use public transportation or walk. Initially I would like to illuminate the percentages using various forms of transportation, and adduce more about the different uses made of the library. Some of these differences were revealed by the responses to the earlier surveys, but there is more to be learned. What we learn is also valuable for designing programs and events scheduling.
I also hope that readers of this blog are following the changes made to the library's web page. We have added photographs from recent events, including a packed forum on health care sponsored by Congressman Joe Courtney and a highly successful reading by author Wally Lamb. Please consult our home page for forthcoming programs and vignettes from recent events.
Monday, February 2, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
During late 2008, the library conducted two patron surveys. I thought this might be a good time to share the results of these assessments with you, and describe some of the general conclusions we have drawn. The first survey was conducted on site on weekdays in October and November and consisted of 52 patron interviews equally divided between males and females. The second, completed between November and December was distributed electronically, using the same Constant Contact program employed in disseminating our newsletter. One hundred and ninety-six newsletter recipients responded, of whom almost 70% were female. The results illustrate the range of patrons served by the library, their attitudes towards several aspects of our operation and services, and their overall assessment of our collections and resources. In this abbreviated format, I focus principally on differences in audiences, types and frequency of usage and a few related questions. Although the questions occasionally differed from one survey to another, the general outline and goals remained constant. We wished to know more about patron perceptions of the library, how they viewed and used it, and what strengths and weaknesses they had observed. The results will help inform future decisions on a range of topics from material purchases to programming and marketing, and complements the work being done to implement the results of the board and staff retreat.
The surveys identified two generally distinctive audiences, albeit with some common characteristics: Over 70% are Norwich residents, and similarly high numbers have a library card. Both groups cite borrowing and returning materials as a reason for their patronage. Forty-seven percent of on line respondents referred to borrowing or returning materials as a reason for visiting, while 44% of on site visitors reported similarly. However, from that point the differences manifest themselves. One group, interviewed on site, consists of frequent users who require access to our technology and collections and rely heavily on our public computers. A full 73% of those responding to the on site survey reported using the library at least once a week, and 33% listed computer use as a principal feature of their visit. The second general group, those who responded electronically, is less likely to visit every week (21.1%), and more inclined to visit every 2-3 week, (25.2 %), or every month (17.5%). Generally, this latter group does not need or use the public computers-only 3.6% cited that as a reason for visiting the library- and is principally interested in selecting, ordering, and retrieving materials from the collection or from interlibrary loan. Given the low numbers drawn to the public computers, and their on line responses, it should be no surprise that 95.5% of electronic respondents had a home Internet connection.
Onsite visitors were more often younger, frequent users, without access to other computers, while those responding to the online survey were older, and female. In fact, the respondents to the online survey were overwhelmingly female (69.8%) and in reference to age, were predominantly between the ages of 46-55 (23.4%), and 56-65 (23.9%). In October/November, 15% of the on site respondents were 13-15, 19% 26-35, 15% 36-45, 19% 46-55, and only 8% between 56-65.
Other noteworthy differences also reflect distinctions in library use. Those interviewed in the library were far more likely to refer to use of the Young Adult area (29%), bringing someone to the library (27%), use of the children’s department and programs (21%), and studying or reading (19%). By comparison, percentages for on line respondents were Young Adult (4.1%), bringing someone to the library (6.8%), use of children’s department (5.5%), and studying or reading, (6.4%). While both groups were inclined to return and check out materials during a visit, the on site patrons were more likely to linger and read magazines (19%) than those on line (4.3%). Onsite respondents were also far less likely to use the library’s home page than on line users. Eighty percent of the online patrons said they had visited our home page; only 30% of those on site gave a similar response. The home page contains information on programs, hours, and links to numerous resources. Further analysis might clarify whether the on site users are focused on a particular form of use, have a predetermined agenda for the use of the computers or find the library’s home page deficient in some way.
Reactions to programs and services
Sharp differences also surfaced in the reactions to various elements of the library’s operation. While it is not necessary to enumerate each category of question, there are several which deserve further comment.
As with the general reactions, there were areas of consensus encompassing both types of users. Commenting on the library facilities, electronic and on site respondents both lauded the building. Fifty-two percent of on site respondents were very satisfied with the results of the building program, while 37% were satisfied, and 61% of on line respondents found the facility very much to their satisfaction and 31% expressed satisfaction. The library’s location drew strong general support from on site respondents, with 44% expressing strong satisfaction with the library’s location, and 23% being satisfied. However, among the on line users, 29% gave the site a very satisfactory rating and 33% evinced satisfaction. In contrast to on site users, of whom only 4% expressed dissatisfaction with the location and none responded as very dissatisfied, 7% of on line users found the location dissatisfying, and 11% were very dissatisfied with the downtown site. Additional comments offer some insights regarding the reasons for these less enthusiastic responses. Commentators noted the lack of adequate parking, which is a frequent anecdotal explanation for infrequent use, and expressed a generalized unease with parking and conditions downtown. Interestingly enough no discomfort about use of the library itself surfaced.
Regarding parking, 38% of onsite respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the availability of parking. That is not a comforting statistic, but even less inspiring is the 59% of the electronic respondents who expressed dissatisfaction or strong dissatisfaction. Add to this the presence of a transient population, and the combination has the capacity to foster a generalized sense of discomfort.
In counterpoint to this, there is a sizeable group of residents for whom these factors are not deterrents. Among the follow up investigations worth pursuing is an assessment of how patrons reach the library. How many, for example, use public transportation, how many live within walking distance, how many drive and what impact will the relocation of the transportation center have on visitor traffic. For those patrons who do use the library remotely, and plan their visits to pick up and return materials, what technologies will make electronic access even more attractive and enhance the usefulness of the library. Also, apropos of accessing the library, will more parking actually result in a meaningful growth in patronage, or is the answer more and better electronic access, and/or better public transportation? Regarding the general downtown environment, we must work with city officials to create an ambiance in which appropriate use of the library and environs is courteously but firmly articulated and enforced. We also need to participate in programs that address and alleviate social problems. Ultimately, our goals is to create conditions in which patrons, regardless of circumstances, will find downtown Norwich a safe and comfortable destination and experience.