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.
- 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.
- 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!”