Tag Archives: BPL

Working on the workplace

The outgoing Check Out Desk

The outgoing Check Out Desk

In my other life, where I interact with real people, I work in a library. It’s a brilliant job for a bibliophile, since you can borrow excellent books all the time at no cost (provided I return them before the due date or renew them online or by phone. What, you thought I wouldn’t pay fines?)

Libraries are an old idea (the library of Alexandria was constructed in the 3rd century BC and lasted until 30 BC), but there’s a reason they’re still around today. They provide access to knowledge, access to people that will help you find the way to ask the right question, collections of information that weren’t available in one place until the advent of the internet, and they have music and movies too. There’s also the crucial point that libraries provide free access to the internet for people who can’t afford their own computer or connection, or are away from home. They provide vital cultural information for new immigrants, and study materials for students of all ages.

The library I work at has an eye on the future. Things change, and it’s never smart to continue doing things the old way just “because that’s the way it’s always been done”. Over the next six weeks, we’re installing four new self-check out stations, allowing patrons to check out their own books. Why? Well, for one thing, that’s twice as many stations as currently exist, so lines will be cut down. There’s greater privacy for patrons too, since they don’t have to hand their books over to a clerk like me to check it out. We’ve improved the tagging system for better security and easier tracking.

Some people won’t like it. You can’t please all the people all the time (hey, that’s catchy…) Some people will hate it forever, and some will come to love it. That’s fine. We’ll have more staff over on the other desk, the improved customer service area, and we’ll be happy to manually check out your books there if you would prefer that. This isn’t a dastardly scheme to make patrons miserable.

In the meantime, I and my fellow workers are clearing back the library materials so that the contractors can get to work. We’re still pulling the books and dvds that you request by phone or online, and we’re still checking in the books that you drop off in the outside book drops or other branches. We’re still here, still working.

The DVD and CD shelves look ominously bare - because they're going to be replaced with better ones that hold the full collection.

The DVD and CD shelves look ominously bare – because they’re going to be replaced with better ones that hold the full collection.

So, in mid-January we should be cautiously open again – a reduced service while the finishing touches are put in place. We’ve only closed completely for two days, with access through the Programme Room for people to collect their holds or make renewals, or even check out the Speed Reads. We know it’s inconvenient, that many people love the library as a work space or study area, but this is an investment in the future. The library needs to stay relevant so that these peripheral benefits remain available into the future.

The Future of Libraries – We also have books

If someone offers you Oz, why would you want to run back to Depression-Era Kansas?

If someone offers you Oz, why would you want to run back to Depression-Era Kansas?

This week I was invited to attend a presentation on the Library Services Plan, or something equally vague. I assumed that it would be a thirty-five slide show on Powerpoint detailing circulation figures, looking at areas of economy and target demographics. I assumed, in short, that it would be dull and have little to do with me, a lowly Circulation Clerk.

The presentation was given by Stephen Abram, MLS. He’s a tall man, with a lively voice and a tendency to speak bluntly. He is also, it quickly becomes clear, passionate about libraries. But not in a “Sacred Halls of Silent Education and Reading” way. The physical building, the actual books on the shelves are the smallest part, the least part of the library.

I wanted to write down some of the figures he was giving out, but I didn’t make enough notes simply because I wanted to listen and see what he was putting up on the projector. He talked about experiments he had run with libraries in America, where they’d got liquor licences for reading groups and quadrupled attendance. About persuading one Children’s Librarian to give her Storytime a Facebook page and turned it from a 30 child event to a 120 child event. He pointed out that the number of people who actually come in to the library is only a small fraction of the number who use the online facilities, and what were we doing to make THOSE more welcoming, more engaging?

His ideas, his enthusiasm and his unerring belief that tremendous change was not only inevitable but good, was a message I hadn’t heard before. I’ve worked in a number of different environments, and change is usually viewed as something to be managed. Stephen’s main point was that you don’t manage change: You manage your response to it. Change is coming, it’s inevitable. How you react to that is what you can control.

Our instinct in the face of change is to assemble facts and numbers. In the Civil Service, this was usually to do with jobs and budgets. Here’s our productivity, here’s how much we’ve had to spend. We can’t afford to be the area that’s cut, either in terms of manpower or funding. It was a losing battle, since budgets were always being cut, and the reason was usually that departments wasted money ENSURING they spent their entire budget so that it wasn’t cut the following year.

Stephen suggested ignoring the numbers. What’s the point of holding up circulation numbers for inspection? DVDs are a big circulation item at the moment, but that’s because the rental shops have closed down. Why have they closed down? Because online streaming services are proliferating. It’s easy to predict that the DVD demand in the libraries will begin to fall, just as VHS demand fell a few years ago. Does that mean we should lose funding because we can’t provide figures?


Libraries aren’t books and DVDs. Libraries are a place that you bring the questions you have AFTER you’ve asked Google. Libraries are meeting places, they are community centres, they are places to access databases, place to make things, to learn hobbies and skills, to form new groups, to teach the things YOU know to others.

The libraries I work in are all in areas that have high numbers of immigrants (Let’s not forget, I’m one myself). They come to the library within days of arriving in Canada. Getting a library card, getting access to the library and all it provides is viewed as an essential step in making their new life. They come to the library for help with language issues, with Canadian customs and traditions, for Jobs workshops, for schooling, for local information….

I watched the Chief Librarian during the presentation. She was thoroughly engaged in the process  and that gives me great hope. If the people at the top are ready to embrace the change, to push the library and its staff out of the comfort zone, then I might just have arrived in a job that isn’t going to end in the death of the company for a change.

We all saw Oz at that presentation – the glittering, Emerald City. It looked beautiful, though the road may be long and have the odd Flying Monkey to dodge. Still, I’d rather be there than in a dusty, black-and-white farmhouse in the Dustbowl.