Mobile Wifi Hotspots

I’m getting ready to kick off a few of my new outreach projects this Spring, including roving business reference and a book bike. The one common thread with all of these projects is the WiFi issue. I want to be able to do reference and borrowing services on site no matter where in town I am.

Currently, the library uses Comcast for internet services. While Comcast has some hotspots throughout town (train stations), I’ve found that it’s not always reliable. It seems to go in and out often, and I wonder if this has to do with the volume of use. Some local businesses offer WiFi, too, but I’d prefer to use both of these free services as backups to a personally controlled device.

It took a few searches to come up with the appropriate keywords. It appears that what I’m looking for is a “MiFi,” and Novatel’s device was “Editor’s Choice” a few years back: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2385018,00.asp

xfinity MiFi

xfinity MiFi

According to some articles published in 2011, Comcast only charges $25 for the device. Naturally, a search of their site doesn’t show any pages with purchase details. When I chatted with a rep, she said that Comcast still has the MiFi. I can find it by looking on “comcast.net.” Ha. I didn’t have time to ask for a direct webpage and signed off. I plan to look more into the costs, etc. after the holidays.

Here’s to 2015 being the year of fun, busy, effective outreach!

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Groups @ your library

It has long been a goal of mine to develop groups within the library. I don’t just mean book clubs or intellectual groups either. With meetup.com being one way for folks with common interests to meet each other, who says that has to be the only platform?

I see these groups serving two purposes: 1. to bring people into the library by providing space and assistance for programming related to their interest; and 2. to send out a visible representation of the library into town. It would be a way for the library to directly integrate itself into the community by fostering education on topics–such as theater, photography, food or Fantasy sports–as well as encouraging the groups to get out of the building and do something as a library entity.

I’ve been lucky to come into a library with a thriving Write Group. This group has various weekly meetings and all types of monthly events. They also don’t restrict themselves to the library building, but go out into our community to be a “support group” for other writers. They’ve been successful for years and I speak with their leadership often. It’s a perfect example of what I’ve been looking to do.

The main obstacle to starting a group like this is time (isn’t it always?). Having the capacity to oversee a mini-organization isn’t organic. However, once a pattern of group creation and recruitment is developed, I see the potential for each group to be self-run things; provided they still report back to the library, there is no reason not to allow the groups to elect their own leaders and have the freedom to evolve as they want and need. Thankfully, the Write Group has a lot to teach me and will be a great resource as I develop plans and explore the interests of the town.

CRM & libraries

Despite a lot of PLA conference sessions discussing embedded librarianship as if it’s a new thing, it’s far from it. While it’s mostly seen with academic librarians embedding themselves into assigned departments, public librarians are seeing the need to embed themselves within their communities. And rightly so.

Vibrant libraries have already seen success in relationship building by attending town meetings, volunteering for committees and setting up tables at local farmers markets. Those of us who run this track see the importance of successfully “existing” in the town.

Recently, it occurred to me that a good way for us to track and foster these external relationships is by using CRM. For those not hip with corporate acronyms, CRM stands for customer relationship management. Major for-profit companies have been using CRM databases and practices for years to identify potential leads and maintain existing connections.

In my research, I saw a few blog posts encouraging libraries to try it. However, I wasn’t able to discover any case studies or reports of library implementation. So it looks like we’re staring from a blank slate.

i6bqe2I checked out a few free cloud CRM databases and settled on Bitrix24 (mainly because it’s the only free cloud I could find with up to 12 users). We can incorporate our google calendars should we choose and it seems fairly user friendly. I plan to give a tutorial to other supervisors next week and figure out what labels and components will be most useful to us. I’ll document as we go, which will hopefully be helpful to others.

Relationships are two-way roads

How often do we ask ourselves this? We’re planning great programs, making sure the technology is updated as regularly as we can afford, and getting coverage in the local paper. The displays are fun and colorful. Even our BluRay collection is solid. So what gives?

I like to compare our complaints to the relationship between a pair of friends. One is always calling and being proactive about getting together for coffee, dinner, a beer. The other just sits around waiting. Eventually that enthusiastic friend is going to stop and think, “Wait. Why am I the only one reaching out. Why is s/he never taking the initiative?” And the friendship sometimes ends because no one wants to be in a one-sided relationship.

So why are we, as public librarians, always complaining that our community doesn’t give us the time of day? Maybe we shouldn’t sit around waiting for patrons to walk through our doors. Maybe we should be making the appointments and finding reasons to go to them. Even arrange to have our programs out in town and sometimes bring some of our collection with us. We need to see our existence as a two-way road in order for our profession to thrive.

Over the next year, I plan to walk the walk. I want to see if I can turn my professional presence from purveyor of resources and knowledge to a regular contact in the town’s pursuit of lifelong learning. Thankfully, I have a wonderful team of colleagues to help.