Thursday, 17 September 2015

Great new Pew Research Centre report on public libraries in the US

Many of you may know about and have ready previous Pew Research Centre's reports on public libraries in the US.  A new report called Libraries at the crossroads has just appeared & I think it has some interesting readying for all of us.  Of course it is about the US, but I believe that there are sufficient parallels for us to take note.

Part of the work of this report has been to survey people about what they think their libraries should be doing.  While we're not 100% customer driven, and have a responsibility to exercise professional leadership we should certainly take note of customer expectations.  So in the US the four key things many American say they want their public library to do are:
  • "support local education;
  • serve special constituents such as veterans, active-duty military personnel and immigrants;
  • help local businesses, job seekers and those upgrading their work skills;
  • embrace new technologies such as 3-D printers and provide services to help patrons learn about high-tech gadgetry."
While there are some cultural differences between Australia and the US I think that our communities' lists would broadly be much the same. 

So, how are we going at actively and consciously supporting local education?  Do our library staff have close connections with local schools?  How well do we understand the current Australian Curriculum & how has it influenced our collection development strategies?  How well are we connected with minority and potentially disadvantaged groups?  How are their needs factored into our service delivery planning?  And where is each library with its connections to local business, and to those seeking to improve their employment and employability prospects?  Are these issues driving our service delivery planning?  And yes - we're all in love with the new technology - which is great.  But providing access to it needs to occur within a deliberate skills and digital literacy agenda.

I really love the chart / column graphs which measure customer reactions to 10 key aspects of library planning, from free early literacy programs to moving collections out of the way to free up space for reading rooms and cultural events.  It is interesting to see how many (but not all) of these 10 hot button issues relate to our recently released State-wide strategic plan for libraries called Tomorrow's Libraries: Future directions of the South Australian Public Library Network

Two of the three top things that people want relate to teaching early literacy (97% say libraries should definitely or maybe do) and digital literacy  (96%) with the other issue being the links to schools & providing resources for this purpose (94%).

One apparent conundrum is that having more comfortable spaces for reading, working and relaxing scores 85% while 70% of people are concerned about moving print books out of public locations to free up space to provide these people spaces. 

I think that for many of us this has become a false dichotomy where we have been prepared to sacrifice collection size to create the spaces for people.  Have we have ducked the more difficult and costly challenge of actually increasing our library sizes to meet the new demands of our community?  Have we have cannibalised our longer term core value of information (in books and other media) to embrace our newer core service of providing increased people spaces?

Having had the benefit of visiting libraries across Australia and in many countries I can see that relative to many other places South Australia's public libraries are on the whole much smaller than elsewhere.  And I can see the trade off between collection sizes and people spaces in some of the statistics for our libraries - where quite a few larger libraries have collection sizes well below the ALIA recommended public library standards and guidelines, and quite a few libraries are below the size they should be as per the State Library of New South Wales People Places guidelines.

So, it is great to see research being done in other countries, which probably has quite a bit of relevance for us.  In the absence of any definitive local data it can certainly be used as one information source as we continue to plan for the ongoing revolution which we're currently undergoing.  Take a look at the Pew report, make a comment & also please share any other interesting professional literature which is shaping your thinking at present.

Friday, 11 September 2015

New consortia continue to appear

I heard from one of our suppliers the other day that Wales has joined the "consortium" world, but agreeing to develop a whole of Wales one card system - similar to South Australia.  This has been confirmed by an article here.

I have been impressed with lots that the Welsh have been doing about performance measurement for libraries & so am not surprised that they are also pushing ahead in terms of making their libraries more accessible for their communities.  And it is interesting to note that they have been prepared to quantify the level of savings they expect around the operations of the Library Management Systems.

The announcement follows on from Ireland also pursuing a whole of nation library consortium.  It is not surprising that libraries are heading down this path, because we've always been committed to maximising customer access to information & now the technology  (both LMS and telecommunications) is allowing us to do it more easily & to save money as we go!

And given my recent visit to China, there may be some more action there at some stage in the future.  I will say more about this in the near future.

All of this has got me thinking that perhaps we should start some form of online forum for developing consortia so that we can learn from each other.  Given that Wales has chosen the same software company as we have (SirsiDynix) I can see that there would be some specific ways in which we could assist them in understanding the pluses & minuses of various configurations on the software etc.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Further planning work on the new Acquisitions module

Many of you know that PLS has been actively working with SirsiDynix to develop a new web based acquisitions module.  Its more than just acquisitions tho' - it will include all of the functionality of our current selection software, as well as provide additional functionality and features we don't have at present.  We're really excited by all that this project will deliver for our network & we're also excited by our progress to date.  I have to say a huge "thank you" to SirsiDynix the company & their development team who've taken on this project!!

While I have made passing references to this project on this blog I have been reluctant to publish too much information as much of what we are co-designing with SirsiDynix is a new product which is commercially sensitive.  However I do want to pay tribute to the professionalism of the SirsiDynix team and to update you on the work we've been doing with them.

As I mentioned elsewhere 3 SirsiDynix staff spent a week in Adelaide in January, locked in the PLS meeting room with a group of our staff doing detailed scoping work on a "better than P2" product.  They also visited libraries and one of our suppliers as well as meeting with relevant key library staff.  

Since then PLS staff have been involved in weekly teleconferences with the developers in Utah as they work to turn the ideas into functional software.  What we've seen to date has been great & we've demonstrated a few screens at the recent SirsiDynix product tour of Australia. 

As it was time to completely "unpack" more of the detailed functionality of the software, three PLS staff have just spent a week in the SirsiDynix offices, working with their staff to document functionality and software design.  It was a really exciting but tiring week as we had to track through all elements of our current system, eliminate bits that don't work as we want and take into account changes in technology since we built "P2".  Of equal importance has been ensuring that the software will meet the needs of all libraries, not just ours.  We became familiar with the fact that Montreal has 4 different taxes that apply to the purchase of books & that any system will need to track all 4 tax streams.  And some library consortia actually work across national boundaries, so need to work simultaneously in multiple currencies - and so on!!

Below are a few pictures of our week's work.

The picture above shows something that a PLS staff member said looked like Tetris - an old computer game.  It actually comes from the software development techniques being used by SirsiDynix which is "Agile."  And the team told us that what we were doing was "epic grooming".  Its interesting to see how normal English words get used so differently by the computer world!  Effectively we were taking large "stories" - i.e. the complete ordering process or receiving process, and breaking them down to their component parts, and being very specific about who does what & in what order, as well as documenting all the dependencies and contingencies that attach to each stage.

We used the frosting on the glass to also delineate what we needed to be in place by "day one"- i.e. when the software goes live, and then what is needed, but not necessary from day one.  We also documented some "nice to have" features that will come later.  the coloured tags attached to the sticky notes towards to bottom of the board indicate features that need to be delivered in a sequence after we go live.

The picture below is one that PLS staff member Tricia Knightly took - a bit of an artistic take of the wall.  From the closest couple of sticky labels you can see the sorts of details we were working on. 

Interestingly, the use of the sticky notes was crucial as we debated whether items were essential on day one or needed shortly thereafter.  I recall one sticky note getting moved 4 times as we debated the process.

The good thing about being in the SirsiDynix offices is that all of the development team could drop in from time to time to contribute to the process and to here our rationale for doing things a certain way.  Below is a photo of the development team, along with the PLS staff who were there.  There are a couple of other people including a senior engineer Mark & a user experience designer Jared who are part time contributors to the project who weren't there at the end of the week when we took this shot.  Mark & Jared work on other projects as well as this one.

The "product owner" - or team leader is Mike Hilmo, who is doing a sensational job in driving the project forward & translating our needs into software!  Mike is standing to the left of Jo Freeman as you look at this picture.  And just to use another Agile term which is a bit weird, Marcie - who is standing in front of Tricia Knightly is the team's "scrum master".

The next stage of the project is that the team will calculate the amount of effort it will take to complete all of these epics, and then we should have a much firmer sense of when "go live" will be.  We should know this information within a month.  At this stage we're going for software completion by June/July next year, with time for refinement & training to follow, and then looking at the 1st selection list being on the new system well before the year is out. 

We believe that we should have enough functionality completed by the November PLSA quarterly meeting to give library staff a pretty good walk through what will be in place by then.  We'll also keep you posted on this blog and elsewhere as things progress.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A number of great posts re libraries

Public Library Services has been doing some work with two SA companies to create a pathway to purchasing libraries materials found on Enterprise.  SirsiDynix has an App called "Buy it Now", but this has only been provided on the basis that it points to Amazon as the seller.  SA Libraries were keen to see if we could keep this feature, but steer sales to Australian companies.  This is mainly to do with speed of delivery & also to match up with Australian ISBNs on books.

The two companies we've been working with are Boomerang Books and Booktopia.  This project is progressing & we'll tell you more when we get to the pilot stage. 

Part of our work with Boomerang Books has included discussions about what public libraries now offer to customers.  The co-owner of Boomerang Books, Clayton Werner has been interested in how libraries are operating in the 21st century & has recently written a really interesting and supportive blog post about libraries entitled "Love your library - rediscover the benefits of your library service."  If you are interested in a plain English summary of what is going on in libraries regarding access to information then you should look here.  

Clayton has followed up this initial post with another article entitled "How libraries in SA can become even more relevant in a digital age."  It is another great "outsiders" take on our profession generally, SA public library network specifically., and our current attempts at doing "digital". I like that someone who is very positive about the idea of what libraries can do is also prepared to cast an informed critical eye over what we're doing and give us some pointers towards where we can improve.  I think the article gives us a really good starting point for improving what we're doing.  I look forward to working with all staff in libraries, Public Libraries SA and the Libraries Board to address the issues that Clayton has raised.

I'd also point you to an interesting article called A library of good ideas that I think is worth reading - here.

And Di Cranwell of PLS also alerted me to this interesting article from the UK entitled "Every child in England to be enrolled in a local library."  This is the aim of the UK Education Secretary as part of a broader literacy strategy. As Di said in her email to me - "Is this the SA public libraries next challenge?"  Perhaps it is!

So - a few interesting articles, some of which contain some challenges for us to act on.  Enjoy,