Ask a Librarian: How do smaller libraries work together to get economies of scale?

GMLC logo with the group's name and an poen book

Someone I work with at Harvard’s Library Innovation Lab asked me for examples of smaller rural libraries working together to “combine forces” to get more done. I realized that for someone outside the library world, the breakdown of state libraries, state library associations and regional consortia may be really confusing since every state does it differently. In Vermont we have the State Library doing some consortia-like things, the Green Mountain Library Consortium doing some other things and the Vermont Library Association doing still other things.

I split out some examples.

Hey there — you asked about libraries that band together and provide programming. One of the things I do a lot of public speaking (talking to libraries about tech, the digital divide, what life is like in VT) and one of the people who hire me a lot are consortiums for staff development types of things. So I have a higher-than-usual level of interaction with a lot of different states’ consortia.

Here are some links to give you an idea of what some of them do. Smaller states like CT and MA have statewide consortiums. Bigger states like KS, NY and FL have many consortiums.

Massachusetts – I grew up in MA so am fairly familiar but things keep changing. MA has

Mass Library System – the consortium – http://www.masslibsystem.org/
Mass State Library – run by the state –
http://www.mass.gov/anf/research-and-tech/oversight-agencies/lib/
Mass State Library Association – a professional association for
individual librarians – http://www.masslib.org/

Connecticut has a lot more money and you can see it in some of their projects

Connecticut Library Consortium – http://www.ctlibrarians.org/
Connecticut – state library – https://ctstatelibrary.org/
Connecticut Library Association – http://www.ctlibraryassociation.org/

Some other example consortiums so you can see what other people are doing and what sophistication level they are at. These all encompass small/rural library systems. Often large city libraries are not part of consortiums because they’re so big they don’t need to be, if that makes sense.

NEKLS – Northeast Kansas Library System – http://nekls.org/
STLS – Southern Tier Library System – 48 small libraries in central NY – http://www.stls.org/
PLAN – Panhandle Library Access Network – tiny libraries in Florida’s panhandle – http://plan.lib.fl.us/

ARSL is also worth knowing about, they are the Association for Rural and Small Libraries – http://arsl.info/about/ and they do a conference every year (info online usually) and a lot of it has to do with the general question you have about smaller libraries combining resources etc.

librarian diplomacy

rich Little gives a talk about Lizzie Borden

I am, like many librarians, sort of a crabby nitpicker about some things. I think there are optimal ways to do things, particularly with technology. I have, over the past 20+ years of helping people, gotten better at working with people to reach their own good place with how they want technology to work for them. I only talk “optimizing” if someone asks. They rarely ask. This is fine. Working on my anxiety levels has also helped with this somewhat.

I visit libraries like it is my job. I always like a nice public place where I can sit and read or work among other people and not have to buy anything. I like getting ideas by looking at hundreds of books or flipping through magazines. Last night I was at the Tiverton Public Library which is just a few miles from my dad’s place in Massachusetts. They were having a speaker talk about Lizzie Borden. Fun! I found it via the Facebook “events near me” feature which I have never tried before since IN Vermont you usually get … nothing.

The author, Rich Little (above), a math teacher at a local community college, had written a book called Cold Case to Case Closed, Lizbeth Borden, My Story. Fall River is right up the road and the place was PACKED with people, many of whom had a lot of knowledge about the case, some of which conflicted with the speaker’s. It was an entertaining 90 minutes learning more about the Bordens and about Fall River at that time.

Mister Little used large blown-up images of the key players and I immediately thought “Uh oh, no slides?” but it turned out it worked pretty well in the packed room and we could all focus more on what he was saying. He was even pretty deft in dealing with the people in the audience who were pretty set against his interpretation of events (which seemed to be the vibe I got from the Lizzie Borden Society members reviews). I was pleased that I’d overcome my initial concerns to enjoy this great library program.

One weird part, however, was RSVPing for the event. They asked you to call and RSVP. Not usually my communication preference but okay. I left my name, spelling it, and phone number with the library. When I arrived that evening the entire list of names and numbers (with mine written JAZMYN WEST) was on a clipboard in the front lobby on an unstaffed table. While I am pretty good at my “this is a thing on which reasonable people disagree” stance, I think this is a library privacy gaffe. At the same time, I don’t want my only feedback on this otherwise superb event to be “I felt weird that you left my phone number out in public.” so I decided to write all of this out.

2016 in libraries

pie chart of libraries I've visited

I’m a firm believer of eating your own dog food. Meaning if you say stuff about libraries (and I do), then make sure you go to them as if going to them was your JOB (and I do). Don’t just go to the one library where your job is, though that helps.

Every year I make a list. Every year I reflect on that list. This year I went to forty-five libraries in nine states and one non-US country. Eighty-six library visits total. Many more different libraries than last year, but just a few more visits overall. With all this, I only added two new libraries to my Vermont 183 project even as I hand out awards to people who have been to over 190 libraries in Vermont!

Seven years in a row I’ve been keeping this up. Previous years: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and some reviews from 2003

Libraries I went to more than once include.

  • Kimball (VT) – my local and one of the best libraries in my opinion.
  • Hartness (VT) – my local academic, bigger collection and longer hours but further away
  • Westport (MA) – my summer local, don’t love it but do use it
  • Tiverton (RI) – the library in the summer that I go to more often even if I can’t check out books
  • Carney/Dartmouth (MA) – local academic, another great library, well-loved, well-used
  • Harvard Law Library (MA) – where my fellowship is and where I can go work
  • New Bedford (MA) – used to be a museum, I take guests here
  • Hookset (NH) – here for work, twice, always enjoy it

Libraries I only went to once

  • Gutman (Harvard) – part of an attempt to go to all Harvard’s libraries
  • Winooski (VT) – doing some Passport work here
  • Oak Lawn IL – stopped & checked email on our #WestOn20 trip
  • Library of Congress (DC) – always a favorite
  • Stowe Free (VT) – participated in a panel for their anniversary
  • Newton (MA) – stopped to chill after a long ALA week
  • URI/Carrothers (RI) – gave a talk, visited friends
  • Claremont/Berkeley (CA) – hid out avoiding a kid birthday party
  • Southworth/Dartmouth (MA) – great place to work, lovely art
  • British Library (UK) – got to take my sister to this great place
  • VT Law Library – MontP (VT) – a farewell to a colleague
  • Lamont (Harvard) – so stoked to finally get in here!
  • Aldrich/Barre (VT) – visiting a friend doing some visioning
  • Belchertown (MA) – what a gem! stopped by on the way home from friends’
  • MIT/Hayden (MA) – what a treat after Harvard’s closed system
  • Ames/Easton (MA) – stopped in before a wedding next door
  • Former War Library (DC) – this is basically IN THE WHITE HOUSE, omg
  • Harold Johnson Library, Hampshire (MA) – my alma mater
  • Montpelier (VT) – stopping in before seeing a friend
  • Goddard (VT) – was on the radio!
  • Brown/Northfield (VT) – passport wrap-up
  • Cambridge/Central Branch (MA) – can’t even remember this visit but I am sure I liked it
  • Boston Public (MA) – saw my friend Tom, got a cool tour
  • Schlesinger/Harvard – saw my friend Jen, got a cool tour
  • Lewisham (UK) – a great neighborhood library
  • Watson Retreat Center (NY) – a funky special library
  • Internet Archive (CA) – they say they are a library, so they are
  • Girard (PA) – a round library, part of #WestOn20
  • Caird Library (UK) – at the Naitonal Maritime Museum, not as friendly as I’d hoped
  • Howe/Hanover (NH) – always a favorite
  • MLK Branch (DC) – saw movies about black history and drank it in
  • Weissman/Harvard – a rare open house, I was not allowed to take photos
  • Cazenovia (NY) – a mummy!
  • Manor House (UK) – a library having hard times but doing ok
  • Fairfield/Millicent (MA) – another great library to take friends to
  • BU (MA) – gave a talk, stuck around to see the basement
  • Pollard/Lowell – a great old classic library

I’ve had an average of 80-ish visits per year for a few years now so I think that is my new normal. So a library every five days. A new library every eight days. Maybe when I hit ten years I’ll do a decade long wrap up. I wish this data was all in standard form….

I am very thankful my work takes me to all of these lovely places. Thanks to the librarians who graciously showed me around.

If I ran the zoo/world/library

st and Cab Vinton talk library stuff

I had a great time at the Hooksett (NH) Library talking with the Merri-Hill-Rock Coop about library stuff on Wednesday. Cab Vinton from the Plaistow Library asked me what I’d like to do. I decided to break out of my normal “Here are some slides, let me talk about them…” routine and do something a little different. So I spoke for maybe 25 minutes about some Big Ideas I had for library services and then Cab and I spoke together and took questions about actual practical ways library workers could maybe work towards some of those ideals.

It was a really constructive 90 minutes or so with a bunch of creative librarians who come from smaller libraries and are always doing more with less. We spoke specifically about trying to do things to make our buildings more available, lend and share more digital content, and getting outside our buildings somewhat. I stressed the point that sometimes you can’t change a thing immediately but you can advocate for that idea and support others who are able to make material changes. Having the library’s support for a thing is more useful and important than I think we sometimes appreciate. People trust us and care what we have to say.

Here are my slides (with apologies to Dr. Seuss).

slide from my If I Ran the Library talk