Sunday, May 17, 2009

University of Toronto Library

While I was in Toronto, I thought I would do some additional research on a paper I am writing and knew that the University of Toronto Library would have what I needed. I used to visit Toronto a lot, as there is a large Latvian community and it had (and still has) the largest Latvian library in North America that I turned to for help in setting up the Latvian Studies Center Library. I used the University of Toronto Robarts Library on occasion, plus they microfilmed and then printed out on cards the whole card catalog of the Toronto Latvian Center Library for me. Since I had not been in Robarts Library for years, I stopped at the information desk to ask how I may use the library. First of all I had an interesting conversation with the librarian there about how the security measures had trickled up north from us, and that they too now had to provide information about what certain people were reading.

To use their computers, even to just search the catalog, I had to register for a password. On the first floor (of 13) there was a machine where you could swipe your ID. It didn't recognize my Michigan driver's license, but did take my credit card. Then it printed a small piece of paper with a username and password. I could now use one of only six computers designated for visitor use, four in the main reference area, two in the Slavic and East European Studies reading room. All were in use on a holiday (Victoria Day) Saturday afternoon. Luckily one of the reading room computers opened up pretty quickly, though at the other one the guy was snoozing most of the time.

I found what I needed, sent some articles to print, got a couple of call numbers. What I liked about their stacks was that the lighting was set up with motion censors. The main library building with the 13 floors is a triangle, with the tips of the triangles cut off - OK, it is a hexagon, but feels more triangular. The center area is full of tables and carrels for studying and well lit, but the perimiter contains rows and rows of shelves, color coded for each side of the triangle, and those are dark until you walk into an aisle. Sometimes I had to wave my hand to set off the motion detector. As I walked the aisles I noticed, that the lights went off pretty quickly in the other aisles. I liked this energy saver, but I understand it would be expensive to set up.

Then the printing. They have the same Pharos system as we do, though it lost two of the articles I sent it. I didn't pay attention on how many printing stations they had, but the main one was on the first floor. There was an employee stationed at the printing station to help people. One of the things they had was a visitor card. She had it hanging from her neck, and she gave it to me, so I could put on some money and make copies. Of course I didn't have any Canadian money on me. (I rarely exchange money when I go to Canada and expect to be ripped off half the time, but usually use my card, which does the proper exchange rate calculations.) Since the library cafe and other possible money changing places were closed on this holiday weekend, I had to go outside and buy a hot dog from the vendor and get Canadian money in change. Printing and copies 15 cents.

The first floor was mainly a large area with computers that was labeled as an information commons. It was elegantly set up with low level focused lighting and banks of computers in curves rather than straight rows. There were various service points, but I have to admit I didn't pay close attention to them - one was a loan (check out) desk, one was the printing station, one was a general info desk in the center by the elevators, and I think there was a media center and some other areas were closed off at this time. Reference was on the fourth floor.

I just think it is interesting to see what other libraries are doing. The things that I thought we might consider in our library were - a visitor copy card, stack lighting tied to motion censors (when we do our next remodel), if we go to logins on our computers, we have to make sure there are enough computers available for the general public, as I think we have quite a few users from the commmunity, and at times, like during the Medieval conference, we have many users at once. I did not like swiping in, it felt too much like Big Brother was watching me. Of course I keep wanting us to start the discussion on what an information commons would look like in Waldo Library.

Monday, May 04, 2009

American Latvian Association 58. Congress

Though I took vacation time to attend the American Latvian Association Congress in St. Pete Beach, FL May 1-3, it definitely has ties to Western Michigan University and my work. The American Latvian Association is the umbrella organization for Latvian-Americans that coordinates the educational, cultural, and political work of Latvians throughout the country. Western Michigan University started offering Continuing Education classes in Latvian in 1966. In 1981, a minor in Latvian was established as a contract program with the American Latvian Association (ALA – yes this is another ALA), and was eventually expanded to a major in Latvian. The Latvian Studies Center was built by ALA for housing students in the Latvian Studies Program, and the Latvian Studies Center Library was established in 1983 and grew to be the largest Latvian collection in North America. The Latvian Studies Program was successful for 10 years, but when Latvia regained its independence in 1991, and the Latvian-Americans focused their energy and financial support on Latvia itself, the program no longer attracted students. We were forced to close the program, sell the Latvian Studies Center and disperse the library collection to various libraries throughout North America and Latvia.

The last time I attended an American Latvian Association Congress was in 1995, when the decision was made to sell the Latvian Studies Center. It was a very painful time for me, as I had worked hard to gather the materials for the library. Luckily I was allowed to find appropriate homes for the library (and archive and art) collections. When one door closes, another one opens - so eventually I found myself working here at Western.

The American Latvian Association Congress is a representational body, where member organizations send representatives to the congress, based on how many of their members are individual members of ALA. This year I was representing the Kalamazoo Latvian Association. I participated in the educational and cultural break-out sessions. There are 25 Latvian schools in the U.S., from a full time day care in Chicago, to the weekend Latvian grade schools, to the six week summer high schools. They are working on establishing reading groups and choosing Latvian books to discuss at various venues throughout the U.S. Among the projects initiated by the cultural section is one trying to document art work located in private collections. Another group is working to establish a Latvians in the World Museum, to document our experiences as Latvians outside of Latvia.

At the end of last year I received funding from the ALA Cultural Foundation, to start exploring the possibilities of creating an online union catalog for all the small Latvian libraries owned by the regional organization, churches, and schools. I presented my project at the cultural break-out session and got enthusiastic support, including information about collections and offers of help with the project.