Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Library Blogs, Bulletin Boards and RSS Feeds

Librarians and libraries are not much different than individuals in others organizations. They have needs to communicate and strive for ways in which to heard above the din. Blogs and RSS feeds are among the newer technologies that assist individuals and their organizations in distributing information to people they want to reach. Speed, quality, access and ultimately, control always come up as issues.

At the risk of revealing my age, I remember these same issues when I was involved in the introduction of early text only menu and information systems, proprietrary mail, Gopher and pre-Mosaic web applications. Quality assurance and accuracy are institutional goals that can be assured by an authoritarian model. Interactive newsgroup and wiki pages are probably the most democratic means of sharing information but one poorly conceived commentary can reflect badly on the instituion.

I can see an intranet that allows for the interaction between staff and departments that could foster better communication that the traditional staff newsletter. Moderated bulletin boards could also be used for interaction between the library and its patrons. These are great tools and can be effectively used by libraries when they also provide the support these tools need.

I know several fellow staff members who have blogs but each take the extra effort to keep their presence on the Internet seperate from that of their institution. They can express their own opinions. I see that as a good thing.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Why Ohio Libraries matter

Half of Ohio households do not own computers with Internet access and three out of four Ohio workers don't have access to the Internet at their workplace. For many Ohioans it is only through their public library that they can participate in the information economy. Each day as many as 75,000 citizens use 7800 public computers in Ohio public libraries to access the kinds of information and services that most of us take for granted.

Bridging the Digital Divide

While most Ohioans have ready access to the computers at work, school and at home, many are at a real disadvantage. The number of citizens unable to participate in our increasingly digital economy is concentrated among those in the lower economic brackets. In households earning less than $30,000 per year as many as 80% make a public library their first choice when it comes to accessing the Internet.For many, the public library is their only option.

The need is not just for modern computers and broadband network connections. Those on the wrong side of the digital divide lack the familiarity and training to use computer technology. Completing an online search form or sending one's first email message can be a daunting task for a senior citizen. Public libraries around the state provide the support that young children and older Americans need, whether that need is help in completing a homework assignment or assistance in searching for medical information.

Putting Ohioans to Work

To be competitive in today's employment marketplace, job seekers need to be online. Many employment postings are only listed online and some employers require candidates to complete online application forms. Most employers assume they can contact prospective employees via email. Ohio libraries offer a wide range of modern office software and high quality laser printers. Library computers allow those without computers to compete with other candidates.

For the unemployed or displaced worker, their library gives them the opportunity to contribute to the economic strength of Ohio. Remote and online learning options give workers the opportunity to learn new skills and improve their chance of winning open positions. Without Internet access they risk becoming a burden on the state and other social services.

Enabling Digital Government

Innovative services at all level of government have popped up in recent years. These services are popular with state agencies and the citizens they serve because e-government helps lower costs and allow governments to be more responsive to their citizens. From reporting campaign finances to obtaining licenses and paying taxes, it is through Ohio public libraries that e-government works.

Success in the twenty-first century requires computer skills and access to the Internet. More than ever, Ohio's public libraries play an essential role in assuring that all Ohioans can contribute to the State's economic and social vitality.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Buffalo's actions threaten all public libraries

This past week, county officials in Buffalo announced that 75% of the library's funding was going to be eliminated next year.  As a library director, I know that such action would be a disaster. I'm certainly not up to speed on what is going on in Buffalo politics, but I suspect that there is another story to tell. It is a time-honored practice for cities to threaten fire trucks and for schools to threaten sports when funding gets tight.  For a county to threaten its public library is not so common. Still I know that if this proposal sticks library service in Buffalo comes to an end.  Restoring those cuts won't be easy and if buildings, staffing and collections are are allowed to deteriorate and rot away then even a few years at reduced levels of funding will mean decades of work to restore.
But thinking for myself and my Library, I think that we have a greater threat.  What if they actually go through with their threats and make those cuts?  What does it mean if they actually get away with it?  Public libraries are one of the most valued community resources.  People will howl if the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library dies.  Could "success" at closing one library enbolded other elected officials?  I fear that they might  Could public libraries survive without government funding?  I doubt it.  Quality library service cannot be done on a shoestring budget.