How libraries can connect people with services

Some amazing librarian, Katie Johnson, turned storytime into a way to really help low-income families and children get the help they need–medical help, food, education.

This is what I love. This is what I believe.

It’s a trope: libraries can change lives. People say it all the time, and it is wonderful and true, but that is usually centered on being able to provide books and non-judgemental reference services and databases.

But this–this is where we can grow our services in a meaningful way–not by providing the services ourselves, but by connecting people with services. By bringing services to people. We can’t all be mental health professionals, doctors, or special education teachers, but we can do what Katie did, and bring those people in.

In an university library, the needs are quite a bit different, but I see us trying to do similar things. For example I know there is a huge need among the students for better mental health services, and guess where the students are all the time? In the library. Who better to help people figure out what to do next when they are suffering?

Same goes for disabilities. Libraries can totally partner with the Student Disability Services office to help make libraries a comfortable place for students with disabilities. In fact, I see funding potential for projects that could arise from partnerships.

Food. Many students can’t afford food–libraries can partner up with a campus food pantry and ask people to donate food in lieu of fines.

Children. Depending on the campus, there may be a large number of non-traditional students who may have children. What can we do to help them out? I don’t know–but that’s another way of supporting the studies of our students.

Anyway. I’m just brainstorming, because this is the sort of thing I love. Helping people. Making a real difference in their lives.


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Are public libraries really a “layer of fat” in city budgets?

I’m fortunate to be surrounded by library supporters. Really. But sometimes it’s easy to forget that there really are such things as non-supporters of the library. GASP! Really? Non-supporters?

I ran into one on a friend’s Facebook post about library privatization.

layer of fat

Sounds like a joke! On my tax bill the library is a taxing body. I walk by mine every day and it t filled to the brim with workers and no patrons — seems like a huge layer of fat and ripe for privatized corruption

I know. I had to pause and re-read it a couple of times. Was she being sarcastic? Serious? It read like the Onion, so I wasn’t entirely sure if that’s what she intended.

I Googled her name–it’s fairly unique in the Chicagoland area, so that helped. She lives in one of the suburbs of Chicago, at least according to the most recent records online, so I am presuming she is talking about her suburban library. Among the hits includes a comment from her about the property taxes on an investment plot of land, on (which is a org that is, among other things, dedicated to limited taxation).

She genuinely believes that libraries are a “layer of fat” in her city’s budget.

Unfortunately, so do many others. I know this from past experience in public libraries, and from the ongoing drama at other public library systems around the country.

So I dug around a little bit more. The more I know, the more I can help advocate for her library. Maybe her suburban library is particularly well-funded? They rely almost solely on property taxes, 2.891% earmarked for libraries. I’m concerned about the rather heavy reliance on property taxes. There’s not much diversity to help guard against lean years, or if the residents all decide to reduce that percentage.

Since she specified the number of staff inside, I took a look at the director’s salary. It’s a way for me to estimate whether they are paying their staff reasonably well, or whether they’re skimping on the wages. The director’s salary is a little less than the average and median, so I don’t think the “fat” is in the wages.

Wait– I found the meeting minutes for the discussion about health insurance. It appears they rely on the ACA to provide insurance to their staff–and they decided that next year they will NOT pay their portion for any dependents of the staff member to save money. Just the staff members themselves. That is going to become a problem in the long run with employee satisfaction and turnover, I’m afraid.

Where is the fat? It’s not in the collection, either, it seems–according to their strategic plan, a survey says that non-users of the library are dissatisfied with the selection of material.

Finally–she mentioned that it seems like nobody is using it when she walks by–it depends on the time of day. Does she see the weekend rush? The after school “my paper is due tomorrow” crowds? The daycare visits?

Library workers all know that the quiet times of the days are the times when we prepare for programs, update records, shelve books, do virtual reference interviews, buy and process material, etc. I know I loved shelving children’s books outside of peak kid times, when I worked in the public library.

We’re not sitting around doing nothing until retirement, like what Frank Pezzanite (founder of LSSI, the company in the privatization article) said. I think most of us might agree that we’re constantly wishing we had more time in the day to get things done.

I don’t know if this person knows all this–which is why I researched and politely pointed all of this out to her, referring her to my primary sources from the library itself. (Kudos to you, unnamed library, for posting minutes and the strategic plan online.)

It falls on us library users to advocate for libraries everywhere. (Insert shameless plug for EveryLibrary).





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You can’t learn library management from a book (and you can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd)

It’s inevitable that we’ll work under managers of varying qualities if we are in the workforce (or volunteer-force) long enough. And once you become a supervisor or manager yourself, sometimes your opinions may change about other managers. Sometimes not.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I find myself observing and being introspective about management, mostly because I want to learn how to be a good manager. I want to analyze what makes certain qualities good or bad. And after having a reasonable discussion a couple days ago with the head of a volunteer-run library resource website, I’ve been analyzing what about this person could improve. What makes the communication of poor quality? Why does it feel unsatisfying to work with this person? Why did I always feel like I was walking on eggshells?

Some things you can’t learn in a class or a book. Management is one of them. No matter how much you study the theory of management, you cannot learn until you become a manager.

I took a management class for my MLIS, and the readings were rather trite and superficial. I think my detailed deconstruction and critical eye of these readings in our discussion boards didn’t go over so well with the instructor. Especially when I analyzed the weaknesses in the arguments of a couple of her favorite authors. Needless to say, I don’t feel like I learned a lot in that class.

I did learn a lot from observing my bosses and supervisors. I love one of my former bosses because he always took the time to talk about the rationale behind projects and plans, future and current projects, and even library theory. He was a good listener, too, and I felt like he really supported my professional development goals. He was honest, and appreciated feedback. That, I really appreciate.

I love another one of my former bosses. I was skeptical of daily meetings right before the library opened (heck, I was kinda skeptical of meetings altogether), but it turned out to be beneficial to talk about what we saw in our emails from Main, about patrons, about upcoming library events. She also pushed me out of my comfort zone in a supportive way. I felt awkward with library “walkarounds,” which is a smaller version of roving reference, but she kept nudging me to do so. I also turned into a bit of a “salesperson” for library events, so she’d task me with “selling” them to people. I surprised myself with that skill. And she also taught me how to deal with difficult patrons, sometimes by stepping in and talking with the person herself, and sometimes by talking to me about it afterwards.

Those two are my favorite so far. They were honest. They appreciated feedback. They provided real constructive criticism, and they demonstrated excellent communication skills.

Needless to say, I’ve also had a share of mediocre to bad bosses, whether as a paid employee or as a volunteer, and I’ve also taken it as a learning opportunity: Be patient. Let go of the little things. Don’t try to jump in and help if you haven’t done something in a while because you’ll probably mess up the whole system. Accept feedback–even from subordinates (within reason, obviously). Be willing to take suggestions, and do seriously consider them. Talk with your supervisees–you don’t have to be friends, but it is good to know what’s going on in their lives. Support your employees in their career goals, even if it means losing some of your best employees. Be honest and upfront. Don’t place the blame on them (or shift blame away) if something is really your fault.

Lessons like these are really hard to convey in the traditional management books–especially if it focuses on the theory and general principles. Straight-up I/O psychology is probably a better bet. Or communication, though it’s often pegged as a “bird course.” Guess what? It’s far more useful than management. Or even a book of stories and anecdotes.

Or reading one of those excellent websites that aggregates personal (and anonymous) stories about bad bosses. It’s like Aesop’s Tales, but for future and current managers. Just google “bad boss stories” to get yourself started.

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When you write, hold on tight to your copyrights

I learned a valuable lesson yesterday.

Always, always, always ask for a copy of the copyright agreement before you write for somebody’s blog. It’s better to say ‘no’ upfront than it is to operate under misunderstandings.

I also learned that if I ever run my own blog network, I will be sure to stay on top of distributing copyright agreement documents to everyone. Probably by posting it on one of the pages of the network in the interests of transparency, but at the very least by having a Google Docs or Dropbox with organized documents, which each blogger will have access to.

Such agreements should also include sections on the use of photos, video, and other documents.

It’s not that everything I write is spun gold and silver, studded with diamonds. To be honest, some of my stuff is crappy. But it is still my writings, and I prefer to hold onto my rights. My awareness of copyright issues, as pitiful as it may be compared to that of a lawyer, is a consequence of having taken a copyright class in grad school.

If you forget to give a blogger the copyright document upfront, but give it to them later, then all the posts prior to that document are not subject to that document, unless both blogger and the distributor agrees to make it retroactive. Which, in this case, I did not. I was proud of some of my writings, and wanted to retain those rights for current and future uses, although I was fine with this other blog network being another distributor of my work. Like posting them in full on my website.

When you give someone copyright rights to your work, it’s not temporary. It’s permanent, and it is a legally binding issue.

Unless the agreement specifies a temporary transfer of rights. You know, “You have the exclusive right to use and distribute my work for five years, after which the distribution rights return back to me, and I may use and distribute it myself again.” I’m more comfortable with that than with a complete transfer of rights.

I’m also more comfortable with signing over non-exclusive distribution rights that do not have a term limit. “Here, you can distribute this all you want whenever you want, but I have the right to distribute it all I want, too, and I retain all copyright.” This is how the blog network ChicagoNow operates, for example.

I’m comfortable handing over rights for tangible benefits, such as to an academic journal in exchange for, well, FAME AND MONEY AND MORE FAME, aka notoriety as a scholar in my field. I’m also okay if I get some money in exchange for my writings, whether it is a purchase or through royalties.

I’m comfortable if I give up (some) copyrights to a site that also gives up (some) copyrights. Creative Commons for the win!

But mandatory blogging for someone’s up and coming resource website for free as a part of a volunteer position (of which there was no contract), giving up all copyrights with no tangible benefits? I’m sorry, but no. I am not comfortable with that, because I can foresee legal copyright problems down the road because of it.

When you write, hold on tight to your copyrights. Don’t devalue your own writing unnecessarily, and don’t give up all rights to it unless you know you never want to use that work again on another website, in a book, etc.

Obligatory disclaimer that I am totally not a lawyer, and none of this should be construed as legal advice, but rather as a guide to go look up more of those legal advices and rules and wibbly wobbly timey wimey copyright and contract rules yourself.

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Sharing the “Librarian Job Ad Drinking Game”

This has been floating around on Facebook, and thanks to one of my fellow head editors for INALJ, Sandra Hoyer, I now know who to credit for this awesome game. Mr. Library Dude, you deserve many, many kudos. My favorite is the “3 yrs experience for entry level job.” And the “2nd master’s or PhD preferred.”

Oh, and especially the “innovative” one. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post. People like innovation in theory, but in practice…

I do have a question though. What happens if you get 5 in a row in only ONE job ad?

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Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library (ALA2013)

I attended the Bridging Deaf Cultures @ Your Library presentation/discussion during ALA2013, and definitely enjoyed learning more about the special interest group and the idea of setting up a Deaf Cultural Digital Library in every state. Alec McFarlane was an excellent presenter and a joy to talk with after the session was over. (I and two other attendees talked for a long time afterwards. The old stereotype of deaf people being unable to say goodbye was very true here.)

Seriously though, having a resource center for libraries and their deaf/HOH users is sorely needed. As one librarian who attended said, if someone came in needing assistance, she wouldn’t know where to begin.

First off, people need to understand that there is a wide range of people who fall into the ‘deaf/HOH’ category. Not everyone is completely deaf. It’s a range. There’s people who have very little difficulty with their hearing loss. There’s people who can barely hear anything. and there’s people in between. Not everyone knows American Sign Language. Some may rely on SEE. Some may be completely oral. Some may be proficient in English, others struggle with English as a second language. We all have different needs and preferences, and for someone who is unfamiliar with this whole segment of the population, it can seem overwhelming.

That’s where a DCDL would come in handy.

There is grant money to help libraries provide services like captioning or interpreters to their deaf users. DCDL would be useful if it could help people find and apply for those grants, so assistive services don’t necessarily have to take a bite out of the general budget.

What kind of programs could libraries create in order to draw deaf users into the library? If you don’t know what the deaf community in the area need, it’s easy for programs to flop. Having resources for planning programs would be of use, and that’s where the DCDL could help.

One such program that we discussed at this session is essentially an ESL program. English IS a second language for culturally Deaf people. I remember growing up thinking that other deaf people were bookworms like me, just because it was so much easier to read words than to listen to people, but it is not always the case. That’s where captioning, as useful as it is, can fail.

Libraries should also do some outreach and work with organizations that serve the deaf community. You can’t always bring non-library users into the library just by holding programs in the building. You have to go out. Network. Have meetings. Attend deaf chats. Bring the library to the people, and give them a reason to come in. The DCDL could help with finding opportunities for outreach.

On a personal note, I’m not entirely sure having one of these libraries in each state will actually be able to happen. (I’m being rather pessimistic, I know. Budget tightness and all.) Certainly, I WANT something like this in every state, but some states do better than others in supporting libraries and resource centers. A DCDL in those states would thrive. Maryland seems to be the first state to even start thinking about a DCDL in the form of a taskforce. There is one small resource center, the Veditz Center, that is a sort of “pre-DCDL” organization trying to get funding together for a true Deaf Cultural Digital Library in Maryland.

But other states?

I think a national DCDL will better pave the way for local/regional DCDLs in a couple of ways. 1, it will  provide lawmakers with an example organization to follow. Not every state wants to be first and risk public derision (even more than usual, that is). If there’s something to point to or a path they can follow, then it might make it easier in the other states.

Also, a national DCDL to tie together these local ones would be beneficial. Looking at the National Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, the main organization provides a network, linking all of the regional/state-level libraries together, and provides a base of accessible material that each location can supplement with more local-interest items. Building DCDLs on a state level and then building up…it could work. I want it to work. But I suspect that it would definitely make it difficult to coordinate communication and pool resources without a national library or board to help codify the policies and streamline the processes, or provide the base of accessible material and resources.

There is not a whole lot of information about DCDLs online yet, probably because it’s still so new of a concept, and I have been unable to find any websites on the subject. However, for the basics of deaf services, the Red Notebook is a good resource. It first created by Alice L. Hagemeyer during her role as the Librarian for the Deaf Community at DC Public Library. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a while, but it’s a start.

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ALA Battledecks = library presentations + ‘Whose Line’

“You need to go to Battledecks!” a Facebook acquaintance of mine told me.

Battledecks? I’d seen people talk about it on ALA ThinkTank on Facebook, but figured it was something akin to D&D, and way beyond my ken. The definition I was able to find online didn’t really help, either. Karaoke and presentations, mixed together? I had visions of people reading off of slides, which is the one major NO-NO of presentations. Nooooo thank you.

Then one person at ALA described it as like “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Improv presentations with slides they’ve never seen before. Oh? That sounds much more fun! Except…how will I know what they’re saying? Shoot, shoulda asked for an interpreter.

It was held on a Monday evening–the last day of the conference, and I ran to McCormick Place after work, and saw this.

And they had INTERPRETERS. Two of ’em, so they can trade off before getting too tired.

Watch. All the way through, if you can. It was fantastic.

Maybe next time I’ll compete.

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ALA2013: A first-timer’s first impression

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be writing posts about things I learned during #ALA2013 (formerly #ALA13). I will also set up a book-review tab or a feed from Goodreads (or both), because I SWEAR I will do my best to actually review the free ARCs that I got in the exhibit hall. Except for the books that one publisher practically forced on people because very few actually stopped and lingered to peruse their books, but that’s another story.

So, what was my first impression about ALA2013?

In one word, overwhelming.

I had to set aside my tendency to want to know exactly what to do and where to go and learn to go with the flow. At least for the first day, until I could get oriented, and then I was able to get around more readily after that.

In more words:

  • Getting badges was super easy. So was picking up my pack for the fun run–except for the fact that nobody really knew how we could get to the start point on the Lakefront Trail.
  • It was hard navigating McCormick Place to find the far-flung rooms for the sessions. The numbers aren’t actually that intuitive, and the building layout map was surprisingly deprived of this crucial bit of information.
  • It’s actually not that easy to network unless you are extroverted enough to strike up conversations with strangers sitting next to you. I did make some great connections with people, though, when I got up the courage to strike up conversations.
  • I had just the right balance of go-go-go and resting. Next time, I want to go to more sessions now I know that I can totally shoehorn more information into my brain.
  • Why are all the good sessions scheduled all at the same time? There were two time slots that had about 4-6 different sessions I wanted to go to in different parts of the center. Ack!
  • I need to redesign my business cards to include more WHITE space when I run out of the old ones. I had to use a freebie sticky note pad and stick it on my card for people to scribble on.
  • True to the librarian nature, everyone was helpful if you asked for help. I was able to snag an adorable (and free!) cat tote because I asked a stranger where she got her cat bag. She went right into reference librarian mode.
  • Penguin, Random House, and other major publisher booths are nuts. NUTS. No matter which way I was going, I always somehow was going against the stream of people. Lines are vague. I accidentally cut a couple of lines because I had no idea what was going on. They need to set up some rope.
  • The booklet of coupons that you’re supposed to fill out and drop off with booths are mostly worthless. They just scan your exhibit pass. A few accepted the coupons, but most didn’t.
  • Exhibitors of services and equipment tend to ignore you if you don’t have your place of employment on your badge (as I accidentally didn’t.) They loved my husband who showed up in a suit one day, though. He got a ton more free stuff  and had better conversations with them than I did because of that. Memo to self: wear a suit at the next conference.
  • Even if you don’t make purchasing decisions at your library, even if you are still low on the totem pole, go see the services/equipment exhibitors. You can learn quite a bit from them, actually. I even learned how to properly mend a book from one–and I was so glad I wasn’t the only one making the mending mistakes that I had.
  • Why does Scientology have a booth there? I was half tempted to see if I can get myself considered a Suppressive person just for kicks.
  • I still haven’t figured out the magic of getting oh so many ARCs that people keep talking about. I got quite a few, but then I realized how pitiful my stack of books were compared to people who actually had two tote bags full of books. TELL ME YOUR SECRETS.
  • I got to meet up with Naomi House and several other head editors for INALJ–and I am so glad to actually meet them in person. Even if you study or volunteer digitally, take every advantage to meet people in person.
  • Speaking of which, the San Jose State University SLIS reception was fantastic. It wasn’t crowded with people, which actually made it somewhat easier to carry on meaningful conversations with other alums and students–more than just small talk. And did we ever talk–way past the scheduled end time.
  • I need to bring a laptop to future sessions. I took notes, but dang is it hard to write notes by hand during sessions where they have a TON of information to share.
  • I need to ask for an ASL interpreter even though I’m not the most proficient in ASL. I didn’t want to be a burden. But seriously, even though I hear quite well, my weak-ish ASL skills still filled in several gaps where I missed the presenter’s points.
  • I need to try my hand at Battledecks. SO MUCH FUN. I loved it. I also need a real camera, too, for the future…the Flip was a bit shaky. Thank goodness for YouTube’s stabilization tool.

It was a fairly successful convention, if I may say so.


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In downtown Chicago for #ALA13? Take advice from this Chicagoan

Originally published on INALJ on June 24.

In downtown Chicago for #ALA13? Take advice from this Chicagoan

I moved to downtown Chicago 3 years ago, and since then, I’ve learned a lot about navigating Chicago, and what kind of free things there are to do. I’m focusing on the most common issues and concerns I’ve noticed among tourists, and on things that us busy librarians can probably find time to do.

This post is divided into three sections:  Safety, Transit, and See This, Not That.


Downtown Chicago is actually a pretty safe place despite what some of the people who post online about #ala13 are saying. You are going to be just fine as long as you keep your wits about you and don’t do stupid things.

  • Beware of ”Apple-picking.” It’s where people will “pick” phones from unaware peoples’ hands, particularly on the CTA. You can check your phones occasionally, but keep a firm grip and be especially aware when the train/bus is stopped and the doors are open.
  • Most homeless are quite safe—they just sit on milk crates quietly. Some are funny and make jokes when asking for money. You can give them change as you walk by, but you don’t have to. I recommend keeping it in a pocket or an exterior part of your purse so you don’t have to take out your wallet.
  • People with the laminated “Homeless” are OK. It’s part of a legit project by Christopher Devine to try to help make people more aware of the homeless.
  • Ignore the aggressive panhandlers as they are breaking the law. They will come up to you asking for money using a sob story, and they will pester you. Some even use their children as props. Some pretend their car is broken down. You can be polite or be forceful, but just say NO. And repeat it as necessary. One trick for the sob-story scammers is to offer to call the police for them so they can get help (never lend your phone)—they will often refuse the assistance.
  • People who sell the Onion are scammers. The Onion is a free publication.
  • People who sell Streetwise are OK.It is a legit program.


    By David Kinney, via Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA

  • The hip hop guys on Michigan Avenue (Kings of Michigan Avenue) are awesome.
  • People who try to force a shoe-shine on you in the streets are scammers. They’ll shine your shoes with pink bathroom soap (or occasionally actual shoe polish) and ask for money. This is against the law, and most of the shoe shiners have had many, many run in with the police.
  • Keep wallets and phones in the front pocket. NOT the back pocket. Keep purses closed and secured. Never leave it sitting unattended to the side of you, and especially not gaping open.
  • Don’t wear your conference badge out and about. Stow them. Otherwise you’re practically screaming “I’M A TARGET” to pickpockets.
  • Buskers—people who play music or sing in the train stations—are legit. They’re required to have their permit visible, and they are allowed to collect tips.


The CTA is fast (except buses in traffic), reliable (except when stuck in traffic), and takes you anywhere in the city for cheap. Buy 1, 3, or 7-day passes while you’re in town, and you can get unlimited rides during that time. It’s a lot cheaper than a cab, and you’ll get a better taste of the city. Even with the CTA, you are going to be walking a lot. Be warned, and wear comfy shoes.

  • There are free CTA apps for both iPhone and Androids. Download them, try them out. I have no specific recommendations—they all do basically the same thing. Or you can go to the CTA’s website and track buses or trains from your phone’s browser, instead.
  • Google Maps has transit options when getting directions. I’ve found it to be quite reliable.
  • Passes can be bought at the airport, in train stations, and at Walgreens/CVS.unlimitedpasses
  • Take the train in from the airport, whether it’s O’Hare or Midway. The Blue and Orange lines are FAR cheaper than cabs.
  • Scoot in closer to let more people on the trains and buses. It’s Chicago. You are not going to have 3 square feet of personal space on transit. It’s not unusual for the buses and trains to be crammed almost as tight as sardines during rush hour.
  • It’s okay to squeeze in between people in order to get off the train or bus—I recommend letting people in the way know that you’re getting off at the next stop so they can be prepared to move.
  • If you go to a Cubs game, expect to be completely squished on the Red Line.
  • Move to the back of the bus. Yes, even the raised back part of the bus.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of a busy sidewalk to check your phone or talk with a friend. Pull over so you don’t impede traffic.
  • Feel free to ask people for directions. Chicagoans are a friendly bunch, and police and CTA employees can help with directions, too.
  • There are many options for renting a bike, from the new Divvy bike rental program to companies like Bike and Roll. I do prefer and recommend Bike and Roll over the other companies. But please, rent a real bike and not one of those quad bikes with single speeds. The quad bikes are too wide for the sidewalks and bulky to maneuver.
  • Riding bikes on the sidewalk in the City of Chicago is illegal. Please, please use the roads, park trails/sidewalks (but not in Millennium Park), and bike lanes. It’s much safer for you and for us pedestrians. You don’t have to use the bike lanes if you don’t want to—it’s perfectly legal to bike in the regular traffic lanes, even if the drivers flip you off. Follow the regular rules of the road.

See This, Not That

Chicago has a lot of free and cheap options for entertainment and sightseeing. I’m not recommending anything here that’s pricy, unless it’s worth it.

  • Marina City at State and Wacker is really neat. If you go down to the Vietnam Memorial park that’s to the east of State Street, you can get a good picture of the building up against the sky.
  • Go to Ohio Street Beach for a neat panorama view of the city, including the Hancock. Olive Park next to it is also a good place to get a scenic view.
  • Northerly Island offers a scenic, distance view of the city, too. It’s just east of McCormick Place, but you have to go all the way to Adler Planetarium in order to actually get on the “island.” They’re working on terraforming it so it doesn’t look like a former airport anymore.
  • luriegardenMillennium Park and area are gorgeous. My favorite park there is the Lurie Gardens, just north of the Art Institute. The Bean (okay, Cloud Gate) is always fun to take pictures of.
  • There are free classical concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. You can even listen in on the rehearsals, too! Wine and beer is often served, and it’s allowed within the gated areas if you want to bring your own. Just don’t expect to take the open bottle out of the area, because open container laws apply.
  • The planetarium and the Shedd are overrated. The Field Museum is where it’s at.
  • Don’t call it the Willis Tower. It will always be the Sears Tower to us. Also, The observation decks at the Sears and Hancock buildings are overrated, especially for the prices they charge.
  • If you must, you can go up to the bar in the Hancock and get a good view for the price of a drink—half the price of admission to the observation deck. Food and drink is mediocre, but the view makes it better. The view from the ladies’ room is AWESOME. Guys, I don’t think you have the same view in your loo, unfortunately. Just for the ladies.
  • navypierBoat tours are actually pretty nice, if you have a little extra money and time. Shoreline and Wendella are the two big ones, and you can choose a lake cruise, a river cruise, or a combo. They board along the river and at Navy Pier.
  • Navy Pier is a tourist trap with overpriced foods. Go there only to get on the boats.Or to ride the Ferris Wheel–that part is okay, too.
  • The Art Institute is always excellent.
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First Impressions Done Right – DePaul University Library

They use memes on their signs! You have to love libraries with a sense of humor. Be honest. This got you to read the sign, didn’t it? (They were working on a big library stacks reorganization project).

My father-in-law was very impressed by the DePaul University library, and by extension, DePaul University itself. Customer service is to commend for this.

Wait, let me back up and explain. He came to Chicago a couple months ago, one of the things we did while he was here was to take a look at DePaul University, as it is one of the possible colleges for my sister-in-law. While the three of us (him, me, my husband) were there, we decided to stop in at their library since it is publicly accessible. No, not in the sense of “must have research needs and get a pass” like the Newberry or other libraries, but in the sense of “walk on in with no need for ID” publicly accessible.

Score 1 for the library. That’s not to say that libraries with more restricted access policies don’t have a very good reason for doing so, but I absolutely love it when a non-City-library is open to all. I wish more libraries could be like that.

As my FIL always does when he visits a library, he used a catalog computer to look up how many books of his are in the library. Answer: A LOT. We also saw all of his journal articles in the results too.

Score 2 for a catalog search interface that also checks at least one major articles database. I swooned. That is an absolutely excellent way to help your patrons more effectively use the resources you do have, an important goal in times when libraries are still facing a financial crunch. It is one goal that my current library is working toward.

But the thing that had the biggest impact on our positive impression was the customer service.

While we were searching the catalog, a librarian (or a staff member?) approached us and asked us if we needed any assistance finding anything. We didn’t, so she said to just ask if we need help later on.

Bam. Score 3 for the DePaul Library. We were so impressed. Such a simple gesture makes a profound impact on first impressions. Even months later, we all are still talking about our good experience there.

On the flip side, this provides an impression that it’s hard to get good customer service at libraries. It’s probably true. Sadly. It’s not that we’re Grumpy Cat to people when they approach us for help. We’re a friendly bunch, aside from some rather cranky or sullen employees at certain libraries that I’ve been to. We went into this profession because we WANT to help people.

I think libraries seem bereft of customer service because we’re not approaching them for help.

It’s the perpetual problem of people being feeling too intimidated or awkward to approach people for help. Even retail stores have this problem. That’s why the good stores have their sales associates approach customers instead of waiting for customers to come to them. The good libraries do likewise.

At service desks in the library, the 10-4 rule comes in handy. I first learned about this concept at the Omaha Public Library. When a patron is 10 feet away, make eye contact and smile. When the patron is 4 feet away, verbally greet them.  “Hi, ready to check out?” “Do you need any assistance?” or even “Good morning!” are all good suggestions for a greeting. This pulls people into the service desk when they might otherwise keep a “healthy” distance away from us in order not to intrude on our work.

DePaul’s library apparently worked with Student Government to help keep the extended hours–how’s that for responding to student needs?

But what about other service desks? It is useful to have a permanent reference desk structure, because you can always find a librarian that way–but could it be set up to be a free-standing desk that allows for more freedom of movement? Like a goalie, the librarian could hang around in the vicinity, being generally available and aware of peoples’ needs. Then when someone needs help, the librarian can easily go back to the desk and get down to the nitty gritty of searching.

Or roving reference? Have someone rove around, looking for potential “sales,” and offer assistance on the spot. Or the simpler version of roving reference, the “walkaround” where a library staff member can walk around the library, and if someone is looking confused, ask if they need help finding anything. Then if it turns into an in-depth question, the staff member can refer the person to a librarian.

The problem is what it always is, funding. Staffing levels. Budgets. But with some flexibility and creativity, we can make simple and effective changes that will really improve the overall impression of the library. If we improve people’s opinions of libraries, that will garner support and loyalty from our users, who can help us advocate for libraries against budget cuts.

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