Josie Parker

Josie Parker
Director, Ann Arbor District Library

Tottered on: 3 May 2006
Temperature: 72 F
Ceiling: sunny
Ground: damp
Wind: W at 13 mph


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TT with HD: Josie Parker


HD: Welcome to the teeter totter! I do have some linguistics background, but I was never very good at identifying dialects. Still, it doesn't sound to me like you're from around here?

JP: I live in southern Michigan, what's your problem with my accent? [laugh] I'm from Laurel, Mississippi.

HD: And how long have you been away from there?

JP: I have not lived in Mississippi since I was 18. I've lived in Michigan since 1993. I choose to keep the accent.

HD: So it's something that you can turn on and off?

JP: Yes, to a certain degree.

HD: So the election was yesterday.

JP: Yes, it was!

HD: Kind of poor turnout, partly due to the weather, I'm sure, but I guess people don't get really fired up about Library Board. And this time with the School Board it was all uncontested.

JP: The School Board was uncontested, but the Library Board wasn't. But the Library, we don't have any controversy.

HD: So it was basically William Kincaid, he chose ...

JP: ... he chose not to run.

HD: It was a essentially a matter of filling that open slot.

JP: Correct.

HD: It looked this morning like Jan Newman won the slot, as far as you know?

JP: Yes, that's right. It is Jan Barney Newman. And the two incumbents were re-elected.

HD: So will they be installed in a formal ceremony?

JP: They will, in July. They're elected public officials, so they're sworn in.

HD: I thought that one way to approach some current library issues would be to talk about something called the clipping file. You're familiar with this.

JP: Sure! That's your issue?

HD: Not really my issue, but I just thought it would be an interesting way to work our way into some of the library topics. When I went to the main location, is that even the right nomenclature now?

JP: 'Main' or 'Downtown'. Depends on who you are.

HD: So I went to the downtown location and I asked to see the clipping room and that, of course, confused the librarian at the desk.

JP: I don't know that we've ever had a clipping room.

HD: Well, from the way it was described to me it sounded to me like it had to be the size of a room, at least. But when she asked, Do you mean the clipping file? I said, No, it's bigger than a file! So I didn't really know what I was looking for. It's, I guess, a few hundred three-ring binders?

JP: Yes.

HD: Full of articles clipped from the Ann Arbor News, from the Ann Arbor Observer, to some extent.

JP: Both, but primarily, the clipping file, when we talk about it, it's the News.

HD: Okay. And it's organized by category topic, it's indexed, it's really quite amazing.

JP: Yes, decades of work.

HD: I was particularly impressed by the two three-ring binders full of just articles about parking. Nothing but parking. I guess that file ended in December 2003. From 2003 forward, so really two questions: what happens to that physical resource, and is there a plan to convert that into a digital format?

JP: The library would like to convert that into a digital format, but we don't hold the copyright to that material. And we don't have permission from the Ann Arbor News to do that.

HD: Is it a matter of they have actually said, We're not going to give you permission?

JP: They have. They have been very cooperative in the discussions about it and its popularity, but they're not in a position to. Most small newspapers are allowing, through enterprises such as ProQuest, places like that, digitization of their papers and their archives so that they're full-text searchable, retrospectively, back years. Many local papers the size of Ann Arbor have done that. It would be great if that could happen, and then when the library buys its newspaper database, Ann Arbor's included in it. And our patrons, our citizens can search the Ann Arbor News back a number of years. And we'd be paying for that for them through that site license. That would be the best. The second best thing is for us to digitize selected subjects from that clipping file and put them up in a searchable way on our website, so that people can search and find that information and use it. That remains a copyright issue that we were not able to negotiate through at this point in time. The third option, that we have selected, is to continue to index the newspaper without clipping the newspaper ...

HD: ... so without physically cutting it out ...

JP: ... right, and selectively, though. We don't index the same number of subjects as there are binders. We've reduced our number of subjects to certain ones, and new ones could come up depending on what's going on ...

HD: ... do you know off the top of your head what some of those topics are?

JP: The schools, Ann Arbor Library, the Calthorpe Plan would be included, and downtown development, those would be some of the subjects. That index is online. People can search it from different places in the library and find what they're interested in and the citation to the microfilm, that we buy of the newspaper. That is Downtown. Based on looking through the index and those subject areas, people can go directly to the microfilm and find it and print it. That's what we're doing now. The fourth option, which we chose not to do, was to stop doing everything and let it go, not index the Ann Arbor News and not clip or anything. But we have so many people coming to us for information from the Ann Arbor News that's historical, that we weren't willing to do that. So we're still doing the work for the public, indexing the newspaper.

HD: Is indexing it the equivalent of a full-time position? Or even multiple people?

JP: It's multiple people. What happens is librarians identify within a paper what subjects need to be indexed, and clerical staff actual do the typing in and tagging of the data.

HD: So if you put everybody's effort all together and summarized it, it would be more than a full-time effort?

JP: It's not more than full time. It's not that much work. Now, in the days when we clipped, and copied, and bound it into files folders, very different. That's why we quit doing it! It's very expensive. Plus the format degrades and people steal it.

HD: People steal the photocopied sheets out of the three-ring binders?!

JP: Yes.

HD: I realize that people will steal anything, but that seems a little odd.

JP: People steal those, they cut pages out of books, Dave!

HD: Really?! Commonly?!

JP: Sure. The county atlases that are owned by so many small libraries, important for genealogy and history, those county atlases that are old and irreplaceable, they get lifted all the time.

HD: Really!

JP: Or people razor out what they are looking for and take it. And you don't know it until the next person goes through the book. It's pretty bad.

HD: Maybe I'm just naive. I find that stunning! I guess I think of people who are going to the library as generally being good citizens.

JP: They are! It only takes a couple of people to create a problem.

HD: Well, sticking with the clipping file, the physical entity now, the stuff that dates back to, I don't know when it started, but through 2003 ...

JP: ... some of it's thirty years old.

HD: That will stay at the downtown location? Is there any possibility that might be moved out to one of the branches?

JP: That won't be moved out to a branch. That will stay Downtown. Whether or not it stays in the publicly accessible area or not is dependent on its condition. And the librarians, that's part of their professional job and their judgement to make those calls. If they feel we're losing the resource, and we have no way of replacing the resource, and right now we don't because the Ann Arbor News is not available retrospectively back that far, they will take it and place it in reference, or what we call 'storage but available'. So if someone wants to see it, they can ask for and we get it.

HD: But it wouldn't be generally available for people to just paw through.

JP: Right. A library is all about access. But you balance that with protection and what we call preservation.

HD: So is the downtown location still considered to be sort of like the flagship location? Would it be fair to attach the word 'Main' to that location?

JP: If you describe 'Main' as the largest footprint ... sorry, I'm sliding!

HD: That's fine!

JP: If you call 'Main' as the largest footprint, if you say which building has the biggest collection, then sure. It's not going to remain the building with the largest circulation.

HD: Really? Which ...?

JP: Pittsfield. Pittsfield is close to being higher than Main now. It's been open six weeks.

HD: Holy Cow! What are people checking out of there?!

JP: Everything! And only there. I mean until Monday, nothing was renewable down there. So it was going out and coming back in and going out and coming back in. So this is not renewals. This is circs, this is individual transactions. We circ-ed more at Pittsfield the day it opened than we did at Downtown that same day, and I think that has never happened before.

HD: Wow.

JP: And the circulation the first week Pittsfield was open was within a couple of thousand of the week's circulation for Downtown. And it will creep up. So there's a lot going on. As far as being called the flagship, yeah, in so many ways: that's where the major programs are; that's where the big exhibits are; that's where most of our collaborative programs are. So sure. It's always going to have its purpose and its space and its use, but it will be defined differently. It's not going to be about circ. It will about other uses of public space.

HD: So for example, is the Nancy Pearl presentation [14 May 2006] going to be Downtown?

JP: Downtown, yep. And the big author reception for the Book Festival, Friday night, the 12th [of May 2006], that's open to the public and anybody can come and meet all the authors who are going to be able to get in that night: at the public library Downtown.

HD: I've seen some criticism of the choice of location of the Pittsfield branch outside the City limits of Ann Arbor, as a sort of a symbolic surrender to suburban sprawl.

JP: The library district is the school district. Not the City limits. And a lot of our money comes from those 'suburbanites'. So we need to serve them.

HD: Okay, so is it the case then that these various branches, their collections are not going to be just a subset of what's available at the Downtown Library? Each branch will have selection based on its particular patron needs, as assessed by the librarians at each branch?

JP: Right, and it will change. As the demographic changes, as use changes, it will change. It's not really practical to cookie-cutter branch collections, because all things don't go out in all places. So you tailor it, and that's professional work. That's what librarians do.

HD: I mentioned the Nancy Pearl presentation. The action figure librarian, she's the model for that?

JP: Well she was, and she is.

HD: Was it her idea?

JP: No, but she agreed to do it. And she thinks it's a hoot!

HD: In your experience, have you found that people give that item to you as a gift?

JP: I have three and two of them were gifts. One I bought for myself. There's a new edition.

HD: There is? Is this the one with authentic shushing action?

JP: They all have shushing action. The new edition, she's dressed in red and she has a bookcase. And a podium, I think.

HD: So you have one of the new editions?

JP: I do. Someone gave it to me.

HD: So you really don't need any more.

JP: No.

HD: It's interesting that still with this action figure doll there's this stereotype of the shushing action, although I find, or have found on the two recent occasions that I've visited the Downtown Library, it's not really a quiet place.

JP: The shushing action is a joke, we don't do that anymore!

HD: I know! I understand that. It just seemed to me an interesting way of getting into what all goes on at a library nowadays besides people just staring at books reading quietly. When I was looking at the clipping file, I was startled and I thought an accident had happened behind me, but it was just somebody buying something from a vending machine.

JP: Yeah, it clunks down there.

HD: Yeah, it does clunk down. And I hadn't even noticed that there were vending machines there. Was that at all controversial?

JP: No.

HD: It's just totally standard now?

JP: Yes. They're at both the new branches. They're Downtown. They'll be at the building out on the Northeast Branch.

HD: So the Northeast Branch is scheduled to start construction end of 2007, is that right?

JP: No, end of this year [2006] hopefully.

HD: So it's supposed to be open ...?

JP: In '08.

HD: Are there other branches planned besides the Northeast Branch?

JP: We're operating off of a study plan that was done in '97. It indicated that the Library needed four branches in its geographic area. The last one would be on the Northwest side, and that one would likely be outside the City limits as well. We have not secured property for that. So, we're still in the process of trying to locate a space. We're going to get Northeast built and open, and then probably between now and the opening of Northeast, we may know where we're going to put that building, I don't know.

HD: So anything else on your mind?

JP: It's a gorgeous day! I'm actually enjoying this [laugh]!

HD: Well, I'm glad you said that out loud!

JP: No, this is great. I haven't done this in a long, long time. It's a pleasure to be a librarian and to be the director of a library in Ann Arbor. The public supports the library here, not only financially, but with their feet: they come in and they use it. They use it whether they're readers or not. And that, I think is the benchmark for what a great public library is today: that people who don't read, value and use a public library.

HD: Are you referring specifically to internet usage?

JP: Well, there is that. There's internet. There's people who come to the programs, the lectures. There are the people who come for the exhibits. There are the people who come to work in groups with their co-workers with their wireless and have their coffee and get work done. There are the people who have seasonal affective disorder, who find Mallet's Creek Branch very positive and comforting and they come in the winter and knit in front of the fireplace, because it helps them. And I have had people who've given me that as reason for being there and have thanked me.

HD: Oh, I thought for a second you were going to say, Who've given me the results of their knitting project!

JP: No, no. But they've been very generous in telling me, You know, I want you to know that this is what I do at the library. And I find that very moving.

HD: Yeah, even though it doesn't count statistically as a circulation event.

JP: No. It's a door count, I mean, we know they were there. But circulation is one measure and it's an important one for libraries. It used to be the important one. It's becoming just one of a number of measures, not the most important one.

HD: So is there a sensor at the door?

JP: Yes, at all of the doors, a counter.

HD: Wow. Because there's not like a turnstile.

JP: No, it's unobtrusive.

HD: So the internet access also is not counted as a circulation event.

JP: No, but we count sessions. We count how many people use it a month, in a day, or even an hour, we can get that granular. We count that and we count how many hits on our website.

HD: So the system now for regulating the internet stations, it's pretty slick, where you swipe your library card. A vast improvement over when they first had the terminals, you had to sign in on a clipboard ...

JP: ... it was terrible. For everybody.

HD: Well, I mean it worked okay, I just felt bad for the people who had to go and say, Hey, your time is up!

JP: We call it Session Manager, and it was developed internally, the software.

HD: So the code was written by staff at the library?

JP: Yes.

HD: So if the FBI came and said, We have suspected terrorist activity based on these keystrokes coming from this IP address at this time, we'd like to have that patron's information. Would that be possible, given that system?

JP: Under very limited conditions. They'd have to ask within 24 hours of the patron being there, because we dump everything every 24 hours. We don't follow people around, so we don't keep that information. And they would have to have a court order.

HD: So it's not like the District Library is all about telling the FBI: Here's who's doing what on our internet.

JP: No.

HD: Yeah, you know it is just a spectacular day, we have all the smells of spring out here.

JP: I was just thinking the lilac and the ... apple?

HD: Ummm ...

JP: ... No?

HD: I don't know what kind of tree that is.

JP: It's an ornamental fruit, right?

HD: Some sort of ornamental thing that you're supposed to prune with some regularity and with some skill, neither of which I have or do.

JP: Your neighbor probably doesn't complain.

HD: No. Alright, I'd like to thank you for coming and riding the teeter totter with me. It's been a pleasure.

JP: You're welcome!