Thank You For an Enlightening Experience

Just a brief post to say THANK YOU once again to Diane Li for answering the myriad of “tech” questions I posed and to all of the HCLS Savage Branch library staff for allowing me to gain more of a “behind the scenes” insight into the library’s technology environment.  I learned much and am now even prouder to be a patron of this branch and the greater Howard County Library System, winner of the Gale/Cengage Learning 2013 Library of the Year award!


Post Visit Reflection/Highlights/What I Learned

One of the biggest “take-aways” that I gleaned from my interview and visit experiences is that library renovations, especially one with a goal of “HiTech”/STEM research, are REALLY expensive and require the backing of many parties, to include not only concerned patrons/citizens but also local and state government entities as well.  For example, the Howard County Library System (HCLS) Savage Branch renovation cost the county and taxpayers $6.1 million dollars (nearly more than a million over the estimated $5.3 million price tag)!  Also, the final renovation/reveal comes after months, if not years of planning.

I also gained an appreciation for how busy the head librarian (Branch Manager) of a good-library is.  Originally wanting to interview a librarian from an academic library as opposed to my local public library, I chalked up the librarian at the community college being out of town on business and too busy to see me as bad timing.  Ironically, when the branch librarian at my local library (my Plan B) also proved too busy to spend an hour or so in person and ended up conducting the interview with me via telephone and basically over the lunch break instead, I began to sense a theme (at least I hope it’s not me they had a thing against!)!

Since I did end up interviewing and visiting my local library and thus have the luxury of knowing what the library was like both pre-and-post renovation, I have some definite opinions about not only the technology environment but about the library experience from the patron perspective as a whole.  First, I LOVE the improved lighting, more comfortable seating, incredible increase in the number of computers for use, the automatic checkout station and shopping basket for books and media, and especially the laptop bar with all the outlets for laptops etc.  See the floor plan and detail PDFs below for all the coolness:



The outdoor space with tables is beautifully landscaped and the “storm planter” garden and environmental “classroom” is really neat.  However,  with the expansion of the parking lot (and plans to install future charging stations for electric cars!), they removed the drive up return bins/book drops.  I have many fond memories of being able to pull up right outside the front of the library, roll down the car window, and put the books etc. in the return slot without having to get out of the car.  In fact, when my kids were with me, they used to fight over who got to open the slot and put the books in.  Now, patrons must park and walk up to the book drop next to the front doors or go inside the library.

When i was “touring” the technology upgrades on 7 November, I noticed for the first time that the non-fiction shelving in the library did not have the Dewey Decimal numbers on the ends of the rows.  Per Diane Li’s (Branch Manager) suggestion, I chatted with one of the library assistants at the reference desk and during the course of the conversation, asked him why there were no number guides on the shelves  (I stalled in asking that question because i thought there might be some logical reason or new ALA-practice that an aspiring library technician like me ought to know the answer to!).  He just smiled and said that the interior designer wanted to have the library look as “sleek” and uncluttered as possible for the grand re-opening (which occurred in July) and that the library would soon be adding some type of shelving guides for we poor patrons!

Lastly, one of the most surprising things I learned is that the Branch Manager, despite a presumed MLS,  isn’t necessarily intimately involved with every aspect of a library’s operation.  There were several questions during our interview that she could not fully comment on because most technology and collections decisions were made at the central level and in concert with the entire HCLS.  FYI, the address for the Administrative Branch of the HCLS is:

6600 Cradlerock Way
Columbia, MD 21045

Because Ms. Li could not provide in-depth insight into some of the computer technology, here is a link to the software/applications found on the HCLS public computers:

and the name of the head of the HCLS Technolgy Department is Holly Johnson, 410-313-7922.

Also, from the HCLS Strategic Plan, here are some of the technology and collections goals for the years 2010-2015:

“Web 2.0 technology has democratized research, undermining the traditional means of creating and disseminating knowledge. These developments provide unprecedented opportunities for HCLS to expand its role in public education by committing to teaching customers of all ages the knowledge and skills essential for them to participate successfully in the digital world. HCLS will take the lead in teaching community members of all ages how to create and communicate knowledge through words, images, and sound, bringing a new focus to Technology Education.

HCLS staff will redesign the appearance and usability of our virtual collections (e.g. subscription databases, shortcuts, e-books, and downloadable audiobooks) to increase customer convenience and use. We will:

–Present this collection in customer-friendly language, incorporating appealing graphics and images

–Create new tabs and/or links on the web page to link directly to the virtual collections, establishing separate access points for the research collection, as well as e-books and downloadable audiobooks

–Apply user-friendly design, integrating video, audio, and text to facilitate “search and find” when possible.

–Explore the ability of Polaris (our Integrated Library System) to enable customers to search for items via mobile devices.”

All in all, I whole heartedly concur with these goals and am happy to be a patron of this forward leaning library system!


Public Education for All Howard County Library System’s Strategic Plan 2010 – 2015. (2010). Retrieved November 7, 2014, from Strategic Plan 2010-2015.pdf

Interview Q &A and Site Visit Report

My interview with Ms. Diane Li, the Howard County Library System (HCLS) Savage Branch Manager, was conducted primarily by phone (on 6 November) at her request due to her incredibly busy schedule. She asked that I send the questions via email in advance to focus our discussion.  I was invited to follow up with a picture-taking tour of the library and continue discussions as needed with available library staff, which I did on 7 November.

Here is a recount of our phone interview:

Britton — What types of technology are available for patron & staff use in the library? What types of systems are employed and how current are they?

Li – We have many technologies available for our patrons including audio books and e-books available thru Axis 360 and Overdrive.  Also patrons can stream movies and music via hoopla.  As a result of our remodel, we have more than 50 computers for patron use, a laptop bar (counter) with power outlets, and a sound recording booth. We have also added a self-checkout station.  Patrons can also access help with research by using Ask Us Now via computer chat.

Self Checkout
1 of 51 Computers
Sound Recording Booth

Britton – Can you tell me more about the computer technology available for patrons or staff?

Li — Well, I am not very tech-savvy.  I can tell you that we don’t use Microsoft Office on the computers–except for the online versions.  We use all free software on our public computers.  For example we use the OpenOffice (now LibreOffice) suite of tools for office automation functions. Our Catalog uses the Polaris system.  Also on the computer, patrons can of course access the internet but there are also games on the desktop, sound and movie players, graphics software, and access to our Learning Express Library.

Britton – Who on your staff manages the technology?

Li – All technology decisions for HCLS are made by our Technology Department which is located at our Administrative Branch.

Britton – So what do you do if your equipment is not working properly?

Li – We call the tech department and they take care of maintenance and replacements when necessary.

Britton — How much proportionately is spent on technology, databases/journals, CD’s, Video & DVD software?

Li – I do not know those numbers since our collections decisions are made at the HCLS level. I do know that patrons are encouraged to make suggestions on materials to add to our collections.

Britton – Do patrons have access to wireless throughout the library? What type of Internet access/connection is used?

Li – Yes! High speed Wi-Fi is available for all of our patrons and that is true for all of our branches. Patrons can access the internet on the computers or on their laptops or tablets.  But, due to security issues, patrons can’t print via Wi-Fi to our machines.  I believe Verizon provides our front end internet service.

Britton — Do you maintain a Website or Web Portal? Who maintains that?

Li – Howard County Library System designs and maintains one website for the whole system.  Clicking on the link for the individual branch will give patrons hours and directions and staff information.

Britton — What policies & forms are associated with your library technology such as an Acceptable Use Policy or Time limited Internet rules?

Li – We do have an Internet Use Guideline and Policy statement which patrons can read on our website (Britton added URL here:  The guide talks about the fact that not everything on the internet is accurate and also that policy prohibits the viewing of pornography on HCLS systems.  Patrons do not have to sign anything to use the computers and we do not have a formal time limit on computer use at this branch.  If all of the computers are full, staff will ask patrons to please limit their usage to 20 minutes only.

Britton — Do you have a plan or budget for periodic updating of technology to take advantage of new trends?

Li – Again, this branch would not be personally involved in those decisions since all budgeting and technology decisions are made at the central (Administrative Branch) level.  HCLS does have a five year strategic plan which talks about goals for the libraries and of course our expansion and addition of STEM education center was part of that plan.

(Britton added Link to Strat Plan URL here:

Britton — Is there equipment in the library that can be signed out by patrons such as e-readers?

Li – We used to have e-readers for patrons to use but we no longer give those out.  But we do still loan out the Playaway audiobook players and if they don’t have their own, patrons can use headphones for one dollar.

Britton – What kind of furniture do you have for technology for example, is ergonomics a goal?

Li – We love our new library layout! We have introduced many new features for patron’s comfort and convenience.  There are couches in the reading areas and in the vending café.  Also, there are many counters with desk-top power outlets and stools for laptop users to sit at.  As part of our renovation, we added additional windows and improved lighting throughout the spaces with more windows and skylights.

Vending Cafe
lounge seating
Lounge seating

Britton — Do you have Assistive technologies for patrons?

Li – We do not have special computers for patrons with special needs but we do have Universal Access assistive technology features on our computers. With Orca, patrons can make the screen display size bigger, adjust the keyboard and mouse speed or have text read.   Also as part of our renovations, access to our library and all restrooms is completely ADA compliant.

ADA Access
Ramp entrance and handicap parking

Britton – Lastly, what is your approach to training staff and/or patrons on new technology?

Li – There are many education classes we offer patrons on everything from how to search the catalog, how to search the web, and how to set up email.  Most of this training is done one-on-one here.  Our Central Branch offers larger classes.  Also we have many on-line education tools for students through our Learning Express Library and students have access to online homework assistance.  For adults, there are GALE business and computer classes.  Our staff are trained on how to assist customers in using Polaris and Open Office and we all have basic proficiencies in computers and web navigation.  We also have trained reference and research staff.

Britton – Thanks again so much for taking time out of your day to speak with me!!

Li – You’re welcome.

As an Aside: Savage Branch’s STEM Education Center Addition

From the library’s website (

The renovated Savage Branch includes a STEM Education Center designed to strengthen the three pillars of HCLS’ educational mission: Self-directed Education, Research Assistance & Instruction, and Instructive Experiences (see below). The library includes dedicated space for HCLS’ HiTech initiative which is a STEM education initiative for teens, teaching cutting-edge science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) via project-based classes that include computer programming (Python and Javascript), 3D animation, nanotechnology, music/video production, e-books, game apps, cybersecurity, green energy, and robotics.

Self-directed Education: Ample space is allocated for books, materials and computers in the children’s, teen and adult collection areas. Quiet and group study rooms will allow customers to focus on their work.

Research Assistance & Instruction: The new building includes a computer lab, study rooms, two children’s classrooms, two outdoor classrooms, and two meeting rooms. Research and Customer Service desks are located to optimize sightlines and deliver exceptional customer service.

Instructive & Enlightening Experiences: The building is a teaching tool in its own right with elements built into the outdoor classroom that demonstrate bioconservation principles.

The Plaza
Storm Planter

Also included in the renovation was the creation of a plaza containing The Storm Planter.  “More than just a cool place to sit, it is a water cleaning machine that captures rainwater from the building’s roof and cleans it before it goes into the ground and on to the nearby Little Patuxent River. The plants in the storm water planter are wetland plants native to this region.”

Interview Questions For Consideration

Since Ms. Li, who will be representing the Savage Branch Library in the interview, said she didn’t feel comfortable answering very “technologically complex” questions, I decided to have my questions be more of a general nature that most library staff would likely be familiar with, and especially Ms. Li as the Branch manager.  Even though the library recently renovated and adopted a STEM education mission as well, I decided to focus my questions on issues that would be common to most public libraries (I will post some of the cool STEM related technology updates and pictures in a later post!).  Here is the list of questions which I sent her at the end of last week and which will be answered on 7 November:

  1. What types of  technology are available for patron & staff use in the library? What types of systems are employed and how current are they?
  2. Personnel – who on the staff primarily manages the technology?
  3. Budget – how much proportionately is spent on technology, databases/journals, CD’s, Video & DVD software?
  4.  Do patrons have access to wireless internet?
  5.  What type of Internet access/connection is used (cable modem, ATM, T-1)?
  6.  Do you maintain a Website or Web Portal? Who maintains that?
  7. What policies & forms are associated with your library technology (e.g. Acceptable Use Policy, Time limited Internet access, etc.)?
  8.  How does technology get repaired – in-house or sent out?
  9. Do you have a plan and/or budget for periodic updating of technology to take advantage of new trends?
  10.  Is there equipment in the library that can be signed out by patrons (e.g. e-readers)?
  11.  What kind of furniture do you have for technology e.g. is ergonomics a goal?  Is the layout to patron’s liking?
  12.  Do you have Assistive technologies (e.g. for patrons with low vision)?
  13. What is your approach to training staff and/or patrons on new technology?

Stay tuned for the rest of the story……

Status Update

It’s been a very busy last few days in my world as well as for the Savage Branch of the Howard County Library System (HCLS)!  Here’s an update on what I’ve been up to planning-wise.

After initially speaking with one of the library assistants and explaining the nature of my assignment, it was immediately determined that I needed to interview with the branch manager herself, Diane Li.   Being very gracious but VERY BUSY, Ms. Li and I decided that I should send her my interests and list of questions beforehand so that the interview will be focused and to the point (next post will be the actual questions I decided on and sent after our initial conversation).  She also cautioned that she does not make many technology decisions for the branch or know much about future technology plans as those decisions are made centrally at the main HCLS branch.  She gave me a point of contact at the HCLS Central Branch should I have any follow-on or in-depth technology questions she can’t answer.

Ms. Diane Li, HCLS Savage Branch Manager

Due to her schedule and Election Day activities etc., November 7th will be the “Big Day.”  Since I am actually a patron of this library, I won’t need a specific tour but she pointed out many resources I can include in the blog including photos of the newly renovated spaces and a description of some of the STEM technology updates from the library’s recent multi-million dollar renovation. So lots more photos to come!

A Day of Downs and Ups

Found out early this morning that the library I planned on conducting my interview with will be unable to meet with me before the assignment deadline (their IT staff person is out of the country until then).  However, being a firm believer in the “whenever one door closes, another door opens” principle, I contacted my alternate choice of library this afternoon and am happy to report that I have an interview process worked out for next week!  I will be visiting the Howard County Library System (HCLS) Savage Branch & STEM Education Center.


Savage Branch Public Computers