Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category


Observations from a visit to the Houston Public Library

September 17, 2009
I was in Houston with my kids several weeks ago.  One of my children actually isn’t a child anymore as evidenced by the fact that he went to Houston to stay for a year and I was merely a sightseer.  But that’s another post, in another blog, I think.    (I just can’t think of a way to weave a discussion of a parent’s  complex set of emotions while emptying the nest into a library expansion blog.  Maybe if I wasn’t so tired from my “vacation” I could, but I’m coming up short at the moment.)

Back to the point.  On one of our days exploring Houston, we went to the public library.  (Doesn’t everybody drag their kids to the library while traveling?)

It was great timing to see the Houston Public Library because these days I’m in search of good ideas for our library building. 

With thanks to the Houston Public Library for a great experience and their warm hospitality!  Here is what I observed in Houston:

  • Underground parking onsite…for a price.  It only took three trips around the building for me to realize I wasn’t going to find free parking anywhere.  If I wanted to see the library, I needed to open up my wallet.
  • A large computer area with dozens and dozens of computers for people to use…and a waiting line for booking them.  They looked to be a precious commodity, very well-used.
  • A coffee shop in the entry area, it was very brightly lit and in a great location.  I would have loved to sample a cup of java but my kids were more interested in exploring than sitting.
  • A very friendly staff.   It always make such a difference in a library.  Kudos to the library for remembering how important it is to make people feel welcome…even visitors whose only contribution is a few bucks for the parking.
  • A teen area that had a striking entry wall (as seen in the photo below) covered with the words (in a variety of languages) that meant this was a meeting place and displaying a sign that made it clear it was their meeting place…not a place for adults or younger kids.  (I did peek in, I must admit, and saw some very futuristic chairs that my daughter made sure I knew I wasn’t supposed to try.)
Houston Public Library young adult entrance

Houston Public Library teen entrance

Our staff and board members have visited quite a number of  libraries during our years of planning.  We’ve got a few more left to see.  We’re now far enough into our planning that we have specific things we’re looking to examine in action, including an operational RFID system.  We’re not going to far away places (there’s no budget for that) but it’ll be an adventure just the same!  I’m a firm believer in learning from others.   

Cents and sensibility

September 10, 2009

Just the other day I read an article in Kiplinger’s entitled Fabulous freebies. The list of fabulous freebies includes “free movies and books from the public library. ” It’s number 15, among some other good ideas.  There have been many similar articles citing the library as an excellent choice if you are interested in saving money and still having incredible access to resources.  It just makes “cents.”

That reminded me that even though the timing on our capital campaign might not be the best in the world, the timing on our relevance to our community couldn’t be better.   The library board discussed that very thing as we were deciding whether or not we should head into the fundraising phase of our project just as the stock market plummeted last  Fall.  How could we ask people to be generous and philanthropic now?  But then again, how could we not when our usage is soaring and continues to demonstrate our importance to our citizens?  Also, wasn’t there opportunity in moving forward with a construction project at a time when prices had either stabilized or dropped on building materials?  And what about the fact that the project would employ people in a vast array of construction trades during a time where companies are looking for work as opposed to too busy to bid on the project?

Most things in life have both opportunities and threats, pros and cons, good and bad.   I’ve always believed the “double edged sword” is worth acknowledging and understanding.  Delving deeper generally allows you to find a place of balance…and likely your best solution.

Every day I see people using the library to research, study, examine, explore.  Whether they are looking up the review in Consumer Reports or studying alternative investments, people use resources to help them make good decisions and, ultimately, to make sense of their world.  We are honored to help in the process.

This actually reminds me of our library’s vision statement:

The Dwight Foster Public Library seeks to ignite the quest for knowledge and understanding and provide the necessary resources for life’s journey for each member of our community.  Our facility, programs, and collections must be the anchor of our community, as we strive to preserve the record of history, inspire discovery, and make accessible the vast body of information so that all can learn, share, grow, and contribute.

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me longer than it should have to cite our library’s vision statement in this blog.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t think about it every day.  It’s the driving force behind all we do and the reason we have moved forward with fostering growth in Fort Atkinson.

So libraries really are about cents…and sensibility.  (My apologies to Jane Austen; I just couldn’t resist.)


The Secret Ingredient

May 22, 2009

I’ve been thinking about recipes lately.  For one thing, our Friends of the Library organization is working on publishing a recipe book to raise funds for our Foster Growth capital campaign.  Stay tuned to hear more about that this Fall.   This is one cookbook you’ll definitely want to own.

You might not know it but our library actually has an outstanding cookbook collection.  If you want to know how to grill it, bake it, cook it, or create it, just mosey on down the 641.5 aisle.

The thing about recipes is that really good cooks/chefs don’t necessarily need them.  And then there are the rest of us.  Not only do I need a recipe, but I find myself following it like it’s a treasure map guiding me to the pot at the end of the rainbow.

In my life, I have been the lucky recipient of some really good recipes.  But none have been more special than the one carefully handed down from my predecessor, Mary Gates.

That would be the recipe for managing a library.

Mary taught me so many things.  She was an incredible leader, in every sense of the word.   She imparted her recipe for running a successful library via the demonstration method.  Every day she showed us all what was important…why it was important…and what “inputs” we needed for a successful “output.”

Think about how many ingredients there might be in a typical recipe for a library.  Virtually all of them are important, almost essential.  However, one ingredient really stands out.  One qualifies as the secret ingredient.

Is the secret ingredient the building?  Must you have a state-of-the-art building to have a great library?  Mary knew how important the physical space was.  She oversaw the expansion of this library in 1983.  She did so with a keen eye and a unwavering determination to the principles of good library business.  The end result has served us well for over 25 years of heavy use.

Because this is a building expansion blog, you might expect me to state that the library building is the secret ingredient.  And while it’s true that the most successful, efficient and effective operation is contingent on well designed space, I am not talking about that at the moment.  That’ll have to be a future post because the building is not the secret ingredient.

So it’s not the size or the quality of the building.  Nor is it the work flow or the layout.  It’s not the automation or the collection or the hours.  It’s not even the funding level.  (I say that because on rare occasions I’ve been to very well funded libraries that appear to be missing the secret ingredient.)

So, yes, all of those ingredients are vital…and interrelated.  But not one of them is the secret ingredient.

Then what in the world is the secret ingredient?

It’s the people.  The secret ingredient is the quality of the staff and volunteers, of course.

It’s secret because if they are doing their jobs well, you almost take them for granted.  But you shouldn’t.  I try hard not to because I know our library would flop without them.  (Like the blueberry muffins I made last week where I forgot to add the eggs to the batter.)

This staff has worn out the carpet because they walk a mile in your shoes.  Every day they make a concerted effort to help those who enter.  They do so with the highest regard for the people we serve.  They do so amidst ringing phone lines, complex questions, technological challenges, and building deficiencies.  They do it with earnestness, grace, and a sense of humor.   I am thankful every day for our library staff’s commitment to our mission.

Additionally, we have a dedicated team of volunteers who help with everything from baking cookies for National Library Week to serving on the capital campaign committee or library board to keeping our shelves in order to selling used books.   Our library is unbelievably fortunate to receive the support of volunteers who give to us so freely…and without regard for compensation.

As we move forward into our building design process, we’ll be investing great effort in planning for the best possible facility for our community’s future.  It’s certainly one of the key ingredients in our recipe.  But it’ll never be more important than the “secret” one that binds it all together.


Business is Booming

April 16, 2009

That’s a rare headline these days.   However, it’s the reality for many libraries in our country.  It’s been the subject of quite a few national news stories.  They are conveniently gathered and available for viewing at the American Library Association’s web site press page.

I can vouch for it here in Fort Atkinson.  We’ve been extremely busy.  We’ve seen an increase of over 12 percent in circulation comparing the first quarters of 2009 and 2007.  If you look at Internet usage, the increase is even more startling.  We’ve had 28% more Internet usage (measured by time spent on our Internet computers) during that same time period.  That’s some pretty incredible growth in a relatively short time period.

It’s nice to be needed.  But I really wish it wasn’t because someone lost their job or home.  I’d prefer that people use us because they wanted to learn something new rather than because of some negative major life challenge.   When times get tough, people do turn to their libraries more than ever.

So here we are.  And here we’ll be.  Regardless of whether the market is labeled bull or bear.  Regardless of the price of gold or Goldman Sachs’s viability.  Regardless of the emergence of text messaging, Twittering, or reading on a Kindle.  (Doesn’t that sentence seem a bit like I’m speaking some kind of foreign language?)

Anyway, we’ll be here because we’re all about providing access…regardless of format.

We were here during the Great Depression, during the booming years, and for all the ones somewhere in between those extremes.

It’s National Library Week.  As we celebrate, we realize we’re a reflection of our community offering a variety of resources that are not only helpful but can actually be life-changing.

We’ll be here…with something for just about everyone.

Unshelved Comic by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum


Embracing our “V”niqueness

March 10, 2009

For nearly one hundred years, people entering the library here in Fort Atkinson have been admiring the columns and stonework at the entryway of the Dwight Foster Public Library.

The name of the library, beautifully cut in the stone, makes an elegant statement.  It reads:  DWIGHT FOSTER PVBLIC LIBRARY.

So why does it say PVBLIC instead of PUBLIC?  What’s that all about?

I’ve been asked about that many times over the years.   People have suggested different reasons that the engraving above the front doors uses a “V” rather than a “U.”  One thought is that it was easier to carve straight lines than curved ones.  That seems plausible.   But then what about the letter “C”?  That’s a curved letter if ever I saw one.

The best explanation I’ve found is at the Henderson County Public Library website.  They are a Pvblic Library too.

Here is what it says:

According to the World Book encyclopedia, U was adopted from the Greek letter Y. The Romans dropped the bottom stroke and wrote the letter as V. This was used for both the consonant sound V and the vowel sound U. Some time around 900 A.D. people began to use V at the beginning of a word and U in the middle of a word. It was during the time between 1400 A.D. and 1600 A.D. that U became the letter commonly used for the vowel sound.

There was a Renaissance of the Classical style of architecture in the United States from 1890-1940. William R. Ware, the founder of M.I.T.’s School of Architecture, taught a style that he called American Vignola. (Vignola was an Italian architect who codified the standards for Classical Architecture in his work Rules of the Five Orders of Architecture)…

In the early 1900s, it was common for educated men to be taught both Greek and Latin. Therefore the people involved with the design of this building and many others during this American Renaissance more than likely would have known the Classic Roman alphabet used the symbol V for both U and V.

We are not the only library to be a “pvblic” library.  Pictures have been found of several other libraries where a V is substituted for a U. While their architectural style does not always match our Classical columns, domes and pediments, most of them were built during this time of American Vignola. So it is accurate to say that we were built during a time when architects and builders were embracing Classic themes. Therefore it is very likely that the engraving reads “Henderson Pvblic Library” because it was in accordance to what was popular in the architectural world at the time our library was built….

The oldest portion of our library was built in 1916.  So the timing is exactly right for this explanation.  And it makes sense that it was, indeed, an architectural statement…a “design thing.”   Henry E. Southwell of Chicago, son-in-law of Dwight Foster, who donated the funds to build a new library had only two stipulations attached to his gift.  One was that the library be of  “good design” and the other was that it be named in honor of Dwight Foster.

We’re happy to report, all these years later, that our library is still named Dwight Foster…and remains committed to the “good design” stipulation.

So DWIGHT FOSTER PVBLIC LIBRARY it is…and shall remain.  We’re good with embracing our “V”niqueness.

What's up with this "V" here?

Lazy stonecutter? Poor speller? Or good designer?


Moving the doorway to learning

February 20, 2009
Our library at Purdy Elementary!

Our library also at Purdy Elementary!

Not too long ago, Purdy Elementary School Principal, Rick Brietzke, informed library staffers that Milwaukee-based artist Reynaldo Hernandez was in the process of painting our library doors in the school.  Hernandez (with assistance from art teacher Karen Gomez and students) was working on turning the lunchroom into a work of art via a larger-than-life size mural.  Students had photographed various images of Fort Atkinson and the Dwight Foster Public Library entrance was selected as one of the images that would ultimately be used for the artist in residence project.

I think the result is stunning.  It is a very life-like depiction of Fort Atkinson’s very own doorway to learning.

We treasure the architectural beauty of our name DWIGHT FOSTER PVBLIC LIBRARY carved into the stone and set atop the sturdy Roman pillars.  (Over the years people have asked me why there is a “V” where there ought to be a “U.”  More on that in a future blog post.)

Our doorway was built in 1916 and moved in 1983.   As I’ve mentioned before, we plan on preserving it and moving it South with our next expansion.  We do think it embodies our library for the people in our community.

But we are absolutely delighted that now children can get that library feeling by walking through the lunchroom door at Purdy Elementary. Children of future generations will have an even more vivid mental image of the doorway to learning as a result of this imaginative and clever depiction.

Kudos to everyone involved for accomplishing something profoundly moving.  (In more ways than one!)

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