October 24, 2014

Feedback: Letters to LJ, June 1, 2014 Issue

“Deleting content simply because it isn’t viewed often is a little like getting rid of your fire extinguisher because you so rarely use it”

Delete with caution

Online content that is not popular with users, based on web analytics, should be eliminated. This is the main premise of Aaron Schmidt’s “Give Them What They Want” (The User Experience, LJ 4/1/14), but it is advice that should be taken only with caution.

Deleting content simply because it isn’t viewed often is a little like getting rid of your fire extinguisher because you rarely use it. Granted, many library websites probably include unnecessary information, but the popularity of content or the number of times it is viewed should not be used exclusively to determine its value.

For example, surveyed journalists say that they find “online newsrooms” very useful. These are sections of websites where information of specific use to journalists (news releases, biographies, downloadable images and maps, and more) is presented in way that is easy to find. This information is very helpful to reporters working on deadlines when the library’s public relations specialist is unavailable or nonexistent. This content is not accessed often, but it should be available at any moment the reporter needs it.

Easily finding a fact at the moment it is needed could mean the difference between the reporter communicating misinformation or no information about your library’s upcoming bond issue, for instance, and writing a well-researched, informative article that explains why your library needs more funding.

—Karen L. Gill, Community Relations & Programs Coord., Newport News P.L. Syst., VA

A leader’s responsibilities

“Too few library leaders possess the willingness to trade command and control for participation, creativity, and innovation” (John Berry, “Leadership Is Not Command,” Blatant Berry, LJ 4/1/14). This is spot-on. Since a great leader must also have “the ability to spot and hire excellent people,” however, it becomes all too easy for leaders to attribute their lack of support of Subordinate X to a disheartening realization that Subordinate X isn’t, alas, an excellent person….

That is the hurtful truth not addressed in leadership articles—the real, actual impact of dismissiveness and micro­aggression: that low-level stifling and control severely impact people’s lives.

When you take on a leadership role, you are accepting a higher responsibility that you cannot ignore or rationalize into some lesser form. You have the power to affect their lives, to reduce their paychecks, and to limit or allow the project attributions that pile on their vitae. It is not a state of equality; you absolutely must act ethically and thoughtfully…. An environment that lacks these qualities is truly, fundamentally toxic.

—Name withheld upon request

Weeding parable

Our county library is weeding its floating collection and our branch took a hard hit (John Berry, “The Weeding War,” Blatant Berry, LJ 11/1/13). Most members of our staff objected and felt cognitive dissonance as we denuded our shelves. We went to a local paper, hoping that public scrutiny might encourage these “shakers and removers” to show restraint. This did not happen… In this Brave New Library, we are reprimanded for insubordination if we resist. In my distress, I came up with a story, The Parable of the Tossed Book:

Once upon a time a shepherd, entrusted with the sheep of his community, ended his shift. A bank of gray clouds rolled in from the sea, obscuring the sun. The shepherd tapped his smartphone. His weather app showed storms….

He scrolled down the barcodes on his inventory list as he was leading his flock back to town. “OMG,” he said aloud. “One sheep is missing!”

What happened next is…the choose-your-own-adventure moral dilemma, am-I-a-shepherd-or-a-charlatan moment. The sheep were bleating at his heels. Did he corral the sheep into a safe enclosure…and scramble back up the hill to bring back what was lost?

No, he did not. He strutted into town with his earphones on, ditched the flock before anyone noticed a sheep gone, then lied to a villager who said, “But that was my only ewe. Where is she?”

The defiant shepherd joked, “Can I help ewe? One ewe is like another. Yours wasn’t on the scroll today,” he said, pressing “confirm delete” on the list. “Speak to flock operations if you have a complaint. If there’s some extra inventory in another fold, we’ll ship it to you.”

The villager stared back at him in silence, then walked away to report the lie to other villagers. Perhaps they gathered to discuss the shrinking relevance of shepherds who lose their sheep.

The parable teller looked around at the pensive, quiet crowd.

A librarian spoke up, having observed a similar carelessness in her profession. “That shepherd should retrieve the missing sheep. In my line of work, we used to have a feeling for the collection and each book in it. It mattered what was kept and what was lost. We paid attention to the content of what was tossed. We preserved books from the past that inspired and informed current thought and gave people practical knowledge. Libraries, as a whole, reflected how each book was viewed and valued—a thing that might give birth to new ideas.”

—Dan Hess, Children’s Libn., Albany Lib., CA

This article was published in Library Journal's June 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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