Birmingham Public Library
Annual Report - 2005/2006
Looking Back, Reaching Forward

Mission Statement: The mission of the Birmingham Public Library is to provide the highest quality library service to our citizens for lifelong learning, cultural enrichment and enjoyment.

In your packet you will find a handout Looking Back on a Year of Service. This brochure details many of the accomplishments we made this past year. They are things for which you can be very proud. I know I am. As you examine the list, note that 99.99% of the listings are "service" generated initiatives that ultimately support the library's mission. Service is what we give, but how that service is delivered has changed dramatically in the last decade and will continue to change in the coming years. Our job is to reach forward with the best tools we can afford and deliver the best service possible. This is my emphasis for this year.

Dr. Wendy Schultz wrote in a recent article: "Libraries are not just collections of documents and books, they are conversations. They are convocations of people, ideas and artifacts in dynamic change." She goes further to say that libraries are not merely in communities, they are communities. 1

Listen to these terms - Web 2.0, Weblogs, Instant Messaging, (IM), Blogosphere, WiFi, and Wikis, Are any of these familiar to you. These terms are only a few of those that will become a part of the new vocabulary of librarians. And guess what! This growing vocabulary is not ours alone. It belongs to the world.

While we are attempting to decipher this new world-wide language, we are also experiencing the difficulties generated by sharing languages across several generations. Our employees, fall into one of three categories: Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964); Generation X (Gen X - born between 1961 and 1981); and Generation Y (Gen Y - born between 1972 and 2003). Gen Xs and Gen Ys overlap somewhat in age and attitude, and together are often called NextGens. Library services and library languages were different when each of these groups of employees entered the profession.

I, for example, am a Baby Boomer. When I began working as the Branch Head at the East Ensley Library in 1978, I was stamping date-due cards with pencil stampers and separating the cards with an alpha/numeric sorter. Later, as Head Librarian of the Smithfield Branch in the early 80s, I checked items out by using the Recordak machine. T-cards were still stamped, but they were sorted with a long metal pick that could have been used successfully as a weapon. In 1988 when I became the Coordinator of the Avondale Region, I had my first encounter with the Leading Edge Computer. I thought I had finally arrived in Tomorowland.

Next came the 1990s. I served as both Associate Director of Branches and Central during this period. This decade ushered in the "Information Super Highway," and Generation X was becoming established in their library careers. A profession that was once moving and changing slowly was about to spring into fast forward. The Information Super Highway, which began in 1968 as a prototype for the Federal Government, rapidly changed the roadmap of librarianship. And from that point to now, libraries have not had the luxury of looking back.

The approach of the next century brought the excitement and expectations of Y2K. There were those who were concerned about the capability of the computer to recognize that the world was leaving one century and entering another. Would it make the leap from 1999 to 2000? What would happen to the clocks? Would medical equipment function when the change was made? Would the books that were checked out in 1999 successfully be accounted for in 2000? Miraculously, all was well when the century changed and brought with it Generation Y. With this new millennium, the library staff found itself with three diverse generations driving down the Information Super Highway - together – at various speeds – and with different equipment.

The Information Super Highway, with its many connections commonly known now as the World Wide Web (www), is used around the clock by millions all over the world. In 2005 some 74 million Americans used email daily. 2 And guess what? Unlike libraries, there is no strong central management. There are no cataloging or Dewey rules to make sure that every little detail is handled correctly. Now, think of merging this multi-layered, unmanaged Internet with a well-organized systematically cataloged library system. That's like mixing oil and water. No wonder librarians have had such a difficult time trying to use this free-flowing stream of knowledge. We are trained to categorize, classify, and organize, and we have traditionally encouraged our public to learn how to do things our way. Well, times have changed. And what lies ahead is . . . more change. The public is already there, and we need to stay ahead in order to keep up.

So much is changing. Our hold on the organization of information, our public's, needs, the delivery systems and the tools we use to accomplish our work. To add to the challenge, we have these different generations trying to work through all of this change together.

In the future some features of our library work will remain the same. The Library's mission "to provide the highest quality service to our citizens for lifelong learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment" is timeless and will remain relevant. The "Service Excellence" slogan that we launched when I became Director in 2002 will also be relevant as we move forward in this profession. I predict that "service excellence" will be the measure that establishes the library's place in the community for decades to come. While our methods of providing the informational/cultural/recreational needs for our public will change, we must always strive to serve with excellence.

NextGens, who will our future leaders, must be prepared to make some tough decisions. They will be faced with traditional practices and attitudes that may no longer make sense for some of their service delivery needs. Gen X will probably go along with some of GenY's decisions. But, for those few Boomers who will remain, making certain transitions or releasing the hold on their traditions might be very difficult.

In an article by Rick Anderson, Director of Resource Acquisition, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, there are three things that threaten the library's existence. The first is having and keeping the "just in case" collections. It is probable that future branch libraries will no longer build a comprehensive collection of print materials in anticipation of the users' needs. Second, most libraries are insufficiently staffed for teaching. The staff/patron ratio does not allow for the teaching that is necessary. Anderson maintains that "we need to focus our efforts not on teaching but on eliminating the barriers that exist between patrons and the information they want. He feels that if our services can't be used without training, then it's the services that need to be fixed - not our patrons." (Now that's his thinking.) Third, he contends that we must rid ourselves of the "come to us" model of library service. We must make our services accessible in whatever form the patron needs. 3

Anderson is not proposing (and neither am I) that we throw away our core principles. But NextGens, will be forced to make a directional shift as they provide information in the future with "service excellence." I am proud to say today that Birmingham Public has begun to prepare for this transition in several different ways. The numerous digitization projects that we have completed have provided access that does not require individuals to enter our physical buildings to sample the materials. Recently I received an email quoting a student from the University of California at Berkeley. She was writing a paper on "The Segregationists' Failure: an analysis of Birmingham's White Citizens' Councils, 1954-1964". She said, "Finding the extensive collections in Birmingham happened after exploring the library indexes and abstracts. I located a master thesis analyzing newspaper reaction to Brown vs. the Board of Education and in turn found a link to the Birmingham Library web site...".

As a result of the joy she experienced in examining primary sources, this student decided to pursue a Ph.D. degree in history. She was able to see this primary resource material because of the work that we did in digitizing collections from the Archives. In this case, the virtual library issued an invitation to the patron to visit the actual library for more information.

Other initiatives being launched to facilitate the transition include BPL's Digital Collection Blog and News Blog, Instant Messaging (IM), the library's presence on (700 Friends have joined), a new online calendar (Eventkeeper) to keep users aware of the what? when? and where? concerning library programs and we are now offering online downloadable books. In addition, we are on the verge of offering online patron registrations, and very soon we will enter the world of e-commerce that will allow patrons to pay fees and/or make online donations to the library from the comfort of their home and/or office PCs. In attempting to become the "community" that Schultz alluded to in her article, we will soon offer coffee and pastries in the atrium of the East Building. To maintain status in the future as the major information provider, the library must strive to make library services and collections easily accessible by alleviating those things - those rules - that impede usage.

With the "money crunch" that we have felt for the past years, utilizing and changing staffing profiles will be critical to the future success of this library system. There will soon be a major shift in library personnel. We may need to learn how to do more with less. The staffing profile that we have today reminds me of how it was when I was hired in 1978. I entered the system at a time when there was an exodus of people leaving because they had reached the time of retirement. (They were the Great Generation from the era of the Depression and World War II.) They were replaced with those like me - the Baby Boomers. Unfortunately, many of us who entered the profession at that time are now preparing to make our own exit. We currently have 20 professionals and 35 paraprofessionals who will be eligible to retire in the next 5 years. Consider, if only half of this group decides to retire, this will have a tremendous impact on the library' service potential. We must prepare for this time.

I actually began to think of these days in 2002 when I was appointed as Director of this system. I began immediately to consider ways to reduce the impact of this exodus on both the staff and the library system. For several years now, we have been attempting to restructure many of the system's rules so that an employee moving from one location to another would not encounter many difficulties in the transition. We also began to focus on staff training at all levels. Recently, we have been awarded a Library Services and Technology training grant (LSTA) that will allow us to purchase video conferencing equipment for the Regional Library computer Center (RLCC) at the Central Library as well as the two new computer training centers at Five Points West and Springville Road. Once they are installed, we will have the ability to utilize one trainer that can teach staff and/or patrons at all three locations simultaneously. To continue to strengthen our "Service Excellence" mode, we are allowed to use a portion of this grant to purchase online modules for staff training.

It is true that the NextGens will have their own ideas and their own approaches to fulfilling the library's mission. However, some fundamental principles must be maintained. The staff must always know who their public is. They must identify their public's characteristics. They must understand how their users' needs will vary from those of the previous decades. Baby Boomers are living longer and healthier than previous generations and will make up a large contingent of potential library users. In anticipation of this, I recently sent one of our coordinators to a "Lifelong Access Libraries Leadership Institute" to help shape the services of BPL for these older active adults.

Finally, to ensure that our NextGens are prepared to make the necessary changes and to ensure that they understand the basic principles that must be maintained, we will develop a mentoring program that will allow them to shadow one of the seasoned professionals (a Baby Boomer), to spend some time understanding why some decisions are made and to venture into some of the intricacies of upper management.

So how does this affect you as a Library Board? Just as the NextGens will be faced with all of the problems and issues that I have mentioned, so will you. The fact that the library of yesterday and the library of today will not be the library of tomorrow means that you, too, must change your thinking. Big decisions might have to be made to ensure that even with level-funding, service is not diminished. You might be forced to venture into unknown and un-charted territories. You will be forced to learn this new language and not only to learn it, but to understand it because this knowledge will be paramount to how you make some of those difficult decisions. Next year, we will begin the planning process for our five-year Long Range Plan which will be written in 2008. Many of the issues that I have raised today will be among those that you will have to face.

As you review the accomplishments of this system for the past year, remember that you are an integral part of everything. I am proud of what we have accomplished and Renee, Pam and I, together, thank you for the support given to us and to the staff.

1 Schultz, Wendy. (2006). "To a Temporary Place in Time: On the Way to the Library Experience of the Future." NextSpace, the OCLC Newsletter, 2, 11. Retrieved from

2 Burns, Enid. ClickZ Networks, ClickZ Stats (2005). "Search Usage Spikes as a Daily Online Habit." November 20, 2005. Retrieved from ClickZ network October 25, 2006

3 Anderson, Rick. (2006). "Away From the "Icebergs": Row Your Library Boat into the Web 2.0 Environment." NextSpace, the OCLC Newsletter, 2, 7. Retrieved from

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