The State of America’s Libraries 2014: Libraries, Community Engagement, and Learning

April 15, 2014

Having been tremendously inspired by interactions with librarians who are community leaders in Northeast Kansas, closer to home (in Mendocino County) and elsewhere over the past few months, I’m not at all surprised to see that the 2014 edition of the American Library Association (ALA) State of America’s Libraries has a wonderful new section: “Libraries and Community Engagement.”

State_of_Americas_Libraries_2014“America’s libraries continue to transform themselves, keeping pace with the changing economic, social, and technological aspects of American society,” those contributing to the report write at the beginning of the community engagement section. “Libraries’ deepening engagement with their communities takes many forms, from technology to education to social services, and serves many segments of the population.”

It’s not at all difficult to find plenty of documentation of the positive transformations underway in libraries and the communities in which they are increasingly integral collaborators in exploring and addressing a variety of educational and other needs: libraries as learning/social learning centers; libraries as advocates of literacy at a time when concepts of literacy themselves are evolving to reflect our needs; libraries as places where technology is explored; libraries as catalysts for change; and libraries as places where something as simple as a book discussion group can serve as a forum about community challenges.

What is at the heart of the community engagement section of the ALA report, however, are the stories.

We read about the Chattanooga Public Library’s efforts to provide “3D printers, laser cutters, sewing machines, and spaces for conducting business meetings…all things that an individual might find too expensive.” We learn about libraries across the country engaging children, through collaborations with the organization Family Place Libraries™, at critically important moments in children’s earliest educational endeavors. We see my local library system and former employer—the San Francisco Public Library—receive well-deserved kudos for its “pioneering outreach program to homeless users…staffed by a  full-time psychiatric social worker” and including “the services of five peer counselors, all of whom were once homeless themselves”—an effort increasingly emulated elsewhere. And we learn about libraries offering musical instruments and even plots of land for checkout in addition to examples we find elsewhere with just a small bit of effort: tool libraries, seed libraries, and much more.

For those of us who have eagerly followed and supported ALA’s “Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities” initiative—fostered by former ALA President Maureen Sullivan and many others—and the ever-evolving ALA Libraries Transforming Communities website with its numerous useful resources, the ALA report is an update, a confirmation, and a source of encouragement.

It also is a strong reminder that we all have roles to play in strengthening collaborations between libraries and other key members of our communities—and that includes calling our non-library colleagues’ attention to reports like the State of America’s Libraries report and encouraging them to see how the content can expand and enrich their own community collaborations.

nmc.logo.cmykMy most progressive and far-reaching colleagues in workplace learning and performance in libraries, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), and the New Media Consortium recognize that we need to look beyond our usual training-teaching-learning environments to see ourselves in the larger context of all learning organizations—including museums and other arts organizations—that play overlapping roles in the average lifelong learner’s experiences. Media Specialist/School Librarian Buffy Hamilton, for example, consistently takes her learners on virtual trips far beyond the physical libraries she has served. ASTD CEO Tony Bingham consistently dazzles and inspires us with visionary training-teaching-learning presentations at the annual ASTD Chapter Leaders Conference and elsewhere. New Media Consortium Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnson consistently encourages staff and colleagues to take the large-picture view of how various learning organizations adapt new technology and address trends and challenges in learning worldwide.

ALonline346[1]When we bring all of this back to the content of the ALA report and read about what libraries and library staff members do to support and promote learning within their communities, we realize that those of us involved in adult learning need to see what tomorrow’s adults are doing as today’s children and teens. When we see what today’s community college, technical school, and university learners are doing, we need to be preparing to provide learning landscapes that help meet the needs they will continue to have in the years and decades we will have them in our workplaces.

And most importantly, we need to recognize that taking the time in our own workplaces—during our workdays—to read, ponder, react to, discuss, and implement what we encounter in well-written and thoughtfully produced report along the lines of The State of American’s Libraries 2014 is not a luxury. It’s an essential part of our own lifelong learning endeavors that make us contributors and partners in the development and maintenance of our own onsite and online communities.

Next: Libraries and Social Networking; reflections on the Academic Libraries and Ebooks and Copyright Issues sections of the report have been posted by Jill Hurst-Wahl, director of the library and information science and LIS with school media specialization programs at Syracuse University, on her Digitization 101 blog.


Massive (and Not-So-Massive) Open Online Courses: Libraries as Learning Centers

March 5, 2013

Completely immersed in #etmooc (the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course) with more than 1,600 other learners from several different countries since early February, I have just received a lovely reminder that we make a mistake by not paying attention to what is happening in our own learning backyards.

SFPL_LogoAlthough far from massive, a new free learning opportunity provided by the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) system for its users is beginning to roll out. It promises to be another great step in libraries’ efforts to brand themselves as learning centers within the extended communities they increasingly serve in our onsite-online world.

Using courses purchased from Cengage Learning’s Ed2Go, San Francisco Public is making these courses available at no cost beyond what we already pay in the tax revenues that support library services. The list of subject areas covered is magnificent: accounting and finance; business; college readiness; computer applications; design and composition; health care and medical; language and arts; law and legal; personal development; teaching and education; technology; and writing and publishing.

The initial list of courses is spectacular, as even the most cursory review reveals. Following the teaching and education link, for example, produces several subcategories of courses: classroom computing; languages; mathematics; reading and writing; science; test prep; and tools for teachers. Following that classroom computing subcategory currently produces links to 13 different offerings, including “Teaching Smarter with Smart Boards,” “Blogging and Podcasting for Beginners,” “Integrating Technology in the Classroom,” and “Creating a Classroom Website.”

SFPL’s Ed2Go offerings under the personal development link are organized into 10 subcategories including arts; children, parents, and family; digital photography; health and wellness; job search; languages; personal enrichment; personal finance and investments; start your own business; and test prep.

The offerings appear to be wonderfully learner-centric in that each course listing includes a “detail” page that provides learners with a concise description of the learning need to be met by the course; a formal course syllabus; an instructor bio; a list of requirements so learners know in advance what they need to bring to the course; and student reviews offering comments by previous learners.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Ed2Go roll-out is how it reflects SFPL’s growth as a learning organization that uses learning to serve its community; when I last spoke with colleagues a couple of years ago about their plans to offer online learning to library users, the plan was still in its early-development stages. Discussions, at that point, were centered on short staff-produced videos using Camtasia or other online authoring tools. Members of the library’s Literacy and Learning Area Focus Team have clearly made tremendous progress since that time in finding ways to offer learning opportunities to library users, and they are far from finished.

“We’re rolling it out slowly,” a colleague told me this afternoon. “Training is one of our big pushes right now. It [Ed2Go] is our first start, and we have other ideas down the pike…We’re serious about internal [staff] training, external [non-staff] training—going out to the public.”

The idea of having staff produce videos is still under consideration, as is the idea of having library staff take an even more active role in providing more learning opportunities for the public: “We’re talking about doing out own trainings and putting them online, but that’s down the road. We’re not reinventing the wheel—but we are rounding it.”

As I have mentioned in other articles, the wicked problem of reinventing education continues to receive plenty of creative attention in a variety of settings, including the New Media Consortium’s recent Future of Education summit in Austin, Texas, and the “Future of Education” document that came out of that summit. Seeing increasing collaboration among the various providers of learning opportunities (e.g., our colleagues in academia, in museums, in libraries, in professional workplace learning and performance organizations including the American Society for Training & Development and other professional associations including the American Library Association) helps us understand why offerings along the lines of the massive open online courses and libraries’ freE-learning opportunities are quickly becoming part of our learning landscape—and suggests that those collaborations might be part of what leads us closer to effectively addressing the wicked problems we face in training-teaching-learning.

N.B.: This is the fifteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Hidden Garden Steps: Libraries, Community, and Collaboration

March 30, 2011

Most people use public libraries to check out books or access other onsite and online resources. A few of us sometimes walk into libraries with much less focused goals in mind, and walk away with unexpected opportunities beyond our wildest dreams.

When Licia Wells and I joined a friend at the reopening celebration for the Bernal Heights Branch Library here in San Francisco on January 30, 2010, we had no idea that we were about to become involved in a community-based, volunteer-managed, neighborhood beautification project in an entirely different part of San Francisco.

As a former San Francisco Public Library employee and ongoing fan of what libraries offer all of us, I was excited about visiting the newly renovated branch and having a chance to see the branch manager and other colleagues that afternoon. And when Branch Manager Lisa Dunseth—who now is working in the Main Library San Francisco History Center—asked if we wanted to meet Colette Crutcher, an artist who lives in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, none of us could have imagined where our introductions and conversations were about to lead us.

Within a few minutes of meeting Colette, we all realized we had something in common: the Inner Sunset District’s Tiled Steps project connecting 15th and 16th avenues on Moraga Street. Colette and Aileen Barr had designed and overseen installation of that project; Licia and I were among the many admirers of that much-loved neighborhood landmark which attracts visitors from all over the world, so we had one question for Colette: If we could pull together another group of interested neighbors as Alice Xavier and Jessie Audette had done for the Moraga Steps, would she and Aileen be interested in working on a second tiled-steps project near the original site?

Colette, as we learned later, had had conversations like that one many times. Nothing had ever come of them. But this was to be a different set of circumstances, starting with a few of us who loved the non-tiled steps near our homes and wondered what we could do to stop the vandalism and deterioration that was making them a less-than-inviting walkway.

The thought turned into action a few days later when I saw Liz McLoughlin, who lives at the top of the 16th Avenue steps that connect Kirkham and Lawton streets. Liz and her husband Tom had spent countless hours sweeping debris from the steps and painting over graffiti which continually reappeared on a large wall near the top of the walkway. She immediately expressed interest in and enthusiasm for the idea of trying to form an organizing committee that could bring the project to fruition while creating a stronger sense of community within the Inner Sunset District.

With little more than a vague awareness of how Alice and Jessie had ceaselessly worked to lead the Moraga Steps project to fruition—and with a lot of information generously and graciously provided by Alice in the early stages of our discussions—Liz and I agreed to serve as co-chairs for a new organizing committee, Licia agreed to help oversee the effort to raise the $300,000 we eventually determined we would need to bring the effort to completion, and Colette and Aileen started working on designs for what became the Hidden Garden Steps.

The year-long process of creating the infrastructure to make the project work is a story for another day. What remains to be done here is to draw a line from that initial conversation at the Bernal Heights Branch Library right back to the San Francisco Public Library system’s continuing  role as a community resource that helps foster the creation and growth of communities and community efforts.

When we officially began our fundraising and marketing efforts early in 2011, I visited with a colleague at the Sunset Branch Library—a few blocks away from the proposed site for the Hidden Garden Steps installation—to see whether a public presentation by the artists would be of interest to the library’s community of users. A few hours later, a second colleague—Robert Crabill, who was unaware of that initial conversation but had just come across an online description of the project—contacted me about the possibility of having the artists do exactly what I had proposed. And the event, held earlier this week, drew 30 people into the library’s small community meeting room to hear about both tiled-steps projects from the artists; see sample tiles; and learn how they could become engaged in our efforts if they wanted to be part of what we are well on the way to accomplishing.

We have received other requests for similar presentations, are planning more events, and are delighted that new volunteers are joining the effort to continue what Alice, Jessie, Aileen, and Colette started. And those of us who are continuing to work on the Hidden Garden Steps and add to the existing sense of community that exists here in the Inner Sunset District couldn’t be happier than to have such wonderful informal and formal partners.

N.B.: This is the third in an ongoing series to document the Hidden Garden Steps project in San Francisco.


Patrick Timony: Technology, Communication, and Collaboration

July 14, 2010

It’s easy to see why Patrick Timony, Adaptive Technology Librarian for the DC Public Library, was among the five recipients of the 2010 Cafritz Foundation Awards for Distinguished D.C. Government Employees earlier this year.

Timony, according to an awards announcement issued by George Washington University in honor of the recipients, was at the time “the only Adaptive Technology librarian at a public library in the United States”; the award recipient, in a follow-up conversation, noted that Will Reed at Cleveland Public Library preceded him and that there currently are several other librarians across the country who focus on Adaptive Technologies. The announcement praises Timony for being “the technological master-mind behind the D.C. Public Library (DCPL) delivery system that continues to serve as a national model. He successfully built a unique and cutting-edge Adaptive Technology Program (ATP) for blind and print-disabled patrons of the library system…”

He has worked as a street musician; was a team leader and model maker for Z Corp 3D Printing, a business which has corporate offices in Massachusetts and Denmark and which continues to specialize in 3D technologies that “enable product designers, engineers and architects to create the right design the first time,” according to information posted on the company’s website; worked at the Library of Congress while earning his Master of Library Science degree from The Catholic University of America; then worked as Adaptive Technology Coordinator at DC Public’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library before accepting the post he now holds with the library system.

Visiting with Timony and San Francisco Public Library Access Services Manager Marti Goddard while attending the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last month, I was struck by his enthusiasm and creativity in combining his interest in state-of-the-art technology with his obvious dedication to serving people with disabilities.

His own frustration at not being able to communicate face to face with others as well as he would like to has led him to explore and incorporate the use of technology as an avenue for those with disabilities, he said during our conversation. Using a combination of tools including a SMART Board interactive whiteboard—“it’s great for people with low vision,” he says; two laptops; a simple webcam strategically placed to provide a view of the library’s Adaptive Services Learning Lab; and two speakers, he has created the sort of space which connects onsite participants to those online who might otherwise not have access to the library’s Adaptive Services offerings, which include the Saturday Technology Training Sessions and other meetings sponsored by the library.

He is integrally involved in arranging for the next Accessibility Camp DC at DC Public; incorporates Skype and OPAL—Online Programs for All—into his work; expresses interest in Open Space Technology; and continues to dream of finding ways to effectively use virtual worlds such as Second Life to better serve his Adaptive Services clients—all with a goal of finding ways to bring more people to the table.

And as is often the case with those most adept at using technology, he seems to be creating the sort of meeting place where the tech tools quickly drop into the background so that business can be conducted and relationships can be nourished.

“Patrick has made a place in the community where people can come together and communicate. It’s another example of getting people from a community together and letting them speak for themselves,” Goddard observed.


Marti Goddard: Reviewing the State of Services for the Disabled

July 14, 2010

Revisiting the topic of services for the disabled with San Francisco Public Library Access Services Manager Marti Goddard and reviewing articles and reports on the issue more than a year ago as part of online coursework I was completing through the University of North Texas provided encouraging as well as discouraging news which remains true today. Encouraging because we see progress which can be documented. Somewhat depressing because we can see how much more remains to be accomplished.

Goddard, at that time, had been two years past teaching a daylong “Beyond Ramps: Library Accessibility in the Real World” Infopeople workshop, and more than a decade had passed since the publication of Achieving Independence: The Challenge for the 21st Century: A Decade of Progress in Disability Policy Setting an Agenda for the Future (1996), yet both remain as timely as ever, as I was reminded while spending time with her at the 2010 American Library Association (ALA) Conference in Washington, D.C. last month.

The first conclusion summarized in the executive summary to Achieving Independence, that progress in empowering people with disabilities was “threatened, compromised, and often undermined by lack of understanding and support in the Congress and among particular segments of society” from 1986 to 1996, still holds true, Goddard maintained during our earlier conversation more than a year ago: Congress had revisited the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) “because they felt ADA has been eroded.” Amendments were signed into law in September 2008 to become effective January 1, 2009.

Another conclusion, that public policy “continues to send mixed messages to people with disabilities,” also remains true more than a decade after the report was published, Goddard said: “The ADA was really not prescriptive. It was written to be sure that people’s unique needs could be met. There was pushback because of the perceived cost—not the actual cost of implementation,” she explained.

The third conclusion, that “people with disabilities “remain outside the economic and social mainstream of American life” and “continue to be less employed, less educated and poorer than other Americans,” also remains accurate. There is, she reported, a “significantly lower rate of employment for people with disabilities,” and writers including John Hockenberry in Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence have documented ways in which those with disabilities are excluded from public buildings and public transportation systems because of inadequate accessibility.

Among the great resources and reasons for hope is the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) and its website, full of resources and up-to-date information. There is, for example, a report that an updated working draft of authoring tool accessibility guidelines for those involved in web design was published this month; comments on the guide are being accepted through August 9, 2010 on that same site. There is also a list of ten quick tips summarizing key concepts of accessible Web design on the site. A link to a page providing guidance on how to evaluate web sites for accessibility promises additional useful resources.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article was originally posted on Infoblog.

Next: Patrick Timony, Marti Goddard, and Using Technology to Assist Those with Disabilities


Internships That Work

January 7, 2010

A new report from the London-based Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), “Internships that Work—A Guide for Employers”—reminds us of how much we all gain from well run internship programs in our workplaces.

“There are clear business benefits to running a good internship scheme, such as gaining a new and motivated member of staff, bringing new skills and perspectives to your organisation and potentially improving productivity,” the report’s authors note (p. 3).

As is the case with effective mentoring or volunteer programs, success rests on the adoption and implementation of straightforward policies and procedures. Recruitment is done openly and in a way which matches interns’ skills and qualifications with what an organization needs (p. 4). Well designed orientation sessions should be offered to interns to “make an intern’s transition into the world of work a smooth and enjoyable experience,” and the sessions can include everything from an introduction to your organization’s history, policies, and achievements to a tour of the facilities where interns will work (p. 6). Interns should be treated in the same positive way that paid staff are treated and their responsibilities should be clearly outlined before they begin their internships (p. 7). Good supervision and effective performance reviews add to the potential for success for both the organizations and the interns (p. 8). A final review meeting which includes an exit interview and provides the intern with a letter of recommendation can be effective both for the organization and the intern so that all parties benefit from the time they have spent together (p. 9).

Intern program checklists included in the final pages of the CIPD report provide additional useful resources for those managing or considering the possibility of managing internship programs that work for all involved, and a one-page internship agreement outlining the organization’s and the intern’s responsibilities is a wonderful, easy-to-adapt tool for those seeking to create an effective program.

Personal experience with internship programs confirms, for me, that the writers of the report are right on target. The internship program drawing Master of Library and Information Science students from San Jose State University into the San Francisco Public Library system used each of these elements and benefitted tremendously from collaboration with a responsive campus liaison, Jane Fisher (Assistant Director for Research & Professional Practice). She worked closely with those of us on library staff to develop effective job descriptions for the prospective interns, attract first-rate candidates, and match them with great staff supervisors. The result was that students earned credit while completing projects which benefitted the library and gave the students experience they might not otherwise have acquired before entering the job market. And it wasn’t unusual for the students to parlay that experience into paid positions within the San Francisco Public Library system or other library systems in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Internships are an essential part of the career ladder in many professions,” the report’s authors note. “They are part and parcel of a modern, flexible economy and they are useful both for the interns and for employers…”

If we, as trainer-teacher-learners, can facilitate the development of successful internship programs, we once again not only prove the value of what we do but make a major contribution to the success of the organizations and customers we ultimately serve.

For assistance with creating, implementing, and improving internship or mentoring programs, please contact Paul Signorelli (paul@paulsignorelli.com).


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