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Minnesota, United States

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thing 44- The Economy

As someone who is not employed full-time, I find I have to be extra careful with how I spend and manage my money. My money management philosophy is pretty simple: only buy what you can afford and avoid debt if at all possible. I do have student loan and car loan payments each month, as do many, but other than that I don't have debt. I rent rather than own a house. I manage to pay off my credit card bills in full each month to avoid the astronomical interest interest rates they charge. I have health insurance but have a high deductible to lower my monthly rate. It's still a lot of money I have to pay out of my pocket each month.

In general I think my money management skills are good and I didn't see a need to set up an account with one of the money management websites. What I am interested in though, is additional ways that I can save money, that I may not already know about. Frugal Dad offers 75 hints gives a good summary of money saving hints. Many of these I do already, such as taking advantage of the library. Others I've thought about doing but don't have the know how such as cutting my own hair. My hair would be a disaster if I did that, so I end up paying for my haircuts.

One of the tips was to eat less fast food. This is one I'm guilty of. Even though I usually opt for the healthier choices on the menu, it still costs far more than eating at home or cooking my own meals. Yet, I eat fast food several times a week because it saves time. When I'm subbing, some of the libraries are an hour's drive away and the last thing I wan't to do after a long drive is cook.

For me, time is money. I won't use a money saving tip if its going to take up too much time. Spending an hour clipping coupons just to save a couple of dollars is not worth it.

Of all the money saving tips, my favorite one would have to be borrowing things from the library. Since becoming a regular user of the library, I almost never buy books anymore. Rather than renting movies or subscribing to Netflix, I put myself on the waiting list to watch a recent release for free. Sure, I have to wait, but there's plenty of older movies I can view for free while waiting.

Some of the other websites I found helpful were the free coupon sites, gas prices, and garage sales. I'm always on the lookout for a good deal.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Thing 43- Online TV and Video

I set up an account with Hulu and explored some its features. I was able to easily find episodes of my favorite TV shows and add items to the queue for viewing later and subscribe to episodes of shows. One limitation of Hulu is that it only displays the last episodes from the last few weeks.

I also used Hulu to browse for movies. The selection of movies I thought was rather limited but it did have a fairly large number of trailers, including the latest Harry Potter movie.

I think online videos will decrease the demand for broadcast or cable TV but it won't eliminate it entirely. Unlike cable TV, online videos are free. On the other hand, online video sites like Hulu don't have everything that cable TV might, such as reruns of older TV shows.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Handling difficult patrons effectively

Recently, during one of the staff development days for Washington County Library, Warren Graham came in to speak. Graham is an expert on library security procedures and has also written a book, Black Belt Librarians which is a great resource.

One of the things Graham discussed during his visit was how to handle difficult patrons effectively. He mentioned the 4 key emotional states of patrons and how to recognize them and respond appropriately. He uses the easy to remember acronym A-B-C-C.

A = Anxiety
The patron is “on” about something but is being civil. Remember to respond by stopping what it is you’re doing, make eye contact with the patron, and listen to what he/she has to say. Respond by saying things such as “I understand” or “I hear you”. Don’t say things like “I agree.”

B = Belligerence
At this point, the patron is obviously upset and may be doing things such as yelling, slapping the counter, cursing the situation (but not you), or acting in a willfully contrary manner. Like the anxious patron, remember to stop, look, and listen. It is also important that you establish your credibility as quick as possible and not let the patron go on and on. Examples of appropriate responses include things like: “We’re ready to help you but I need you to stop yelling” or “Give me a chance to explain it to you.” Do not tell the patron to “Calm down”, this phrase is too clich├ęd. Instead it’s better to say “settle down” or “compose yourself.” Don’t use terms such as ‘rules’, ‘procedure’, etc. It’s better to say “the library doesn’t allow that.”

When interacting with belligerent patrons, bodily reactions such as shakiness, muscle tension, or butterflies in the stomach are perfectly normal. They are nature’s way of preparing you for a potential confrontation.

There are several reasons why patrons get belligerent, including:

1) We live in a very negative society. (Just read or listen to the news)
2) People are stressed out.
3) Excessive email communication is harming our ability to communicate face-to-face.
4) The patron has had previous bad experience(s) with the library.
5) You are a victim of their bias (e.g. The patron may be biased against a certain gender or race.)
6) You are the first person in the library to tell them no.
7) They don’t understand the policies and/or why they exist.

C = Control (as in out of control)
At this point, the patron may be cursing you or communicating a threat against you, is drunk or drugged out, refuses to leave the library after being asked to leave, or is performing a sex offense. Police intervention is often necessary at this point, never hesitate to call 911. If the patron doesn’t leave by the time the police arrives, s/he could be arrested for trespass.

C = Calm
This is the ideal state of emotion. If you effectively deal with a patron who is anxious, belligerent, or even out of control, you may be able to get him or her back to the calm state.

Additionally, Graham recommends taking the following approaches toward problem patrons:

1) Approach patrons with a relaxed, yet confident frame of mind. If you feel vulnerable or anxious, try not to let that show.

2) Give patrons the benefit of the doubt at first. You can start out as nice and then come on strong but NOT the other way around.

3) Never apologize for doing your job. Don’t say things like “I’m sorry I have to tell you this” as it makes it sound like you don’t believe in the rules.

4) Respect the patron’s personal space. Don’t lean over and hover. Keep your distance, at least 18 inches from the patron.

5) Appearances mean nothing! There is no correlation between physical appearance and who’s a problem patron. Saying things like “he’s harmless” or “she has never caused any problems before” means zip.

6) Don’t say “No” and then immediately walk away or the patron may just continue doing what they shouldn’t be doing behind your back.

7) If you contact a patron sleeping in the library, and you can’t wake them up, call 911.

8) Any patron who is drunk or drugged out must leave the library.

9) Never argue with the problem patron. That will most likely make the patron even more upset, resulting in an even worse problem.

10) Remember that most kids are good kids. They may do things you don’t want them to do such as run, eat food, or talk loudly; often because they don’t know what a library is for. If you explain the rules to the kids and why they exist, most will readily comply.

11) #10 above goes for teens as well. Many problems with teenagers are the result of staffs’ fear or bias against teens.

12) Never go outside of the library with a problem patron, since you are now on their turf.

13) Respond fairly to unfair treatment directed at you.

Finally, Graham recommends five fundamental questions to ask yourself when working with patrons:

1) Am I passive or aggressive by nature?
Most library staff are passive by nature.

2) Am I more emotional or more of a thinker by nature?
Most people are naturally emotional. If you are a thinker, make sure you don’t suffer from paralysis by analysis.

3) Am I more introverted or extraverted by nature?
If you are more introverted, remember that a willingness to engage can make all of the difference for the better with upset people.

4) Do I like people?

5) Do I like my job?

Making your library a more secure place

Recently, during one of the staff development days for Washington County Library, Warren Graham came in to speak. Graham is an expert on library security procedures and has also written a book, Black Belt Librarians which is a great resource.

So how can you make your library a more secure place? Here are some suggestions according to Graham:

1) There needs to be rules and guidelines for the library.
They need to be kept short and simple and consistently enforced. For example, rules should not change with the person or the time or day.

2) Increase awareness of your surroundings.
Graham strongly recommends the 30-30-30 technique. For the next 30 days, every 30 minutes, look at what the patrons are doing for 30 seconds. This will heighten your awareness and intuition about others regarding security. Remember that the bad guy also has a heightened sense of awareness about you.

3) Document all problem incidents.
Incident reports should be forwarded to the library director within 24 hours of the incident. It is important to keep a problem log. Enter the patron’s name, the description of the problem, the date, and the staff member who submitted the entry.

4) Employees should be thoroughly trained in library security measures.
The managers should be trained first. The managers should then train the staff. Also make sure volunteers are informed on basic security measures. This includes knowing the locations of basic safety equipment as well as letting a staff member know when you encounter a patron that makes you uncomfortable.

5) A library should have a good relationship with the local police.
The library should let the police know that it’s got security measures in place and that the library staff are trained. If the library needs to call the police, it means that they REALLY need police intervention. If the police are *truly* needed, this is likelier to get an expedient response.

6) The library’s procedures must be periodically reviewed since the library’s vulnerabilities can change with time. Each library has unique challenges and a library staff member should never say things such as “Other libraries do it that way.”

7) Most libraries need a fundamental security camera system. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy but at the minimum it should be able to detect who is entering and exiting the building.

8) Have the right managers in the right branches. For example, a manager working in a library that’s in a high crime neighborhood should be experienced and comfortable in dealing with crime related issues that arise.

9) The library needs to have the proper security staffing. Not all libraries require security staff but if you feel that your library needs it, then it’s important to hire the right staff. It is generally better to have officers rather than staff from contract-based security services. The security staff also need to be in good physical shape and trained in defensive techniques.

10) One of the most dangerous things is working alone. If for some reason you are working alone, never admit it. You should also never exit the library by yourself.

11) Saying hello to patrons and acknowledging their presence can be a major deterrent against problematic behavior.

12) Having a bell that rings when patrons enter is a good idea.

13) Regarding childrens and teen areas:
*Seating in childrens and teen areas should be just for children/teens and their care providers only.
*Teen and childrens areas should in separate sections of the library. This reduces the likelihood that a teenager bullies or otherwise harasses the younger children.
*It is a good idea to have the teen area where you can see it from where you normally work.

14) Regarding cash registers:
*They should require a secret sequence of numbers to enter in order to open the drawer
*They should be placed where patrons can’t easily access it
*Look at your library’s money handling methods and think like a bad guy. This will give you insight on what aspects of money handling need to be changed.
*Never announce out loud where patrons can hear things such as:
“Do you have change for a $50?”
”Can you run this money to the bank?”

15) Regarding staff areas:
*They need to be locked at all times. Never prop open the door to the staff area.
*You should put a padlock on your own staff locker

16) Restrooms shouldn’t have a light switch in them. It’s best if the lights in the restroom are controlled by a master switch outside the restroom.

17) Never loan patrons money, give them a ride, etc. If you say yes once, they will expect you to keep doing so.

18) You may want to have a policy where chairs and furniture cannot be moved. This is so that patrons don’t move them to hard to see areas from the main desk.

19) You may want to limit the number of computers for games or social networking (or not allow them).

20) Parking lots should be lit up at night.

Thing 42- Music 2.0

I've had Pandora and Last.fm accounts for quite awhile now but haven't really used them that much. I guess its because I'm usually content to listen to the CDs and MP3s that I own. I was glad to revisit both of these sites and discover some more music I like.

I like Pandora for its simple interface and because its fun to see what song it will play next based on a favorite music artist. I tried it with Jack Johnson and Coldplay. Some of the songs it selects are eerily similar to the artist, others are a bit of a stretch but for the most part, the songs it selects are pretty good. I like being able to rate each song as its played and being able to bookmark favorites.

With Last.fm, it's easy to look up favorite artists and find similar artists. The neighbors feature is neat. It shows you a list of people who share common music tastes. You can also add radio stations and share them with others.

I also explored Internet radio station sites including Reciva and Live365. I had fun browsing through the list of genres and stations, it was hard to choose which ones to listen to since there were so many choices. I was in an adventurous mood and decided to try something different- something I'm not already familiar with. So I opted for Bula FM- a music station from Fiji. It's not in English of course but the music is cool. I also tried some other world music stations but could not get some of them to play. They were not compatible with Windows Media Player and I didn't feel like downloading any new software.

I see Internet radio as becoming increasingly popular and I know people that primarily listen to the radio that way. I think there will still be a market for broadcast radio but I see it becoming more specialized. More and more people are flocking to satellite radio using services like radio XM, which has numerous highly specialized radio stations.

Finally, as someone who purchases MP3s over the Internet, I am interested in knowing where I can download free music and do so LEGALLY.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Thing 41- Mashup Your Life

I set up an account with FriendFeed. What I like about FriendFeed is being able to retrieve content from multiple sites all in one place. For example, I can see what my friends have bookmarked in Delicious, their Twitter updates, and recently added Flickr photos all in one place. In this sense, FriendFeed is a productivity enhancer. I also like that you can view one friend's updates at a time and filter by content. For example, if you are just interested in seeing your friends latest Delicious bookmarks, FriendFeed makes that possible.

I used FriendFeed to import my Twitter updates, my Flickr photos, my Diggs, my Blog posts, my LinkedIn information, and my Delicious bookmarks. I tried to add my Facebook status updates but was not able to since I could not locate the appropriate URL in spite of going to the help section and following the instructions to the letter.

I was disappointed to find that just a couple of my friends from Facebook and Twitter are on FriendFeed. I suppose that many have not heard about it, are not interested in it, or are using some different lifestreaming site. Perhaps, peoples' interest with lifestreaming sites such as FriendFeed will increase with time.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thing 40- Mashup the Web

Mashups are alot of fun and I discovered several new favorites in this thing.

Bkkeeper is a Twitter mashup that makes it easy to quickly track your reading.

Ping.fm allows you to post to multiple social networks simultaneously. At times I've been frustrated having to log into both Twitter and Facebook to post a status update. Now I no longer have to.

Flickr Memari Make memory games out of your Flickr photos or play the any of the preset memory games. I tried the hard level ones (6X6 grid). Quite challenging.

TimeTube View a timeline of videos based on a given keyword. I tried it for library but it only went back to December 2005. I was hoping to find some really old ones.

I tried the Last.fm+YouTube mashup, which is like an online music television station based on your music tastes. Unfortunately, it wasn't working.

According to Walkable the walkability score based on my address is 46/100, which places me in the car dependent category. However, the nearest library is less than a mile away!

Here is a mashup I created using Yahoo! Pipes of libraries within 10 miles of my hometown, Bloomington, MN.

Some of the mashups I explored would be useful in libraries. Book Tour will let you know when a favorite author is coming to your town.

Lazy Library searches for books from Amazon.com that are under 200 pages on a given subject. The sad reality is students sometimes wait until the last minute to do a research assignment and don't have time (or the interest) for longer books.

Some of the patrons I serve do not drive or are considering walking more. Walkable would be useful for them.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thing 39- Digital Storytelling

I'm not that much into scrapbooking but if I was, I would definitely get into digital scrapbooking. Digital scrapbooking has several advantages over regular scrapbooking. Entries can be edited in just a click or two. There is much more flexibility with layouts. Your creations can be shared over the Internet. It's cleaner too- you don't have supplies spread out all over the room. Finally, if your house burns down, you have a copy of your scrapbook on the Internet. That will stay there unless you delete your account.

Libraries can use digital scrapbooking as a creative way to share photos of events or for making fliers and posters. Libraries could also offer courses on digital scrapbooking. Lots of people take up scrapbooking as a hobby, but I bet many of them aren't aware of the advantages digital scrapbooking can offer.

Digital scrapbooking is even being used in the classroom as a means of enhancing the learning experience.

The first challenge was to figure out which photos to use for my digital scrapbook. For one thing, I only have a limited number of photos in the digital format. I ended up using the some of my photos from my vacation to Duluth and the North Shore even though I would have preferred something different this time.

I ended up choosing VoiceThread to create my "story". VoiceThread was easy to use and I could type up comments to my photos.

Although, I initially experienced some frustration, I was able to see all the wonderful things digital scrapbooking can offer. I can see myself using digital scrapbooking tools in the future for my personal use. I just have to take more pictures first.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thing 38- Screencasting

I love screencasts. They make things easier for people to learn because movement on a screen can be captured in addition to the image. They appeal to both visual and auditory learners because one can both see and hear (if audio is added) the instructions. Libraries use screencasts to show people how to navigate the library's website, the catalog, or the databases. Screencasts are also used to show patrons how to place holds on items and how to access their account information.

I explored various screencasting tools and ended up choosing Screencast-o-matic in making my screencast. I wanted a tool that was simple to learn and didn't require any downloading. ScreenToaster also met these criteria and initially appealed to me but whenever I tried to use it, my computer slowed down considerably. So I gave up on ScreenToaster.

I made a screencast showing Washington County Library users how to access their account information from home. I don't have a microphone, so my screencast has no audio. I tried to add a note in one part but I couldn't get it to work.

Making a screencast was a frustrating experience at first but wasn't too bad once I got the hang of it. I would be interested in making more screencasts in the future and posting them to my library's website but would want to use more sophisticated tools.