Monday, June 26, 2006


On Friday I met up with Beth, a librarian from Slidell (on the northeast side of lake Pontchartrain). She took us on a driving tour around New Orleans and showed us the community college library where she works. I had a fair bit of morbid curiosity, but I definitely got the feeling that Beth wanted to show us the damage so that we would go home and tell others. She had an amazing sense of humor about the whole thing. As we were walking through her house, which was basically just a skeleton with a roof, she pointed out that the week before the storm hit, she had just had the carpets cleaned. A neighbor had just repainted and only moved back in two days before they had to evacuate.

We drove by a Rite-Aid with a big "OPEN FOR BUSINESS" sign. Of course, they were referring to the trailer parked in front of the building. There were FEMA trailers everywhere. They lined the yeards of suburban homes and formed little camps in the Toys R Us parking lot. Next door to the toy store, the Home Depot was thriving. If you closed one eye, you could almost overlook the damage. It was like my brain couldn't handle what it was seeing and would have been more than happy to imagine roofs where only blue tarps existed.

These photos were taken on Friday, June 23, 2007, nearly ten months after Katrina. (click photo for larger image)

Everywhere I went, I saw signs welcoming librarians.

The French Quarter looked mostly normal, if a bit empty.

for leaseThere were quite a few "for lease" signs.

flood water lineElsewhere, signs of the hurricane were obvious. The flood water line runs through the house number.

FEMA help deskStill, there were signs that people could find humor in the most bleak circumstances.

tree stump on carThe house across the street, well along the way towards being repaired, looks like it belongs in a different picture.

FEMA trailersFEMA trailers were everywhere.

This is the library at Delgado Community College. Water rushed in through broken windows and destroyed almost everything. They saved about 1000 volumes, roughly 1/4 of the collection. The books are still in boxes because they don't have any shelves. Beth continued to amaze me with her resilience and humor. In a way, she saw the whole experience as an opportunity. When she explained how the room had been remodled, she added, "I never did like those windows in the corner."

pontchartrain branchThe Pontchartrain branch of the St. Tammany Library, one of two branches in Slidell. It was new and shiny last August. Next door at the Winn-Dixie grocery, repairs are complete and the parking lot looked full.

missing wallAround the side of the building.

inside the libraryThere's a shopping cart from the Winn-Dixie.

photocopierThat's a photocopier.

library shelvesThe children's section.

cliffs notesThe Cliffs Notes and cockroaches will outlast us all. The ground is covered in sludge, muck, and mold. That's carpet you're looking at.


library poster"Discover what's inside."

printerThe printer is actually outside the building. The line in the background is where the wall used to be.

front door

moldy book

I'm still reeling from everything I saw. After our tour, Beth was on the phone with her husband and she remarked, "Yes, they were duly impressed with our devastation."

Mine is only the account of a weekend. In 1 dead in attic, there are a host of post-Katrina stories by Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose that need to be heard.

The Gulf Coast still needs our help.

Rebuild New Orleans Public Library
Dewey Donation System, Harrison County Libraries, Mississippi

Saturday, June 24, 2006


I've arrived in New Orleans and will be spending some time over at the PLA blog, along with a host of other conference bloggers.

Yesterday I met up with Laura and Beth, a librarian from Slidell (across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans). Beth took us on a driving tour of some flood-damaged libraries and led us to some tasty gumbo. After everything that I saw yesterday, I am duly impressed with how good the city looks. I'm sure it would be possible to spend a few days downtown and not notice much out of the ordinary. On the shuttle to the conference this morning, the folks behind me were lamenting that not much had been done to beautify the area around the convention center. I turned around and suggested that what they saw was the result of rather extensive beautification efforts.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Developing a children's collection

This week, another new youth librarian and I got to meet with the children's books selector for a little collection development training. I put a big dent in my list of questions and came away with a much better understanding of policies and procedures, but I also got homework. Homework! And I thought I was done with all that...

For our next meeting, I'm to bring books that are important to me...books that I rely on, refer to, and frequently recommend. I'm supposed to select 10 each from the picture books, easy readers, and toddler collections. Not a bad little assignment, but I hope we meet at my branch, that's an awful lot to carry.

But that's not all. I'm supposed to read my way through everything in Anita Silvey's 100 Best Books for Children. Which isn't too bad, considering I've already read about half of the titles. Some of them I haven't read since I was a kid, some I've read over and over. Some I read for school, and of those, there are some that I fiercely disliked. Others were given to me as gifts when I was young, things a grownup thought I should read (and didn't).

We started our chat with a pop quiz: What do you think makes a good children's collection? From there, we worked our way through the cycle of collection development, and more specifically how it is approached at MPOW. Our collections guru broke it down like this:


I gotta admit, that's as nice as any summary I've seen, and certainly easier to remember than anything in a library textbook.

New Orleans schedule

This is all the stuff that I should/have to/really really want to attend. If you know of something nifty that I missed or want to meet up for a meal, let me know.

Oh, and if you hear about a program called, "Heidi, here is a step by step guide on how to rennovate the children's section on a modest budget so that you gain shelf space and display areas without making the room feel crowded because it's already too small as it is," I definitely want to go.


7:30-8:30pm / NMRT meet and greet - NMRT hotel Pere Marquette


8:30-10:30am / Council orientation - La Nouvelle ballroom

10:30am-noon / YALSA all committee meeting - Hilton ballroom B

3:00-4:00pm / LIS education forum on jobs - SRRT booth #3450

4:00-5:00pm / ALA membership meeting - La Nouvelle ballroom

5:30-7:00pm / Opening session - Hall F, follow the crowd

10:30pm-midnight / Blogger party - Hilton Riverside #2706


10:45am-12:15pm / ALA Council I - La Nouvelle ballroom (I'm just observing, my term doesn't start until Midwinter.)

1:30-3:30pm / YALSA gaming discussion group - Hilton Riverside, Chequers 3rd fl
1:30-3:30pm / NMRT all committee - Sheraton Napoleon BR C1/C2
(I don't know what to do about this one...the hotels aren't even close.)

6:30-7:30 / NMRT student reception - Sheraton Napoleon BR B3

7:30-11:30 / NMRT social - Sheraton Grand BR C (Or one of the many other socials...)


early / Breakfast, anyone?

noonish / go home

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I voted today

my very first 'i voted today' sticker
This is the first time I've voted anywhere other than Oregon, and it's actually the first time I've voted at a polling place. The first few years I voted absentee. By the time I moved back home, Oregon was exclusively vote by mail.

I couldn't wait to get my "I voted today" sticker. The one I got says "I voted touchscreen," but that's close enough. The whole thing felt a bit like a video game...I followed a bunch of arrows to arrive at my destination, and all the important stuff happened on a video screen.

To make things even more exciting, I got to vote on a statewide bond measure for public libraries. It almost feels like I'm waiting to get a report card from millions of people.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Diary of a patron

I'm a bad patron.

I drop books all the time. I'm not talking about a little tumble. I mean spine-breaking, jacket crumpling drops. (I would never treat my own books like this. But c'mon, they're library books.) I often eat while I read, and I tend to dribble or get crumbs all over the page.

And yesterday, when I went up to the information desk to ask for help, I didn't even come close to asking a question that truly indicated what I wanted to find out. I wasn't playing secret shopper, I genuinely had a question that needed answering, and I couldn't answer it myself.

Well, that's not entirely true. I tried to answer it myself. I knew exactly where to find the information, and frankly, I would have preferred to figure it out on my own. All I needed to do was check a particular website.

So, I walked up to the information desk and asked for a guest internet login. The person I spoke with got flustered, and explained that they don't do that. They can generate a temporary login, but only if someone is having trouble using their card. I explained that I just moved here and am actually elligible for a card, but I don't have anything with my address yet, so I can't get a card. She suggested I go ask someone at another desk and maybe they would give me a login. As I was walking away, she started to explain what I should say at the next desk, but it was so confusing that I couldn't quite follow her.

Desk number two. I ask again, with the same story. I briefly considered lying, but that was just too much effort. This time I get a lengthy explanation of library policy. Which under normal circumstances I would find fascinating, but right now all I really wanted was about three minutes of internet time. I was already grumpy because I had a hard time figuring out the stairs and elevators to even reach the floor with the books and computers. Now I was being lectured about how tourists and homeless people were sitting at the computers all day so that regular people couldn't use them. Because I was feeling ornery, I pointed out that homless people are regular people, too. (Nevermind that tourists are a huge source of revenue for the city, and it's probably in the library's best interest to be nice to them.) Again, I was told to try asking someone else, although this time I received no coaching on what to say. Number three said, "Don't ask me, I'm not going to contravene the rules. Go ask somebody else."


I'm very good at following directions, so I in fact do ask somebody else. Second verse, same as the first. Only this time, she mentions that there are guest computers on every floor that don't require a login and points me in the right direction. Unfortunately, there are only two guest computers and a bit of a lineup. At this point, I'm so discouraged that I have to go call a friend. Yes, I used my cell phone in the library. I felt very naughty.

So I called a friend and told him how the library made me sad. Usually he's good for a pep talk, but he had his own sad library story that day. He was at the coast and wanted to know if it was legal to build a fire on the beach. So he called the local library and asked. The answer? "Umm, I don't know. You could try calling city hall, but it's Saturday, so they're closed." In the end, all he got was, "Well, I think it's probably okay."

It never even occured to me that I could ask someone to check the website for me. Since I'd exhausted all other possibilities, I returned to the information desk. I made sure to find somebody new since I didn't want to talk to any of the mean people again.

Here's what I wanted to find out: I'm apartment hunting, and I found a place I like. I want to know what my commute would be. So, traveling by public transit, what time would I have to leave home if I wanted to be at work by 9:30am? The Caltrain is only a few blocks from the library, and I know there's a train that arrives at 9:13. I can catch the #47 bus to the train station. What time would I have to catch the bus to make my connection? There's a nifty trip planning website that will tell me exactly what I need to know. I've looked it up before, I just need a little reminder. I suppose I could even ride my bike to the train station if that would be faster.

Here's what I actually asked: How long does it take to get from San Francisco to San Carlos by bus?

I was greeted by the sharp intake of breath and mild look of shock that instantly signals to me that this person is not familiar with public transit. I do not own a car and thus assume that all things are possible on public transit. Most car owners believe precisely the opposite.

She shakes her head for a bit and asks the person sitting next to her. I learn that it is about a half hour drive. Not particularly helpful. She then guesses a travel time of about an hour. Although this does (somewhat unreliably) answer my initial question, I am feeling grumpy because it's not actually what I want to know. I try again, and my second question hits a bit closer to the mark. "What time would I have to catch the bus?"

Let me assure you that none of this subterfuge is on purpose. I am just being incompetent.

She manages to find the parent site of the trip planner, and I point out the appropriate link. I then give her the exact departure location, arrival time, etc, and finally get my answer.

Still undaunted, I decide to go look at a San Francisco guide book to read about the neighborhoods. I go to one of the catalog computers and type san francisco guide books, hoping to find out what floor the travel books are on. The first five results are:
  • The San Francisco Bay Area Jobbank

  • The Chowhound's Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area

  • Wild Ireland: A Traveller's Guide

  • Awakening Your Sexuality a Guide for Recovering Women

  • Inside the Music

Well, at least the Chowhound should be in the right section. I click on the title, but it's an ebook, so no hints about which floor I want. At this point, I remember that I am a librarian, and I know I want the 917s. So I look around for signs and get even more confused. Eventually I find the right section, if only by accident. One book has a "San Francisco top ten" list at the front, with the library listed as number one. I can't help but wonder if that's why the library bought the book. Another book suggests the library or the Apple store if you need to check your email. I guess they don't know about the library's tourist policy.

On the way out the door, I got stopped by a uniformed guard because I beeped going through the sensor. Well, again, not entirely true. Actually, some random good samaritan decided to help the uniformed guy by yelling at me until I turned around and came back. I knew I would beep on the way out because I had beeped on the way in. I had books from another library, things I had checked out to myself and not bothered to desensitize because I exit through the staff door -- no sensor. I wasn't the only person to get stopped. Everyone who walked through at the same time had to open their bags for our accuser. It wasn't enough to explain what had happened, I had to turn over the offending books and walk through the beeper again.

Honestly, I never want to go back. I got to thinking about what the book said about the Apple store, and I think I might head there next time I'm downtown and need a quick email fix. No login, no time limit. Hmm...

Indulge me as I ask another dumb question: What if we didn't make people login?

I know, I know, there's about ten zillion reasons not to. Try to push past the "but we could NEVER do THAT" reflex. Is time management software really there to create a better user experience, or is it there to make things easier for libraries? Are we really meeting demand, or are we just managing it by imposing a bunch of restrictions? What if we started from a different place? What if the goal were no user login? What would that look like? Hmm...