It was very nice of Allison to accommodate us for an interview about her library Washington Parish Library. She boasts that what makes her library unique apart from others is the fact that it serves a rural population. The use of the internet in their library has opened doors to many new users and that is something they are also proud of. They actually do advertisement in order to attract more children to go to their library and read. Read more about their library at www.washington.lib.la.us
Where is your library and how can I access your website?
The Washington Parish Library consists of four branches and is located due north of New Orleans. We are not served by a major interstate highway, just state routes. Our website is www.washington.lib.la.us and the public has access to language, career development and many online titles and database choices.
What sets your library apart from others?
Other public libraries in the region serve populations of over 100,000. The St. Tammany Parish Library, to our south, serves a population of 250,000. Our western neighbor, Tangipahoa Parish services a population of roughly 150,000. What makes Washington unique, relative to these libraries and others is the fact that it is outside of a major urban center and serves a rural population. We also serve some of the lower counties in Mississippi that surround us (Pike County, Walthall County and Marion County). Our own patron population is roughly 45,000 and we serve them with two moderately-sized, one small and one “micro” location in the town of Enon. What really sets WPL aside from many of the other larger libraries is the fact that we treat our patrons well. For a small library, we offer Louisiana endowment for the Humanities programs, Saturday Movie Matinees as well as Story Times and Children’s programming. We also offer a variety of adult programs under the mantle of “Library After Hours” which can run the gamut of anything from introductory computer training to genealogy and historical discussion groups. In the coming years I plan to seek out local craft groups to try to bring them into the fold of the library. If they teach their craft, we’ll let them meet. I think the one thing that sets us apart from our sister libraries is the fact that we are small, but have the ability to meet most of our users’ needs without having to reach out to far for help.
I know you’ve seen hundreds of books this year, Allison. What are the most noteworthy books you have read recently?
That’s kind of a hard call – there is so much out there and I have very little time to order, so I try to read as much as I can, but I am a C-Span Junkie and like to catch “Afterwords” to see many of the authors book talking the latest works. Recently, I have read part of Bill Clinton’s “Back to Work” and found it pretty fascinating.
With so many things you can do at your library, which ones seem to be the most popular?
The use of the Internet has opened the library to many new users. While we traditionally have a built-in clientele, the Internet has opened us up to many who might not have used the library before. With the current economic issues, we have become the unemployment office. With the closure and consolidation of many of Louisiana’s Social Services offices, we have become their portal. We have, in effect, become a community/Parish (County) level agency for employment, social services and must be responsive to the needs of the community. As I said earlier, we are a rural area and we do not have high-speed Internet access available to the citizens of the parish. The only place that does have it, free of charge, is the library. This is one major draw. Another is the fact that we have a knowledgeable staff and a Reference librarian here to help. I find that there are two distinct types of users in the library today: the traditional ones and the digital ones. The traditional ones want books, magazines and print media. The digital ones require a completely different skill set and content. The digital user is more demanding, but has infinitely more choices. The traditional user has what’s on shelf or available via Interlibrary Loan. There has been a lot of demand for e-texts and e-audio books, but I have to find a funding source and a vendor who will best meet our needs. I do see this as becoming a reality for us, but the price for a small library is rather steep. I just started here in September. Something programs and Ideas seem to work well in one location, only to not do so well in another. Anything that involves history or genealogy seems to do pretty well. I am betting the farm that traditional crafts, etc to meet this need.
Do you book speakers via Skype? If so, how would someone interested in speaking, reach out to you?
I would be interested in using Skype, BUT, as I said, we live in a very traditional community and I would prefer to book someone in person and have them come to the two larger branches. A few years back we did a living history and book signing, replete with a 12-pounder gun being fired down main street and compete Civil-War Era Dress. It woke up a few people, but was fun.
There are organizations that are promoting independent authors books, are you open to displaying these in your library Allison?
YES!!! In other libraries, I have reached out to authors to sell their books and had them lecture. It was fun all around and very illuminating.
How many books would you say you purchase in your library every year?
I haven’t been here a full year yet, but if I had to estimate, it would be between 1,800 and 2,000.
Where do you buy your books? Ingram? Amazon? Overdrive?
Baker and Taylor, plus a whole host of smaller vendors.
What type of books are you searching for?
I am searching for things that I know the community might want – traditional mysteries, light-hearted mysteries (Evanovich), Historical fiction, biography, craft and how to manuals. I’d like to build a collection that mirrors its community: one that is utilitarian but with some items that provoke thought and dialogue.
What kind of books do you wish publishers would make more available?
More self-instructional and inspired fiction I suppose. I also would like to see more things available in Spanish or I’d like to be made aware of them. We have a small collection, but it isn’t terribly large. Allison, o you think there is a need for more works in both English and Español to serve the Latin market? If so, in which genre? Yes. We could use some general fiction materials such as mysteries, general fiction that caters to age groups within the Hispanophone community and probably titles that might help with course instruction, etc.
What are you doing personally to entice the younger generation to read more?
I have mandated that we have and “advertise” for our services to the community. We cannot wait for them to come, so we must go fishing for them. We have to make the community aware of what we are and what we do because the traditional wait and see model is no longer valid. I prefer an activist approach, preferring to be in the face of the public than to sit here and hope for the users to walk in. By taking an outside sales model as my approach, I think it would be easier to reach the community as a whole. Using the Internet to email and approach others I think helps tremendously.
Do you offer eBooks at your library? Who supplies you with them?
Through the State Library, we offer some E-book titles through EBSCO and Britannica. Our user-base at this time is still mostly rooted in the “traditional” model I mentioned earlier. I think they would definitely be into downloadable audio and at some point, would look to e-texts. To put it another way, we still have VHS tapes here. This will soon change, but it gives you an idea that things move as quickly as ice flows on a glacier.
The book industry was shaken by the economy. How was your library affected?
The housing market here was not terribly affected. All-in-all, Louisiana and its rural areas especially, have not suffered 10-15 percent unemployment as have many communities. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita literally rewrote all of the demographics for the lower half of the state, these are effects that socio-economically, we’ll be dealing worth for a generation. This is not a high-income area, but its people are very industrious and know.
With so much distracting people today, and with the affects of the recession, Allison, how do you get more and more people to come into the library instead of staying home playing video games?
To a certain extent, we try to get media to cater to those who fall into our natural market. In the case of the kids who use the Wii, DS-Lite and gaming, they typically have an interest in being competitive. I will try in the coming months and this has been done in other local systems, to do specific teen movie nights, Wii competitions and reading groups that cater to their interests. I know that manga and anime are very prevalent for younger boys right now as are the whole zombie craze. Also, for the girls, there the whole vampire thing. I think a tie-in between the movies/books would help to let them express themselves as well as bring them in. You never know, a library sponsored “why I am a zombie: essay competition might generate some interest.