Luren Dickinson

From the Director: May 1, 2016

thumbnail_cupolaAdieu!  I have too grieved a heart to take a tedious leave.”  Merchant of Venice, Act II, Scene VII

After 11 years at Shaker Library, this is my last Director’s message.  I will retire at the end of the month to take a position with the Beaumont Library District in California in June.  It will be a homecoming of sorts because I spent a decade and a half in the “Golden State” during my younger years.  It is where I met my “Buckeye” wife, had some early library jobs, completed a two-year MLS program at UCLA, and where both of our children were born.

When I arrived in Shaker Heights in 2005, I dug out the last report written by my predecessor.  The challenges she identified for the library were: “1) filtering of the Internet; 2) the Library and Local Government Support Fund (LLGSF); 3) the charge to save money; and 4) regionalism as a threat to the independence of the Shaker Heights Public Library.”

As it turned out, Internet filtering has not been a huge issue.  The LLGSF, on the other hand, became the PLF (Public Library Fund) in 2008 and was severely cut in 2009.  As a result, the ability to “save money” became difficult because overall operations had to be reduced to deal with both the loss of state funds and the decline in property tax valuations.  “Regionalism” died away, but the issue of an “independent” Shaker Library is still raised.

Within weeks of taking the helm, my analysis of the library’s situation was that: “First and foremost, there are building and infrastructure needs, especially at the Main Library.  Roofing and carpeting need immediate attention.  Other large components to be addressed are the updating of technology and the improvement of security systems to protect our collections.  In addition, we need to continue to find better ways to serve the youth of the community; to improve internal communications; to standardize policies and procedures and to establish organizational goals, objectives, and action steps.”

The roofing and carpeting work was accomplished in short order and somewhat overshadowed by the eventual renovation of the unfinished Main Library areas in 2011, which resulted in the expanded Computer Center, Training Lab, and staff spaces, as well as the Community Entrepreneurial Office.  Technological capabilities have been greatly standardized and upgraded over the past 11 years, especially during the renovation.

Likewise, security systems were improved for both collections and public safety.  We made significant strides in reaching out to youth with a major component being the MyCom program, which has brought more than $1.5 million in funding to the community for out-of-school-time activities, including more than a third of that amount for summer jobs.

Communication both externally and internally has been improved with the new website that was unveiled in 2014 and the staff intranet in 2015.  Major strategic planning efforts have resulted in many other enhancements, such as the development of comprehensive policies and procedures.

I cannot leave without thanking everyone for their support, including partners like Friends of the Shaker Library, and I hope you will provide the same to Deputy Director Amy Switzer who will become Interim Director later this month while the Library Board conducts a national search for a new Director!

Luren E. Dickinson, Director


From the Director – January 2015

Looking back and taking stock of what has happened in the previous months is something we all do at the beginning of a new year. But I’d like to go back a bit further because 2015 marks a number of personal milestones. I began my first job in a library 40 years ago this month! This year marks my 30th anniversary as a public library director, and my 10th anniversary at Shaker Library!

Yes, libraries were much different back in 1975. One of my first jobs was to file new author, title, and subject cards in the card catalog. As a newbie, I had to leave the cards “above the rod” to be inspected by the librarian to make sure that they were in proper order. Apparently, I impressed her as I was soon allowed to “drop” the cards myself.

In those “olden” days, there was little if no automation. People signed out books by writing their names (and sometimes their addresses) on the book card and a due date was rubber stamped on another card that went into the book pocket. Ohio was one of the first places in the nation to offer shared cataloging of new material via dedicated terminals. The result was that most catalog cards came from Columbus instead of from the Library of Congress.

By the time I earned my library master’s degree, I was required to take a class in computer programming that involved the production of IBM “key punch” cards to complete the process. Years later when I first became a public library director in 1985, my library had no stand-alone staff computer. They were, however, using the new plastic library cards that had customer address information in raised letters that could be stamped onto the book cards like they used to do with the old multi-part credit card slips!

It was 1989 before that library became the first non-metropolitan library to create its own automated circulation system, and that was the year that saw the end to the card catalog. Complaints about the loss of that catalog continued for many years, but computers relieved library staff of much drudgery and allowed quick retrieval in ways that had been impossible.

Shaker Library was ahead of its time when it added Sunday hours in 1975, but still only 480,000 items were circulated that year. Cassette tapes for music and audiobooks became very popular in the 1980s along with videocassettes, which transformed library services across the country. Almost overnight, people who had never used libraries streamed in to check out movies. Shaker’s video collection did not grow until the late 1980s and early 1990s. 1 million items were checked out for the first time in 1996.

Compact discs eventually replaced cassette tapes as DVDs replaced videocassettes, and early in the decade I have spent at Shaker Library we stopped ordering cassettes of all types. The dominance of the Internet has led to little use of CDs and a decline in DVD use as more and more resources are available via downloading or streaming. Public computers were not introduced until 1994 at Shaker Library, but usage has grown every year since.

Teens have always used Shaker Library, and I am sure there was concern about those young “Baby Boomers” in the 1960s. During my career, we have worried about Generation X but more recently it has been the “Millennial” generation. And now we are beginning to talk about “Generation Z” (those born since 2001)!

Digital databases and mobile devices were a thing out of Dick Tracy comic strips and Star Trek TV programs, but they have become a reality at today’s Shaker Library. Check out Hoopla, Zinio, OverDrive, and many of the other resources readily available through our website!

Luren E. Dickinson, Director

From the Director 7/2014

Bold predictions are often wrong, but they do tell us where people “think” things are going. Recently, we have read and heard much about eBooks and their use on digital devices, such as tablets and smartphones. This has led to discussion about the impact of technology on the use of public libraries.

According to a BBC report, eBooks will outsell print books by the year 2018. Others, however, feel that the growth in eBook sales will soon begin to decline worldwide as it already has begun to do in the United States.

It is interesting to note that the number of eBooks borrowed from the Shaker Library grew annually by 38% in 2009 (the first year we included the statistics with our traditional figures), 43% in 2010, 66% in 2011, and reached a peak of 71% in 2012. The growth rate fell to 41% in 2013 and we are at a 33% pace year-to-date through June 2014.

The bottom line is that even double-digit growth in eBook circulation from such small beginnings—we did not exceed 10,000 checkouts until 2011—has not really made an impact upon our overall numbers. So far in 2014, eBooks make up less than 4% of all items checked out. A random survey of some similar-sized public libraries in Ohio show no more than a 4% to 8% share of total circulation for downloadable material.

Part of the problem is the limitation on eBook access placed upon libraries by the publishing industry. Some materials are either not available to public libraries or have been priced out of the library market. And even the eBooks that libraries offer can be difficult to download because of copyright restrictions and vendor imposed “hoops” (as with Amazon Kindle material).

In our community, we have some who can afford their devices of choice and find it faster and more convenient to buy whatever they want rather than to struggle borrowing from the library or putting their names on a waiting list. At the other end of the spectrum, we have those who might not be able to purchase devices and who might be more interested in audio/visual entertainment they can access via cable TV or Redbox machine.

Another prediction says that by the year 2018 the viewing of TV programs and videos will account for 84 percent of Internet traffic with a volume that is two to three times higher than in 2013. Internet video already accounts for 78% of online use (and includes such things as on-demand movies via cable).

A third prediction says that online access via PC will drop from the 86% level of 2013 to 50% in 2018. 21% of the traffic will be through smartphones and 18% from tablets, up from 5% and 3%, respectively, last year! Is it any wonder, then, that overall circulation at public libraries continues to drop? Among libraries of similar size in Ohio, virtually all are seeing circulation decline in the range of 6% to 12% over last year. A few libraries may have modest increases, but that is due to an old building being reopened or a new location coming online this year.

In most cases, door counts have gone hand-in-hand with circulation loss, but at Shaker Library we continue to see increased computer use. Main Library is 14% ahead of 2013 YTD and Bertram Woods, even with 23% less hours available, is almost 1% ahead, for a combined 12% increase. We are living in a changing world and it will be interesting to track the progression of that change over the next several months and years!

From the Director 6/2014

The problem with the weather, as the saying goes, is that everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it! The same could be said about the so-called “achievement gap” in the schools. Politicians want to pour more money into “education” to “level the playing field” for certain groups of students defined by socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity and gender. In Ohio, we now have the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee.”

What is it that causes some to do better in school than others? Almost everyone agrees that the key is to start early—very early! Children need to be talked and read to from the very beginning. Give them plastic books they can chew on and then board books with pages they can turn—and take them to the Shaker Library!

The Library and Family Connections operate the “Play and Learn Station,” for preschool children, their parents and caregivers, where children learn by playing in a variety of interactive settings with other children. We offer regular story times including, “Nestlings” for babies from birth to 15 months, “Fledglings” for 15 to 24 month-old toddlers, “Terrific Twos” for two-year-olds, and “Stories for 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds.” From June 16 through July 22, we offer a “Baby Summer Sampler” for babies from birth through 23 months.

Once children reach school age, there are many more opportunities for educational enrichment. We host a variety of book parties for different grade levels and other book-related activities, such as the American Girl Doll series (for grades 1 to 5) and a Writer’s Club (for grades 2 to 4). In addition, we have provided free Homework Help after school through MyCOM grants (for grades 2 to 8) for a number of years during the school year. Our popular “Read to a Dog” events provide school-age children the opportunity to practice their reading skills with a furry, friendly certified Therapy Dog that loves listening to stories!

One of the most important things a child can do to improve educational achievement is to participate in the Summer Reading Program. Educators agree that to be successful, children must be exposed early to language and reading. Just as important, however, is that they must not fall behind during the summer when they are out of school. The sure cure for “Summer Reading Loss” is our “Summer Reading Program,” which is designed to encourage young readers by offering prizes as reading incentives. This year’s summer reading theme is “Get Creative—Read!” Beginning June 11 through August 6, children can earn prizes by listening to someone read to them and by reading or listening to books themselves. Prizes include colorful stickers, modeling dough, watercolor paint sets, design-your-own paint smocks, books, and medals thanks to our Friends of the Library which underwrites the programs and prizes.

Teens have their own summer reading program with weekly prize drawings for $10 gift cards and a grand prize drawing at the end of the summer for a Kindle Fire HDX! The number of hours read or listened to must be logged each week by 9 pm Wednesdays to qualify for the weekly drawings and reading for each ten hours earns a teen a ticket for the grand prize drawing.

Adults can model good reading behavior by participating in the Adult Summer Reading Program. Register at the Reference desks at either library or online at and log your reading time to be eligible to win a Kindle Fire.

We can help close the “achievement gap” and help children meet the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee” by getting them involved early in reading and other learning at the Library, and by helping them maintain and improve their skills through the Summer Reading Program! Get Creative—READ!