Working To Give Libraries More Actionable Information | Peer to Peer Review

America’s approximately 17,000 public library outlets’ staff are focused on meeting the needs of their communities, providing innovative programs, and connecting community members to resources that make a difference in their lives. But all too often they are reinventing these things from scratch.

woman's head shotAmerica’s approximately 17,000 public library outlets’ staff are focused on meeting the needs of their communities, providing innovative programs, and connecting community members to resources that make a difference in their lives. But all too often they are reinventing these things from scratch. I know from my work as a practitioner, trainer, consultant, and volunteer that they need more information on what they are doing as a group, so they can learn from each other.

THE iSCHOOL PUBLIC LIBRARIES INITIATIVE

The Syracuse University iSchool Public Libraries Initiative ( IPLI ) is one of several research centers and labs in the School of Information Studies (iSchool). Its goal is to conduct research in areas which can inform library staff and affect what they do, and share it in trade and professional journals as well blog posts and other media, rather than academic or scholarly journals, to make it accessible to library staff.

Since its creation, the IPLI has sparked conversation with practitioners in the United States and Canada, who are interested how we can affect their work. The circle of people who want to be involved is large, and now we need to develop ways of engaging them in our efforts.

OUR RESEARCH

As a professor of practice, part of my charge is to stay connected to what’s happening in the field and bring information from that involvement into the classroom. As the former director of the M.S. in Library and Information Science ( MSLIS ) program, I know that many of our students are interested in working in public libraries. I knew that creating a way, outside of their coursework, to delve into public library issues would benefit them as well as our libraries. Thus far, three MSLIS students are working with me.

MSLIS student Heather Elia has been researching the innovative services that libraries offer. She searched conference programs, web sites, and articles to create a list of innovative services, then contacted those libraries for more information. Elia first focused on innovative library services offered outside of the library building, such as mobile makerspaces, volunteer ride sharing services for seniors, and historic walking tours. She asked libraries for documentation (e.g., plans, fliers, presentations) and found that frequently the library had none. This means that to understand a library program (perhaps as someone who wants to duplicate it); you must talk with the people involved. That can be time consuming, inefficient, and inconsistent. In addition, the library had nothing to assure that the service remains the same or can be improved.

Sabrina Unrein joined the team in August and brought to us her skills in software development and a love for making book-related YouTube videos. In the fall, Unrein and Elia gathered information from all 50 state libraries on library legal structures. While that effort has launched several different add-on projects, Sabrina has used her software development experience to develop a critique of the state library websites and advice for all libraries on what a 21st century library website should contain, to help improve aa community’s impression of its library, avoid security threats, and provide accessible functionality features.

Our fourth teammate recently joined the initiative. Georgia Westbrook, also an MSLIS student, is interested in how public libraries spread across the U.S. Is there something in how the concept of public libraries was carried westward that affected how those libraries were legally structured? The EveryLibrary Institute, a nonprofit research organization, is interested in understanding how a library’s legal structure affects a library’s funding (a question which seems easy to answer, but is not). The efforts of Westbrook connect with this effort, which will require ongoing thought and research, with the hope that we can provide information to those libraries that have opportunities to change how they are structured, chartered, or legally organized.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we are doing, planning, and could do in future. We will be placing the results of our work on our website . We hope the materials we provide will help your public library.


Jill Hurst-Wahl, MLS, is an associate professor of practice in the Syracuse University School of Information Studies and director of the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative. She currently serves on the board for the Onondaga County Public Library and the EveryLibrary Institute, and as a member of the USNY Technology Policy and Practice Council. MSLIS students and IPLI researchers Heather Elia, Georgia Westbrook, and Sabrina Unrein contributed to this article.

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