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Archive for June 21st, 2009

This post continues the discussion from my previous posting, explaining the various changes instituted by TCCL and Hardesty in policy, procedure and facility design since my early days of library circulation work (1998-2003).

TCCL now provides a number of important and valuable resources for staff on its Intranet.  The Intranet provides access to the TCCL policy manual, staff contact information, an online timesheet for clocking hours worked, and information related to health insurance, dental insurance and insurance coverage for various prescriptions.  Templates for printing CD labels and labels for boxes of magazine back issues are available on the Intranet.  Librarians can access listservs to discuss issues with other TCCL staff, such as children’s services or outreach issues.  Also, the Intranet provides forms frequently required by staff, such as vacation request forms, accident forms, incident forms, donation forms, forms for customers who want to request that TCCL purchase a book not currently in the system, and forms for customers who want to request that TCCL remove a book from the system.  Gone are the days when library staff had to rummage through the backroom filing cabinets for these forms.  Now staff can easily access and print these documents from any staff terminal.  I’m sure TCCL had an Intranet in my early circ days, but I don’t remember anyone showing me how to use it.  In the old days, we only had paper time sheets to log our work hours and paper vacation requests.  I remember reading many pages of library policies, but I only had a paper copy, which wasn’t always easily accessible if you needed to refresh your memory on a specific point of policy.  The new Intranet makes a wealth of information and documents easily accessible to all library staff.

TCCL’s children’s website has been expanded significantly in the last six years.  It allows children to search the catalog by text or by picture, and it provides a number of helpful resources like pathfinders, reliable websites for homework research, games, children’s attractions in the Tulsa area and local libraries, and resources for parents and teachers.  There are some navigational features missing that would enhance usability if added, such as links to allow users to navigate from a submenu to a main menu.  The word on the street is that TCCL is preparing to redesign the children’s website soon, so I am sure a number of improvements will be made in the process.

During my internship hours spent in the children’s department, I have not seen any children using the children’s catalog.  I’ve seen them playing games on the computers, and I’ve seen parents using the general catalog at the two kiosks in the children’s department.  Mostly I’ve seen parents and children asking the librarians when they need help finding something.  I asked Buddy, the head of the Hardesty Children’s Department, if they had ever offered a class to show children how to use the children’s catalog.  He said they had tried to offer classes before, but attendance numbers were very low.  At one such class, parents dropped their children off, and the kids didn’t seem to absorb the information very well.  Buddy says they are going to try to offer another class where parents and children can sit at the computer and learn together.  The children’s librarians are anticipating better results with this set-up.

The library has also created a new Tween fiction collection for children and parents who want longer, more advanced books without the adult content that appears more often in young adult and adult fiction collections.  As more and more parents have asked librarians for help in locating challenging reading material without sexual content for their children, the Tween collection was developed to meet this need.  The TCCL catalog reflects the location of these books in the Tween section, just as it reflects the location of books in the Juvenile fiction section.  Tween books are identified by a T sticker on their spines, just as juvenile fiction has  J stickers on their spines.  This collection is located just inside the children’s department, right next to the door, since tweenage customers are almost ready to graduate from the children’s department and to move on to the young adult department.

Another change in the Hardesty children’s department involves the arrangement of the story time room.  When the story time room was originally designed, there was an erupting volcano in the midst of a jungle scene painted on the north wall, and steps carpeted in orange and yellow, looking like lava flowing down a hill, for children to sit on during story time.  A short stairway outside the story time room led up to a child-sized door that opened up at the top of the carpeted stairs inside the story time room.  This arrangement was very visually appealing, and the children enjoyed climbing up the steps and having a special place to sit.  However, the story time room did not have continuous adult supervision when story time was not in session.  The steps inside the story time room were feared to be unsafe for children to climb on without adult supervision, so they were removed, and the child-sized door was sealed.  The jungle painting was expanded to cover where the steps had been, and the room looks very nice despite the changes.  But this situation demonstrates the importance of carefully planning and thinking through facility designs when refurbishing or building new library facilities.  It’s very difficult to foresee all the possible flaws in a plan still in blueprint form, but it costs a lot of money to have to go back and change things later.

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TCCL is working hard to polish and update the image of the library, to dust off the collections and make things look shiny and new.  In support of this effort, Mr. Escobar and his staff have been weeding heavily.  When checking in library materials, staff are encouraged to set aside items that look ragged—books with broken spines, ripped pages or covers, water damage, pages falling out, broken media cases, etc.  Covers and media cases can be easily replaced, but if the item itself is damaged and ratty, it is placed in a tote in the workroom so that a librarian can assess it for withdrawal.  Like new library materials and magazines, withdrawals are processed daily.  Since the catalog shows books in the withdrawal box as being available for check out until they are withdrawn from the system, processing withdrawals daily reduces the amount of time staff must spend looking for items that are not on the shelf because they have been set aside for withdrawal.  Hardesty’s shelves are no longer crammed with old ratty books that never circulate.  This makes it easier for shelvers to do their jobs and for customers to browse without feeling overwhelmed.

A number of libraries have book sale areas, where books and other media that have been donated or withdrawn from the library catalog can be sold for a dollar or less.  Hardesty’s book sale used to be located just inside the front doors, next to where the coffee shop used to be.  However, in the interest of maintaining the library’s new and shiny image, Hardesty’s book sale has been moved upstairs to the southwest corner of the library.  This shift means that the first library materials that customers see upon entering the library are the new items, rather than the old, faded, sometimes ragged donated and withdrawn books of the book sale.  True, book sales have decreased, but the money collected is all profit.  Because volunteers organize the book sale, the library incurs no cost by providing it.  Moving the collection to a more discrete location supports the library’s clean and revitalized image.  And as customers find the book sale’s new location, hopefully sales will increase again.

Computer usage policies and maintenance procedures have also changed a bit in the last few years.  During my early circulation days, TCCL had to institute time limits for customer computer usage in order to ensure that a few customers didn’t monopolize the computers while others were denied access.  I was there when librarians tried instituting sign-up lists for the computers, but that didn’t work so well.  Some customers signed up but didn’t show up on time while others beged and pleaded for more time.  Now every customer with a library account can use the computer for 60 minutes per day at branch libraries, and for 90 minutes per day at regional libraries like Hardesty.  Before 2 pm and after 5 pm, customers can request to have their computer time extended if they need it.  The librarians can remotely add time to a customer’s account, without leaving their station at the desk.  This is very beneficial when the staff have a long line of customers to serve.  At the end of the day, the computers are automatically and remotely shut down by the Central Library IT Dept. 10 minutes after closing time.  In the old days, the librarians had to walk around shutting off each computer in the library, and occasionally had to try to extract customers who didn’t want to relinquish a computer.  Now librarians can simply tell these customers that if they don’t save their work and log out, their work may be lost as the computers are remotely shut down.  This setup saves a great deal of time at the end of the day.

I was surprised to learn that the magnetic security strips in library materials are being phased out, and that all library materials are already receiving RFID tags.  I hadn’t really thought about how the magnetic security system and the RFID system would work together, and I didn’t expect TCCL to already be RFID compatible.  I thought that shift would still be a few years down the road, for some reason.  I remember back in 1998 or 1999 when the libraries shut down for a week in order to apply the magnetic security strips to the collections.  It was a time-consuming process, and we only had enough resources to tag every third book or so.  Although the staff terminals still scan items for check-in and check-out via barcode readers, the self-check machines are able to scan the RFID tags in library materials.  According to Mr. Escobar, the magnetic security gates had no discernable effect in reducing the number of stolen library items.  I wonder if one day there will be no need to check out books to customers by hand—perhaps scanners will read the RFID tags on library items as customers walk out the door?

As you can see, Tulsa area libraries have come a long way in just a few short years.

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