WebJunction is in the middle of a design refresh project, which I guess is somehow different from a plain old redesign. For a site that is becoming a state portal for a great deal of library content nationwide, it’s distressing that only 27% of their survey respondents found the site very easy to use. It also concerns me that for a site that has been around for so long with such esteemed and established partners, they seem to still not be section 508 compliant and accessible, or at least that’s how I interpret “We are in the midst of defining some 508 remediation work“.
The only search box on their home page goes to Worldcat which seems odd considering that many of the WJ members are not Worldcat members. The entire state of Vermont for example doesn’t have many Worldcat member public libraries, but when you go look at the Vermont portal… oh hey they don’t have a Worldcat search box at all! I can’t find a discussion forum on the Vermont portal that’s had any activity since August. What I’d love to be able to do, personally, is figure out which content on the Vermont portal is specific to Vermont and what is just general information that is supposedly of interest to Vermonters. This is unlikely to happen, I think, because then it might be more clear just how little Vermont-specific content is on this portal, a portal that I’m fairly certain the Department of Libraries paid for, and may continue to pay for. The “new” Focus on VT Library Programming section mentioned on the main page is over a year old, so maybe we haven’t renewed the lease.
It is an improvement over my state Department of Libraries home page (yes that’s a 2002 copyright statement, WJs is 2004)? Absolutely. Are big projects like this difficult to do, especially when you need to cater to a group of people with a very wide range of technical abilities? Almost certainly. However I think some problems can’t just be solved by one more web page, even if it does “Improve traffic by enhanced synergy”. WebJunction does a lot of good things for a lot of people, but if you don’t already “get” the web, or if you’re not very tech savvy, WebJunction is harder to use than the average website. This passes on the “computers are hard” myth. This keeps people from getting help, because more and more people help by saying “Hey it’s on WebJunction!” Well, what if WebJunction doesn’t help? The libraries I work with are more likely to have wireless, Flickr accounts or blogs than WebJunction logins. Why? Because those things are easy, and tiny libraries find them to be worth it.
By 2009, half the libraries in Britain will have wifi according to a new report form the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (pdf). One of the stated benefits is the fact that it will give libraries more flexible use of their space which is a real boon for tiny libraries. Just an update on the tiny libraries that I work with, out of the six that I work with and the one that is in my town, all seven have broadband now and three have wireless. When I started my job three had dial-up and none had wireless. I can’t take credit for all of this happening — I only helped directly with a few projects — but I think for the librarians having someone around to talk to about broadband/wireless really helped them feel more confident about taking the plunge with new technologies. In most cases the libraries are the only public internet in the town, it’s been a hugeleap forward in terms of rural access.
Ten leading library experts were posed this question in the Spring issue of [SirsiDynix’s] Upstream: "What is the best example of libraries building communities that you have come across or experienced? How will libraries in the future be empowered to play even a greater role in their communities?" One of those experts was me (1.2 MB pdf), and at least a few other people you’ll probably recognize.
While I feel a little weird acting as if this library/community thing was something we’ve all recently discovered, it’s still great to hear everyone’s take on it, and I’m always happy to be able to say nice things about my favorite libraries.
TechnoBiblio asks a question that I’ve also wondered: what’s a good PAC to patron ratio? However, he doesn’t just sort of idly ponder the question, he goes and looks it up and sees what some states are recommending. Our DoL minimum standards for public libraries are online here (pdf, please note the gopher_root in the URL). The minimum standards include these line items: “Has a computer for [staff] access to the Vermont Automated Libraries System (VALS).” and “Offers some free public access to VALS and the Internet.” I can tell you exactly what the libraries near me have, and what populations they serve.
- Kimball Library, Randolph – serves 6,000 people, five PACs, high speed, wifi
- Tunbridge Library, Tunbridge – serves 1300 people, two PACs +1, dial-up
- Baxter Library, Sharon – serves 1400 people, +1, dial-up
- Roxbury Library, Roxbury – serves 576, 1 PAC, dial-up
- Ainsworth Library, Williamstown – serves 3200 people, 1 PAC +1, high speed
- Calef Library, Washington – serves 1000 people, 1 PAC + 1, high speed, wifi
There are 190 public libraries (pdf) in Vermont. Thirty-two serve populations over 5,000. Between all the libraries, they owned 1,122 computers at the end of 2004, according to their 2005 Biennial Roundup (pdf). Out of these 781 were available to the public as of 2005 (pdf). My “+1” indicator above means that there is a staff computer in the library frequently used by the public; I’m not sure if this is reflected in these stats. 159 of these 781 computers had public Internet access, 130 had high-speed access. This access to computers and fast internet is not distributed evenly. The last library I worked at had eleven of these public computers with high speed access and I’m sure the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington has this many as well.
According to the DoLs Biennial Report Supplment, the 32 libraries that serve over 5,000 people, have 341 public PCs. Also according to this report, these 32 libraries get 60% of all visits to Vermont public libraries. Contrast this to the 40 libraries in Vermont who serve populations of under 1000. They have 50 public PCs total among all of them. Eleven of these libraries offer high-speed access. Many of the libraries did not report their statistics so there is some skewing, but seven of the libraries who serve less than 1000 people have no Internet access at all, and 14 have dial-up.
The total operating income for all public libraries in the state of Vermont is $16,524,383 of which $10,914,150 is spent on salaries and benefits.
I spoke to a librarian at a rural library today. She works ten hours a week — well she’s paid for ten and works many more. The library has one computer, and that computer has dial-up access. Her board is considering getting her a second computer, so that she can do her work while the library is open and patrons are using the other one. She has also been talking to them about possibly getting broadband access. She and I discussed creating a web page for the library, maybe thinking about wireless in the longer-term future. Money is tight, as you can imagine. When I mentioned thinking about E-rate assistance for connectivity, she wasn’t enthusiastic. I’m not sure if this is because of CIPA or other reasons, but we’re looking into alternatives.
Vermont is not one of the states that has its own filtering laws in addition to the laws laid down by CIPA. What I did not know was that twenty-one states have filtering laws that apply to schools and/or libraries. Some of these just require libraries to have an Internet use policy concerning public/patron use of the Internet, but many go much farther than that. The Utah code, for example:
Prohibits a public library from receiving state funds unless the library implements and enforces measures to filter Internet access to certain types of images; allows a public library to block materials that are not specified in this bill; and allows a public library to disable a filter under certain circumstances. Requires local school boards to adopt and enforce a policy to restrict access to Internet or online sites that contain obscene material.
The National Council on State Legislatures has a page outlining all these state laws with links to the actual state legislation: Children and the Internet: Laws Relating to Filtering, Blocking and Usage Policies in Schools and Libraries