Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I've spent the last 3 days in Fort Wayne, attending the Indiana Library Federation's annual conference. Some notes: We started on Sunday night with a gala and tour of the Allen County Public Library's main branch (see photo, left). The building is huge; especially amazing was the size of their genealogy department. I'd heard it was big, but wow! You could probably fit all our libraries, branches included, in that one section. The volume of compact shelving was amazing. The rest of the building left me slightly less than impressed. The "Great Hall" (I think I heard somebody call it that) (see photo, below right). It was certainly of an impressive size, but felt very sterile. My friend, who had been to the library before, was interested in my impressions of the building as I was visiting it for the first time. The description that came to mind first was "like an airport." The quotes running along the upper part of the wall were mostly nice, but I wasn't sure what the motivation was for choosing some of them; they seemed at best... unrelated to libraries and libraries' missions. Near one end of the building, where I entered, was the periodical area. The selection available looked good, but there was zero seating in that area. I know that homeless or other people with no where else to go can be a problem in libraries, and for some reason they seem to like periodical sections, but this lack of seating seems like a barrier to service to the rest of the population. What about people who can't walk a long way to seating in the regular stacks? What about people who use the reference areas but who never use the periodicals simply because they've never seen them, hidden away in a corner? On the ground floor are "Reader's Services," the Children's Department, and an art gallery. What is "Reader's Services" supposed to be? Would patrons find it pretentious? scary(/ier than usual)? Turns out that area is all the adult fiction and most of the adult nonfiction (but not all of it). The name change struck me like libraries who call their librarians "information professionals." Let's just be honest about who and what we are: we are librarians; we work in libraries; our departments have dorky library-ish names, including Reference. Portions of this department, as well as the genealogy area and the Business, Science, and Technology reference area, had a definite academic library feel. The Children's Department was very cool. They had this giant thing (see photo, left) that the kids can read in. I tried both the downstairs (red) bubble and went up and tried one of the blue bubbles. I found the blue much more comfortable, because the seats are angled into the bubble and I didn't feel I was about to fall out, and I would so love to spend my evenings curled up reading in there. This thing is called simply the Children's Reading Tower. The handout I was given says it is the "newest focal point of the Children's Services," but, when I revisited the library during the day on Monday to see it in action, the Children's Department was largely deserted, and there was no one using this structure, which must have cost more than my library will see next year. Directly above the Children's Department is Teen Services. Their space is quite huge (see photo, right), but their collection is quite small, especially considering the size of their building, the space devoted to the department, and the number of books in other sections. I thought maybe noise would be a problem, since it is such a huge open space, but when I visited during the day, this section also had very low use, even though it was after-school time, and noise was not a problem. (I don't know who those librarians are; they wandered into the picture. Hi, ladies!) Also upstairs is the Business, Science, and Technology area, which has its own reference desk, a bank of computers, and all the nonfiction books for those areas. When I visited in the afternoon, the space was being mostly used by children and teens on the computers, even though there were computers in the teen area not being used. Other adults were using laptops and library computers in that area as well. Their reference section is impressive. AV is also upstairs. Their collection is quite large, and the set up felt quite like a BN or Best Buy (see photo, left). Behind the reference desk, I could see some stacks with books on them, but I did not go back to investigate. Some closing observations: there were a large number of quiet study rooms around in all the departments, but none of them had white boards. Although the reference desks were easy to see, I never saw any circulation desks except the one in the AV department. Overall, the building was very stark. There were many displays, but they only made it seem like the library was confused and maybe was trying to be a museum. Murals or wall hangings would have gone a long way in making the library feel less airport-ish and also cut down on sound: the hard floors and large open spaces made it very echo-y. Some other thoughts and highlights from the days: the Keynote speech from the morning of the first day was the YA author John Green, who spoke about how Libraries are going to save the world. Consider (paraphrased unless quotes): We choose what to think about, and when we don't consciously and carefully choose, we do a phenomenally poor job of it. We are the brain; there is not some separate master of our thoughts. "Libraries call us to be our better selves." "The fact of walking into a library is a very good thing." "My life is more fulfilling when I think about things that matter." If you ever get the chance to listen to John Green, do: he's hilarious and smart and thought-provoking. Search for his vlog (with his brother) on youtube and introduce it to your teens. I've got some ideas percolating on that topic. From the speech by Todd Whitaker, a funny guy (though I'm not sure how they thought he'd be a good fit for librarians): Ineffective people [are ineffective because they] have no idea how they come across to other people. The problem is, when you're friendly and nice, you create more work for yourself. I did get through 2 books while away: (redacted; please see post.) Persona Non Grata, by Ruth Downie. This is the 3rd book in the Medicus series (after Terra Incognita). It took a while, but it seems like the book finally knows what it is trying to do: this is definitely a historical mystery, emphasis on mystery, not so much on history. And while there is still a love interest, romance is not a part of the story. I really like the main character, especially since he is now a bit more secure in his purpose to further the plot. The author's website doesn't list any more novels coming out (and Fantastic Fiction doesn't even list this installment, much less future books-- they are usually much better about that): that leaves me torn. On the one hand, we all know how I feel about series that get out of hand. On the other hand, I do like this character, and the author's writing style is nice too. Hmm.

1 comment:

Ms. Yingling said...

Wow. A cool looking library, but as you pointed out-- is it really doing what a library needs to do. I'll use this as an example if the architects come back with something weird and expensive for my school library!