Two in One:

An Academic and Public Library within the Same Building
St. Petersburg, Florida
Chad Mairn

As the Information Services Librarian of the West St. Petersburg Community Library at St. Petersburg College in Florida, Chad Mairn has learned how to serve academic and public libraries housed within the same building.

Wearing Many Hats

Although Chad’s official title is Information Services Librarian, he wears many different hats. He serves as the circulation and electronic resources contact with the CCLA (College Center for Library Automation), which is Florida’s state agency that helps the facility manage Aleph, its integrated library system (ILS), and their core electronic resource collection. Chad also provides reference services and bibliographic instruction, and does web design and maintains the blog for the library’s website.

The library has had a blog for several years, and it provides such information as database updates and community events. Chad is the liaison with several other departments such as the humanities, music, and business technology departments, and posts any pertinent information from them onto their personal department blogs as well.

Maintaining Public Use Computers

The library has approximately 90 public use computers, including those in the two computer labs located on its second floor, which are usually reserved for students and for library instruction, and the children and youth computers and public access computers on the first floor. The public access computers all have Deep Freeze installed, and while patrons have administrative rights and “can install anything,” Deep Freeze ensures that whatever changes patrons make are erased and the computer is restored to its original configuration after a reboot. Chad shares, “Deep Freeze is an awesome tool. It works.”

But, he adds, “There are really no restrictions, which can be scary at times.” The library did not have an authentication system requiring patrons to log onto public access computers, but Chad has recently configured Envisionware’s PC Reservation to authenticate public users via their Polaris ILS and college students via Active Directory. Chad and the other librarians do not have the time to do the policing themselves, and although the library has security guards who assist with monitoring patrons’ use of inappropriate content, Chad believes that PC Reservation has greatly diminished access to inappropriate materials because users login with their personal credentials and are no longer anonymous users.

A Collaborative Technology Plan

When the library’s accrediting agency last visited, they found that the college as a whole had a technology plan, but the library itself did not. Chad quickly put together a plan and set up a wiki to share the document and invite other librarians to provide input. He says that although he did receive some feedback, the plan was stagnant for quite a while. He adds, “I was never happy with it. I’d love to revisit it again and set up an official committee and really work on it and nail it. It needs some polishing.”

A Joint Use Library

The West St. Petersburg Community Library is unique in many ways. As a joint use library, it shares resources with the City of St. Petersburg. It also operates as both a public and an academic library. On the first floor of the building, the Dewey Decimal System and Polaris (an ILS) are used for its public library. Their 3M self check out machine was recently moved from the upstairs academic collection so that it would become more visible to public users. So far, self check out usage has gone up. On the second floor, the Library of Congress classification system and the Aleph ILS are used for the academic library. Chad has found that this dual system can sometimes make troubleshooting and the use of certain resources a bit difficult. For example, he modified a LibX toolbar, an open-source browser plug-in for Firefox and Internet Explorer that provides direct access to a library’s resources. He says that LibX is “mostly just for the college resources” and he did include a Polaris bookmarklet to work with Polaris. But, he adds, “Sharing the resources is great. You learn quite a bit and you get to dabble in both academic and public [libraries]. I come from a public library, then moved to an academic [library], and now I’m doing both. And I love it.”

The library caters to both public patrons and students, and Chad has found that this “usually works out pretty well.” He adds that he “does not differentiate between the public and the students.” He has found that there are usually not many problems, although tensions can sometimes arise at the end of a school semester, when students are working on papers and “might get upset with the public who are here checking their emails and printing out flight itineraries.” When this happens, they open up the computer lab for the students. PC Reservation, however, has helped with this because the library has 90 minute limits per day. Users can request that their time be extended too.

Innovative Use of the Old and the New

Both the library building and its computers are about four years old. Chad says that IT is “getting ready to start looking into getting some new [computers] because they are falling apart.” As such, he believes that the maximum amount of time before replacement is approximately four years. The library has a “trickle-down” system in which staff receive the older computers, and Chad requests these old computers for his “side projects.”

One such side project was to use two of the “trickle-down computers” to create a music listening station. Chad realized that patrons could not always find what they were looking for in the library’s CD collection, which was housed in a tightly packed “monolithic” filing cabinet. Chad installed iTunes onto two older PCs, and digitized the facility’s music collection. Patrons can browse the library’s music collection, jot the call number down of songs they like from the iTunes library, and check out the CD.

Learning and Staying Current

In 2008, the library instituted a program called Tech Tips, through which patrons can take advantage of weekly classes on such topics as email, library databases, and Microsoft Word. Although the free classes are open to everyone, they are primarily geared toward the public patrons. Library staff planned to survey their patrons to determine course content for future classes.

Chad explains that it is “a fun time to be in this field.” He stays current by subscribing to numerous blogs, following notable people on Twitter, and he is a devoted reader of Wired magazine. He reads material outside of library literature too, such as Business 2.0. He also attends classes, and as the budget permits, goes to conferences such as the Florida Library Association’s (FLA) annual conference, or >Computers in Libraries, an annual conference and exhibition on all aspects of library and information delivery technology. And Chad is starting to present at national conferences and will be presenting via video and then Skype “Learning Management Systems: Integrating Services & Content” at Internet Librarian 2009.

Moving Forward

At the time of the interview, the college was instituting a new content management system that Chad says was “going to be a huge benefit for faculty, staff, and students, because it’s going to have a consistent look and feel.”

On a state level, CCLA is testing Primo, a discovery tool from ExLibris, which allows quick, easy, and effective searching and information retrieval. As Chad explains, “Instead of jumping through all of those hoops, we should only have to be at one place to get all this information. And hopefully we’ll spend more time using the information than searching for it.”

The goal of every library should be to enable patrons to spend more time using information than tracking it down. And when a facility hosts both an academic and a public library, offers courses based on patron interest, and creates such innovative resources as a digitized music collection, it seems that patrons of the West St. Petersburg Community Library can do just that.