By Maribeth Krupczak, Library Development Specialist, Division of Library Development, New York State Library

Carol Ann Desch, Past President of ASCLA, began the program with a presentation of the 2009 ASCLA Award winners.

  • The ASCLA/Keystone Library Automation System (KLAS)/National Organization on Disability (NOD) Award for a library providing notable services to those with disabilities recognized the “Libraries and Autism: We’re Connected,” project developed by Margaret Kolaya, director, Scotch Plains Public Library (N.J.) and Daniel Weiss, director, Fanwood Memorial Library (N.J.).
  • The Francis Joseph Campbell Award for outstanding contributions to the advancement of library service for the blind and physically handicapped was presented to Ray LaHood, current U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary, for his leadership and advocacy benefiting the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped digital talking books transition.
  • For the tenth year, ASCLA awarded a $2,500 ASCLA Century Scholarship. The 2009 scholarship recipient is Amy Sonnie, a Master’s student at San Jose State University. The scholarship funds services or accommodations that are either not provided by law or otherwise by the university that enable the student to successfully complete the course of study for a Master’s or Doctorate in Library Science and become a library or information studies professional.

Desch then introduced Kathleen Moeller-Peiffer, a member of the program planning team, who set the stage for the presentation to follow. She invited the audience to “fasten your seat belt and join Joan and George for a light speed tour that will stimulate you and possibly make you think differently about energizing our profession.” As Jerry Krois, chair of the planning committee, had previously described the topic: “In a world where information is an off-shored commodity, where Google handles more questions in a second than a reference librarian will answer in a career, and where social gatherings have migrated to online networks, we need to know how we make our libraries thrive and how we can demonstrate the greatest return on funders’ investment.”

Library pundits Joan Frye Williams and George Needham proceeded to address that challenge in a frank and entertaining dialogue before more than 100 attendees.

Needham and Williams discussed the questions, what makes a library a special place? What makes people want to come back? Their response? Other agencies use knowledge of their customer to make service improvements. In the name of confidentiality, in an attempt to maintain anonymity for the user, librarians assume an attitude of ignorance about their users’ needs. However, people value an experience where someone enters into their success. To do this, librarians must acknowledge knowing something about the individual. It is okay to communicate with the person as a person, not a transaction. If you recognize someone returning that you have helped before, ask how things turned out!

With the rise in independent users, mediated transactions are not the only library experiences a person has. The physical and web presentation of a library should make navigation clear and attractive to the user.

Some highlights from the discussion:

  • Don’t treat the user as a “walking workload’.
  • Tools not rules: empower users to find the right way for them to discover the information they seek.
  • Users aren’t remote, the library service is. Treat the users’ [virtual] place with the importance it has for them.
  • Don’t withhold information to control how users get information. All staff should be able to answer some questions wherever they are asked, and more importantly, the user should be able to figure out some things on their own.
  • Revitalize your point of view. This does not mean every process and service has to be redone.
  • Expect things to go well The result will be work that feels valuable and fun.

To learn more about Joan Frye Williams and George Needham, including some samples of their presentations, visit