Library on Steroids

Ms Leslie Burger is the current ALA President and she spoke to a group of librarians on how she transformed her library, the Princeton Public Library. The talk was held at the National Library in September 2006.

Tips on Transforming Libraries

  • Be passionate as it will drive you to talk about how wonderful libraries are and what they do for the community. Do not be shy about self-promotion, because if you do not promote your library, no one else would.
  • Have a compelling and purposeful vision that engages all your stakeholders and use it to direct you.
  • Walk on the wild side by hiring staff with have the right attitude and demeanor.
  • Build a culture that welcomes change and allow staff to challenge the status quo and do things differently. Even when there are failures, learn from the failures. Be relentless in promoting the changes you want.
  • Never give up and keep at it to achieve the results you want. Be aware that the results are not achieved overnight.

Most importantly, listen and respond to your users and provide responsible library service. She believes that we need to create exciting spaces in the library that overwhelm the users and get them excited by the library and the services it offers.

For the community that Princeton Public Library ( ) serves, some work long hours and some work from non-traditional work places, some have many career changes, some are very agile with information technology while others are not, some are immigrants whose first language is not English.

She aimed to create a great library space that makes users feel welcome by using open facades and transparency. She called her library the “community living room” with spaces for all age groups ranging from the very young, the working adults, the immigrants to the older adults.

Libraries were previously very much text based. In order to cater to different learning styles, her library offers current book collection in many different languages together with downloadable audio books and music. It also organizes many programs (from book clubs, film festivals, forums) to allow learning and sharing of information a social context.

They have also tried to use technology to make searching for information a more seamless experience with a structure. Their library catalog which uses Innopac has been customized to make it more user-friendly. See it at The summary list looks very attractive, with the book cover, buttons for “Is it available?”, “Reserve it”. The have tried to make the system less clunky and even forgiving of typing errors.

They are trying to think more like their customers and to be more accommodating and to provide personal service to them. They recognize that the library is in the service business.

They have changed their opening hours to suit their customers. They open on all public holidays as many of their customers are not able to visit the library on weekdays. They offer home delivery service to give the customers the materials they want at their convenience. To be able to answer the questions of the customers, they offer email, chat using Live Online, telephone and also a in-depth research advisory service.

Ms Burger sends an email to their customers at the beginning of the month to keep them informed about activities in the library and usually adds her own personal touches.

She believes in investing in collections and feels strongly that libraries are in the book business and that librarians “worship” books as evidenced in the ALA logo. She ensures that her library’s collection is current with sufficient copies of “hot” books and in good condition. They have arrangements with book suppliers to provide the latest titles. They have a link from their website to Amazon for their customers to buy a book that is on the library’s wish list. This helps them get books which they want instead of many titles that they do not need. They display books by topics and arrange them like a retailer would to make it more attractive and to increase the turnover of their books.

They use a wiki to allow users to upload a review of a book they have read on the library’s website. The library also offers technology training for its customers. They also lend laptops and mp3 players to their customers.

They have not forgotten about promoting reading. They reach out to the young by sending a goody bag to new-borns, they welcome children as young as 15 months to come. They organize activities like children reading out loud to patient and non-critical reading dogs.

She gave an example of how the library became a knowledge facilitator. It worked with a group called Service Corps Of Retired Executives (SCORE) to host talks and counseling sessions at the library which has been very successful. In response to these activities, the library added relevant titles for the topics their customers are interested in, like “How to write a business plan”, “How to start my own business” instead of buying directories which were not so useful. They have even organized web resources to support these activities.

Ms Leslie Burger has a blog at

So are you ready to have a library on steroids?

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