Notes from a Field (Trip)

By Michael Stephens | Allen County PL Librarian Ian McKinney Thursday, ten librarians from Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, drove over to South Bend to visit my library, the Saint Joseph County Public Library. We arranged via e-mail to meet with them and talk about some of our technology initiatives, do some demos, and take them around our Main Library (with an eye toward Reference Services).

I've written and presented about the power of field trips before. I'm a true believer that—if at all possible—it's good for folks to get out of their libraries and visit others. (I also believe we need to visit places that might be considered our "competition" as well as spaces and places that might spark new ideas and thinking.)

The rewards, hopefully, are an invigorated group, new ideas, and a lot of conversation about issues. Two groups from different libraries can exchange practices, policies, and ask questions.

Allen County PL Blog, About Screen ClipSome of you may worry that you can “never get away," or “there’s no money for travel," but I urge you to look for solutions that might allow a few folks to make the trip. Creative scheduling — possibly closing for three to four hours one day, or even looking for a small amount of grant money—might be options. Use this post as evidence that sometimes a small expenditure of time or money can be useful to spark substantial thinking, good ideas, and innovative directions.

And if you are the one saying “there’s no time" for such endeavors, please think about any underlying emotions. Are you afraid that you might find out your library needs to invigorate efforts in programming, look at new services, or just may be plain-old falling behind?

The distance doesn’t have to be far. Think for a moment: what library in your area have you heard about? What library might be settling into a brand new building that might offer insight for your planning a new space?

Allen County PL Librarians IMing at Saint Joseph County Public LibraryThe ACPL librarians traveled about ninety miles and spent about five hours with us. From their blogging efforts of the day, including comments by staff back at Fort Wayne while the day was progressing, things seemed to go well. (Take a look at the comments on that post at the ACPL Reference Blog—lots of ideas forming.) There was some serious flickr-ing going on as well.

The SJCPL librarians presented on our blog efforts, our new wiki-based subject guides, our IM reference services (complete with a demo that got them talking to each other via IM in our Training Room), and our just-launched gaming program and the game blog. It got a lot of conversation going that continued to lunch. Our folks learned a lot from the ACPL librarians as well.

One note about the ACPL Reference Librarian Blog (see the screen clip above) it was started only a day before the field trip to SJCPL. Folks, ANY library can get a blog this way—hosted by Wordpress or by Blogger—for the same purpose. Try it!

So... to library administrators, planning librarians, and everyone, the next time you’re wondering how the folks at the library one town over do things, think about a field trip. And if you are the one getting a “Can we come see your library?" call, clear some time! The benefits are worth it!