Sunday, March 20, 2005

Notes from visit to public libraries in Chicago, Nov 2004

Congratulations to Ms Cindy Fuerst, Library Director of Kankakee Public Library for being nominated to the Movers & Shakers Class of 2005. I had the pleasure of meeting Cindy and her colleagues, Steve (Assistant Director) and Camille (Head of Youth Services) when I visited a friend in Chicago in November '04.

Extracted from the LJ article:
It takes a special talent to sell a plan, mobilize enthusiasm for a new project, or create the right partnerships to get a new service off the ground. It might mean convincing a community that a vital library can create an economic renaissance. Or letting the world know what a wonderful career librarianship can be. Or persuading a profession that diversity is everyone’s responsibility.
Source: "Empowering Library Users" - By Francine Fialkoff, Editor -- 3/15/2005

Kankakee PL was one of the libraries I visited. I also dropped by Bradley PL, Bourbonnais PL, Benner Library (Olivet Nazarene University), as well as the Harold Washington PL in downtown Chicago.

Some thoughts from my visit:

Most, if not all, of their library staff have a clear "service/ customer-focused attitude" and services are adapted according to the needs of the community. This is really a given in today's context.

In terms of the (public library) collection & facilities, the differences could be huge, mainly because of the community they serve or are in (it relates to how they are funded & maintained). The differences between Kankakee, Bradley & Bourbonnais PLs were apparent. Kankakee was better equipped & had newer facilities; Bradley was very small & they said they needed an upgrading; Bourbonnais was expanding. A small community PL like Bradley was very quiet and low-key, as most of their residents work out of town and will only use the library on weekends.

How well the public library was funded depended a lot on their community's economic performance. Their PLs are funded by property taxes & state grants. In Kankakee PL's case, I learnt that Cindy, their Library Director*, lobbied hard with the mayor to get funding for upgrading the library. So I'm not surprised to know that Cindy is in the top 50 Movers & Shakers Class of 2005.

The people managing and working for the library was key. For instance, Kankakee PL gave me the impression that they were motivated and ehthusiastic about what they do. This was certainly evident in my meeting with Cindy, Steve and Camille. I was told that many of their staff put up with poor work conditions (prior to their upgrading) and did their jobs without complaints.

Singaporeans who live/ work overseas, as well as overseas visitors, tell me that Singaporeans don't know how lucky they are that our libraries are well equipped and well funded. Having had the chance to visit libraries in UK, USA, China, Philippines and Japan (all within the last 6 to 7 years), I can honestly say that in terms of the integration of IT, environment, facilities, services and collection, Singapore's public libraries can be safely ranked among the top.

Of course there are much we NLB librarians and library managers can -- and have to -- learn from our overseas counterparts. Generally speaking, there's much more individually-driven community initiatives by the overseas librarians, especially the US librarians. As NLB completes the infrastructure-building phase of the past 10 years, the logical step for the next phase would be the "software" aspects like community-linkages and collaborations. It's not that we have not done them in the past, but just that the emphasis would even be greater than before.

* Equivalent to our "Senior Manager", though it isn't an accurate comparison because of the difference in how US public libraries and Singapore libraries are structured.

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