For the 2009 NEKLS Spring Assembly, Peggy Cadigan, Consultant for Innovation and Communication at the New Jersey State Library, presented on “Libraries: Current, Connected & Customer-Driven.” She started out with the statement, “We need to be present, virtually and physically.” Why? We are serving a diverse community.
With lots of pictures and statistics, Peggy identified who library patrons are: all ages of the public, teens, autistic children, jobless/underemployed, Hispanics, seniors, minorities. Libraries can’t do everything and serve everyone, but assess your community and see who needs to be served in your community, she said. (Kansas librarians, need statistics for your community? Talk to Peter Haxton, the State Data Coordinator at the State Library!) For example, in communities with gang problems, what can libraries offer as alternatives to kids who feel like they don’t belong?
In New Jersey, the State Library is providing training DVDs, so libraries can display “Safe Spaces for Autistic Children” stickers. Eight libraries in New Jersey are participating so far. When programs are cut, like those that help educate prisoners, could the local library step in to fill the gap? Grants are available from the Department of Justice: Local Youth Mentoring Initiative and the National Training and Technical Assistance Partnership. What about Baby Boomers? By 2050, there will be 80 million; 15 million of those will be over 85. What can libraries do to reach them, as research shows that social networking, games, and book clubs help seniors not decline?
Peggy then discussed how we can best serve our patrons, providing a great illustration. Librarians see patrons as people we can help, but patrons see librarians as those who should treat them like high-class guests. Customer service matters and libraries must upgrade customer service in order to keep people in the libraries. To help train New Jersey librarians in customer service, the New Jersey State Library looked to the best customer service industry in the state: the casinos!
What does this all mean for the future of libraries? According to Peggy, libraries must be able to inspire and delight; go green; accommodate technology; and be flexible, comforting, and welcoming. How can libraries implement these ideas, then?
First, look outside the library and adopt great ideas, she said. Some creative business practices she mentioned include a drive-through rabies clinic; a drive-through liquor store/car wash; a drive-through funeral parlor; a coffee/wifi bar at a local bank; and a local digital art display in a bank. Think some of these are far-fetched? She had the pictures to prove it!
Then, look to other libraries. Some libraries already have drive-up windows. Provide comfortable, simple seating so patrons can relax/work/read and allow food and drinks. As Peggy said of one picture of a patron with her feet up, using the library wireless, and eating and drinking at the same time, “Who cares? She’s there!” Also, make movie displays look like Blockbuster displays, and use simple shelf displays so books face out and can be seen! Think about reducing the height of shelves, so there are clear lines of sight. “I realize libraries are bursting at the seams, but think about mad weeding!” Peggy said.
More ideas included providing local art displays and displaying local community information on the library website. Libraries could also offer college classes or even provide a virtual career center. Finally, libraries could tie library events into Chase’s Calendar of Events.
One of the most intriguing ideas Peggy mentioned was that community citizens could be cataloged into the library catalog, so they, too, could be circulated. Just like some libraries circulate fishing poles, cake pans, and musical instruments, people are willing to share their expertise, especially Baby Boomers. It’s basically a database of your community’s social capital. The program comes from California.
Finally, Peggy spoke about how libraries must show our value! Legislators want to see that libraries are changing lives, not just how many books circulated. How can libraries do this? Have patrons tell their stories. Put on your library website resources for job filing, housing, senior issues. Partner with state agencies. Advertise what is done in your library. For example, determine how many times a library computer has been used and display those statistics.
In New Jersey, the State Library started a program called “Snapshot: One Day in the Life of New Jersey Libraries” on February 19, 2009. They asked libraries to gather statistics, including how many people did you help file for unemployment or a job? How many did you help fill out a resume? How many people walked through the library doors (160,000 in New Jersey that day)? Libraries across the state submitted photos and comments from patrons. Postcards, posters, and bags were made out of the submissions. They now have very visual materials to show to legislators to illustrate the value of libraries!
All in all, it was an invigorating and enlightening keynote address. Hopefully, Peggy can come back to Kansas again someday soon and motivate us even more to serve our patrons and continue to tell their stories.