Thursday, May 10, 2007

Great tips for patrons to promote libraries

I came across a great list of tips from Superpatron's blog. Not only could patrons use it but librarians too! He also created a video that he presents at libraries that is listed on his site.

People who love their libraries want them to be better. Here's what you can do.

Ten ways for superpatrons to build better libraries:

1. Blog about your library
Write about your experiences at the library on your blog. Note who you talked to, what you noticed while you were there or while you were online, and how things worked. You have a set of eyes that the people who work at the library don't have, and by giving feedback in public you have some way to draw attention to what is working and why your library is valuable to you and to your community.

2. Request the books you want to read
Libraries have book acquisition budgets, and people whose entire job it is to put books on the shelf that get circulated. There's no way that they will know every last title that should be on the shelves, especially (in my experience) the non-fiction titles that have no marketing budgets to speak of. Let the acquisitions staff work for you, and let them know what you want to see and what you will check out and recommend to your friends if you like it.

3. Borrow by inter-library loan the books that the library doesn't have
A well kept secret at many libraries is an interlibrary loan system that speeds books from all over the area or all over the country to you if your library doesn't have the book in stock. These systems have gotten better over time, moving from paper and telex based systems to in some case all-automated systems that are relatively economical for libraries to run. Assume, by default, that if there's a book that you want to read, your library can get it for you.

4. Browse the library catalog with your kids
Kids gravitate to libraries for all sorts of reasons, and if you have a kid who likes to read books they have a curiousity that is way more interesting and able to make leaps and bounds from one idea to another than yours. Sit down with the online catalog with your kids and browse from topic to topic and subject to subject and see what else the library has that they might be interested in.

5. Connect your library catalog to LibraryThing
LibraryThing is an amazing social catalog which lets you keep collections of books (either yours or your favorites from the library), write and read reviews, rate books and link to other people with similar interests. It is way, way, way better than any commercial online catalog that libraries buy. You can take advantage of all of the energy and effort in LibraryThing by adding a very small amount of configuration to it which lets you look up any book in that system in your home library's catalog and link directly through to its holdings for it.

6. Connect your library catalog to Amazon
Jon Udell in 2002 wrote a short but powerful bookmarklet that lets you link directly from an Amazon book information and buying page to your local library, showing book holdings and availability. Make it a routine habit to look and see if your local library and your local interlibrary loan system already have a book that you're about to buy - you can save money, get better service, and reduce clutter on your shelves all at once.

7. Remix the library catalog into your own applications
Library catalogs hold huge amounts of data about your library's books, but they tend to be creaky old dinosaurs of code. Use your programming skills to pull data off hard to use library screens and rewrite what you find into simple pages that highlight the information you are looking for. Take a page full of links to the new books on the system, pull out link and ISBN information with an RSS feed or Beautiful Soup, mix in the Amazon data for book covers, and create a "Wall of Books" view of your library's new book shelf.

8. Add a librarian to your instant message or Twitter buddy list
Libraries and librarians are in the business of answering reference questions. Local public libraries know a lot about the town they serve, and special libraries are centers of information about the topics they cover and hold. All these helpful people are just an instant message or Twitter away from answering the question you have. At the very least, they have Google on their side (and they are good at Google); even better, you get people who know not just the online resources but the books and people who can get you closer to your answer.

9. Put a library reference desk in your cell phone speed dial
Away from a computer and still need to have a reference question answered? Libraries have reference desks available by telephone, and you can call these from wherever you are to help you track something down or look up something you need. Often libraries will let you reserve books online as well, so if you can get to a phone, you can get your book. Bonus points if you have a library with a web site that's actually navigable and useful by cell phone, so that you can use it as a wayfinding tool in the stacks (havent' seen one of those yet)

10. If you don't have time to browse the stacks, reserve online.
I never get a chance to walk through my library any more picking books off the stacks - two kids, a busy job, and never enough time to browse gets in the way. If I'm in the library I'm either reading magazines or playing with legos with the kids. Fortunately, my library has a great online reserve system, which lets me place holds on books and pick them out at the front counter in the few minutes I have between catching the bus.

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