Archive for the “From the Director’s Chair” Category

Libraries, like so much else in the age of the Internet, have had to reach out in ways they never imagined even 20 years ago. Meadville Public Library has been exceptionally good at finding creative ways to further its mission and engage the Meadville area community.

First, we have a new way for you to give to the library just by making a purchase through Amazon. The company launched a new initiative, Amazon Smile, which will donate a percentage of your purchase to MPL. Register your account with, choose MPL as your selected charity and 0.5 per cent of eligible purchases will go to MPL. Please consider registering and using the Amazon Smile program – funds will be used for our materials budget. There is no fee to register and I can’t think of a better bargain.
Second, we have started circulating Sony Readers. Visit the library’s Fiction Desk and check out an e-reader for two weeks. These devices are handy to take on vacation or try one before you buy one. Sony Readers are easy to use with our Overdrive program and we also offer classes periodically on how to use the devices.Third, MPL is making a significant investment in our e-books program and adding more e-books to the library’s collection every month. The CCFLS Overdrive website has also been enhanced to make searching and downloading materials a much easier process. If you found it too complicated in the past, try again – I think you will be impressed.

Considering the high prices publishers charge libraries for e-books (we have to pay, on average, four times the price an individual pays) MPL is expanding its free e-book program (these are e-books you can keep). Right now, if you search for free e-books through our online catalog, you will gain access to more than 20,000 titles available from Project Gutenberg. We have enhanced the catalog so you can now download items much more easily. In the future, we plan to expand the free ebooks to include more than 50,000 titles, some of which will be new, nonfiction titles.

As you can see, MPL is not resting on past accomplishments but embracing current technology trends to enhance our services. Our way of proving that MPL is keeping up with the times!

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Running a public library, especially a library located in a historic structure that is pushing 90 years of age is always a challenge. Considering that in 1925 no one imagined that a library would someday have to have computers, wireless Internet access (Al Gore wasn’t even born yet!), LED lights, handicapped entrances, air conditioning, elevators, etc.

Needless to say, while the outside of the library is not that different from 1925, the inside is a vibrant modern library that has capabilities that could hardly be imagined during the ‘Roarin’ Twenties.’ Of course, this type of evolution does not happen by accident. It takes a dedicated and flexible staff, a board willing to try new services and programs, and a community willing to use the library in new ways.

Right now the Meadville Public Library is in the beginning phases of creating a new master plan. One of the first steps in that process is participating in a new initiative from the Public Library Association (PLA) called the Edge Initiative. Twenty libraries in Pennsylvania have been asked to participate in this new project. Basically, Edge measures how well a library is offering the latest in new technology services using benchmark techniques. In other words, you compare how your library stacks up with the top libraries in the U.S. And though we are very honoured to be selected for this project, we also know that we cannot afford to offer both traditional library services and new innovative programs without cutting back somewhere.

Another step in the planning process is asking you, the public, for feedback on what you want to see in your Public Library in the future. Do you want a public library that offers the latest technology but fewer materials? Or a library that has the latest materials but does not have the latest electronic services? Or do we prioritize the electronics services and balance that with selective cuts in traditional library programs? I imagine that everyone has a different opinion on this topic. In order to get as much information as possible we will be asking our patrons to express opinions on these important issues. Sometime this fall we will be releasing a questionnaire concerning our current and proposed library services. There will be both electronic and paper-based questionnaires (we are trying to get an honest opinion here.) At that time we will also allow public comment on what we may be able to offer the public in the future.

Our old library has faced many challenges over the past 90 years. The next ten years will in all likelihood see more changes than in the past 90 years put together. When we release the survey this fall, please take a few moments and tell us how you feel the Meadville Public Library should proceed going into the future.

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E-books and how publishers charge for them is a subject appearing in many news stories the past few months. Considering the large investment we have made in e-books, this is something we have been following closely.

After a long process, Meadville Public Library in conjunction with the other eight member libraries of Crawford County Federated Library system have begun offering free e-books at  Soon after we started offering free e-books, we created a survey that asked: “Does the library pay more or less for e-books than regular books?”  More than 80 per cent of respondents said we pay the same or less.  The response is not surprising.  It is logical to think that because publishers do not have to print, assemble, ship and distribute an e-book, they would sell for less than the price of a printed book.

The truth is actually quite different.  E-books cost us $60 to $105 per title, when both the purchasing and licensing costs are included. In addition, we have to pay a yearly licensing cost, which in 2013, will be about $15.00 per title.  Not only do we have to contend with high prices but also restrictive rules. For example, we can only purchase e-books from one vendor, Overdrive.

OverDrive, at the request of the publishers, requires that every patron download Digital Rights software that enforces the rules and restrictions they (the publishers) have imposed.  The result is to make our product, “free e-books,” much harder to access than e-books from Amazon or Apple.  At Amazon, with one click, an e-book will magically appear on your Kindle.  At the CCFLS eStacks site, you have to download special software and then go through many screens to download the book.

There is no doubt that e-books are more profitable for publishers.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that e-book profit margins are 50% while print margins are 10% or less. Even more telling,  Simon and Schuster reported increased profits last quarter even though sales decreased.  Simon and Schuster also reported record sales of e-books during the same quarter.

People ask if it costs so much and the rules are so onerous, why do it?  To be relevant, we have to provide free access to information in formats the public is using.  I can imagine the last time such a disruptive change took place, when scrolls were replaced by books, a similar discussion took place. If scrolls cost less than books, should now our whole collection be in scrolls?  Of course not.  New “disruptive” technologies always change the rules by which we live.

I understand that publishers are trying to protect their rights. However, the cost to purchase and the rules on e-books are much more restrictive than print books.   Recent events make one ask if these rules are truly to protect the publishers’ rights or are they meant to discourage individuals from using free e-books from public libraries? The answer  to that question will affect the free flow of information for the next 20 years.




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I have been thinking a lot lately about industries that were swept away by the horseless carriage 100 years ago.

In 1900 there were many companies that made buggy whips and corsets (one of them, Spirella Corsets, was located here in Meadville.) Both industries were eventually wiped out when the automobile was introduced and became popular in the early 1900′s. Women who had to start a car themselves couldn’t bend over to crank the car’s starter if they were wearing a corset. And as for buggy whips well, no need for one of those when you had an accelerator on your horseless carriage.

Technology has advanced to the point where most individuals have access to a computer from which to receive information or download books; those with a personal computer can do this anywhere there is cell phone access. A description of this technology just 20 years ago would have seemed like magic.

So how are our libraries going to cope with virtual books as demand for the old-fashioned book slowly declines? A very good question and one we have been contemplating for months. We know that certain members of our community would love to have down-loadable books accessible to their electronic reading devices. Unfortunately, publishers and copyright authors are not making it easy for libraries to retrieve their electronic materials. In addition, funding is a real obstacle for the public library since purchasing electronic books means having to cut back on purchases of traditional materials.

So although introducing electronic media in libraries is difficult and a challenge in libraries today, MPL has been making some progress in this area with the introduction of Playaway books in the Children’s Department. The audio books allow the user to listen to a complete book through ear buds or even a sound system.

In addition, we have linked our on-line Patron Catalog to the more than 10,000 books of the Guttenberg Project. By going to our web site and searching for a title published before 1927, you can follow the link and download both electronic books and/or versions of the book. In the next few months we’ll install new software that will allow our patrons to access more than 5,000 electronic books made available through the Pennsylvania Power Library Project. Most of these books are older titles (1960-1990) dealing with non-fiction topics.

Finally, we are hoping to introduce more popular and newer books electronically by the end of this year or the beginning of 2012. Though we have yet to select a provider, our specifications require a supplier who will provide us with materials in all popular formats including E-Pub and PDF. Though our plans are not yet complete, we are committed to making sure that Meadville Public Library does not become an anachronism. I have a picture of a horseless carriage on my desktop that reminds me of just that every day.

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Fall 7 times—stand up 8
Japanese Proverb

As the proverb states: when you fall down, you have to dust yourself off and get up again. The past two years at the library definitely fit that axiom.

We have never been more successful regarding services to our patrons. An average of 600 people a day use our facility. Last year we circulated an almost record amount of materials: more than 246,000 items. Our five story times are at or near capacity every week. In other words, we are a hit.

However, when you take a look at our financial ledger, we are not so successful. Our operating budget has lost money four out of the past five years. Over that period, we have lost $143,747—mainly through cuts from the state.

The reason we are still open after racking up this deficit is that we were able to draw from a small financial cushion. That cushion is now depleted and we are forced to cut hours, reduce book purchases and eliminate some digital databases. The current 2010 budget is actually smaller than the 1998 budget even though many expenses such as insurance and utilities are now much higher.

Over the past few months patrons and members of our community have responded to our appeals for help. The generosity has been heartwarming and to everyone who has given, we thank you.

We still need help. We at MPL understand that this is a tough economy with many groups and organizations in need. I have listed below several ways in which anyone can help the library with or without involving money. Please take a moment to peruse the following list and see if you see yourself contributing in some way.

* Most of us have books that we don’t want any more: why not donate them to the library? Books that cannot be used in the collection will be sold at the semi-annual sale, placed on the regular sale shelf or sold on If you have heavy boxes or bags, please call ahead at 336-1773, ext. 303 and ask for Gary. He will arrange to have someone at the library assist in unloading your materials.

* Due to cutbacks, all of our landscaping budget has been eliminated this year. Consider donating mulch. We went through 20 yards of the stuff last year. Or if you can donate just a few dollars at the main floor box marked “Front Flowers,” we will put it to good use—either towards mulch or flowers.

* Think about giving a lasting donation in your will to the library. We have an informative brochure titled “Get Involved” which provides all details. Request a copy at the Main Desk or call my office at 336-1773, ext. 302 for more details.

* Finally, we welcome donations to the Patron’s Drive. Every dollar goes to purchase new materials. With our trade discount, we get almost twice the buying power. I know of no other organization that makes a dollar go further.

These are difficult times indeed, but with your help we will continue to dust ourselves off and remain standing.

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In today’s society, technical wonders
surround us. Since the Renaissance, we have been blessed with technology which previous generations would define as magic. This technology has occurred because of one thing—the printed word. Libraries have dedicated themselves to storing, organizing and sharing their information with everyone. The process of disseminating this information leads to knowledge, understanding and empathy.
There is nothing else on the planet that compares to this system which stores, preserves and shares knowledge. Just one example: a recent article in the New York Times described research into late 19th century medical procedures to see whether modern technology can use or improve upon those old, long-forgotten techniques. Where are researchers finding all this information? In libraries.

Meadville citizens realized as early as 1879 that libraries are important for any community to thrive. Before automobiles, radio and electric lights, the leading citizens of Meadville decided that a proper Public Library was needed. The previous public library was a disorganized collection stored in 12 cupboards and was continually moved to whatever building had a bit of free space available.

Since 1879, the Meadville Public Library has occupied two different buildings, has had 13 library directors, 42 board presidents, hundreds of employees, thousands of patrons, hundreds of thousands of books and millions of visitors. The accomplishments during the past 130 years would fill a very long list. We know that the library always has and continues to fulfill a critical role in the community.

In just the past 10 years library technology has moved from analog (book) to digital (computer screen.) What has not changed is the library’s goal to provide free access to the written word. Maybe computer screens and the Internet would seem magical to Benjamin Franklin, founder of the modern public library. He might remind us that the very existence of libraries can create magical experiences for its patrons. It doesn’t matter what form the written word takes as long as we are open-minded enough to enjoy the magic.

Because the library is so important to all of us, we are planning a small celebration to mark our 130th birthday. We invite all patrons, friends, board members and employees of the Meadville Public Library to share in celebrating 130 years of bringing magic to the region.

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In the midst of economic uncertainties facing our world, Meadville Public Library (MPL) now more than ever, plays an important role in providing patrons of all ages access to the world of information through books, music, movies and the Internet. And a public library has even more value when personal finances are tight. That value can have many definitions: it can be measured monetarily or in terms of services. Comparing MPL with either of these definitions will give you a perspective on the library’s value to the community.

One of our employees recently conducted research on the return of investment MPL provides. Her study found that in the past 12 months, area residents received $5,161,204 worth of benefits from MPL. Every dollar invested in the library returns almost $6 in benefits to the community. If Reference materials and services such as Internet access, story hours, etc. are included, the return is even greater.

The importance of the library can also be measured by our circulation figures. During the last 12 months more than 232,000 items were circulated This represents more than six books a year to every man, woman and child in our service area. Though it is true that MPL does circulate a great deal of non-print materials the vast majority of materials checked out is still books and magazines.

Libraries also have many worthwhile qualities which are difficult to measure. What is the value of a child watching a puppet show? What is the value of a teacher tutoring a student? What is the value of simply reading a novel, browsing through a magazine, or studying a book on history?

When you combine all the library’s benefits, monetary and otherwise, it provides a wonderful return on all levels of investment. This is a treasure that anyone can come to use in good times and bad. Lately we are seeing more and more people using our services.

We hope you will consider investing in the library by donating to our Patron’s Drive. We ask for your participation with much trepidation. We know times are uncertain, that every Monday seems to bring further troublesome news and instability. Whatever investment you can make will appreciate in value and benefits to your community.

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A number of years ago I ran across a cartoon which showed a lady amidst shelves of books speaking to a librarian, “I have never been in a place with so many books and not be able to get a cup of coffee!”

We can all chuckle about that, however more and more libraries across the country now have cafes. As a matter of fact, the newly-remodeled Pelletier Library on the Allegheny College campus has a cafe called The Wrecking Ball.

Libraries traditionally have separated food and drink from their major resource, books. Frankly, food and print materials do not mix well. Food not only stains but causes books and magazines to deteriorate. Publications with glossy paper are coated with a material made of clay and if they get wet, will turn into a single, solid brick.

Librarians have traditionally been taught in library school (yes, there are such places) that food and drink should be forever separated from books. Managers of book shops have never been indoctrinated with this philosophy, so we now have a society expecting to ave a double mocha cream el grande latte available while they peruse the latest Grisham.

We are not the only library asking this question. A quick Google search returns 1,830,000 hits for the search terms “libraries” and “coffee.” I also found numerous blogs written by librarians about cafes in libraries. And it is not just college libraries reporting this trend. There are countless public libraries as well as public high schools writing about coffee bars in their facilities.

All of this explanation leads to the question – “Should Meadville Public Library have a coffee bar?” Our latest user survey posed that question and 20 people responded in the affirmative. However, to really get a good answer, we need to poll more people. Starting the first and running the whole month of May, we conducted a poll here at the library. The question was simple: Should the Meadville Public Library have a coffee bar? Yes or No. Patrons voted at the Main Floor and Fiction Circulation desks. Votes were also collected on our web site at

We plan to post the results on our web site and present the results to the Library Board. The question is, do patrons think libraries should embrace change and offer refreshments to complement the relaxing atmosphere or should libraries strictly control the environment in order to protect their materials and furnishings?

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I’m always amazed by things that come in the mail unsolicited. Of course you always get the interest-free loan offers, the low-cost life insurance, and opportunities to buy George Foreman grills. But once in a while something so unexpected and interesting is sent that you need to share it.
I recently received a large manila envelope from the Currier Art Museum which contained a paper entitled Edward Lippincott Tilton: A Monograph on his Architecture Practice. Who was Edward Tilton? Well, his story is one in which Meadville Public Library plays a part.
Edward Tilton was a renowned architect during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A specialist in designing libraries, Tilton started his career with McKimm, Mead & White (considered one of the most influential American architectural firms) and worked on the Boston Public Library. He designed more than 100 libraries, many of them funded by the Carnegie Foundation. He also designed the immigration station that opened at Ellis Island in 1892.
Here in Meadville, we are blessed with a number of Tilton designs: the Tippie Alumni Center at Allegheny College; the old Post Office building on Chestnut Street and Meadville Public Library.
Prior to Tilton, libraries were designed like banks, with books stored away from the public and librarians seated behind what looked like teller windows. Patrons browsed through the card catalog, made selections and wrote their requests on a slip of paper. A librarian retrieved the books and if he/she thought a particular request was inappropriate for the patron, a more “suitable” book was substituted.
Tilton’s designs for libraries were considered revolutionary at the time. He was a pioneer in using the “Open Plan” which placed the most popular books on open shelves on the main floor. The design allowed patrons to browse freely, without help (or hindrance) from the librarian.
Tilton’s style usually included an exterior facade dominated by a series of arches and classic moldings, capped with a hip roof composed of tile. Most of these elements are found in our library building.
In my opinion, the real genius of Tilton was in creating a building that could be adapted and changed without altering its appearance. With some remodeling and adjustments, we have been able to accommodate our growing needs and include the latest technology, yet maintain the integrity of the design.
So it is amazing what can be learned though unsolicited mail. This newsletter is an example. We are asking you to consider giving to the Library’s 40th Annual Patron Drive. Our predecessors in Meadville had the vision to hire a great architect to build a great library for their community. You can continue that tradition by donating to this fund drive. Any contribution is welcome.

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The long and winding road.

It’s a pretty exciting time to be Director of the Meadville Public Library. In the next few months we will have completed out latest round of physical improvements to the library and we will be introducing our new web-based on-line patron catalog computerized card catalog).

As for those who have suffered the noise and dust of the library’s remodeling over the past few years, you will be happy to know that the end is near. As I write this column the last of the planned renovations is being completed on the Main Floor.

The Main Floor remodeling, when finished, will increase the library’s nonfiction collection by almost 400 square feet and allow us to add additional seating. The other benefit is that one of the library’s big windows will be uncovered to let in the afternoon sun.

Of course none of the remodeling and expansion of the library would have been possible without a generous gift through the Helene Barco Cultural Center by Helene and Jim Duratz six years ago. That gift provided the space to relocate the Historical Society, which then allowed the library to expand the Fiction area, move the administration office to the old Historical Society storage room and now to expand the nonfiction area.

Along the way the staff has moved 45,000 books (in Non-Fiction the collections were moved no less than three times), installed more than a half mile of new shelving, used over 100 gallons of paint, laid over 8,000 square feet of carpet, assembled 15 cherry tables and constructed a conference and computer room for staff use. And yes, the library staff did this work, not contractors. When I say we have a staff that can get things done I mean it!

Another example of our library’s hands-on attitude is the new circulation system that will be installed shortly. The circulation system is a computer program that manages all of the library’s circulation and catalog functions. Our current system dates back to 1991 and is sadly lacking in many ways, especially not being able to serve up pages from the web.

Starting three years ago, Meadville’s library staff along with librarians from all over Crawford County decided to plan for our next computerized circulation program. After countless hours of meetings, presentations and sales pitches, Crawford County librarians decided that the best candidate was an open source program called Koha (pronounced co-HA).

Over the past year, the Crawford County Federated Library System has been working with Liblime, a company in Athens, Ohio to write new features and improve the standard Koha program. At the same time, librarians from the county have been meeting weekly to begin plannng the transfer to this new system. We will hopefully begin rolling out the new Circulation system at the beginning of the new year here in Meadville and in the spring to the rest of the Crawford County libraries.

What will the new circulation system mean for you? Well, a little or a lot, depending on your needs and your Internet skills. First of all, nothing will change concerning library cards, checking out books or finding books you have checked out in the past. The new system will allow you to use your card at any Crawford County public library without having to re-register at each facility.

The biggest difference will concern accessing the library’s information through the Web. By going to you will be able to access our computerized card catalog and find out whether a particular book is on the shelf not only at this library but in any public library in Crawford County. You will be able to view book covers and even connect to to read their reviews and comments concerning books you select. Needless to say, anything the current circulation system can do, the new system will do better; you will have more access and control of your library card account.

As you can tell, we have been busy trying to upgrade and expand both our facilities and our circulation services so we can provide you, our patrons, with the best access to information – whether it be in a book, a magazine or on the Web. Come in and check out our improvements.

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