There really is no reason we shouldn't/couldn't be next on the list of innovative libraries. Lots of things are happening in CT libraries that we should be proud of. Some of them have been around for a while, but lest we forget how innovative they are, here's a short list (please add comments if you can think of more):
- recently: Danbury Public Library offers the first implementation of LibraryThing for libraries in their catalog with the leadership of Loose Cannon Librarian Kate Sheehan
- last fall: Darien Public Library (and the CT Library Consortium) offers an unconference for Library2.0 sorts that includes L2.0 luminaries and newbies alike - I'd daresay it was probably the first unconference in the state
- iCONN - once called the Connecticut Digital Library, now known by the catchier, more web-oriented "Connecticut's re-Search engine" is a leading statewide database program offering free database access to public, school, and academic libraries and through these institutions to all state residents. This initiative was sponsored by then Lt-Gov (now Governor!) Jodi Rell and has been wildly successful. It also includes a statewide interlibrary loan system. It surprised me that such leading states as California don't offer a program on par with this - but it does remind us of how lucky we are to be in a state where I think every town has at least 1 (and sometimes 2 - e.g., Derby - has an association library and a public library, both open to Derby residents) public libraries! iCONN has been innovative - some of these innovations have included:
- implementation of global ip recognition to allow most all state residents to easily enter the iCONN dbs - without even having to remember their library card number! now, I know that this might be controversial, but trust me, it will not alter your potential patrons' visiting habits - if anything, it will be more liable to offer a positive advertisement to bring patrons back into the library by reminding them what libraries have to offer - quality resources - be they online or in-person!
- federated searching of the many iCONN resources available to state residents
- the addition of real-time circ status info to the union catalog provided through iCONN - reQuest (this one was a huge task, requiring lots of that great library ideal - cooperation - all of the library networks and individual libraries who have this circ information showing up in reQuest had to work closely with both their library system's vendor and reQuest staff)
- use of survey pros (UCONN Center for Survey & Research Analysis) to learn about all state residents' awareness and use of iCONN - this is the type of marketing analysis / survey research work that's conducted by big coporations - with good reason - professionally-administered survey work is worth every penny in the name of improving the service or product you're offering.
- CCARD & C-CAR: Connecticard/CCARD is the initiative that allows anyone who gets a hometown public library card to use any other public library in our state - often using the same library card number! I'm reminded of one of the northern New England states where my mom migrates to each summer - she not only can't go to every library in her area with her one library card, she has to pay to belong to a given library. And ConnectiCar (C-CAR) - a statewide delivery service to obtain and return inter-library loans - how innovative! I'll grant you that this is probably a service that best suits a tiny state like CT, so our innovation here is partially dictated by geography, but it's still an innovation.
- the first statewide collaborative 24x7 virtual reference project - Askyourlibrary.org (this one is a little self-serving, I know, as I was its coordinator for a while, but still.... it was the leadership of my library network's higher ups (namely Mike Simonds and Amy Terlaga) plus the support of the network's members that made it happen and I was proud to have been a part of it). It had its share of bumps along the way, but it never stopped rolling and now it has evolved into an even more successful (higher rate of participation among the state's libraries) InfoAnytime through the work and support of the Connecticut Library Consortium.
- the Division of Library Development at the State Library has been very successful in helping even the tiniest of our libraries (some of whom have as few as 1 part-time professional staffing them) through its excellent training and staff development programs. It participates in the national WebJunction project, as well, which offers online learning opportunities (freely usable by staff in the state's libraries).
- Intellectual Freedom Warriors - the famous 4, need I say more? they stood up to the most problematic aspects of the Patriot Act (it's not that librarians won't/shouldn't cooperate with legal authorities, but the authorities - if they are doing seizures of information legitimately - shouldn't have a hard time producing a court order for said seizures and... furthermore, librarians who've had to respond to such requests should have the right to mention it to coworkers without being in violation of the law) and in doing so, brought attention to the reality of an issue that members of the Administration had characterized as a "hysterical" concern.
- Professional pay rates - we have among the highest pay rates for professional librarians in the nation. I'm not saying that it's perfect, I'm just saying that this state shows its commitment to education in its support for libraries and professionally trained librarians.
- And of course, many individual libraries in our state that I haven't cited already are also doing innovative things - some with large budgets, others with tiny ones. Some struggle to serve urban populations with tax bases that reflect the loss of the manufacturing sector that used to support their municipalities. Some struggle because they are small, rural, or mill-town-based libraries. Theoretically, county systems might aggregate more resources. But having worked in a county system, I would say that in some ways, our libraries reap benefits by being more locally controlled. In those smaller environments, sometimes great ideas are more liable to sprout, I think. And with the support of the State (self-serving here, I know) and the many great library consortia, associations, and friends' groups, we make up for many of the shortcomings in our approach.
I know that I'm missing plenty of great developments out there in CT library-land, so feel free to post your comments adding the many things I've missed.
- let's change the state's moniker from "the land of steady habits" to something more like "the state with a tradition of innovation". We used to lead the way back in the day when tool-and-die making was a respected (and known) trade. Why can't we remember that old Yankee ingenuity and start moving with the pace and track of 21st-century technology? I think we can.