A Gazillion Questions Answered

Its taken a while for me to post about my tour. A mix of life getting in the way and also waiting on a few clarifications from my visit. I spent nearly 3 hours with the library director Alexandra Gressitt and another hour doing some research, but more on that later.  Sadly the library has a strict no cameras allowed policy so I have pulled a few from the web so people can get a better feel of the library, even if I was unable to take them myself. And so to the questions. Ms. Gressitt was very kind to answer almost all my questions at the time or in a follow up e-mail. But on top of my questions we talked extensively about the library and archives field in general and a little on their internship program which might be perfect for the degree requirements later on. 

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 General Questions

  • How many people work or volunteer at the library?

3 full time staff

8-10 flexible part time staff ( they are currently looking to add 2 additional members)

8-10 regular volunteers

  • Is the collection still growing? Has the way the collection is used change over time?

The collection is still growing and  this is mainly through donations to the library. Being part of town rather than the county they can actually then auction of certain items that are donated if they feel they are not as relevant to the collection as a whole.

  • What would you say are the strengths of the library and also its weakness and limitations?

Alexandra felt that the strengths of the library were her staff and the programs they offer to the public. In addition the unique collection they have as well as the research guides etc they have developed.

Weaknesses of the library were also the staff but in relation to the staffing levels at present.In addition the ties to the town as a whole were a weakness as things had to be done “there way”

The limitations were as in almost all libraries financial but also space. The library has very little space left and the behind the scenes space was extremely limited.

  • Does the funding for the library come from the county or just the city of Leesburg itself?

Funding comes from the Town of Leesburg but also to a lesser extent some grants as well as donations from individuals. Alexandra has also been able to set up the Thomas Balch Endowment Foundation to help manage some additional money that was donated to the town of Leesburg specifically for the library. I was also surprised to learn there is a key difference between a town and city in Virginia and it affects the funding provided to the library. Being a town the library received almost no state library funds while a city would have.

Technology in General

  • What percentage of the libraries budget goes towards the technology and electronic databases that are part of the library?

The library spends less than 30% of its budget on electronic databases. With being such a small library many of their databases are fairly cheap. For instance they only pay $750 a year for JSTOR. The majority of the budget actually goes to salary and very little goes to additions to the collection. This is due to the uniqueness of this library.

  • With the renovation and additions to the library in 2000 did they take into account the advances in technology? For example additional wiring for computers, networks etc.?

Although Ms. Gressitt was not at the library at the time of the renovations there was some planning for technology within the renovations and the addition. However technology has advanced so fast since then that the building still has limitations technology wise and they still run into issues from the renovation with certain outlets not working etc.  On a side note I was surprised to learn that when she joined the library in 2003 one of the first things she had to deal with was the punch list from the renovations that were completed in 2001!


With being such a specialized library does the library have specific databases that can only used by staff? And does the library offering any training or assistance for the various databases offered?

All databases at the library are offered to patrons in some format except for any new databases that they are still testing.   Some databases have restrictions on their use and I found it extremely interesting to learn that they specifically limit the use of certain databases to in library use only. This was not due to technology limitations but instead is specifically to try and get patrons to use the library itself ( “its all about the numbers”). I was very surprised at this way of thinking but after chatting with Ms. Gressitt further I understand the reason behind it even if I disagree with it.

 

The library does offer regular training and orientation for its databases and is also happy to help one on one with questions as time etc, permits.

  • Have you had any issues with licensing and copyright in relation to you electronic services and databases?

Licensing has not been a major issue mainly due to the small size of the library. Copyright has also not been a major issue with many of these items being out of copyright. However they are keenly aware of copyright issues and it one of the reasons they are not putting their oral histories online. This surprised me but makes sense with the small size and also the databases they have and the set up.

  • With such an extensive collection of historical material how do you use technology to manage the collection? For instance you mention on the website that you are using new software to manage the visual collection.

The library uses Past Perfect (http://www.museumsoftware.com/ ) to manage much of their collection such as their visual collection and also the cataloging of their archival material which actually includes physical items as well as papers etc. The majority of the  normal “library” cataloging is done by Loudoun county for the library as they do not have a cataloger on staff.

  • What equipment/technology does the library use to let patrons view things like microfiche or the Oral interviews you have in the collection? Does the library have any assistive technology for those with disabilities?

With being such a small library they do not have any assistive technology due to budget considerations. They were able to buy 4 new Minolta microfilm/fiche readers using some excess city funds. One of these is also hooked to a PC so people can scan and save material to a flash drive. The oral Interviews are currently being digitized and they are in the middle of setting up a PC and stand alone hard drive that will store and let people listen to these histories. Only select snippets of these will be put online.

Slide 8

Digitization 

 

  • From your website the library has been able to compile some great indexes and finding aids that are invaluable for local historians and researchers. Are you hoping/ planning to add additional indexes going forward? And if so in what format will these most likely be?

 

The formatting of the finding aids and indexes has  been set out by subject areas and areas of interest. These will continue to be for the most part PDF’s  due to issues getting a central catalog/finding aid set up. This is mainly to due to the cataloging being done by the Loudoun County Library System who are unwilling/unable to catalog to the level the Balch library would like. The library is also one of the few non academic libraries that is part of the Virginia heritage database of finding aids ( http://vaheritage.org/ ).

 

  • Does the library plan to digitize any of its collection so others can use it without coming to the library?


As previously mentioned the library has started to digitize parts of its collections such as the oral histories and their visual collection and these can be viewed at the library directly but only a select amount will be added online. The library however does not plan to digitize everything and as Ms. Gressitt points out “Not everything is worth digitizing!”

Another slight diversion

While out on a walk recently I came across some old farm equipment which reminded me of a previous class assignment when we had to use a virtual reference service. I had been disappointed for the most part with the answer I received from my local public library but they had directed me to the Thomas Balch library as being a better source of information. And as I will be at the library tomorrow anyway I am going to take the time to find what they have. While researching for this project I was amazed at many finding aids and indexes they had on their website and I was glad to see in there unpublished reports two papers specifically on my topic –

History of Countryside,A –  Layton, Bili

History of Countryside, The  -Haller, Barbara M.

I live in an area of Loudoun county that was for the most part farms. However where the actual farm buildings were has been elusive to figure out. For instance if you look at the 1940 census map it shows a “Milk station” very close to where we presently live and also a few other vague squares that are obviously buildings. But I have been unable to find any more information so hopefully tomorrows research will at least start to answer the questions I have.

1940 Census Map – Loudoun County

Questions to Ponder

With how chaotic things are in my life at present it was almost inevitable there would be a hitch in the plans. And that hitch turned out to be a postponement of my library visit after a colleague at work was out sick for several days. But things are back on track and I am heading to the Thomas Balch library tomorrow morning to not only meet and chat with the director but also finally do some research on the history of  the neighborhood I live in.  But more on that later.

 With being a small specialized library I am particularly interested in how they are using technology to not only manage  but also if they plan to digitize part of the collection. The library has over 10,000 images as part of its collection as well as extensive collection of oral histories, many of them still on tape! So instead of focusing my questions on the libraries technology  in general I hoping to talk to the director about digitization and collection management.  Some possible questions I have are –

Library general questions

  • How many people work or volunteer at the library?
  • Is the collection still growing? Has the way the collection is used change over time?
  • What would you say are the strengths of the library and also its weakness and limitations?
  • Does the funding for the library come from the county or just the city of Leesburg itself?

 Technology in general  

  • What percentage of the libraries budget goes towards the technology and electronic databases that are part of the library?
  • With the renovation and additions to the library in 2000 did they take into account the advances in technology? For example additional wiring for computers, networks etc.?
  • With being such a specialized library does the library have specific databases that can only used by staff? And does the library offering any training or assistance for the various databases offered?
  • Have you had any issues with licensing and copyright in relation to you electronic services and databases?
  • With such an extensive collection of historical material how do you use technology to manage the collection? For instance you mention on the website that you are using new software to manage the visual collection.
  • What equipment/technology does the library use to let patrons view things like microfiche or the Oral interviews you have in the collection? Does the library have any assistive technology for those with disabilities?

Digitization 

  • From your website the library has been able to compile some great indexes and finding aids that are invaluable for local historians and researchers. Are you hoping/ planning to add additional indexes going forward? And if so in what format will these most likely be?
  • Does the library plan to digitize any of its collection so others can use it without coming to the library?

I am looking forward to my visit tomorrow and to get a look behind the scenes at what is a unique library in the area.

A slight diversion – Little Free Libraries

With working in a private law library in DC I don’t get to play use many fun books. I love helping our patrons but with very few exceptions our requests are predominantly for business related materials. About a year ago while walking near a friend’s house I stumbled across a  strange box on the side of the road. What was it? And why did it have books in it with a note to take one? What I had found was one of several thousand little free libraries ( http://littlefreelibrary.org/) that can be found throughout the country and the world. It all started in 2009 in Wisconsin and has quickly spread!

My wife and I both loved the idea and immediately wanted one ourselves. With living in an HOA Community we knew it would be difficult to get approval for a library and placing one in our yard would be impractical as there was no sidewalks. But being the stubborn people we are we decided to ask the HOA to place one by the playground. It took many meetings (8 plus!) and nearly 3 months but in March this year we were approved! By July I had finished building our little free library and we were ready for people to use the library.

little free library

 Its fun for me to play with what I call fun books and to see what people take and leave. We try to keep a mix of kids books as well as various types of adult books.People have been extremely generous and dated many books and we often come home to find books in our donation box. Off course this means we get first dibs at whatever comes in and I have found some fun things to read…:)

If anybody would like to see the library you can follow us on facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/countrysidelittlefreelibrary )

We have made contact!

With trying to balance work, volunteering and class work it had been a few days since I had checked my student e-mail. I finally was able to do so and was extremely happy to see that one of the libraries I had contacted was happy to meet and talk with me.

I have arranged to meet with the library director of the Thomas Balch library. Alexandra Gressitt has been at the library since 2003 and I have arranged to meet her early Tuesday morning October 28th. The library is unique in the area  as it is focused almost exclusively on the history and genealogy of Loudoun county and to a lesser extent the Northern Virginia region. The library has existed since 1908 and moved into its current building in 1922.

Thomas Balch Library

I am hoping to focus my meeting specifically on digitization and if/how the library intends to do this. The library website ( http://www.leesburgva.gov/index.aspx?page=84 ) has some great online databases they have created in-house and I am interested to see how these were created and if/how they are updated. In the next few days I will have to do some further research and see if I can come up with some questions to ask.

My Library visit

I haven’t decided yet which library to visit for my library visit but have sent e-mails to 2 local libraries and am hoping to hear from them soon. I am hoping to see how the Thomas Balch genealogy library uses technology to help with their research and also if they are starting to digitize the collection to make it more accessible. This is a small library in my county that I found extremely interesting as its sole focus is genealogy and local history. Their website can be found here –

http://www.leesburgva.gov/index.aspx?page=84

In addition I have asked the manager of my local county library to see if they mind if I ask them how they use technology in the library. This is the library I volunteer at so need to make sure this is okay first.

http://library.loudoun.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=391