Tag Archives: Budgets

Of Budgets and Brio: Must Bigger Be Better?

6 Dec

I was discussing this assignment with a friend the other day who, out of curiosity, had taken a look at what I’d written so far. He agreed with many of the conclusions I’d come to, but wondered if it was merely a coincidence, or evidence of something more serious, that my reviews, so far, have tended to favour the libraries of big cities, with presumably much bigger budgets.

Looking through my previous posts, this does seem to be somewhat of a pattern- although there are exceptions already, and with so few posts to work with, such a conclusion is hardly scientific. I could try to disprove it by showcasing libraries in small towns that are great successes in the Library-Two-Point-Whoa arena (and there are certainly many), or examples of failures in big-budget, urban libraries (of which there are fewer). But time is of the essence here, and besides, I’m not sure that that kind of argument would be any more systematic than the one we’re dealing with already. Though it would perhaps be easier just to say that such sweeping and serious generalisations can’t be extracted from an experiment as limited in scope and as uncontrolled as this one, the question still rankled with me, and I want to address it.

So, bear with me while I depart from the typical format of the posts. I won’t be looking at a specific library or Web 2.0 tool, but I think this is an interesting and an important issue to bring up. That said, I don’t claim any expertise on the subject, and I won’t be covering it in any very serious depth; my intention is more to bring up the question as food for thought rather than to answer it myself in any definitive way. This article from Library Journal also provides some useful insight into the matter.

At first glance, the answer to my friend’s query seems rather self-evident. Of course, bigger libraries will have bigger budgets, and as a result, will have more of the resources necessary to create and maintain high-quality Web 2.0 pages, profiles, and tools.

My immediate reaction was to disagree with this, though. Maybe it’s due to a romanticisation (or a perception of romanticisation) of the 2.0 movement on my part, but I’ve always thought of much of the hype around it as being due to its implicit connotations of a more universally accessible and democratic Web. Isn’t the point, after all, to blur the line between creators and consumers, and to make content creation a shared, interactive, and above all, feasible activity for anyone with Internet access?

This, I know, is an oversimplification of the issue. The participatory and social aspects of Web 2.0, its focus on accessibility, and its user- and community- centred approach are, realistically, not enough to overcome the considerable challenges posed by resource shortages. These are just too big and too insidious; we can’t simply make up for deficits of time, staff, and money with eagerness and goodwill.

But as long as we’re going down that road, well, the fact is that nothing is going to be able to compensate for these missing assets. Smaller libraries with smaller budgets just aren’t going to be able to compete on the same level as bigger libraries with bigger budgets.

Such a statement seems too obvious even to merit mention. And yet, part of me (it’s the most stubborn part, and no doubt you recognise it if you’ve been reading this blog) resists accepting it as being relevant to this discussion. Yes, of course libraries with bigger user groups and budgets have an advantage- but I still think that part of the beauty of the Library 2.0 movement is that it’s not all about goods and services in the economic sense we’re all so familiar with.

Libraries with bigger budgets will always win when it comes to whose collection is bigger, who has what gadgets, and who has more buying power in terms of consortia and subscription purchases… But Web 2.0 offers smaller-budget libraries a chance to claim a spot at the cutting-edge of the library sphere. At least in the terms that I’ve discussed here, Web 2.0 tools are free to use and to experiment with, and are limited only by the skills, savvy, and enthusiasm of staff and users.

I’m not saying that smaller libraries don’t still have more challenges to overcome; they absolutely do. Their staff members will have less time to devote to maintaining these tools, they will not be able to offer the same kind of training and orientation to either staff or users, and they won’t have access to some of the more high-tech tools that allow for things like professional-looking multimedia features (see NYPL on YouTube). These, admittedly, are significant obstacles.

But they are by no means insurmountable, and this is an important distinction from other measurements of a library’s success, I would argue. Librarians are proving all the time that they are willing to go above and beyond for the sake of their own libraries and for the library community at large; one need only look to the biblioblogosphere for evidence. They constitute an invaluable human resource that should be tapped, and I think they will be, in the end, the saviours of the public library as an institution.

While smaller libraries are going to have to work a little harder to stay in the game, I think they’re up to the challenge, and there are many examples to be found that prove it. Thanks to the efforts of their staffs, and with judicious hiring practises, encouragement of professional development and creativity, and yes, simple enthusiasm, these libraries will be able to overcome the burden of restrictive budgets and find their niches in the Library 2.0 community. And community it is; despite the tone of many of my posts, the truth of the matter is that libraries don’t need to compete but will actually do better by working together and learning from each other’s mistakes: sharing and collaborating, two of the most fundamental tenets of Web 2.0 ideology.

At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, then, weighing in on a topic that might initially seem hopeless, I’m going to give Library 2.0 and all its potential the benefit of the doubt; what its technologies and philosophies lack in pragmatism, I think librarians will make up for in energy, insight and ardour. Three cheers for the librarian, then, as she wades through this wacky, wonderful 2.0 world, newly navigating through the age-old and treacherous waters of budget constraints and fiscal woes. While these new tools for communication and promotion won’t solve all our problems on these fronts, I think they will go a long way to levelling the playing field for those organisations with limited resources, and to opening up new possibilities during a time when libraries are increasingly all too familiar with such shortcomings. By setting new standards and moving away from an entirely budget-dependent approach, new measures of success will allow for smaller libraries to step up and join the ranks of Library-Two-Point-Whoa.

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The Boyertown, PA Community Library on Twitter: A Sure Thing?

4 Dec

What I took away from the Houston Public Library on Twitter was, more or less, that Twitter is a useful tool that’s easy to use and, to put it bluntly, pretty hard for libraries to mess up. I was impressed with the tool itself but it seemed to have relatively little to do with the library’s use of it. It seemed to me like just about anyone could be successful using Twitter; they need only to plug in a very small amount of information about whatever programs or events are going on at the library.

To test this theory (not exhaustively, of course… or even thoroughly, for that matter) I wanted to look at another library using Twitter. To this end, I looked at Boyertown, PA’s library, the J.K. Boyer Boyertown Community Library, and its Twitter account.

As I suspected, it was an excellent example of a library using a Web 2.0 technology in an effective and relevant way. BCL’s tweets provide timely updates about library and community events, as well as information about ongoing library services and programs. I was also pleased not to find evidence of any Internet slang in a single one of the tweets, proving that many libraries have already mastered the art of making Twitter work for them, as I discussed in my last post.

So, all the elements are there: the Twitter account is incredibly easy to access from the library’s homepage, the account has an attractive layout with enough context to let users know what they’re looking at, and the information provided is current, useful, and given in an accessible style. It’s updated frequently and it’s actively social, replying to user comments individually, following other libraries, and listing favourites.

http://twitter.com/#!/boyertowncl

I’m left wondering, then, if the praise should go to Twitter’s (nearly) foolproof format or to the libraries using the format in effective ways. No doubt it’s a bit of both, and really, it doesn’t matter. The material point here seems to be that Twitter is one of the most useful Web 2.0 tools for libraries that I’ve come across so far; while it doesn’t allow for the same levels of customisation, multi-media, and creativity as many other tools in the Web 2.0 sphere, this is also where its strength lies. These days, many libraries are increasingly pressed for time and resources, and tools like Twitter offer them an oppourtunity to participate in the 2.0 movement in spite of lacking time, staff, expertise, and funding.

I must say, from my own point-of-view as a user, I’m going to go right now to see if my own local library has a Twitter feed, and start following. This might be the closest libraries get to 2.0-for-dummies, and it’ll be a smart move to take advantage.

The New York Public Library’s YouTube Channel: The Gold Standard

30 Nov

I’m sure it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the most hip, stylish, and exciting example of library participation on YouTube comes from New York City- at least that I’ve encountered. Indeed, the New York Public Library’s YouTube channel is something for libraries everywhere to aspire to.

Of course, right off the bat I should acknowledge that few libraries in the world have the kinds of resources that NYPL enjoys, and many of its programs are out of the reach of most public libraries. That said, there’s no reason we can’t look to NYPL’s success for inspiration and guidance, and learn from it in order to work similar strategies into our own library 2.0 projects.

Again, perhaps not surprisingly, NYPL’s website is a thing of beauty, both to behold and to use. Its homepage offers a brief but comprehensive menu at the top, where users can easily find and navigate to the “Blogs, Videos & Publications” page. From here, all of NYPL’s blogs and other 2.0 pages are available for users to explore, including a link to its YouTube channel.

Its YouTube page is informative and professional-looking, clearly and effectively separating it from the more low-brow content that YouTube is generally better known for, and that could potentially turn off some patrons. This is also achieved by NYPL having and enabling easy access to its own channel, rather than just posting separate videos to the site that are easier to link or relate to other videos posted by other users, including those with which the library may not wish to be affiliated.

NYPL YouTube channel

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=NewYorkPublicLibrary#p/u/171/ui5P78HJWmc

This is an important and notable success. There has been much attention paid to the debate about whether libraries belong in social networking spaces, or whether their presences there are inappropriate or uncomfortable for users. This post on Meredith Farkas’ “Information Wants to be Free” blog provides many interesting links on the subject. I would argue that this idea could apply to a site like YouTube as well; most users have fairly specific expectations about what kind of content is found on YouTube, and they usually don’t include serious library materials or subject matter. While it’s no doubt a positive thing that NYPL can contribute to broadening users’ horizons and expectations, and participate in such a pervasive and important method of communication, there also needs to be an effort to strike a balance with different kinds of users and to maintain a level of seriousness with regard to the library’s identity and mandate. We are, after all, talking about public institutions, pedagogical icons dependent on tax-payers’ support and funding.

Anyway, I’m getting off-topic again. Suffice it to say that NYPL does a very good job of striking a balance between conveying a serious, professional image appropriate to a library, and keeping up with the light, social tone of the YouTube community

Moving on to content, the videos themselves are really what impressed me. As I’ve mentioned before, there are far too many examples of libraries (mis)using YouTube, examples that merely confirm growing suspicion that the library is hopelessly out of date and –let’s face it- just… lame. Seneca Library provides an excellent case study:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMVMgDWnoaA

Videos like this are why I was so relieved and impressed to find the NYPL channel. Its videos demonstrate that libraries really are capable of using Web 2.0 tools to engage with the public and promote the library in authentic and relevant ways, without sacrificing their dignity and professionalism. While libraries should, as many have pointed out, go out and engage with users where they are, they should go out into these (often virtual) spaces with their sense of self-worth still intact. Libraries are inherently valuable and relevant institutions, and they should own this fact not by imitating pop culture they can’t hope to compete with or degrading the complexity of library services, but by presenting themselves in genuine, honest, and respectful ways. Likewise, it does a disservice to users to assume that they can’t or won’t listen to what the library has to say unless it puts a dumbed-down, kitschy spin on its message. Personally, I find many of these videos not only saddening but also condescending and even alienating.

NYPL’s videos, on the other hand, promote the library in ways that feel natural and inoffensive, provide content that is actually informative and useful, and maintain that serious, professional tone that I’ve been going on about. Some are resources in themselves, offering patrons the chance to learn from experts about things like calligraphy without even leaving the house:

http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=NewYorkPublicLibrary#p/u/5/XwUNxsEIP6I

Others provide recaps or behind-the-scenes looks at events and lectures held at the library, promoting attendance and allowing those unable to attend a chance to feel involved. Still others make up television-like series that showcase library-sponsored projects like “Anti-Prom” and “Design by the Book,” which involve members of the community and local events. Some also examine specific resources and collections in the library to promote awareness and increase circulation. All of these are done tastefully while still managing to fit in with the fresh, hospitable, and laid-back spirit of YouTube and Web 2.0.

To any libraries interested in creating a presence for themselves on YouTube, I highly recommend a visit to the NYPL channel first.