News for Pennsyslvania Libraries

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants. 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.

Arlene CarusoSubmitted by Arlene Caruso, Director – Newtown Public Library

The 2016 Public Library Association Conference in Denver, Colorado, helped librarians across the country “be extraordinary” by offering opportunities to learn about ways to improve their service to public library patrons both in sessions and in the exhibits hall. My focus this conference was finding ways to add technology services to my library and to help me in my new role as library director.

The first technology oriented program I attended at the conference was <Code> at Your Library: Preparing Your Current and Future Workforce. I had thought this program was aimed at getting library staff trained in coding but I was wrong! It was about helping patrons get the skills needed to get jobs as coders, a much in demand skillset. The Louisville Public Library partnered with the Metro Louisville Department of Economic Growth and Innovation, Greater Louisville Inc, KentuckianaWorks and local employers and formed <code LOUISVILLE>. Participants signed up for a short and intensive 12 week software development class that provided them with skills that would help them fill a gap in the workforce. Using the Treehouse Learning Platform and by having a computer lab space available, the Library was able to help provide this training. Once completed, students were assisted in finding jobs in their field of study. More information about <code LOUISVILLE> can be found here:

The second part of this offering showcased a DevCamp for Teens at Denver Public Libraries. This camp was held Monday through Friday in the afternoon culminating in a Saturday showcase of the creations that came from the teens at the camp. The camp also included a tour of a local technology oriented business. The presenters emphasized that mentors are critical to the success of this program. When looking for mentors, you should be clear about you’re looking for from the mentor or other partners. You wouldn’t use the mentors for every hour of the camp but would build the schedule to maximize their impact at the camp. The teens work in teams to complete a final product since emulates how development occurs in the workplace and builds “soft skills” in addition to tech skills.

Next, I attended We are Tech Workers: Cultivating a Library Technoculture, which did focus on bridging the library staff skill gap that could potentially derail library technology initiatives. Markham Public Library in Toronto, Ontario, focused on providing training on its various platforms by providing Technology Lunch and Learn programs as well as preparing TEDx programs for staff and a Staff Tech Conference. The library invited guest experts to help make learning tech fun. This library system also has a “Digital Artist in Residence” that has office hours and space to work on digital projects that could be shared with staff and patrons. The program also advised that it would be good to identify “media mentors” that were not afraid to play with tech that could help the library system “future proof” itself. This program inspired me to offer after hours training or demos of our new 3D printer for my staff, Friends of the Library, Trustees and volunteers. It would be a time when folks could experiment without feeling the pressure of a waiting patron.

The One-Page Strategic Plan: Is it real? Is it right for you? diverted from the technology theme but was an important subject that is challenging me in my new Director position. My Board of Trustees intend to formulate a strategic plan and this program gave me a jumping off point to developing my library’s first strategic plan. Presented by Kendra Trachta of Sno-Isle Libraries from the state of Washington, this program shared how this library system developed a focused yet flexible one-page strategic plan that is on a three year cycle.

The purpose portion of the four part document is determined by the library trustees while the core services are determined by the library staff. In the design of the plan, the green parts are about the library while the orange portion is about the community. To come up with the orange part of the plan, staff researched what is going on in the community by reading newspapers and other news sources. They met with community leaders, including hosting “Leader to Leader” Breakfasts, to find out the issues their communities were facing. Instead of asking what the library could do for their community group, they asked about their goals.

While staying focused, the speaker advised that when evaluating work against the strategic plan to always ask: 1. Does this work have a specific outcome? 2. Does that outcome meet our purpose? 3. Does the work reach enough people to make it worthwhile? To stay flexible, it is recommended that ideas should be sought from everyone on staff. Try new things fearlessly and be ready to adjust your course as needed. The speaker said to be aware of your limits, accept imperfection and embrace failure. The simplified plan provides community driven priorities. The clarity of the plan makes it easier to communicate and provides focus. As the plan has rolled out, the library staff have found that they have changed how they think and act. To start working on the plan, the library needed leaders, time and some spending money they referred to as “strategic innovation funds”. To see the strategic plan, go to

The program, Stress Tests: Conducting Strategic Analysis of Services and Programs to Guide Libraries of the Future, was presented by staff from the Free Library of Philadelphia. This presentation demonstrated how the library uses a “stress test”, an analytical tool that objectively helps to evaluate services and programs. The library during the presentation showed how the tool is used with an actual example. I am hoping that this program will be included on the schedule of the Pennsylvania Library Association’s annual conference in the fall this year as I felt that I still had some uncertainty. It seems like a great way to tweak programs and services that need improvement.

The last formal program I attended at the conference was called Weed? In Denver?: Collection Maintenance at DPL and Fort Worth, a title that played on the fact that marijuana is legal in Colorado and a favorite librarian task for me. The librarian from Fort Worth, Texas, explained that that are many reasons to weed including routine culling, making space and for a major overhaul. She also explained that weeding supports service priorities and saves patrons and staff time. Getting rid of the old, the tired, the biased, the inaccurate and the unwanted speaks to a library’s credibility. Weeding keeps a library relevant by making room for the new and the wanted. Weeding is demonstrated to increase circulation and turnover and increases shelf space. Weeding helps staff learn the collection and identifies collection gaps. Weeding also makes space sometimes for much needed meetings, collaboration, computers, maker spaces and more.

A weeding policy provides guidelines that goes beyond simply running lists of items that haven’t circulated in 2 or 3 years and pulling them from the shelf. It was recommended that a weeding policy would also consider: in-house use, once-a-year topics, recently added items, “best books” such as classics, standards and award-winners, collection balance (i.e. diversity) and local interest. Will an item move better with more exposure? Display it. Has an item been superseded by a newer edition? Replace it. Think about why the item is underperforming. Is it outdated? Is the book of little interest to your patrons because it is too academic, too simplistic or poorly executed? This program gave me a lot to think about since my new location had not been weeded with regularity and even though I have been working on it for a year, I still have a long way to go.

One of the best new features of the conference was COLab, a makerspace extravaganza in the Exhibit Hall that featured structured workshops, AMA (ask me anything) sessions and opportunities for play and experimentation. This was of particular interest to me since the Friends of my library recently purchased a 3D printer for staff and patron use. In addition to being able to ask questions about my particular 3D printer, the LulzBot Mini, I was able to get hands on experience with a soldering iron and a Weevil Eye under the supervision of staff from the Mamie Doud Eisenhower Public Library in Broomfield, CO.

The Weevil Eye kit is an introductory electronics kit designed to help the novice electronics enthusiast learn about things like soldering and resistance. I hope to introduce this type of programming at my library so young and old alike can experience and learn about how this technology works. In addition, the vendor SparkFun and staff from the Vermont Public Library, was on hand to demonstrate how using SparkFun parts and training bring their programming into the digital age with community engagement based around eTextiles and eOrigami which I had never heard of, let alone seen in action. I look forward to exploring the possibility of bringing this to my library.

Of all the benefits of attending the national public library conference, including hearing Anderson Cooper at the opening session and Tig Notaro at the closing session speak, the most valuable benefit for me is networking with my fellow librarians and directors. Building these connections with attendees is easy during meetings, programs and in the Exhibit Hall since we all share the same goal: to make our home public library the best that it can be for our patrons. It was rewarding to connect with old friends who offered insight on different challenges I face in my new role. The time spent with these new and old friends was so helpful.