By George Franchois, Director, U.S. Dept. of the Interior Library, Washington DC Chapter, Government Information Division
Best Practices for Government Libraries is a collaborative document that is put out annually on a specific topic of interest to government libraries and includes content submitted by government librarians and community leaders with an interest in government libraries. The 2011 edition includes over 70 articles and other submissions provided by more than 60 contributors including librarians in government agencies, courts, and the military, as well as from professional association leaders, and more. Best Practices is edited by Marie Kaddell, Senior Information Professional Consultant; SLA DGI Chair. If you did not write for this year’s Best Practices, Marie invites you to submit a guest post for the Government Info Pro email@example.com.
Planning for a major move of a library collection can be a daunting and intimidating task. This is especially true when much of the collection will have to at least temporarily be stored at an offsite location, away from your patron base. The Department of the Interior Library is facing just such a dilemma next year, when renovations to the Stewart L. Udall Main Interior Building in Washington will force the Library to move out of its current location for 1 ½ years. During that time, most of the Library‘s current print collection will be temporarily relocated to an offsite warehouse in the Washington area, inaccessible to patrons. A small portion will be housed in a temporary library in the Udall Building during the course of the renovation.
The challenge that our library, or any library in a similar situation faces, is that of retaining the high level of quality services that patrons have come to expect, even if many resources relied on in the past are no longer readily available. The DOI Library is looking towards electronically available resources to help bridge a good part of that gap (within the limitations of our budget). The hope is to provide Departmental employees and other patrons to our small, temporary library, electronic access to materials that had heretofore only been available to DOI Library patrons in print.
When a move or temporary relocation of a library by an organization or agency is in the planning stages, that library should look at it as a potential opportunity to redefine itself, providing new formats of resources that can still fulfill the general mission of the library. In today‘s fast-paced society, demands are being placed upon both information providers and information seekers to supply and gather reliable, authoritative data as quickly as possible. Having large parts of a collection located in a warehouse miles away with no other recourse does little to foster instantaneous access to those resources.
Library‘s facing relocation should start planning for it as soon as the decision to move or renovate has been made. Usually decisions regarding building renovation are made at least two or three years ahead of time. During this time, the library staff should work closely with its budget office to make sure that enough resources are in place to measure the collection, hire reputable library movers, and rent a warehouse that meets the environmental standards needed to house the collection. Additionally, a library facing this type of relocation should emphasize to their budget office the need to move towards digital library services in lieu of ready access to most of its print collection. If funding can be found a few years ahead of time and online access to new databases can be started in advance of the move, it allows for a much smoother, less-harried transition period.
Many of the decisions on what electronic resources to purchase depend on type of library being uprooted. For example, medical libraries should probably concentrate on purchasing subscriptions to electronic databases which provide access to scientific and medical resources. Other libraries that deal with energy and the environment should seek electronic resources that concentrate on providing reference and journal resources on those issues. Specific databases selected by a library depend on the specificity and nature of the subjects dealt with at the library, the software and hardware resources available to support access to the database, and the skill set that their patron base brings to the table. The purpose of this article is not to identify names of specific online databases that would be best to use to substitute for relocated print resources, but to identify the general process involved in thinking this through. Specific online resources acquired by a library will and should vary on a case by case basis.
In the case of the DOI Library, a large percentage of materials used in our collection come from our legal and legislative resources. Over the past few years, our Library staff has identified several electronic databases that can provide patrons with online access to materials such as the Congressional Record, Federal Register, U.S. Statutes at Large, U.S. Code, Congressional reports and hearings, and collections of federal legislative histories. In addition to being able to provide these resources electronically to DOI staff in, and visitors to, the Udall Building, the Library has been able to secure IP-address authenticated access to these databases for DOI staff nationwide. Thus, DOI staff located in Anchorage, or Albuquerque, or the Everglades can get access to these databases through the use of their DOI-provided office workstation.
Communication and Patron Participation
Decision-making on potential electronic resources does not have to solely be the mission of the library staff. It is advisable to bring in frequent library users to assist the library staff in the selection process. Keep in mind that it is important to be up-front with your patrons regarding the timelines involved in moving the library. In addition to simple word of mouth, this can be done through newsletters, e-mail announcements, flyers in the library, social media sites like Facebook or Twitter, or through library user groups.
As timelines can often change, based on changed priorities or budgetary issues, updates need to be circulated through the user community. Be sure to keep patrons updated as to any changes that may occur.
During the process of informing patrons about the relocation of a library, the library staff should see if there are patrons who might want to more actively participate in decisions made regarding the move. This can include the formation of a library users committee, if one doesn‘t exist already, that can work with the library staff to guide the library through its transition. Those that join such a committee should be willing to provide input into some of the following questions:
- Which print resources should be retained in a small temporary library on site as opposed to those resources that can be stored remotely?
- What electronic resources might be a good substitute for some of the print resources stored remotely? Would the users committee be willing to participate (along with the library staff) in possible free trials to those resources to determine their usefulness?
- Are there print resources either no longer relevant to the collection or duplicative of something available electronically that should be removed entirely before the relocation? Would there be any reason to keep these print materials?
- What electronic resources are currently provided by the offices that the patrons work for? If they have access to selected online databases through their own office, is there a need for the library to provide the same service?
- What computer resources should be available in the temporary library and what should eventually be made available upon the completion of the renovation project when the collection returns to its original space?
Throughout this process the library staff should try to meet regularly with the users committee, perhaps as often as every other week. This allows the library staff to communicate to the users some of their ideas and plans for not just new online databases, but for access provided to other informational materials in the library (both in the temporary library and warehouse) as well. Likewise, regular user forums allow the users committee to relate some of their desires, hopes, and fears with regards to access to materials during the building renovation. This would not just include plans for access to electronic and print materials in the temporary library, but also a review of plans for the future renovated library.
When a consensus is reached between the library staff and the users committee, it usually results in a smoother transition to new services and resources, as well as the elimination of services and resources that are no longer needed. It also eliminates the element of patron surprise that can accompany a decision made solely by the staff of the library, without the input of its users.
Training Your Staff and Patrons
Upon making a decision to subscribe to a new online database, it is important to train both the library staff and library patrons on how to best use the new resource. One way that library users can get the most out of any new online database is by learning the tricks and features of the database as taught by expert trainers from the database vendor.
Most online database vendors are more than willing to send expert trainers to a library that has a subscription to their online resource. They often have suggestions as to specific training sessions that they offer that might work best at a particular library. This is often an added benefit to a subscription that many libraries don‘t take full advantage of. Trainers can teach courses that introduce the database to library staff and patrons, or they can focus on specific features or types of searches that can be accomplished using the database. For example, vendors that provide legal and legislative databases to the DOI Library offer us courses in legislative or regulatory history research.
Training doesn‘t have to stop soon after a database has been introduced. Training courses on databases offered by a library should continue to be offered on a regular basis. This way, those who may have missed an earlier training program can still register for training at a later time; while others who might want to follow up on something they were taught at an earlier session have the opportunity to do so as well. Regularly scheduled training sessions allows users to refresh their memories regarding materials available from specific electronic resources, as well as keep up to date with new features that may have been added to a database since the last training class.
At the DOI Library, we try to offer a different training program on a subscription database every two to three weeks. Over the course of a six-month period of time, we manage to hold at least one training session on each of the online databases that we provide to DOI staff and visiting library patrons. Rotating these classes gives our patrons the opportunity to learn more about all of our online databases, whether they be general reference, scientifically based, or those that deal with legislative and legal issues.
Additionally, if the resources are available, libraries should bring the training to the user. If trainers can travel to different locations where large numbers of employees with access to these databases are, encourage them to do so and offer training classes on site. If travel to these locations is not possible, encourage the use of remote online meeting or webinar software to bring those at locations far away into your training session. Providing training to the user at their location or at their desktop allows them to feel as though the library is coming to them, instead of making them come to the library as was required in the past.
Again, communication is an important factor in insuring the success of training sessions. Regular meetings with the users committee can help establish which training sessions patrons are most interested in seeing offered and how they should be offered. Once a slate of training sessions has been agreed to, tools such as LAN messages, Facebook, Twitter, e-mails, newsletters, flyers, and posters can be used to publicize these programs to the user community.
Libraries should also be encouraged to offer these courses to those outside their delineated user community. Many in the general public interested in subject areas covered by a library would be as interested in attending these training classes as those working for the library‘s home organization or agency. Publicizing training classes through local chapters and divisions of the Special Libraries Association, American Library Association, the federal librarian‘s listserv, and organizations with an interest in topics covered by the mission of a library can help bring about a successful and well-attended program. Promoting these programs to other libraries can also provide great benefits to others in the library community. It allows these libraries the opportunity to review these databases, discuss possible trials and subscription packages with vendors, and eventually make decisions on whether or not to purchase subscriptions themselves.
Subscriptions to online databases replacing print resources that need to be temporarily stored need not be dropped once all print materials are returned to the original library home following renovation. Electronic access to materials formerly only available in print will allow anyone in your organization, no matter where they are located, to retrieve needed information. No longer will they need to physically visit the library or request that a librarian photocopy or scan materials and send them along.
Digital access to these resources will not only allow patrons to bridge the information access gap that exists while a library collection is in storage, online access will continue to allow users the instantaneous access to data they need in our ―I need it yesterday‖ world. Print resources will not ever go entirely away and many print resources may never be available digitally. However, in situations where print resources are unavailable, librarians should encourage their administrations to move towards the acquisition of electronic resources to meet the information needs of their clientele and keep their libraries relevant.
George Franchois is the Director of the U.S. Department of the Interior Library in Washington, DC, a position he has held since 2006. He also serves on the Federal Library and Information Center Committee’s (FLICC) Executive Board and FLICC’s Education Working Group, coordinating its “Great Escapes” program series. He is active in the Special Library Association’s Government Information Division and served as its Programming Director from 2008 to 2010.
During his time as Director of the Department of the Interior Library, Mr. Franchois has worked with Interior Department officials and the library staff to greatly increase the number of electronic resources available to Interior Department personnel around the country through the Library’s website (http://library.doi.gov). He has implemented a series of regular training programs on print and electronic resources available at the Interior Library, as well as special programs highlighting National Park Service sites and resources in the Washington area. All of these programs have been made available not only to Interior Department personnel, but also to the general public.
Prior to his current appointment, he worked for Lockheed-Martin/Aspen Systems Corporation as the Project Manager/Reference Librarian for the Interior Library staffing contract from 2002-2006, and served at the Interior Library as Deputy Project Manager/Reference Librarian from 2000-2002. Prior experience includes Library Technician positions at the Interior Library, Broadcast Pioneers Library, and EPA Headquarters Library.
Mr. Franchois received his Masters degree in Library and Information Science from the Catholic University of America and his undergraduate degree in History from the Pennsylvania State University.