Session Notes: Computers in Libraries | Compendium

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Carolyn Blatchley

Carolyn Blatchley


by Carolyn Blatchley,
System Administrator
Cumberland County Library

The start of the day at Computers in Libraries is always pleasant. Breakfast is provided, giving a chance for people from all types of libraries in various geographic areas to chat over coffee and plan a strategy for the day ahead. Each day starts with a Keynote speaker, who sets a tone for the hours ahead.

The first day keynote speaker was Gina Millsap, CEO of Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, which was the 2016 Library of the Year. TSCPL serves a population of about 179,000 spread out over 550 square miles, ranging from urban to rural environments. Over 100,000 cardholders are served out of a single building along with a small fleet of mobile library buses that each have their own purpose. She told us about how her staff progressed from sitting at desks where patrons who approached received excellent services and resources to rovers seeking out people in the places where questions are. She stressed that she’s built a team of leaders and facilitators whose work extends beyond the library walls and they provide guidance at vital community conversations. The changes made over years were based on data and community conversations. Her words of advice on improving a library were to:

  • Define and live your values (including, but not limited to, ALA’s core values)
  • Read Pew Research Center reports for insight and inspiration
  • Get familiar with the Harwood Institute’s turning Outward initiative
  • Pay attention to The Aspen Dialogue on Public Libraries, including the publication Rising to the Challenge: Re-envisioning Public Libraries
  • Define (or re-define) who you are and what your role is in the community

She also stressed the importance of focusing on the people we hire in our libraries:

  • Make opportunities for young people to volunteer, intern and apprentice in libraries
  • Recruit and hire people with commitment to our values, and who will work outside the library’s walls
  • Be lifelong learners and use that knowledge to enrich library programs and services

I’m sure I didn’t capture all of the information she had to share, and luckily you can find her presentation online, or just check out the TSCPL website at

I enjoyed Ms. Millsap’s talk so much, I attended her talk in the Learning from Leaders track called “Innovation and Empowering Staff” in which she posed many questions that gave me – a new director – reason to stop and think. Do we foster a culture of learning for our staff? Do we set high performance expectations? Do we have shared vision and goals? Are we listening to our customers and the community?

By finding people for your team with different points of view, you can get a different perspective on the potential of libraries. It is important to listen to them. By managing ideas – capturing results of discussions in accurate notes and organizing them – you have opportunities to review what you are doing for relevance and how effective it is at advancing your big goals. Be willing to change your organizational structure to support what really needs to be done.

In looking at innovation, she made these important points:

  • If you could change one thing at your library that would make life better for your colleagues and customers, what would it be? What would you start doing and what would you stop doing?
  • Encourage pilot projects.
  • Recognize that not all ideas are good ideas. Consider unintended consequences.
  • Find out what customers want / don’t want and develop responses accordingly.
  • Issue challenges

Another session that melded well with the keynote where Darlene Fichter of University of Saskatchewan Library and Jeff Wisniewski, Web Services Librarian at University of Pittsburgh taught us about customer journey mapping as a tool to bring administrators, stakeholders, and team members together to determine priority actions. Customer journey maps give us the opportunity to follow a user, step-by-step to map touchpoints that a user interacts with to meet particular needs, with the goal of creating visual representation of areas that can be improved. They made the case that all good journey is consistent, optimized (fast) and seamless.

As my library eyes up a redesign of our website, it seemed fitting to attend a session on that topic. Presenters Roy Degler, Dana Haugh and Emily Mitchell gave three distinct presentations that went well together. Ms. Haugh, Web Services Librarian at Stony Brook University Libraries talked about the importance of Brand (colors, logos, layouts and taglines), Focus (accessibility of collection and resources) and Organization (such as the use obvious headings).

  • Roy Degler of offered practical advice and tools for website redesign. Among those were design strategies such as Agile Design, Mobile First (designing sites to work on complex smart phones and tablets before PCs), Responsive (targeting not only certain device classes, but using CSS to actually inspect the physical characteristics of the device rendering), and C.O.P.E. (Create Once, Publish Everywhere). He also talked about the importance of using the right content management system, related tools and framework.
  • Emily Mitchell of SUNY Oswego provided a lively and informative presentation on How to Win (Almost) Every Website Fight. She talked about the importance of setting website goals, identifying audience, and creating standards and procedures that must be followed. She stressed the importance of documenting decisions and, in cases of usability issues, stressed that unanimity is not required for change.

There were so many excellent sessions. The conference is arranged in daily tracks which can be followed (or not), and it was an excellent opportunity to attend with colleagues from central Pennsylvania with whom I shared discussions and notes between sessions, as well as meeting librarians, library staff and vendors from around the globe.

This isn’t an inexpensive conference. In fact, if it weren’t for the Professional Development Grant from OCL, I would not have been able to attend on the library’s budget. But it proves to be one of the most useful conferences for innovation and library futures. Check out the presentations available online at