Connecting libraries to bookstores

Posted on February 2, 2008. Filed under: access, administration, barriers, collections, customers focus, service |

I’ve been planning a conference, so most of my time has been hectic, but I’m back! 

Through a post on Librarygeekwoes I read about a post on LibraryThing regarding Tim’s ideas on connecting libraries and bookstores.

 This got me to thinking about how I use libraries and bookstores and the synergy between them, or lack thereof. Even though I have daily access to a well-stocked library with a lot of resources, I find myself going to bookstores and ordering books online on a regular basis.  Is this where I admit to being a bookaholique?   When I’m at a library conference, I will often stop by local bookstores to browse and typically see many people from the conference doing the same thing – they have their name tags on so it makes it easy to spot them.  Typically, the bookstores put up welcome signs for the visiting librarians.  That must mean I’m part of a large group that does the same thing.  If we do that, isn’t it reasonable to expect that, at least some, of our library customers do the same thing? So how can we help make customer frustration, as expressed by Tim at Librarything, go away?   

Our library has reasonably good relations with our local bookstores, which are predominately large national chains.  Administratively, we can encourage interaction and sharing of information, perhaps even signing agreements to cooperate. 

We do reach a point where we need to protect some information.  Libraries are typically required by state law to keep some information confidential.  We have always interpreted this law broadly to include just about everything.  Businesses will share information up to the point that it might infringe on their ability to make money. It would seem that technology is capable of drawing a very fine line between what we can share and what we can’t. We just need to make sure that it does so.  Not to throw this point away casually, because it is absolutely crucial, but I do think the confidentially issue can be resolved fairly easily. The harder part would seem to be developing the relationships and providing access to the appropriate information in all of the right places.   I would love for our catalog to have buttons on each search page that provide our usual options, plus the option to Interlibrary Loan – if not available, to locate the title at a local store or to access a national site for online purchase.  I have a sliding scale for how patient I am based upon my need of the moment.  All of those options would allow me to indulge my impatience in the best available method. Now we need to figure out how to share information so that this can happen.

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Question: Dump the Org Chart vs. Servant Leadership

Posted on October 4, 2007. Filed under: administration, customers focus, ideas, leadership |

During the SirsiDynix Webinar “Dump the Org Chart” we were asked the question, “Since our reason for existing is to serve our customers, how does this relate to ‘servant leadership?’” Our perspective in the webinar was looking at how we could engage and involve the staff and the public in planning and executing the future of the library.   My experience with the concepts of servant leadership is that they promote collaboration and being able to serve as leader from any point in the organization.  It doesn’t rely on the hierarchy to provide leaders and it looks both inside and outside the organization to provide direction and goals for the organization.   Those same principles are inherent in our presentation.  We talked about:

  • Drawing on the collective wisdom
  • Scanning the environment
  • Listening to customers
  • Investing in staff
  • Committing to quality, continuous improvement and excellence
  • Re-allocating resources to focus on the work

 While stated differently, I believe that the customer focus of both servant leadership and our presentation is the same.  We may all use these tools in various ways to achieve the same goal, but in the end, I think we are working for the same thing. 

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Dump the Org Chart – Get ‘er done!

Posted on September 29, 2007. Filed under: administration, holds, Library 2.0, mail |

Gina Millsap, Executive Director of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and I presented a SirsiDynix webinar last week titled Dump the Org Chart – Get ‘er done!  I plan to address a number of the questions we received on this blog.


Much like in our real life, we got a lot of questions about our process of mailing holds to people and how we do it.  Here is a little history and answers to some of the most common questions.


Over 20 years ago our library was doing some parking lot reconfiguration which made it difficult to visit the library.  We have bookmobiles but don’t have branches. Staff determined that it was better customer service to mail the books to the customer rather than have them fight around the construction.  It has become one of the most loved services we provide. 


We used to do this manually – don’t ask!  I’m showing my age when I can remember pre-automation days.


Customers place a hold on an item.


Checked in items


A list is printed and staff check the shelves daily. 


Checked out items


A hold is triggered when the item returns and is checked in. 


Customers have the option to pick up the item or to have it mailed.


We call them for items to be picked up and handle them much like everyone else.


For the mail items, it is checked out to the customer – if other holds have been triggered for the customer, we attempt to gather them at the same time so that they can be mailed together.  A label is produced. The items are bagged, labeled, postage applied and the bag is sealed.


 We have recently changed our postage procedures by working with the US Post office to do pre-sorting, which provides us with some savings in postage.  It is our understanding that we may be the first institution to do this with library rate, so it took some work, but I think we actually have a system that is working well.  I won’t go into postage details here, but can put you in touch with our staff if you are interested.


Customers are responsible for the return of mailed items.  They can be returned through our drop boxes, at the library, mailed back to us at their expense, etc.


That is how it works in a simplified version.


Some questions we get regularly:


Do you charge the customer for this?  No.  It results in a fairly high postage line item in the budget.  We do not have branches, so it is much cheaper than building and maintaining a branch.  It is fantastic PR.  It is probably the number one mentioned service that our customers love about us.  While we could charge for the service and may have to sometime in the future, we strongly feel that would be a deterrent to using the service.  Reasonable arguments could be made for charging.  At this point, we are strongly focusing on developing our digital branch.  If people are using the digital branch to access our library it seems to fit into the current trends to mail items to them.  It is in line with mail-order catalogs, Netflix, Amazon, etc.


Wouldn’t it be cheaper to have customers pick up the items?  We have not studied the cost comparisons recently, but with the changes in postage processes, need to do that.  In the past, while mailing has more obvious direct costs, the amount of staff time handling the phone holds, shelving and unshelving those that aren’t picked up and the number that sit for five days on the shelf, essentially not available, have a cost as well.  It is a more hidden cost, but as we ask staff to do more and more, the amount of time they spend on a task becomes important. 


Do things get damaged in the mail?  Sometimes.  This has not been a large problem.  We use the padded bags and rarely is something damaged in the mail.  We do not hold the customer responsible for the damage if we can determine that it happened during mailing.  For example:  they return a very wet book.  It hasn’t rained since we mailed the book – we probably would question that it happened in the mail!  The bag usually protects the book from a normal rain.  Media goes through the mail just fine.


Do you have a lot of lost items?  Not really.  Once in a while something just never gets delivered.  Generally, it has been because they live in an apartment building or someplace where the mailbox won’t hold a typical book sized package.  Something left against the wall in the hallway is apt to disappear.  We may not be able to mail to them if that is the case.  Most of the time things arrive and in good shape.  We will take their word for it the first time they claim something doesn’t arrive and forgive the item.  If it becomes a repeat excuse, we stop mailing to them. 


Does the mail take a long time out of their checkout period?  We have a 21 day loan period.  Library rate can be delayed if the post office has too much first class, but typically in our area things arrive in 1-2 days.  Unless a holiday is involved 3-4 days delivery is the most we see.  Basically, the loss of a few days in checkout is a cost to them for the convenience of having it mailed.


You may have other questions about this service.  Please let us know.


I plan to begin addressing other questions from the webinar in the next few days.


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Barriers to new ideas

Posted on August 18, 2007. Filed under: administration, barriers, ideas, library |

September 18th, Gina Millsap, Executive Director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library and I will be presenting a SirsiDynix Webinar titled, “Dump the Org Chart – Get ‘er Done!”  My part of this presentation is to look at barriers to implementing new ideas and to offer some suggestions about how to work around those barriers.  I would really like to hear from others about their experiences in this area.  What barriers have you faced as you put forth new ideas, or what problems do you face when new ideas are presented to you?  Your personal stories will help make this a realistic presentation.  I will not share names or institutions, but may use some of the problems as I prepare my presentation.  If you don’t want to blog them, please send them to me at  Thank you for your help.

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A new perspective for me

Posted on August 2, 2007. Filed under: administration, library, Library 2.0 |

I’ve been commenting on a post on Library Geek Woes.  The original topic is interesting, but what I’ve found most revealing is something that emerged during the string.  One of the needs for Laura was the opportunity to have the social experience and to validate or confirm experiences or opinions with peers. 


I found this aspect very interesting, because I would not have considered the social experience as a part of feedback or communicating with the public.  I would have just considered this on an individual basis. 


This is an interesting change in thought, which I doubt if the average administrator will intuitively understand as a need.  It has not been part of our typically worldview.  I would appreciate hearing from others about this. 

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Recent reading

Posted on July 31, 2007. Filed under: access, administration, collections, library, Library 2.0, Web 2.0 |

I just finished reading “The Starfish and the Spider: The unstoppable power of leaderless organizations” by Ori Brafmans and Rod Beckstrom.  I highly recommend this book.  It’s a fairly quick read and the thesis is supported by multiple examples.   

Assuming their thesis is correct, it has a number of implications for libraries, but the one that struck me first was in relation to our collections and their availability. 

The first point is that record companies will eventually be overwhelmed by the “Napster/Kazaa” type of organizations.  Based upon the perspective of my 20 something children this may well be correct.   

How does that impact libraries?  Our media collection, including music CD’s, is one of our highest percentages of circulation.   Assuming the standard CD format goes away, which will probably happen as a result of technology anyway, how do we continue to provide access to music in a cost effective manner?  I can see the possibility of download stations, but it dramatically impacts our collection development procedures since we will probably be selecting individual tracks rather than complete, pre-packaged albums.  Or will we pay a fee to an aggregator, something similar to itunes, which provides our customers with access to a broad range of selections? I don’t see the demand from our customers dissipating anytime soon.  We still have too many people that cannot afford the bandwidth and item costs to consider accessing this music at home in this new manner. 

To take this a step further, what if publishing becomes more of a de-centralized activity like “Napster” and our traditional sources for books change dramatically?  Technology is making this an increasing possibility.  I’m not viewing this as the end of books, but more the end of a supply chain. 

To put this on a personal level:  I’m a professional musician in my other life.  I’ve long thought that going to a music store, ordering music and waiting for it to arrive – sometimes several days later, is frustrating and unnecessary.   Why not have all music in a massive database and then print on demand?  At first, I thought it could be printed at the music store which would have the appropriate sized paper and printers to do the job, but home printers have gotten so much better in the last few years, it probably could be done at home.  I’d be willing to pay the same price, or may a little less since I’m providing the paper and ink, as I was charged before.   

Back to books, I know there are a few print-on-demand stations, but from what I’ve heard they are not ready for mass usage yet.  Assuming this becomes the norm and we are downloading content, packaging can be determined by the end user: print, computer file, etc., do we remain in the supply chain to the customer?  As above, we probably will have a number of customers who cannot afford to do this at home.  How do we stay relevant in this process?  Recently,Jill Norgren, author of “Belva Lockwood stated on a BookTV broadcast that she was thinking about what format she would use on her next book, indicating that the Internet provided other options than just the traditional book.   

I have additional thoughts on this, but would really like to hear what you think.

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Welcome to my blog

Posted on July 30, 2007. Filed under: administration, library, Library 2.0, Web 2.0 |

I am intrigued and often excited about the possibilities of new technologies and trends, frequently referred to as Web 2.0 and/or Library 2.0.  Many people do a great job of commenting on these issues and I do not want or need to duplicate their efforts.  However, I have not found a regular discussion of those trends from a library administrator’s point of view.   Hopefully, this blog can provide a place for people to look at these technologies and trends and comment on the possible hopes and fears related to implementing them in our libraries.   I also hope this can be a place where everyone can exchange perspectives and ideas. I have the great good fortune to work with David King  He pushes me by just challenging my mind and my biases and he has encouraged me to start this blog.  This can be very exciting and sometimes frustrating because I don’t have enough time to play with the new stuff.  I usually find the new stuff fun, but don’t always see a direct application at our library.  We all fight the budget battle and the space and time challenges.  I hope we can discuss these issues and maybe find new perspectives that will help everyone. My PlanI plan to post regularly based upon my readings and experience as the Deputy Director of Operations at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.  This is my personal blog and does not represent the official position of my employer.  If you have questions, ideas, or thoughts that you think would fit into this concept, I would enjoy putting them out for response.  I look forward to hearing from you.

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