8/23/15

Mountains and Librarians by Jon Walker

I am a new member of the Board of Directors for the Mountain Park Environmental Center.   My professional background, of course, is as a librarian and administrator.  I have served as the Executive Director for the Pueblo City-County Library District for over eleven years now.

You may ask yourself why a librarian is interested in being involved in the governance of an institution dedicated to parks, mountains and wilderness, and the great outdoors.  The answer is easy for me.  I spend much of my time inside.  It is part of the job, really.  I work daily with books, computers, and other information resources and the people who use them, and, of course, all of these activities are essentially pursued indoors and away from nature.  So, this is a case of opposites attracting.  I love the out-of-doors, in some measure, because it is a rarer treat for me. 

I run, I hike, I snow ski.  These are my hobbies.  And, of course, a hobbyist can be passionate about an avocation.  I am.  One way for me to appreciate these pursuits is to serve and give back in my new capacity as a member of the MPEC Board of Directors.  Hopefully, some of my experiences and expertise will crossover to serve the interests of this vitally important institution.      

The role of MPEC is critical to our community and to our human-ness.  Our connection to nature can be easily lost or forgotten.  Among my all-time favorite reads is a short story by E.M. Forster entitled “The Machine Stops.”  Forster (1879-1970) is a British Nobel-nominated writer, long remembered for novels such as A Room with a View and A Passage to India.  He authored “The Machine Stops” in 1909.  It is wonderful little story that foretells humanity’s separation from nature by technologies of a variety of sorts and some of the dire consequences of this.  The tale is particularly noteworthy for predicting nearly a century ahead such current automation as the Internet, texting, and virtual communities like Facebook.  Forster's narrative warns us of the unreal, artificial environment created by our technologies and our need for the natural.  

Forster advocated that if men and women are to achieve a satisfactory life, they need to keep contact with the earth and cultivate their imaginations.  Just so, MPEC provides programs, camps, facilities, and education to help ensure individuals of all ages in our community have the ongoing opportunity to remain connected to the inspirational and creative gifts available to us via our natural world.  This is indispensable to each and every one of us.

I look forward to this opportunity to help serve the Mountain Park Environmental Center. 

6/30/15

WE’RE NUMBER ONE! by Jon Walker

The Pueblo City-County Library District (PCCLD) has long enjoyed an honored tradition in our community. The institution’s roots date to the nineteenth century. It has supported literacy, lifelong learning, and open access to information for well over one hundred years. Now we have new evidence of the high quality of library services offered here.

The Library Research Service (www.lrs.org) recently released its 2014 Public Library Annual Report. The report provides public library research data from annual surveys, original research projects, and national studies. One LRS component compiles annual statistics for libraries in Colorado. We have been carefully tracking key output data in recent years from LRS. In particular, we have been working to ensure that our community compares well with others serving larger populations in Colorado for the number of items checked out, people visiting our libraries, and individuals attending library-sponsored cultural and educational events.

We were very excited recently with data released by LRS for libraries in Colorado for 2014. PCCLD ranked number one in 2014 when compared to twelve peer libraries for library visits per capita. We jumped from number four in 2010 to first in 2014. PCCLD graded at number one also in program attendance per capita in 2014. This is an improvement from third only five years ago. PCCLD rated fourth in circulation per capita in 2014, a leap from eighth in 2010. These results juxtapose key results for our libraries with those in Aurora, Boulder, Douglas County, Weld County, Jefferson County, Mesa County, Arapahoe County, El Paso County, Westminster, Fort Collins, Adams County, and Denver.

Public library services have been an important part of our community for well over a century. This continues through to today. The numbers really tell the story. More people are visiting our libraries to study, read, meet and exchange ideas, and check out more materials and attend more programs and events. This is testimony to a number of things, but above all it is great staff providing great services to a great community of library supporters.

5/30/15

JUST READ by Jon Walker

Were you a born reader?  I was not.  Dick and Jane did little to spark my interest in reading as a youngster and, yet, now I direct an institution that promotes reading and literacy among its key values.  What changed?  How did I transform from reluctant reader to librarian?

Comics is how it began for me.  Perhaps this is surprising.  I was first captivated by the colorful and imaginative illustrations in comic books as a young child even before I could read at all.  My older brother is seven years my senior, and he had collected a fascinating comic collection by the time I was a tyke.  A bit later, I also discovered the comic strips in my family’s daily newspaper. 

Before I could read as a toddler, I poured over the pictures on the pages and invented stories I believed matched the sequences of drawings.  In the end, however, conjuring my own plotline was not completely satisfying.  My curiosity to understand the author’s intended narrative motivated in me a desire to know more.  This is all it took and, importantly, this also is what it took to spur my aspirations to read.  Honestly, school reading assignments had little interest for me.  My drive to read started with a craving to better comprehend the comics I loved.    

Parents should keep this in mind when working to encourage children to read.  Reading is fundamentally important.  Studies show that learning and practicing this skill in youth correlates to a higher quality of life later in adulthood.  Plainly stated, the better you read, the more apt you are to succeed. 

It can be difficult to compel children to read outside the framework of their own personal interests.  Seek opportunities instead to engage young people on their own terms.  Look for reading that arouses their imagination and fulfills their innate spirit of inquiry.  Assigned reading in school is important, but also search for reading options that satisfy each child’s individual tastes and interests.  Connect to this impulse and the child will benefit greatly.  Evidence shows that generally those who are better readers are those who want to read and who read more. 

The library district offers help for this.  One example is the library’s summer reading club.  It starts this month and runs until August.  It is designed especially to provide programming, events and activities to promote reading for fun.  Our goal is simple.  We aim to keep kids reading all summer long.  We do not focus on assigned reading.  Read whatever motivates.  Just read! 

4/25/15

THE FUTURE AGAIN by Jon Walker

I am proud of our local libraries. This includes almost everything about them: the buildings, the study and meeting spaces, the books and other mate/rials, and the computers and learning tools. But mainly I am inspired by the people. Those who work here and those who use libraries: the women and men, the teens and tweens, the children and infants.

I have been part of the Pueblo City-County Library District for just over ten years now. Among my first tasks when I initially arrived back in 2004 was overseeing a study of our community and our libraries, and creating a consensus long-range plan to move PCCLD forward. The goal was to provide the best possible public library service for our community.

In subsequent years, we focused on offering lifelong learning resources, access to information in all formats, well-equipped and maintained facilities, highly-trained employees, and more. The result has been an explosion in library use here. In 2004, 877,299 people visited our libraries. 1,432,303 did so in 2014. 35,162 people attended library programs and events in 2004. 182,406 participated in 2014. 1,047,515 books and other materials were checked out from our libraries in 2004. 2,484,858 circulated in 2014. Our libraries have offered and our community has responded.

I attribute our successes to many things, including determination and luck. To a major extent, however, our accomplishments are due to carefully considered planning, steadfast follow through, and looking for every opportunity to move forward positively.

Our planning processes begin with methodical consideration of our community: who it is, what it wants, what it needs. We examine our resources, both realized and potential. We follow trends and standards in libraries and information science because it is important to ensure our community is well served according to contemporary criteria. We discuss these things, and work with employees and stakeholders to reach agreement on what it is important for us to do. We keep in close touch with our constituencies watching for favorable opportunities. Then, we do it.

We are entering into a new planning period now. We are looking inward and outward with the intent to fashion a vision and a path to take PCCLD to new heights of accomplishment and service to our community. As we contemplate PCCLD’s new strategic plan, we are interviewing individuals in our community, conducting surveys, reviewing our strengths and weaknesses, and looking for favorable conditions to realize the finest libraries imaginable. Our community deserves it. We aim to deliver it.

CHECK IT OUT: THE LIBRARY’S LAPTOP AND TABLET LENDING PROGRAM by Jon Walker

In 2011, the Pueblo City-County Library District (PCCLD) began doing something different. We started to check out laptops and tablets to customers. The project was originally funded with special grant money. The program has continued to grow and prosper over time. Today, it is a regular part of library service.

PCCLD’s laptop and tablet lending program is similar to what our libraries have been doing for many years with books. Loaning books was a natural result of the public library’s mission to ensure everyone enjoys convenient access to information. The venerable book was the principal form of recording and exchanging knowledge and information for centuries. In this respect, the computer is the new book in today’s digital age in American society. It is important for the library to provide easy use of modern information tools resources like laptops and tablets. This helps level the playing field for the members of our community regardless of socio-economic status or means.

Borrowing a laptop or tablet from the library is free. This is significant. There is a clear competitive edge in school and otherwise for individuals who have simpler access to such tools. Studies by the Pew Research Center show more than one-third of Americans were without their own mobile Internet services in 2014. PCCLD’s laptop and tablet checkout program helps narrow somewhat the so-called digital divide separating haves from have-nots.

PCCLD’s laptop and tablet lending service is popular. Use of these devices has grown from 839 in 2011 to an annual average of about 3,800 for the past few years. We expect even greater use in 2015. Clearly, this is an important part of the modern public library. Look for PCCLD to continue to grow and develop this program now and in the future.

2/12/15

REVIEWING THE PAST YEAR AND A LOOK AHEAD by Jon Walker

2014 was a striking year at the Pueblo City-County Library District (PCCLD).  Our key service results were the best ever.    
We carefully monitor four areas of service.  These are (1) Circulation—The number of books and other materials checked out, (2) Digital Use—The number of times customers log-on library computers and access other library-hosted online and wireless services, (3) Program Attendance—The number of individuals participating in any of the variety of cultural and educational events regularly sponsored or hosted by the library district, and (4) Visits—The number of people who come into our libraries to read, study, learn, and exchange ideas.
We strive to improve these measures in order to ensure PCCLD is meeting its mission to provide the best possible library service for the community.  I am very pleased that PCCLD set new all-time records for each category in 2014:
·         Circulation—2,484,858 checkouts.  This is the first time ever with more than 2 million checkouts in a single year.
·         Digital—923,717 uses.  This is a 29 percent increase over the year before, and provides further demonstration of the growing impact of digital services on the library.
·         Programs—179,351 participants.  This is whopping 47.5 percent increase over 2013, and represents another way today’s library is changing in the modern world.
·         Visits—1,424,303 visitors. A 12.5 percent increase.
PCCLD enjoyed unprecedented success in 2014.  We expect 2015 to be another great year, too.  We have set even loftier goals for each of our key results.  Here is what we aim to achieve this year: (1) Circulation—2,900,000 checkouts, (2) Digital—1,800,000 uses, (3) Programs—315,000 participants, and (4) Visits—1,900,000 visits.
I am excited about our accomplishments in 2014 and the challenge of meeting our goals this year.   Congratulations to our employees and the community for an impressive year just completed. I believe we are aligned now for an even more impressive 2015.  

2/9/15

2015 GOALS by Jon Walker

The Pueblo City-County Library District (PCCLD) has an important set of goals it is working to achieve this year. The outcomes we seek will position us well in our mission to provide the best possible library service for our community. 
I encourage you to review the complete 2015 plan, which is available online at http://www.pueblolibrary.org/sites/default/files/pdf/2015Budget%20-final.pdf. Here are some of the highlights you can expect to see during the course of the year from your public library:
· We will expand our wireless and mobile services as online information in the USA continues to move rapidly this direction.
· Customer service will be a top priority. We understand that personal service is an important value that sets us apart.
· Our efforts to digitize access to local information of significance—such as historic local newspapers—is critical work that will occupy our time and resources.
· We will implement strategies to ensure our back office operations are as streamlined and efficient as possible. This allows more opportunity to focus resources on individualized customer service at the point of need.
· PCCLD will continue to develop work spaces where people can meet, collaborate, and create in areas of common interest utilizing current tools for computing and technology, science and writing, and producing video, art, and music.
· We will provide the support necessary to ensure our three new libraries--Giodone, Greenhron Valley, and Lucero--are fully integrated and supported by the district.
· PCCLD will focus special resources on important areas of service such as assistance for English language learning and early literacy.

We aim to continue enhancing our connection to the community we serve. I believe you will agree that 2015 should be another momentous year for PCCLD.

LOCAL HISTORY AT THE LIBRARY by Jon Walker

Our community enjoys a rich and diverse history.  This is the story of the people and events helping to shape the saga of this region over ...