Covers and Spines - Valuable Real Estate

I am always bemused (sometimes to the point of tearing out my hair, so that could take me slightly beyond bemusement) by how little regard library and automation planners and apparatchiks give to the amazing real estate we know as book covers and spines. You get a cover and a spine to sell books to kids. It freaks me out to see how much of that libraries can cover to make the book anything from asinine to undecipherable.

Two hilarious and unfortunate barcode placements highlighted recently in Awful Library Books blog here and here are perfect examples of this practice. Automation folks say the barcode MUST go here and chaos and snickers result. Of course the argument also goes that if we put the barcode on the back, we'll lose the back jacket blurb.  I don't display the book backwards, though, so I harumphingly say, let the cover shine.

Full authors names on the spine are another bete noire of mine.  I have heard it blatted about that it helps shelvers by giving them the info they need to shelve correctly. I'll agree (although our college-aged shelvers seem to have no trouble dealing with three letters or less in shelving exactly alphabetically...could have something to do with their excellent predictive skills or more like, their ability to read the author's full name higher up on the spine where the publisher placed it so we could see the author's moniker) somewhat. But really,  kids looking at spine-out books get to see "The Secret"  or "A Series" or "My Friend" without seeing the whole title.  How do they choose?  My favorite spine label cover-up is for a multi-volume fiction series that displays the word "The" for each book - and no, it doesn't include the series volume on the spine label, so every book needs to be pulled out to find the desired title. How very un-fourth law of Ranganathan!

And save yourselves now and don't let me get started on endless dewey numbers in juvenile non-fiction collections.  Come on!  Except for mega - and I mean freakin' - big collections at large urban libraries, why are we extending dewey numbers beyond one decimal for kids?  They come in and want a dinosaur or lion or bug or horse or dog or truck book - and for 98% of the kids it's ANY book on this subject. They don't particularly want a certain NF author just a book on their passion. And they just want to find a book now. Long deweys mean they have to come to us (ah, it's a job security issue, not a cataloging one?) to unlock the mystery of the impossible long number. 

Libraries using a BISAC model or truncating Dewey and replacing the cutter line with a clearer indication of the subject (636.1 HORSE; 796 FOOTBALL or F; 599.7 LION or L) are my BFFs and heroes. And libraries honoring preschoolers by busting out big subject areas in the picture books into more friendly subjects that tots crave (princesses, concepts, "big teeth" dinosaurs, sharks and felines", transportation, celebrations, fairytales) have my undying gratitude and respect.

I say let the book covers and spines shine out.  Let kids find books easily by wise decisions in cataloging, processing and automation issues. Let those books be free!

Image: 'Finally got to make something with this+awesome+vintage+fabric' http://www.flickr.com/photos/63103685@N00/3023635136


School-Schmool/Masters-Schmasters - Ya Need the Big Picture!

A great post from Mr. Library Dude questions whether it really matters exactly what MLIS school program you go through to get your degree and be employable.  My favorite paragraph: " I’ve never looked at anyone’s resume/cover letter and thought: “Wow, she graduated from X library school!” Library school is what you make of it. The MLS is just the basic requirement for the job. If all you do is take the required courses, but get no work experience, then you are setting yourself up for failure." He advocates instead making sure you have some work experience; get with mentor(s); be willing to move; learn to market yourself and your skills among other direct advice.

As someone who has worked with many people from various graduate schools, both at the libraries I've worked at and professionally on a state and national level , I agree with Joe.  It ain't the school -and I would add, it ain't the degree.  It's the passion, the ability to look at the big picture of serving our communities and making information, literacy and books (in whatever format) touch those communities in a meaningful way. You can have a string of letters after your name, but if you can't see the forest for the trees, you'll never make a great librarian.

I have worked with amazing and less-than-amazing folks over my 36+ year career and have been humbled by the amazing work of lots of non-degreed library staffers. I have also been underwhelmed by any number of MLSed blessed professionals who have the letters but are clueless on how to really bring great service to the table.

Having just gone through the hiring process, I agree with Joe.  I didn't care what school someone went through. I was looking for the telltale signs that spoke to the person's passion, energy and ability to see beyond Library Practices 101 and think about the real world of library work.  I was happy to see so many great candidates who fit that description but it was still a distinct minority of our applicant pool.  Folks who hire assume you can do the work.  The real issue is whether you can dream, imagine and then create the new reality that looking at the big picture of library work demands.


Capturing Numbers

I've had a couple of people ask me on- and off-line how we record our stats for summer and get staff buy-in with the process.

I like to track just enough data points to give us needed info but no more than is necessary:
  • name
  • grade going into (or age, if preschool)
  • name of school or, if homeschooled
  • participation level (we all know the number of kids registered for the program doesn't reflect the actual number of kids who return and participat
These numbers point me in the direction of how effective our SLP is, where we need to devote more planning or changes in direction, what is effective in our approach. Combined with anecdotal information, it gives us the info we need to meet the needs of our kids.
We have played with a number of methods to get this data. When I worked at a one-location (no branches) library, we set up a very simple excel sheet that we would record info. We could easily handle 1000 entries that way and perhaps more. It allowed us to do single and multiple data point sorting. Staff buy-in was easy because we had been doing alot of this tracking by hand (index cards that volunteers would sort at the end of the summer according to the various data we wanted). The downside of this method is that the spreadsheet could only be open on one computer at a time.
When I moved to my present job, staff used hatchmarks to keep track of kids registered for the program and that was it. We didn't know our participation rate, what schools or ages the kids were, how many incentives we gave out - nada beyond the number involved. Planning was challenging because it was based on...nothing. Our board asked questions when I reported out to them in August that I couldn't answer.
So we designed a simple Microsoft Access database for our three locations so we could enter info and track readers with the database. The same data was collected and we could easily do sorting in the database to extract the numbers we needed. We did have some access issues that made this database too glitchy to use though so we threw ourselves on the mercy of our library's IT guru who wrote a small, helpful database within our "intranet" system to handle the same duties. This is our favorite, of course, because it fits our needs to "T" - but we know not everyone has an IT guy in their library pocket.

Staff wasn't too sure about all this as we did the design for the databases. Once they saw what we could do with the data (anticipate staffing needs; better target buying or incentives and book prizes; calibrate our printing needs more precisely), there was a much better staff buy-in for using this new technology for keeping track of summer business. We have also been able to present some powerful data to our board and school colleagues. And, of course, because we base planning on what really happens, we tailor our design to our community's response - and we are seeing real success in increasing the number of kids who participate!


Statistically Speaking

Numbers are so boring....

...but numbers are so powerful

Today we got our June circ stats which gave us a real "Wow!" moment. Our print youth circ leapt up 17% and total youth circ jumped 13% over last June.  That is significant. Our usual increases come in at 2-5% and those are hard fought battles to raise those percentage points with our users.

What made the difference this year?  I definitely think our newly revamped summer programs I blogged about in June jumpstarted our circ. The programs for elementary school kids and teens are designed to encourage frequent returns to the library and that has encouraged alot more check-out of materials. Between our circ numbers report and our SLP database that helps us track the kids reading and produces helpful data, we know we are right where we want to be.

Most interesting in this whole time period is that we actually decreased the number of events and storytimes we presented. Our staffers felt some trepidation about this decision. Would less people coming to fewer programs impact our circ and usage? We are pleasantly surprised to see that the strength and make-up of our SLP program is the driver behind the circ uptick.

I am a stats monster from way back when.  Tracking numbers and usage can produce amazing information. The trick is to actually use the numbers we gather and only gather the numbers we'll use!  It wastes time to track program attendance if we file it away and never compare the numbers to circulation patterns or other programs we did in previous years. It makes sense to keep an eye on stats for circ or programs if we institue major changes in program direction, new initiatives or added value services. And stats definitely help us say when to say when and end programs or services that no longer garner the support of our users.

Stats don't always go the way we want.  But the information they provide can be a powerful tool to help us make the changes we need to keep programs, collections and services fresh and responsive to our users.

Image: 'Happy Pi Day (to the 36th digit)!' http://www.flickr.com/photos/64419960@N00/2332789392