Finding great books is getting even harder now as more and more books are published every year. Nearly a million new books flooded the market last year alone—about half of them self-published. LJ’s Patron Profiles data shows that libraries can be a great source for book discovery—32 percent of patrons find books to read or borrow from libraries. But there are still many more readers to reach. Readers’ advisory and online discovery both continue to play big roles in connecting readers to new titles, authors, and even genres they might not have sought out on their own. In the physical space, there is much more that can be done by reinventing how libraries approach the art of the display.
Two keys to success become apparent when you review the transformations so many libraries have achieved in recent years. The most important is community involvement, and that means much more than simple publicity, marketing, and fundraising efforts. It has meant making community leaders and all residents an integral part of the planning and execution of the library’s whole turnabout—from early in the process until it is finished—which ensures their interest, satisfaction with the result, civic pride, and continued participation.
The Gold Coast Public Library (GCPL), Glen Head, NY, wouldn’t exist if it had not been for Girl Scout Troop #61. In 1997, when working to meet the requirements for the ”My Community” badge, one young scout asked her leader, “Why doesn’t our community have a library?” This was just the first step in a long process spearheaded by devoted residents. GCPL opened in summer 2005, when residents overwhelmingly voted to establish the library district. The library adopted the slogan, “Powered by Community.” This community values libraries and the services they offer. As such, GCPL strives to add programs that bring old and new patrons together and foster the sense of community. Our newest book club, “Cook the Book,” does both. The cookbook collection is a hot section and, therefore, one of our best sources of new service ideas. The club, inspired by an article in a local paper about programs available in libraries, brings together patrons who love to cook over a meal and conversation about cooking and recipes.
A big part of improving library user experience is designing libraries based on user preferences and behavior. There’s no way to optimize touchpoints or create meaningful services if you don’t know anything about who you’re trying to serve, right? Many libraries collect and analyze user opinions, but fewer dive deeper into examining actual user behavior.
ve heard the “what are they teaching in library school these days, anyway?” comments for as long as I’ve been an educator; it comes with the territory. It’s natural, and healthy, that all of us are invested in the process by which people become members of our profession. However, in the last few years, another couple of tropes have entered the fray: that there are too many students in our programs and that the number is growing, that there aren’t enough jobs for them, and that students and recent graduates feel betrayed and even lied to as a result. That has extended, in some conversations, into calls for somebody to do something about this, such as, perhaps, ALA through its accrediting functions. Taken together, these seem to indicate substantial questions or misgivings about LIS education and its infrastructure. As an educator and proud member of the profession, that’s concerning to me as well.
I knew I had met a creative force when I called Gale Bacon to let her know that the Belgrade Community Library, MT, had been named LJ’s 2015 Best Small Library in America, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She was enthusiastic but cool-headed on the phone, immediately cooking away on ideas for how to leverage the award. After meeting her at a celebration at the library in February, I am in awe of this director’s savvy and dedication to expanding support for her library. She took what anyone would consider a success story for Belgrade and turned it into a success story for the whole state—while keeping the people of Belgrade front and center.
Elevator pitches, anger about open access, unsung heroes, and more letters to the editor from the March 15, 2015 issue of Library Journal.