Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tax Season @ The Library = HELL

Tax season is the worst, I consider it right up there with election season.  But I know who at the library does love it, library management.  They are not the ones on the front lines fielding nonstop questions, which some can be considered to be borderline aggressive interrogations: "Do you have any tax forms?" "Why don't you have any?" "What's taking so long?" "Well, do you know when they're coming in?" "Why not??"

Management gets to avoid all the annoying once a year patrons while watching their PRECIOUS door count statistics go up.  I'm okay with dealing with these patrons, most of the time.  It's the self-righteous ones who pull the, "I'm a tax-paying citizen" card and get all up-in-arms when they don't get what they want.  The minute I see them turn, I do an internal eye-roll and tell myself, "here we go again."

I can manage to deflect their misguided anger by either agreeing with them: "Yeah, tell me about it, it's ridiculous!"  Or I give them the option to actually bitch to/at the right person: "Would you like me to find you the contact information for the IRS?"  And that shuts down their attack because they never call my bluff to actually take the time to contact the right department.  It is just too easy for them to take it out on the lowly library worker who tells them there aren't any forms and quite honestly, they don't pay me enough for that.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Public Libraries trying to be Everything to Everyone...

"You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time"...

Libraries are trying awfully hard to maintain an unnecessary facade of "relevance," and it shows.  Libraries are losing focus on what they truly are and have been ever since their existence.  The latest attempt at wanting to be "the cool library" Pole dancing lessons at the library.  The reasoning for offering such an absurd program: "The pole fitness session is a fun and interesting way of encouraging more people into our libraries, trying out all the services on offer and ultimately borrowing more books."  If there's anything that pole dancing enthusiasts don't realize they're missing, it's library card with access to bucket loads of library databases.  I'm not going to discount every single out of the box idea that comes out of the library world, it really all depends on the demographics of the library.  But enough is enough, put the time and effort into something that will get a real return on investment and not just a higher door count for a day.  If management would like to get some fresh and unique ideas, my suggestion would be to talk to your front line library workers.  They are an untapped and often overlooked resource of good ideas and opinions.

I came across the perfect visualization of how libraries come across when they try too hard.  This is Qualcomm's Keybote at the 2013 CES, yeah, they really know their customers...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Google can't replace Librarians because Patrons don't go beyond the front page.

Last week on the info desk, I got a call from a paralegal 1,000 miles away.  She was referred to the library and my branch specifically from someone she talked to at the "county clerk's office."  I could tell that she only phoned us out of sheer exasperation and she didn't expect me to really help her.  She lead in with, "I don't have much information, but I just wanted to see what you can find," --- Challenge accepted.

She was calling from some law firm and she only had a first and last name, with a partial address and phone number.  It was basically the same information you would get if you Google someone's first and last name and are shown a bunch of sites that promise to give you that person's complete information for a nominal fee.  You know what I'm talking about, don't act like you haven't Google-stalked someone before!  Well, this is obviously the farthest she tried herself before she called the county clerk's office.  Her phone call to the clerk's office was unfruitful and I honestly thought to myself, "If they couldn't find anything and they have all that info, I'm not sure what more I can do."   I don't know why she called my branch, there are three other branches that were closer in proximity to the partial address, I can only narrow it down to kismet because quite frankly, if she got any of my other coworkers, they probably would not have offered to go as far as I did.

She asked if I could check any of the phone directories we had.  It honestly took me a second to remember where they were located, they don't get much use --- shocker.  I wasn't able to find anything in them and again sounded like she expected that result.  I told her that I would be off the desk in 5 minutes and would be more than willing to search further for her and the response I got was equivalent to, "Sure, kid, if you want to give it a try, go ahead."  No lie, it took me about 5 minutes to find the person's full address and phone number using several sites on the internet and the county's public information on land taxes.  To break it down, 2 minutes to find the information and 3 to verify it.

Could a non-librarian have found the info, yes.   Anyone could have if they knew how to research properly.  With the glut of information on the internet and some search results equating to hundreds and hundreds of page results, patrons rarely make it past the front page.  In my email to her, I told her how I went about finding and verifying the information --- the whole teach a person to fish proverb.

After I got her response telling me how "great" I am, I was almost half tempted to ask if they were hiring...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

OverDrive: You can't polish a turd

My branch circ manager asked for my help when she was redoing her circ manual.  She couldn't get a screenshot of the OverDrive online support form on a single page.  I took it upon myself to improve upon the image.  I knew she noticed it when I heard a laugh come from her cubicle; this image is now in the official circ desk manual.

People are trying to build up the excitement over the "new and improved" Overdrive interface which is supposed to arrive at our library soon.  There really isn't much you can say or tell me about it to change my opinion about Overdrive (a complete suck-fest).

My supervisor is mostly worried about the Cloud aspect of it.  I personally think the Cloud has its advantages but also its fair share of disadvantages, like not having your stuff with you at all times.  Overdrive tries to make it seem like it's the greatest thing ever and that it will work perfectly and seamlessly when you're not connected to the internet.  Psshhh... I'll believe it when I see it.  I can't wait to explain to patrons that they cleared their browser cache which is why they can't access their e-books ("What's my cash have to do with my computer?") .

OverDrive is a textbook example of how crappy things can get when there's a monopoly.  Doll it up all you want, try to make it look pretty with more pictures and flashy UI, but underneath all of it, it is still the same old crappy OD we've come to expect.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Library Job Market is Sh#t

First off can I just say that in general I do not swear, it's good practice when you work with the public.  But seriously, F*CK LIBRARY MANAGEMENT and all its political BULLSH$T.

I know of 4 different people who have recently applied and interviewed for 4 different positions at 3 different library systems.  Just to make it to the interview process is a ray of hope.  I know that the job market in general is "tough" but more so in the library world.  The positions are scant and becoming rarer, and the pool of candidates is overflowing.  Libraries looking to hire can post a position and be inundated with applications within a few days.  Not all of the applicants will be qualified but the libraries are in a position to say, "Jump" leaving applicants asking, "How high?"  Libraries are using and abusing this leverage to get applicants to jump through inane hoops in the mindset that by making interviewees go through the whole dog and pony show ("cat and pony" more appropriate for a library setting?), that the best qualified ones will rise to the top. 

Now, out of these four individuals that I personally know, not a one of them received word that they didn't get the position. Naturally as time wore on, their hope died a little bit each day.  This shouldn't have been the case, maybe those in the hiring decision process never had to personally go through the dread of waiting to hear back themselves.  So let me break it down to you, it's like ripping off a band-aid, do it quickly and the pain doesn't last as long compared to the slow deliberate method.

 Cut the BS, learn how to ask the right questions, contact references and learn to ask them the right questions, learn how to conduct better interviews and for crying out loud: let people know if they don't get the position.

It's the least you could do instead of dragging these people and their hopes along.  How hard is it to send a freaking email nowadays???  If people announce critical life moments in their Facebook statuses, and break-up through texts, you can take the time to send an email.  Hell, even a canned, "copypasta" one would do.  Here, I'll do it for you:

Hello [Insert Applicant's Name],
We at [Insert Library System Name] would like to thank you for taking the time and effort to apply and interview for the [Enter Position Name] position.  I am sending this email to inform you that we have chosen to select a candidate whom we feel is a better match for the position.

Thank you again for your time, good luck in your future endeavors.

[Insert Name]

You're welcome.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Rusty Reference.

It happens every time I am away from the desk for an extended period of time.  My first time back on the desk I have a mini-anxiety attack doubting myself if I can handle the next patron inquiry thrown at me.  It takes a couple of patron interactions before I find my groove and get my info-swagger back.  I do feel a little guilty for those first few select patrons who end up asking me more involved questions other than, "Where are the restrooms?" and "What time do you close tonight?"

My first patron interaction after my long New Year's break left me laughing at myself.  An elementary school patron came up and asked if we had any books on manners.  Instantly, the little hamster in my mind starting running in its wheel, my first thought was Emily Post's book on teen etiquette.  I asked her a few questions to narrow down my search and she replied, "Medieval manners."  Okay, so I started focusing on chivalry and knighthood.  I couldn't find anything in the branch that seemed to fit her needs exactly so I walked her over to the 395 area, I told her I would check the Medieval section and be right back.  After I walk back empty handed I find her standing in between the stacks waiting for me when she sheepishly says, "I was actually looking for manors, m-a-n-O-r-s."

I laughed at myself, apologized, and went back to the computer.  I was only able to find a few books with a blurb or two about medieval MANORS, but she seemed content with this because she was just looking for one or two physical books to use for her paper, the rest would be online resources.

Every time a student comes in asking for a book for a school project, we rarely find enough resources on the shelves.  I always ask them if they are allowed to use online resources, but they say that their teachers want them to use books if possible.  Teachers are going to have to adjust their assignment requirements.  If elementary school is supposed to prepare you for junior high, and junior high is supposed to prepare you for high school, and high school is supposed to prepare you for college, well, I never used an physical book for any of my college assignments and I had a LOT of them.  With libraries shifting materials budgets to digital materials, it leaves me wondering, "But what about the children!?!?"