Magazine article American Libraries

Grassroots Report: My Library Getaway

Magazine article American Libraries

Grassroots Report: My Library Getaway

Article excerpt

Warm weather has brought flowers and foliage to my garden, and me to my computer. Writing, rather than vacation travel, dominates my summer. Visions of far away places lurk between writing and weeding, and libraries foster my virtual mini-vacations.

It's not the same as being there, but Multnomah County (Oreg.) Library provides a delightful online guide to the Portland metro area. Branches and Byways ( is an "imaginative roadmap through Multnomah County" featuring "lesser-known gems" that are "quirky, beautiful, interesting, and unique." The guide, navigable both by library branch and by intent (categories include Eat, Read, Relax, Ramble, and Learn), is the brainchild of MCL librarians Brandon A. Barnett, Emily-Jane Dawson, and Jennifer May. These librarians identified area treasures such as the North Portland Tool Library, the Curds and Whey cheese shop near the Sellwood-Moreland branch, and the independent Reading Frenzy bookstore downtown.

The guide results from strategic planning and shared responsibilities, as well as the curiosity of those who know and love the Portland area. The result is a much-used site. Branches and Byways accommodates between 10,000 and 35,000 unique visitors per month, Barnett said. Peaks occur when the guide is featured on the library's home page or when local media call attention to it, as happened last summer when Branches and Byways rated a mention in Willamette Week's "Best of Portland" issue.

In building the popular resource, Barnett said she and her fellow librarians wanted "to find those things that even people who have lived here forever don't know about." Further, novelty is important. "We want to keep the content fresh," she stated. Old material is archived for reference and potential future revival.

Planning was an essential part of making the guide what it is. The site's architects were determined not to build another event calendar or sprawling Yellow Pages-style resource. Barnett credited former MCL staff member Rivka Sass with the concept. Still, she, Dawson, and May spent significant time determining the scope of the guide before developing selection criteria and a task-sharing scheme.

Feedback plays a role in producing Branches and Byways. In addition to depending on their own discoveries, the trio hears from friends and fans via the site's submission form. MCL staffers are also surveyed for their input, often when a quarterly update is due. …

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