Monday, April 16, 2007

Communities and Collaboration - Building Communities

"Thank goodness the leak is on the other side of the boat."

The first morning program in the "Communities and Collaboration" track was presented by Ken Roberts - a former children's librarian, his title is not "Library Director" but "CEO" of Hamilton Public Library in Hamilton, Ontario, pop. 450,000. Over the last four years, Hamilton has developed a "community portal" - a single website for the library, town, community organizations, schools, colleges. Each section of the portal is a tab on a single site and all can be searched at the same time from a single search box.

For example - someone looking for "swimming lessons" can type those words into a search box, and get not only the town and the parks but also the ymca and the boys and girls club - the library is now working on also offering web access to a list of library resources in response to a search term.

Ken Roberts talked about the challenges of integrating people from all parts of the town, with all levels of web experience, into the creation of a simple, workable web portal - he also talked about the value of the community connections created in the process. "start small - think big"

Interesting bits:
  • the library trains all web authors contributing to the portal - the town provides software and servers.
  • because they have the portal, Hamilton has received grant funds to implement community-wide wi-fi.
  • the library runs 70 online book clubs through the portal, and issues 70-80 library cards a week by web-form to community residents who never enter a library building, but use the digital resources. Library card applications and database use increased dramatically with online registration.
  • "finding guides" on the library website have been designed so new acquisitions are automatically added as soon as they are catalogued. Materials are shipped and shelved with the aid of automatic sorting by RFID tag.
  • the library has an "online branch" with a branch manager that handles all the databases, internet and telephone reference, virtual book discussions, etc. After the portal was implemented, librarians' job descriptions were rewritten and upgraded.
  • there is a unified events database with thousands of events from block parties to museum openings - events can be entered by any community contributor.
  • the portal is now receiving "sponsorship" funding from the local football team, and the library has agreed to use the team logo on future library cards in return for funding. The team has also donated 2200 tickets to the summer reading program.

Advice from Ken Roberts - Libraries spend too much on resources that are basically unavailable because community members don't know of their existence - it might help if money was reallocated from the materials budget to the advertising and PR budget.

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