Pull-out Collections

Since I’ve gotten my MLIS, I’ve been working the reference desks at work more often.  Usually it’s just an hour here or there to cover a lunch or give someone some time off desk to set up for a program.  This, combined with my history on the circulation side of the library, has led me to realize that pull-out collections are annoying at best and evil at worst.

I realize that some of my readers are not part of the library world, so they may not understand what a pull-out collection is.  Basically, it’s a collection of books or other items that are shelved separate from the same type of item simply because a librarian has deemed them “special” in some way.  They usually have some kind of a label that’s supposed to alert you to their special status.  Let’s hope that label doesn’t fall off!

For instance, let’s say you’re looking for any book that’s part of the “Junie B. Jones” series.  You don’t have a particular title in mind, you just want to browse.  Well, you could look in children’s fiction under the author’s last name, but you’d only find a small portion of that series.  And if you looked in the series paperbacks under J (for Junie), you’d find some more – probably the bulk of the collection.  But what about those elusive few in the pull-out collection we call “Moving Up”?  You’d miss out on those simply because you didn’t know that collection exists.  It’s bad enough that we have to look in fiction and series paperbacks (the two almost make sense), but then you throw moving up into the mix.  Oh! And if there’s a new one that’s cataloged as fiction, you’ll have to look in the new books area as well.  *sigh*

What about books by Lois Lowry?  They could be in the children’s fiction, children’s non-series paperbacks, or in the Newbery Award section.

Some libraries have pull-out collections for specific types of picture books, such as seasons/holidays, number learning, abc’s, and concepts.

My own library is guilty of having pull out collections within adult DVDs (get your mind out of the gutter!  Adult simply means not child and not teen).

OK, now put yourself in my position.  I’m trying to show a child or their parent where to find these things.  “Well, it could be here… or here… or here…”  The pages are trying to fill a hold, which means there could be up to 4 places for an item to be shelved (or mis-shelved).  The clerks are trying to search the shelves for an item the patron strongly believes they have returned – again they’ll have to search in several places.

Seriously.  I hate pull-out collections.  Your goal is to highlight a particular collection, but all that’s really happening is that we’re having to look in multiple places!  And it increases chances for something to be mis-shelved.  It’s really frustrating.

I know this little rant won’t change anything.  Librarians are funny when it comes to their ideas of the best way to shelve things.  I just wanted to get it off my chest, ya know?

My Ubuntu Life 2/25/11

DH and I planned on using my old laptop as a Linux/Ubuntu machine once I got a new one.  I’ve been interested in learning about open source software from a user’s perspective for awhile now, but I wasn’t willing to make the leap and ditch Windows completely.  Getting a new laptop (which I sorely needed) for my regular internetting/gaming/productive needs would allow me to also learn about open source stuff on my old laptop.  Well, things happened as they often do.  Even though I got a new laptop we ran into problems installing Ubuntu on my old machine, so it sat unused in our second bedroom until now.

I’m off on Fridays and DH chose to work from home today.  Today I took care of mom so my sister could go to her follow-up appointment for her ankle.  When I came home I found my old laptop right next to my new one.  “Check it out!” DH said.  “I broke your laptop for you!”  I turned on my old laptop and found that he had “broken” it and turned it into an Ubuntu machine.  So here’s a question… do I call my old laptop my Ubuntu machine or my Linux machine?  I want to be mostly correct when I talk about these things, and I’m tired of writing old laptop.  I guess I’ll call it Ubuntu machine unless I hear differently from all of you internetters out there.

Why Explore Open Source?

As many of you know, I work in a public library.  As some of you may be aware, libraries don’t necessarily have a lot of money but we serve a population of hundreds of thousands (depending on the size of the system/region served).  We need computerized systems that allow us to create library accounts for patrons; circulate library materials; bill for lost, damaged or late materials; add and delete materials for the system; and provide an easily searched catalog of these materials for our patrons and staff.  The library term for these is an integrated library system (ILS).  There are a number of ILSes available in the wide wide world and they can be very expensive.  Once a library has signed on with a particular ILS it seems as though they’re partners for life.  There’s a running joke among some ILS customers that if your system wants a new feature for your ILS it’ll cost you $10,000.  Sad, but true.

We all know how difficult the current economy is and how huge the deficits are.  Unemployment rates are still sky high, and those who haven’t been laid off are living as though tomorrow will be the day they get a pink slip of their very own.  Historically speaking, library use rises while library funding is decreased during recessions.  This recession is no different.  If things continue as they are, I think it will become very difficult for libraries to pay such high fees for many of these ILSes.

So, why not look at open source?  There are a few open source ILSes out there.  Unfortunately I don’t know enough about open source anything to speak knowledgeably about deploying and using it in a community so slow to accept change as many library systems are.  (Please don’t get me wrong!  There are a lot of nimble, change oriented library systems out there, but there’s a reason libraries have the reputation for being stuffy, dusty and old fashioned.)  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I want to be able to be the person that knows about open source products and can speak from experience when guiding people towards or away from these products.

My First Impression

The desktop is very clean looking.  I like that there aren’t any icons cluttering it up but I’m also glad that DH installed the dock (that bar thingie with magic buttons).  I immediately gravitated towards that and started looking at all the stuff that popped up.  Big blank screens with nothing but a menu at the top are a bit intimidating for someone used to icons for everything even though I often use the menu in Windows.  The dock definitely made Ubuntu more welcoming for a first time user.

I also like how quickly everything loads.  I can remember how slowly this particular laptop moved and how painful it was to goof off on the internet.  Everything looks really weird though.  The fonts are different and they’re small.  I’ll play with the settings in a minute to see if I can figure out how to improve this part of the Ubuntu experience.  Also, I’m coming from a completely Windows user background, so I’m used to the way clicking/double-clicking works there.  Here it’s different, so I’ll have to learn this style of clicking.

OK, so I’m gonna go explore some more… try different things and see what I can learn without resorting to books, videos, and how-to guides.  I’ll report back as I learn!

The Library Workout

I just thought of an awesome new workout: the Library Workout!  Basically it involves things we do every day at the library, but more concentrated.  And of course it would have to be done in a library setting.

Want a general, low impact aerobic workout?  Push a full cart of books up and down each aisle 2-3 times.

Want to work your lower body?  Do squats as you shelve on the lower shelves.  Bonus points if you stay in that squat position as you move from section to section.   Ooooh!  Or do lunges from section to section.  Do calf raises as you shelve at eye-height.

Want to work your upper body?  Shift a collection of books (move the whole collection from one spot to another).  You can also use this as an opportunity to work your abs if you keep them tight as you twist and bend.

What do you think?  Will it sell?

I re-learned the Library Workout yesterday during our shift of the Children’s collection.  Early Readers are being moved to where Moving Up used to be.  Moving Up is being moved to where New Picture Books used to be.  New Picture Books are on a gondola at the entrance to the department…  Today and tomorrow includes shifting the old Picture Books to create more room for that collection; moving old Board Books down a shelving unit; and displaying New Picture Books and New Board Books on another shelving unit.

So, yesterday’s Library Workout focused on the upper body portion.  My abs and arms are so sore!  It’s good, but there’s still 2 more days of this.  Eeek!

Half Mast

Yesterday, the flags at my library were lowered to half mast in response to the terrible tragedy in Arizona.  Members of my staff told me how much they appreciated seeing a visual tribute for the victims of the crazy man.  A couple of patrons also expressed their appreciation of this action.

Would you believe I also received a negative comment about it?  The patron asked me if the flags were lowered “because of what happened in Arizona.”  When I answered that this was the reason, he responded that it’s a shame the library felt it necessary to honor “all those crooks.”  I said “Surely you don’t think that 9 year old girl was a crook.” When he sputtered angrily, I just gave him my disapproving librarian look, shook my head and walked away.  I couldn’t do anything else.  I knew if I stuck around I would have given him a bigger piece of my mind.

No matter what you think about someone’s politics, gunning down innocents is never the right move.  I’m not surprised, but I am disgusted that someone in my community believed that the shooter was justified in his actions and that we shouldn’t grieve for the victims.

Thank God I’m Home!

Thank God I’m home.

I love my job.  It keeps me busy, challenges me in different ways and my coworkers are awesome.  Even with how much my job fulfills me, days like today remind me of how much I like being at home with DH even more.

I knew today would be rough, but it was ridiculous!  I had 2 people out sick today and another was injured.  Our morning volunteers didn’t show so we started the day behind.  I spent so much time in the sorting room today that my left elbow, wrist and thumb are all aching.  My back hurts from all the bending and stooping I had to do.  My brain doesn’t want to deal with another impatient person today.

Saturday and Sunday we checked out almost 6,000 items!  We circulated as much on Sunday (in 4 hours) as we did on a Saturday (7 hours) at the old building.  We checked in over 6,300 items over the weekend.  Between today’s frantic pace and the fact that all holiday checkouts were due today, I think we’ll be very close to Saturday’s numbers.  I’ll know for sure tomorrow.

Even with the exhaustion and soreness I’m feeling, I’m still happy.  That’s a sign that you’ve got a great job and it’s definitely something to be thankful for.

Motrin, ice, heat and relaxation – Here I come!

I Have to Interview How Many People?!?

“Hey Boss?  We’ll be opening a new library soon.  Have you heard whether we’ll be able to fill our vacant positions,” I asked on a sunny June day.

“Of course we will,” she replied.  “We would be crazy to move into a new building that’s 3 times bigger without at least being fully staffed.”

I sent in my request to fill my vacant page positions.  Pages shelve the library’s materials (among other tasks).  The Library knew that this position was highly sought so they only accepted applications for 8 hours.  We all gasped when we heard that over 600 applications had been turned in.  After administering and scoring the written exam, those with vacant positions were told that the interviews would soon commence.

“We’re supposed to interview how many people,” I gasped.

“Eighty-three.  If we do them back to back at 15 minutes each and with an hour for lunch, we can spread them across three 8.5 hour days” the Human Resources Goddess replied.

I’d never interviewed anyone with the intention of hiring them before, so it was with great trepidation that I agreed to these terms.  I knew that I’d have two other Circulation Supervisors by my side, both of whom were veteran interviewers.

One August morning, our interviews commenced.  We started out with great energy: our smiles were wide and we looked like the type of people you’d like to work for.  By day three we were done, ya know?  We had every question memorized, our eyes were glazed over and we looked grumpy.

Frankly, I’m amazed that we all kept our sanity during those grueling three days of interviews.  We had people who had no idea how to answer some of our questions.  We had people who showed up in jeans and a t-shirt and others who dressed in business suits.  There were a couple whose answers were so listless that we were concerned they were falling asleep.  One lady interviewed with laryngitis.  Another lady cried and begged for a job.  That one broke my heart.

Compared to that experience – my first experience – all of the interviews I’ve given since have been a breeze.  I’m happy to report that we ended up finding some really great employees through those interviews, but three days is a long time to sit and ask the same questions over and over and over and over and…  well, you get the idea.

So that ends the story of my most memorable interview.

A Walk Around the Block

Due to various staff illnesses, injuries and days off yesterday, I was scheduled to be in the sorting room for 3 hours straight.  That much time in the room is exhausting and you really have to watch for repetitive stress injuries when you’re there so much.

One of my staff noticed that I’d been in the room for awhile and asked if I’d had dinner.  When I said no, she asked if I’d brought anything.  Well… no, but I brought some granola bars.  She ran out and grabbed some Chinese food – her treat!  So sweet!  I ate it in the room at the staff computer because it was slow.

Then an hour later she came back and asked if I’d had my 30 minute lunch break yet.  No, but that’s OK I’d been sitting a lot and it’d been quiet.  She kicked me out!  Told me to go!  When I protested she said “Don’t make me worry about you.  I’m going to pull the mom card.”  So I went for a walk since she’d been nice enough to bring me dinner earlier.

About half way around the block I looked towards the library and noticed 3 or 4 Sheriff’s cars with lights on.  I couldn’t tell if they were parked behind the drugstore or in front of the library, but I worried.  I worried even worse when I realized that I couldn’t take the shortcut path to get back quicker because it had been closed for construction.  I started by walking quicker, but the more I walked the more I worried until I started jogging.  I made it back to the library in no time only to discover that I worried for nothing.  The Sheriffs were at the drugstore.  I wasn’t out of breath or overly sweaty and the staff had no idea of my temporary worry/insanity.

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized that I jogged in public and wasn’t phased by it!  And that I jogged for a couple of minutes without looking like a wrung out rag!  Yay!

Moving standstill and other stuff

Well, the library move has come to a standstill.  On Monday the Fire Marshal shut the move down because of a problem with the lights in the children’s area in relation to the fire sprinklers.  The construction crew worked on it on Tuesday.  Then Wednesday the Fire Marshal came out again and found 15 more things wrong.  The crew said they’d have them fixed by Thursday so the Fire Marshal could inspect again on Friday.  All of that ends up meaning that we can’t move into the new building until Monday at the earliest.  On the plus side, it gave everyone a chance to pack up their desks and other work spaces.

So my little library (which was apparently the largest in the system in 1962) is mostly on huge wooden book carts waiting to move.  My staff is waiting anxiously to get back to it.  Nearly everyone is off today, but a few people don’t have enough vacation time so they’re working at other branches.

I was looking forward to sleeping in today.  It didn’t work out though.  The neighbors do enjoy standing outside my bedroom window and shouting.  That combined with the sorting at the thrift store and the garbage trucks means that I’m up.  Oh well, I needed to write a paper anyway.

Field Trip!

Today we got a respite from the heat at CSV (our A/C is broken… it reached 89 degrees inside).  Well, only three of us escaped; the rest were stuck working. 

Our new library will be getting an automated materials handling system (AMHS), so library administration thought that it would be a good idea to have some of us look at various AMHS to get an idea of how they work, how they’ll change things, etc.  So today we visited two different libraries with two different AMHS.  Each of the AMHS had positives and negatives.  I got a lot of information from each visit, and it’s definitely easier to picture what staffing will look like in the new library.  Here’s what we found.

Library 1

  • 4 intakes total (3 for main system, 1 unattached in parking garage)
  • When all 3 are going at once, there are traffic jams
  • There are 11 bins, but more may be added as space allows
  • System is fully enclosed so employees cannot reach in without stopping the AMHS first
  • Internal cameras allow employees to see inside
  • Sorting bins attach to AMHS with very powerful magnets.  The magnets also act as sensors to tell when the bin is not in proper position.
  • Each bin has sensors to tell when it is full.  Sometimes the bin thinks it’s full when it’s not because the machine drops everything so neatly into the bin.  The bin is really only half full, so someone must redistribute the materials on occasion.
  • When bins are full or are being changed, materials are sent to the “reject/other” bin
  • They have RFID, which we will not have.  This allows certain AV items to be handled once, while we’ll have to open and check for the correct number of items on each.
  • The system was very quiet because it uses conveyor belts instead of rollers
  • Materials are handled twice because they are rough sorted into bins, which must then be sorted onto shelving carts.
  • Holds, items for other libraries, and other problems are dumped into the “other/reject” bin to be checked again

Library 2

  • There are 3 intakes total, plus 4 “old fashioned” drops
  • There are 21 bins total
  • AMHS has a combination of rollers and something else that’s not quite a roller, but not quite a belt.  Paperbacks, magazines, and bagged items tend to jam inside. 
  • Jams happen about once per day.
  • The system is not enclosed, so employees can reach in at any time without stopping the AMHS first.  This has caused one injury already.  The same employee who was injured was seen reaching in without stopping the AMHS today (again).
  • There are two types of sorts: bins and ergonomic trolleys
  • Bins are “dumb”. They have no sensors and function like old fashioned bookdrop bins.
  • AMHS does not sense when bins are not there.  System must be shut down to trade out bins, or items will drop onto the floor.  2 items dropped onto a staff person who was troubleshooting the staff CPU/intake.
  • Ergonomic trolleys are “smart”.  They have sensors which tell the AMHS to let the trolley go.  It attaches with powerful magnets.
  • Trolleys have motorized parts which require rechargeable batteries.
  • AMHS stacks materials onto the trolleys, so no additional handling is required.
  • Staff must still verify that the right items are inside AV cases
  • System is easily reprogrammed
  • Most common problem reason for a tech visit was to replace exterior screen and printer.  They have direct sunlight for most of the day, which causes a great deal of damage.

Tips from the libraries

  • Make sure you don’t have carpet in the AMHS room
  • At least one employee must be in the AMHS room at all times, but they can multitask (answer phones, change bins, etc)
  • Keep extra bins/trolleys close by to make changes quicker
  • AMHS sorts based on location code, not on call number
  • Use adult/senior volunteers to verify AV items
  • Only schedule staff to be in the AMHS room for one hour at a time to cut down on repetitive stress injuries
  • Make sure the A/C works or the AMHS room will be unbearable
  • Ask trainers to stay for longer than you think you need – questions will arise and they’ll end up coming back anyway.
  • The public doesn’t like to feed in one item at a time.  They complain that it takes too much time.  It might be a good idea to keep the manual drop open too.

Library Diversity

How diverse is your library?

The answer to this question is one that many of us answer without thinking, but it’s one that we should think about and take very seriously.  Our communities have been increasing in size and diversity for some time, but our libraries may not have been answering this new demand for services.  Library scholars continue to point out that the profession is dominated by white people, and that ethnic minorities tend to shun the the library’s offerings.  We must look at our personnel, materials, programming, and services to see where we can make adjustments that will encourage all of our constituents to visit the library.

I’m tempted to make a list of questions a library should ask itself, but I’ll ask for your input instead.  How does your library entice diverse people to visit?  What could your library do better?

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