Friday, July 30, 2010

Libraries Without Librarians

A Library Without a Librarian

A library without a librarian is like
A beehive without bees
A tree without leaves
A brownie without chocolate
A forest without trees
A head without a brain
A book without words
An ocean without water
A bird without wings
A zebra without stripes
A tailor without clothes
A barber without scissors
Blood without iron
A bank without money
A fish without gills
A turtle without a shell
All these things are bad, but a
library without a librarian is worse.

Written by members of the Rescue Our Librarians Club
(4th- and 5th-graders at La Escuela Fratney, Milwaukee, WI)

I love this poem, which was posted by 5th-grade teacher Bob Peterson on his Rethinking Schools blog. The poem is part of his “A Librarian in Every School, Books in Every Home: A Modest Proposal” posting, a reaction to the news that his school librarian is being laid-off due to budget cuts.

Working with his students, Peterson calculated that it would cost the federal government $7,125,000,000 to pay the annual salary of a full-time librarian for every school in the country—the same as what’s spent in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars every 25 days.

For more information on Peterson’s campaign to retain school librarians, see Rethinking Schools.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

ALA vs. Comic-Con

Last week, my husband Tim and I spent two days in San Diego, attending Comic-Con, the largest pop-culture convention in the world. We spent one day cruising the enormous exhibit hall and another day seeing programs. It was exhausting but exhilarating.

With the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter meeting coming to San Diego next January, I thought it might be fun to see how ALA conference stacks-up to Comic-Con. Get your scorecards ready!

Preliminary program

ALA: Schedules are released at least six months prior to the summer conference, so you can actually plan your itinerary well before paying for registration.

Comic-Con: You’re lucky if the schedule is made available two weeks in advance. But don’t wait last minute to buy tickets—this year, Comic-Con sold-out six months ahead of opening day.

ALA: 1, Comic-Con: 0


ALA: Registration opens six months before the annual conference and four months before Midwinter. Summer registration can cost well north of $200 and some events, like pre-conference workshops and meal programs, cost extra.

Comic-Con: I paid $100 for a 4-day pass to this year’s Comic-Con. This included everything: preview night, exhibits, programs, art show, etc. My husband, who turned 60 last year, paid only $50 for senior rate. Registration begins a year in advance and remains open until the show sells out.

ALA: 0, Comic-Con: 1


ALA: ALA provides hotel registration at the same time conference registration opens. Conference room rates are slightly cheaper than regular room rates, but the selection is much more limited. There’s no guarantee you’ll get the hotel you really want, but if you don’t send in your choices (up to six!) immediately, you may not get any hotel at all.

Comic-Con: Comic-Con provides hotel registration several months in advance. Convention room rates are slightly cheaper than regular room rates, but the selection is much more limited. The entire city of San Diego sells-out during Comic-Con, so I reserve my room a year in advance.

ALA: 0, Comic-Con: 0


ALA: Conference meetings and programs are usually held in surrounding hotel ballrooms as well as the convention center. For most cities, this means traveling from venue to venue via taxi or shuttle. With an average 20,000-25,000 attendees and some 2400 programs, annual conference can be very difficult to navigate.

Comic-Con: For the past several years, the entire Con has been held in the San Diego convention center. This year, a handful of events were also held in the neighboring Marriott hotel. Traveling from room to room is done by foot, though shuttles do transport attendees from and to their hotels. With attendance usually topping 130,000, the convention center is impossible to navigate. Comic-Con organizers need to equitably restrict attendance through some sort of ticket lottery, etc., or seriously consider moving to a larger venue (Los Angeles anyone?).

ALA: 0, Comic-Con: 0


ALA: In recent years, ALA has played host to numerous luminaries, including Amy Sedaris, John Grisham, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and, oh yeah, Senator Barack Obama, who went on to become . . . well, you know.

Comic-Con: This year alone, Comic-Con featured the following celebrities promoting their latest projects: Will Ferrell, Angelina Jolie, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey, Jr., Seth Rogen, Joss Whedon, J.J. Abrams, and the cast of True Blood, to name just a few.

ALA: 1, Comic-Con: 1


ALA: One of the highlights of conference every year is the enormous exhibit hall, where everything from books to high-end library technology is displayed. Wear your comfortable shoes, because it takes hours to walk through the exhibits. Even my husband, who is not a librarian, loves ALA’s exhibits.

Comic-Con: A big part of the Con is the enormous exhibit area, where everyone from Hallmark Cards (new Star Trek Christmas ornaments!) to Dark Horse comics to Lucas Films is hawking new products. It’s noisy and way too crowded (where’s the fire marshal when you need one?), but there’s always the chance you’ll run into Jon Favreau or William Shatner signing autographs or standing atop an exhibit booth, promoting his latest project. Wear your comfortable shoes and bring lots of patience, because it takes hours to walk through the exhibits. My husband, who is not a fan of science fiction/fantasy/comicbooks or crowds, hates the exhibits. [By the way, San Diego Public Library had a booth at the Con this year, so score one for the home team.]

ALA: 1, Comic-Con: 1


ALA: Conference is so huge that many of the programs you want to attend will be scheduled at the same time. Sneaking from one program to another is usually difficult because of the distance between venues. Still, the speakers tend to be topnotch and the information shared is always inspiring and educational.

Comic-Con: The Con is so huge that all good panels are scheduled against each other (e.g., True Blood vs. The Green Hornet). Sneaking between programs is impossible because the lines are just too damn long. Still, if you manage to get into your favorite programs, you are often treated to wonderfully unexpected surprises—for instance, Barenaked Ladies showing up to sing the theme song from The Big Bang Theory or Harrison Ford making his very first Comic-Con appearance. Priceless!

ALA: 1, Comic-Con: 1

Waiting on line

ALA: Most lines at ALA are for either book-signings, shuttles or onsite registration. Everyone is polite and patient.

Comic-Con: With over 130,000 people attending Comic-Con, you have to wait on line for everything: food, bathrooms, shuttles, autographs, and especially the panels featuring megawatt celebrities. Angelina Jolie’s fans camped out overnight to see the Salt panel Thursday morning. I got on line at 7:30AM, Friday morning, to see a panel at noon. Most Con-goers never see the inside of the highly coveted Hall H, where blockbuster movies are promoted, or Ballroom 20, where the most popular TV shows are discussed. Although they can be fun—misery does love company—Comic-Con lines have become far too prolific.

ALA: 1, Comic-Con: 0


ALA: Librarians LOVE free book-bags and so ALA learned a long time ago to give one to every paying conference-goer. The bags are just big enough to carry the conference schedule and any other brochures, etc., you might pickup in the exhibits area.

Comic-Con: Fanboys and girls also love free bags and so this year every paying Con-goer was handed a gigantic bag advertising either a movie or TV show. Big enough to hide a small child, the bags are a good place to carry the mountain of vendor brochures distributed in the exhibit hall and on the street outside the convention center.

ALA: 0, Comic-Con: 1

SWAG (Stuff-We-All-Get)

ALA: The exhibit area is a veritable emporium of free books, pencils, book-bags (one can never have enough!), candy, posters, keychains, letter-openers, and all manner of tchotchkes that librarians absolutely adore. Thank heavens ALA provides a post office inside the exhibit hall or else many attendees wouldn't be allowed to fly home for all the “stuff” they’ve collected at conference.

Comic-Con: There are lots of “collectibles” to buy, but very few freebies at Comic-Con. If you’re lucky, you’ll receive a "fulfillment" ticket, which must then be redeemed at the “fulfillment center” in a remote part of the Marriott hotel. Your gift: either a t-shirt emblazoned with a TV show logo or a copy of a paperback novelization.

ALA: 1, Comic-Con: 0


ALA: My husband always insists he can spot library conference-goers the minute we get off the plane. Librarians do, after all, tend to wear sensible clothes and look like they know where they’re going (because they do!). As much as we disavow the stereotype, most of us are obviously librarians.

Comic-Con: Fanboys and girls are just as obvious to spot, even if they’re not wearing costumes. A t-shirt that says “NERD” or “Beam Me Up, Scotty,” is as big a giveaway as a Princess Leia harem outfit or homemade Cylon suit. Unlike librarians, Con-goers wholeheartedly embrace their stereotype.

ALA: 0, Comic-Con: 1

FINAL SCORE: ALA 6, Comic-Con 6

Over the years, I’ve attended as many Comic-Cons as I have ALA conferences and I completely love both! Where else can I feel so comfortably surrounded by kindred spirits?

May the library profession live long and prosper!

Ballroom 20

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Espresso Book Machine

I had the happy opportunity to visit the Grace Mellman Community Library in Temecula last week. The branch, which I hadn’t seen since it first opened in the 1990s, was recently remodeled. A festive multicolor linoleum-tiled floor now enlivens the children’s room and a previously imposing bank of computers has been replaced by a cozy reading area.

The star of the day, though, was the Espresso Book Machine, a device that prints books on demand. Patrons can either request an item from Flash Books, a database of some 3 million digitized items, or bring in their own manuscripts for publication. The project is funded through a Library Services and Technology Act grant, awarded by the California State Library to the Riverside County Library.

Starting at $8, the cost of printing Flash Books titles is very much in line with today’s mass market paperbacks. Publishing one’s own original book is far more expensive, however. Patrons pay $75 to have library staff prepare their manuscripts for printing. In exchange, they get two copies of the book, plus an electronic pdf file of the manuscript. Additional self-published copies cost between $8 and $15 to print, depending on the number of pages.

The actual printing of the book takes about 5 minutes. (Click here to see the Espresso Book Machine in action.) Pages are produced on one side of the machine, while the other side prints the cover. Once the cover is complete, it slides to the center of the machine, where glue is applied before the pages are dropped onto the inside spine. The cover and pages are then pressed together before the entire book is cut to size—6” x 9” is standard, though other sizes are also apparently available. This being a library, the excess page cuttings are used as bookmarks, p-slips, etc., and, therefore, are not wasted.

It was fun watching a book being created right before my eyes. But even more importantly, there seem to be numerous ways the library’s customers can benefit from this service. Besides the obvious advantage of having access to 3 million Flash Books titles, patrons can also publish an endless array of self-written materials: family histories, journals, teen poetry, learning aids, homeschooling texts, personalized children’s books, etc. In addition, manuscript fonts can be manipulated to create large print versions of books only available in regular-sized type. Staff can also print extra copies of school reading-list titles when all others have been checked out. Patrons can either purchase or borrow print-on-demand books. Those that are not purchased are then considered for possible addition to the collection.

On the down side, the Flash Books component is clunky at best. Accessible only by keyword, the database has no capacity for limiting or refining searches. A search of “Tom Sawyer,” for instance, not only brought up several editions of Mark Twain’s book, it also yielded an endless list of books about Twain, as well as items written by authors named Tom and/or Sawyer! Moreover, the Flash Books database is devoid of any bibliographic or content information other than title and author, making requests for specific editions or topics very difficult. Staff hope to one day use Flash Books in lieu of interlibrary loan, but the database will have to be seriously redesigned (by the vendor) before this can happen.

If the problems with Flash Books can be overcome, I think this project has the potential to add an extremely interesting dimension to public library service. Even without Flash Books, providing the ability to print quality copies of self-published works is an invaluable service for patrons accustomed to creating their own content on the ‘Net and elsewhere. Books, after all, promote literacy, whether they are written by famous authors or the kid down the street, and libraries are all about literacy. I’m excited to see what outcomes ultimately emerge from Grace Mellman’s Espresso Book Machine project.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I haven’t posted anything here in quite a while--too busy with teaching and state library work. But I did want to share information gathered at an excellent webinar I attended earlier this week. Sponsored by the National League of Cities and the Wallace Foundation, the 1.5 hour session was called “City Leadership for Neighborhood-Based Afterschool Systems.” The topic was AfterZones, a highly successful after-school program offered in Providence, RI. The program has also been successfully replicated in Nashville, TN.

So what are AfterZones and why are they so effective?

The program is based on a “neighborhood campus” structure where after-school services are provided at multiple agencies (e.g., public libraries, recreational centers, art centers, etc.) in geographically clustered areas. Programs are offered 2.5 hours a day, four days a week, in the fall, winter and spring. A short four-week summer version was introduced in 2008.

The target audience is middle-schoolers, who are transported directly from school to the various agencies linked through the program. After spending an hour of intentional “learning time”—where they focus on homework, educational games, or other academic enrichment projects—the kids engage in arts, life skills or sports-related activities, depending on the agency. At libraries, they use computers and participate in reading-based programs. After-school program providers apply to become AfterZone sites. If successful, the site receives up to $5000 per year to cover program expenses. Overall, the entire AfterZones program costs approximately $1000 per student.

The program is managed by an AfterZones coordinator; but the real backbone is PASA (the Providence After School Alliance), a citywide nonprofit network responsible for registering students and tracking their participation. They also schedule transportation, which is a major element in empowering kids to select after-school programs that appeal to their interests. Although a study of AfterZone outcomes won’t be published until next year, proponents are already speculating that the program appeals particularly to young adolescents' desire for greater independence. Indeed, nearly 50% of Providence middle-schoolers have opted to participate in the AfterZone program.

There are three main reasons the program has been so successful thus far:

1. AfterZones have had active support from the city’s mayor, who was instrumental in developing the program’s goals. As mayor, he was able to bring key city players together to plan the initiative and leverage commitments from city departments and the school district. He also worked closely with PASA.

2. Strong leadership from PASA, which cultivated relationships among 100 agencies by focusing on capacity-building and collaboration. All decisions were data-driven.

3. Effective use of, a web-based tracking tool that meets the data collection, service management and program evaluation needs of the youth services sector. PASA used to keep tabs on enrollment and attendance, allowing them to make data-based decisions about future program-providers, etc.

Not all aspects of the program have been successful, however. Challenges encountered include:

1. Not all agencies have fully embraced the AfterZone concept. While PASA hoped the individual sites would eventually assume responsibility for completing some of the management tasks, this has not yet happened due, in part, to the economic downturn and lack of resources. More funding is required to make the overall program sustainable.

2. Providing off-campus programs is extremely expensive, especially when factoring in the cost of transportation. Still, some experiences just aren’t available in school (e.g., art activities or learning about sea creatures at the marina) and so PASA will continue to look to the community for educational support.

3. Although sixth- and seventh-graders are enthusiastic about the program, enrollment drops off significantly in eighth grade, possibly because of increased responsibilities at home. More research is needed here. Fairs, where students can see firsthand what each after-school site offers, have been the most effective recruitment method.

4. To financially sustain the program, PASA must show that AfterZones are an integral part of middle-school education. A three-year grant from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation will be used to more closely link AfterZones to school-day learning.

For more information about the program, please see AfterZones: Creating a Citywide System to Support and Sustain High-Quality After-School Programs.