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Monday, July 26, 2010

Take Me Out To The...Reference Desk?

We are Cubs fans in our family. Dad grew up on Wood Street in Chicago and while his family had next to nothing, it only cost a few pennies to sit in the bleachers in those days. These days, it's $10.00 for a bratwurst and a Pepsi - let's not talk about the ticket prices. It's a treat for us, once a year, to ride the Wrigley Field Express and cheer on our long-suffering heroes. We were at the game this past Friday, July 24, 2010, when temperatures soared into the 90s and the Cubs faced their hated foes, the St. Louis Cardinals. We expected the environment to be tense and unpleasant, but even with a mix of blue and red shirted fans all around us, it was a surprisingly enjoyable day.

A man behind us, perhaps experiencing Wrigley for the first time, leaned over to my brother and asked how old the ballpark was. Brother didn't know and surprisingly, my Dad couldn't come up with a number, either. Me? I grabbed my cell phone, called up Google, and had his answer within seconds: Wrigley was built in 1914. The man thanked me and said, "I may have more questions." I informed him that he was in luck, as he was seated behind a librarian. Another voice immediately piped up, "Okay, then - is Boston's baseball stadium the oldest then?" A quick search determined that Fenway Park is the oldest major league baseball stadium still in use. (1912) The second man gave me a smile - "I bet you don't get much chance to help people anymore. Everything's on Google and it's not like anybody needs the Dewey decimal system!" Well, if you don't need librarians anymore, why did you ask me about Fenway? Ahem.

The fact is, everything isn't on Google, Google isn't always well-organized and easy to search and, given the number of books checked out at DPPL every week and month and year, plenty of people are still making use of Dewey decimal. Yet the myth persists - libraries are outdated, it's all on the Internet.

Last week, I got the chance to work the Reference Desk here at DPPL as the regular reffers had their monthly meeting. For two hours, myself and two other colleagues helped you make photocopies, fill out employment applications, sign up for free email accounts, find books about Indiana's geography and Alaskan malamutes and the poetry of Adrienne Rich and plan your high school reunions.

That last one was fun. A local man is trying to plan a 65th (wow!) high school reunion back in Kohler, Wisconsin. He knew one former classmate had been living in Naperville, IL. Her husband had passed away. It was possible she was now living in an assisted care facility. We searched and searched through white pages listings, obituaries and social security records. Finally? Maybe? Perhaps? We located an address and phone number for one of her brothers, living in a different small Wisconsin town. I've got my fingers crossed that our patron can find his old friend and, who knows? Perhaps they can travel to that reunion together. What I do know is this: without a friendly, persistent librarian and two of our specialized databases, and ReferenceUSA, he would have walked away empty-handed. (He'd already done plenty of his own Google searching, in case you are wondering.) It may "all be on the Internet," but not necessarily through free Web sites that are open to the public. It may be out there, somewhere, but it might take the expertise and tenaciousness of, yep, a librarian to dig it up and make it useful.

Now if only a librarian could get the Cubs up to 500. Have you received expert, above-and-beyond help from somewhere here at DPPL? Leave some kudos for my colleagues here, I know they'll appreciate it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Libraries - hotter than cupcakes? cooler than cupcakes?

Libraries and librarians can't seem to escape the media spotlight these days - who'da thunk it? It seems like only yesterday the media was chasing after Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and their ilk - now the headline grabbers are found at your local library.

As you know, it's not all good news. Anna Davlantes of Fox Chicago began an expose-styled report on the Chicago Public Library system with the line, "They eat up millions of your hard earned tax dollars." Not too difficult to see where's she heading from there. You can also read Chicago Public Library Commissioner Mary Dempsey's well-written response to that story. The crumbling of the state library systems has been analyzed a-plenty in the papers and you've felt the effect with our cancellation of van delivery service. The Des Plaines Public Library has found itself in the local news headlines so often of late that we've added a page of news stories to our Web site: "What's New?" ---> "local news articles about the library."

It isn't all gloom and doom, however. Libraries are also riding a wave of public support and gratitude, often from unexpected sources. The Old Spice guy made what I guess you'd call a public service announcement about the value of libraries. It makes its point while also making you laugh. National Public Radio's "MonkeySee" pop culture blog predicts that libraries might be the "next big pop-culture wave." If you click through to that article, you'll see links to plenty of other videos, blogs and traditional news write-ups extolling the value of the library. I worked the reference desk for two hours last Tuesday and was busy the entire time. Clearly people in this neighborhood believe we have good things to offer.

What do you think? Have inexpensive Internet connections and the Googleization of information made the library less relevant to you? Or are we the next big thing, like cupcakes and "Old Spicey?" Ever wonder how much money the library saves you per visit? Do the math with our Return on Investment calculator. Perhaps we are growing fatigued of the rhetoric about "tough economic times," but this much is true - using the library saves you money. Having a great library in your community gives it "curb appeal," too. Here in Des Plaines, IL, the public library has been a bright spot in town for over one hundred years - a classic and yet, possibly, the hottest trend, just around the corner.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Let's Give 'Em Something To Talk About...

No, sorry, no library gossip here, but some news I hope will get you excited nonetheless. I've said it before, I'll say it again - when I hear from patrons about anything, it's usually, "The library catalog and its 'My Account' features drive me completely insane." You find it difficult to search (it is). Sometimes the single log-in for placing multiple holds doesn't work. You find it irritating that you have to log in once to check your account status, again to renew items, again to place holds. It makes you uncomfortable that there's no way to securely log out. We've been able to make a few changes (the multiple hold log-in was not available until late 2007), but otherwise we've been stuck with a lot of the catalog's quirkiness. I think of it as the opposite of "user friendliness." More like "user hostility."

However, good news is on the way. Our library consortium has entered into an agreement to offer you a new service and search interface, called Bibliocommons. It should be arriving here in Des Plaines in October 2010. Just a few of the positives about Bibliocommons:
  1. Startlingly affordable compared to just about any other product;
  2. Super-easy and efficient searching: in addition to searching by keywords, title and other familiar routes, you can use "facets" to narrow your search. For example: you type in "pride and prejudice." You'll get a list of items but you can also choose a format, like book, DVD or audiobook. You can even ask the catalog to only show you items currently available. Nice!
  3. One log in. Period. You set up your account and that one log in allows you to: check your account, renew items, place holds, review, rate and tag items, make and save lists, pay fines, and so on. You're logged in until you log out. Nice!
There are tons of great features in Bibliocommons and I know I'll be counting the days until we can make this catalog (or, to be exact, "discovery layer") available to you. You've been asking for improvements for a long time now and Bibliocommons came around not a moment too soon. I am on the committee to implement Bibliocommons within our computer consortium of 25 area libraries and will keep you posted on our progress.

I know you are also wondering about the return of van delivery service. Lots of discussion and brainstorming has taken place but there has not been a new proposal for resuming the interlibrary van delivery. One possibility in the recent news: a "mega-merger" of the state library systems. You can read about that in the Daily HeraldAll I can do is assure you that we remain hopeful that our library will resume participation in the van delivery service. Want to know more about DPPL and local libraries in the news? We have a new page on our Web site that highlights recent news articles - go to "What's New?" in the left-hand column of the Web site, then look for the link to "local news articles about the library."

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Need To Know?

I’m happy to report that most of the stereotypes about reference librarians are misleading. I have never owned a cat, I look terrible with my hair in a bun and worse in eyeglasses and I take no pride in “shushing” people. If, however, there is an accurate stereotype, it’s that librarians really, really want to help people find information. Sometimes the search for information is a piece of cake, other times it’s a needle in a haystack. No matter how you shape the metaphor, librarians can’t rest until you, the user, have the information you need.

The same holds true when you need information about the library. We know you hear about the Des Plaines Public Library in the news and on the Web. If those news stories raise questions in your mind about the library and its operations, we encourage you to get the facts. Our Web site,,  is a great place to start.
Click on “About Us” to find:
Board meeting minutes are available online after they have been approved at the following month’s meeting.

Speaking of Board meetings: our monthly Board meetings are open to the public. Meetings are held at 7 PM on the third Tuesday of the month in the second floor conference room. There are occasional exceptions: the August 2010 meeting will be at 6 PM, next January's meeting will be at 4 PM. Again, use our Web site for date/time information. Every month’s agenda has a place for public comments and questions, so these meetings are a valuable opportunity for the Library Director and Board to hear from you. Curious about what takes place at a Board of Trustees meeting? Monthly Board meetings are videotaped and then broadcast on cable channel  17 – get the schedule.

If your questions relate to our relationship with the city as a “component unit of a home rule municipality,” look for additional information on the City of Des Plaines Web site. The City’s Web site contains items like the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), Annual Budget and more. Want to contact the Mayor or a city council member with comments and concerns? Use our Elected Officials Web page.

Don’t see what you need? Contact Us – we can answer your questions via email, phone, mail, even text. Librarians love to help people find the facts and resources they need – so don’t hesitate to ask.