Posts Tagged ‘Delta Division’

LiOTA: Libraries On The Air

As readers of my blog have likely observed, I’ve been promoting a “served agency” partnership between the ARRL-affiliated clubs and local public libraries. I’m told by my Division Director, David K5UZ, that the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future Initiative was formally adopted by the ARRL Board of Directors in a recent meeting. I’ve had virtual meetings with ARRL HQ staff on advising them regarding technical details of adding maps, databases, and other material to the arrl.org website pages pertaining to clubs. The entire website was recently revised (again) so this is taking some time. Need I say, LoTW?

Locally, I’ve been working with the Jackson ARC in their recent formal partnership with the Madison County (MS) Public Library System to enhance the emergent “maker spaces” in that library system. Over this year in my role as Delta Division Assistant Director, I’ve been doing club development work with the Vicksburg ARC who is refocusing their activities and initiatives, including some discussions with the Warren County Public Library System, whose slogan is “We’re more than just books!” VARC is interested in partnering with them on creating maker space activities. These meetings and conversations have universally been met with a very strong desire by the library administrators there to welcome amateur radio into their programming. How can this be effected in ways that allow amateur radio to reach the two key demographic audiences of women and youth that visit public libraries at twice the rate that they visit movie theaters?

I’ve created a new but common proposed activity to be just one of several such ways to operationalize this “served agency” relationship: holding periodic “on the air” events at public libraries. LiOTA, short for Libraries On The Air, is outlined in a concept memo I’ve submitted to my Division Director, David K5UZ. I’ve posted it here for transparency. We will see if the ARRL Board of Directors takes advantage of the concept. If not, there may be other groups who wish to implement it.

Below is the spatial distribution of the 9,215 libraries in the current (2021) public library database. Not surprisingly, they follow population settlements which generally reflect the spatial distribution of amateur radio licensee locations. It’s also not a shock to know that they are not dissimilar to the pattern of ARRL-affiliated clubs. In other work for Plant the Seed, I’ve created spreadsheets by club for each Division showing for which public libraries the club is the nearest one to that library. These market areas can be used to easily identify potential nearby LiOTA sites. And, yes, POTA participants, I’ve already created an exhaustive list of public library entity numbers in spreadsheet and map format, ready for the League to use on their website for LiOTA, should they adopt the program.

Because of the targeted-marketing concept driving this prospective program, the logo I created includes a female radio operator at a library. Using control operators, getting women and young people on the air at libraries is the key metric of outreach in this program. Passive options, such as planned programs, displays or kiosks, books donated on amateur radio, club meetings, at public libraries are further means to reach this audience. But getting non-hams on the air will likely be a key. (If not, why do we use GOTA stations at Field Day?)

Targeted marketing starts with defining “who” specifically is a good fit for a product or service and delivering personalized messages directly to that targeted audience.

Dun & Bradstreet

Here is the logo that I’ve created for the LiOTA Program. Hmm. It might look good on a spiffy tee shirt.

Here’s the brief memo that I submitted to David K5UZ. Time will tell as to it’s fate. Contact your ARRL Division Director if you support the program!

A recommended strategy for planting the seed…

My two blog articles here from 2020 about the role that the Public Library System can play in reaching young people and women—two demographics that the ARRL says it wants to reach—have not fallen on deaf ears in Newington, CT. It has moved forward it seems. I’m told that the ARRL Board of Directors has embraced the concepts and directed the staff at HQ to implement it very soon.

My Division Director, David K5UZ, his Vice Director, Ed WB4RHQ, and Mike Walters W8ZY, Field Services Manager at ARRL, organized a video call with me last week to discuss steps to move forward with the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future program. I’ve been involved with program design and implementation for several decades via the US Department of Agriculture and state or local government. It’s a good sign that the BoD has issued a directive to the CEO in favor of this program. With all that’s been going on at the Board, I’m delighted that targeted actions like this are moving toward being implemented.

Mike W8ZY and I agreed that a map display would be a good tool to add to the ARRL-affiliated club search page. (They are re-thinking that page, too.) I’ll supply their IT staff with a file of public libraries in the U.S. and some attributes that are useful. Contact info for the Director, number of programs for youth and young adults, and so forth would allow clubs to target libraries that already have active programming in place and are near their location. But there’s more than just setting the table to ensure a meal that is well-enjoyed by all in attendance. Getting guests to the dinner table in the first place is one step! Engaging local clubs is that first step but they have to have access to the tools to make it efficient and effective for a longer term pay-off.

I prepared a memo some time ago to my Division Director, for whom I serve as an Assistant Director for the Delta Division. This memo recommends specific steps and stages for engaging affiliated clubs in this initiative. The Vice Director, Ed WB4RHQ, told us on the Zoom call how successful the Plant the Seed initiative has been in Tennessee already. Library Directors asked local ham club representatives if they would give programs at the library BEFORE hams could even bring it up! That’s a good sign.

It’s because programming for the public is the “new cheese” for library directors. I learned this while at the Board of Regents Office in Atlanta. The Public Library System reports to the college board in Georgia. I was tasked to work with the PLS and learned quite a bit about how local public libraries view their mission and operations. Programs are the key “cheese” that will move public library directors today.

Here are the steps I outlined in my member to my Director for implementing the ARRL program:


This is a recommended game plan to engage public libraries in the United States as a portal for education and outreach regarding amateur radio. Here are my bullet-point steps:

  • ARRL Board declare public libraries as new “served agencies” like Red Cross, not for emergency communication but for education and outreach. This makes it an official program with a League commitment. It also means it will not simply go away when some ARRL staffer decides s/he doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. Note to the skeptic: did you realize that for years the annual affiliated clubs forms that many club officers (including me) completed and submitted to HQ simply went into a file cabinet? And that the staffer who was leaving that position intended to put them in the trash dumpster out back when he retired, saying that “nobody cares about clubs anymore”? I didn’t think you did. It appears that the HQ Field Services Staff does care about clubs now. Board action can have that effect.
  • Re-introduce the $200 ARRL Library Book Set to the ARRL website. It was removed by Bob Interbitzen NQ1R, ARRL Product Development Manager, a couple of years ago as being irrelevant, right after my blog post was being circulated. It has yet to be returned as a product. Perhaps the CEO David Minster NA2AA can change that. He wants members to write him with ideas such as this so fire away: [email protected].
  • ARRL make presentation at American Library Association conference in the Public Libraries Division (https://www.ala.org/pla) to point out how the League can provide a national network of STEM-related activities to local public libraries via ARRL-affiliated clubs. The ARRL should also have an Exhibitor Booth. The League’s national network of local groups and proven outreach can greatly assist libraries in the provision of STEM-related programming and activities to children and adults.
  • ARRL negotiate an MOU with ALA-Public Library Division that parallels the one with Red Cross (and others) regarding emergency communications. This brokers an official organizational relationship between the League and its parallel organization for libraries in the United States. It also means that the Leagues means business in this educational outreach enterprise.
  • Roll-out the Plant the Seed, Sow the Future program through Divisions (BoD members) and Sections (Section Managers) but with Field Services Staff providing technical assistance. This should be a one-year targeted effort to prevent a languishing promise to the ALA. A spreadsheet identifying area public libraries nearest each affiliated club with name, address, contact information, and so forth will be provided through the existing ARRL Field Services communication channels.
  • Specific Objectives: each affiliated club create a standing written relationship with at least ONE public library in their area, negotiated through the Director of that library. This relationship must include: (1) donation of the set of ARRL books to the library that must be placed in their official holdings; (2) delivery of at least a quarterly program on some STEM-related subject at the local library by one or more club members; and (3) a display or kiosk in the library illustrating some aspect of amateur radio. This display should be changed out twice yearly.
  • To maintain Special Service Club status, a club must meet these goals within two reporting years.
  • Clubs that meet these goals within one reporting year will receive some reward from ARRL, to be determined. This will enhance the incentive for local affiliated clubs to engage with their local public libraries.

Imagine that if only 25 percent of the 2,850 clubs listed in the ARRL Club Search database were to negotiate a continuing relationship with at least one local public library, that would be some 712 libraries offering both books and programs on amateur radio to two key demographic groups: women and young children and adults. The 25 percent figure should actually be a lower bound of what all clubs should attain. But it would be leaps-and-bounds greater potential exposure than what the Teacher Institute can reach in a single year with class sizes in the 25-student range.

In the spirit of radio sport, avid contester David K5UZ asked, “Which Section can get the most libraries served by constituent ARRL Affiliated Clubs donating the League’s 10-book Library Set to libraries near them?” That would be a national contest indeed. One yielding a greater common good than a plaque for a single radio contest.

Now, to be sure, there are alternative versions of these recommended steps that better dove-tail with the League’s operation, the Divisions and Sections themselves. Some will say it’s too fast. But the thrust should be consistent with these ideas.

Not every ham thinks that public libraries would be an effective organization for amateur radio education and outreach. My own Section Manager, Malcolm W5XX, said that “no one” goes to libraries any more. My fellow podcast Presenter on the ICQ Podcast, Dan KB6NU, says he is skeptical. About ten years ago, he asked a staff member at a local public library in Ann Abor, MI where he lives about donating ham radio books. According to Dan, the staff member said something to the effect that if they took book donations from the local ham club, they’d have to take books from organizations that they’d prefer not to have in the library. I guess, think neo-Nazi hate material or something of that nature.

There may be others who disagree with the thrust of this Plant the Seed Initiative. But it may well be that there is a disconnect between the source of information that I’m using and what others are basing their opinion on. I’m using very high quality national data collected by the Gallup survey organization. I’m a professional survey researcher analyzing their raw data. I’ve done this a few times over my career so I think that I’ve got a very good handle on the national picture of reaching targeted audience groups. (Years ago, I designed the evaluations of the Smoky the Bear and the 4-H Programs.)

I love my Section Manager and respect his service greatly but the demographics of the Gallup Organization’s survey show that he himself is in a demographic (80 plus years of age and a man) that truly does not visit public libraries. Mal W5XX also has mobility issues and is retired from the US Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg MS, their hub of management. There are things you do not see if you are not in a position to look.

Now, Dan KB6NU does visit public libraries. In fact, he teaches ham radio licensing classes at one in Ann Arbor. I like and respect Dan as I’ve gotten to know him on the ICQ Podcast team. But there are a couple of things I can point out here about the basis of his stated skepticism.

One is that it’s a single library in Ann Arbor, not a state or the whole country. Moreover, asking a staff member who is not the Director is always more likely to yield a “no” to most questions. A Director is the go-to person in the public library space for any inquiries about donating books or other materials or coming in to give programs. Why? They have the authority to say “yes” without checking with anyone with the possible exception of the Library Board. It’s a relationship that a ham should seek, not just the act of dropping off a set of books.

A second thing is that the Ann Arbor library already has a number of amateur radio books and a magazine in their online catalog so they have already passed judgment on the content and sources of these holdings. Here’s a link for a search there for the term “amateur radio.” They have the current issue of CQ Magazine as well as the British magazine, Radio User (now part of Practical Wireless). They have several of Dan’s popular No Nonsense study guides, popular titles by Ward Silver, and the ARRL Operating Manual. Getting the ARRL Book Bundle would give them the latest and more depth to the content they already have in their holdings. So I do not know why the library staff member replied to Dan’s kind offer that way about ten years ago. But I’m not sure that that one experience is strong evidence that public libraries are not viable outlets for outreach and education about technology like amateur radio.

In fact, the Gallup report shows with national data that the library is the single most commonly visited public space to find young people and women. Should we ignore this critical fact? I certainly don’t. This is just an example of why it is critical to approach this “seed planting” as a relationship not a simple donation, just like we do with any other served agency in the EmComm arena of service. For instance, imagine your ARES team NOT having a relationship with the local EOC or other emergency management agency. Then just “show up” with HT in hand saying I’m a ham operator and heard you could use some help in the tornado, flood, fire, recovery effort. You’d be asked to vacate the premises very quickly because they are busy with their demanding work and they do not know you or your group! That’s what just dropping off a set of books might be like for a public library. At least, this is my take on it.

Work with ARRL Field Services and IT staff is scheduled to continue. I’ll see how this progresses and report further on the project. In the mean time, (re)read my two original blog posts on this concept. More than ever, we need to Plant the Seed of amateur radio. And use something more efficient than a screwdriver antenna (apologies to hams who use these antennas as I did some years ago). Keep up the Teacher Institute but expand into where the desired market audience can demonstrably be found. That just makes sense if we are serious about addressing the Baby Boom population exodus with a rational, data-driven plan to do what the ARRL has promised the IRS that they will do in exchange for not paying taxes on donations: education and outreach.

Public Libraries: New Served Agencies?

A long-used term by the American Radio Relay League, the National Association for Amateur Radio, is “served agency.” Almost without exception, it refers to a government agency or non-governmental organization that provides vital response support in times of disaster or, at least, in times of public service. In fact, the ARRL has official memos of understanding with many key agencies to which they promise their members or affiliates will “serve” as this screenshot from the League’s website details.

There is also an “educational outreach” page on the ARRL website. It lists programs, brochures, videos, suggestions on how to speak to youth groups, and small grants for educational outreach. But nowhere does it get the urgency, importance, or strategic planning that the “served agency” page does.

Recently, the ARRL Board approved a Life Long Learning Program, focusing on “offer[ing] a variety of learning opportunities for new, current and prospective amateur radio operators.” It mentions “youth and school resources” with ready-made presentation slides, videos, and associated materials, including a budding array of online courses. But only through school resources are libraries mentioned. Yet, the Gallup survey organization identified one leisure activity as “the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far.” That activity is visiting a public library.

The average 10.5 trips to the library U.S. adults report taking in 2019 exceeds their participation in eight other common leisure activities.…it’s the most common cultural activity Americans engage in, by far.”

Gallup Survey Organization

Schools and their teachers are already the foci of the League’s attention for outreach. And, from teachers whom I know who have been among the dozen or so each summer who attended the Teacher Institute, it’s a good thing. It uses the well-oiled “train-the-trainer” model of subject matter material propagation. I don’t know if there has ever been an evaluation of the program, following up and documenting how many new hams got licensed or even how many students got exposed to amateur radio after the teacher-trainer returned home. If so, I’ve just missed it. But until that happens, we just do not have common measurable outcomes on how effective the Teacher Institute is for getting students into the amateur radio hobby.

Gallup survey data recently revealed that U.S. adults attend the library on average about 10 months out of the year. This is more than they attend movies. And far more than parks or casinos. Women visit libraries twice as much as men. Hmm. That’s a population segment that amateur radio largely misses out on. And, young adults aged 18-29 attend public libraries more than any other age group. Isn’t the League trying to gain penetration into the youth market segment? The 30-49 age group is just behind the younger age group in library visits but this tapers off after age 50 onward until the typical retirement group of 65 years and beyond.

Women visit libraries twice as much as men. Hmm. That’s a population segment that amateur radio misses out on. And, young adults aged 18-29 attend libraries more than any other age group. Isn’t the League trying to gain penetration into the female and youth market segments?

Frank K4FMH

They are there, at the public library, but will we hams come? I’m reminded of the famous quote by the notorius bank robber, Willie Sutton. “I rob banks because that’s where the money is,” Willie Sutton supposedly said to news reporter Robert M. Yoder. Women and young people are at the library more than any other single public place.

Should the priority of educational outreach as one of the National Association for Amateur Radio’s goals include key educational outreach organizations as “served agencies”?

Here is a small look at the potential to reach young people in public libraries, taken from the latest Public Library Survey data available (2017) and only for the four states in the Delta Division (AR, LA, MS, TN). Over a year’s time, the 365 public library systems (actual outlets like branch libraries and bookmobiles total far greater but aggregate to the system) report these levels of traffic inside their brick-and-mortar locations, shown in the table below. The 9 million registered borrowers contribute to over 55 million visits during the year which also include unregistered borrowers. Over 5 million attend formal programs at these libraries, comprising over 3.3 million at children’s programs and a half million at young adult programs. This totals about 4 million persons in the youth market in just these four states alone. In addition, a total of 10.7 million wireless Internet sessions were utilized by patrons. This potential market traffic comes into the doors of brick-and-mortar public libraries. They reflect a clear and present target audience for the ARRL’s stated educational outreach audience. And, far easier to reach than via the school setting.

A new program that I described in a recent blog post describes one attempt by the Delta Division to leverage a current ARRL deep-discount sales program to begin raising public libraries to “served agency” status. This is the Plant the Seed! Initiative. It will be followed by the Sow the Future program, described below. The League has only recently begun using demographic data analytics to identify, understand, and reach out to desired market segments. While it’s just being rolled out to the Delta Division of four Sections in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, it is scalable to the all Divisions. Here’s how it works.

The ARRL has a set of 10 key books, including the two popular ones (Handbook & Antenna Handbook), for sale at a flat fee of $200 which includes shipping. They are only for library donations. Hence, the product is called the ARRL Library Book Set. For many clubs, the per-member cost of this set is less than $5.00. It’s less than a slice of pizza at a ham club lunch. The issue is that hams vary widely in their familiarity with their local library, although some might even be the Library Director! So what is the “social ecology” of where amateur radio clubs are located versus local libraries?

Public Libraries and Nearest Amateur Radio Club, Delta Division

I extracted the ARRL affiliated clubs in the Delta Division from the ARRL Find a Club webpage. There were geocoded to varying levels of accuracy (some at the city level). The Public Library Survey that is produced annually was used as the database for library systems (branches and bookmobiles are note used here but could be). The 2016 data are the most recent available. A script to conduct a spatial search for the nearest club to each library, within each Section so all clubs and libraries are within the section boundaries, was created and executed using GIS software. The results placed over a basemap is shown above.

A couple of things emerge from this spatial representation. Some clubs are the closest one to many public libraries. In one case (Bossier City, LA), there is no library for which that club is the nearest. This is due to a nearby one in Shreveport that just happens to nose it out, so to speak, in terms of the geocoded club locations and the libraries. So, the clubs and communicate between themselves, perhaps in concert with the Section Manager, to use this map and a master list of public libraries and clubs in the Section, to determine which libraries should receive the book set donations from each club. Similarly, in another city (Starkville MS), one club is nearest to a public library several counties to the west while the other is closest to several nearby. Again, club officer communication along with the Section Manager, uses these results as they were meant to be: just a guide to the local area terrain for libraries and amateur radio clubs.

Delta Division Director David Norris K5UZ has communicated to each Section Manager with a “challenge” to see which Section can serve the most libraries. Right now, Mississippi and Malcolm W5XX is in the lead, mainly because my club, the Central Mississippi ARA, has taken delivery of two ARRL Book Sets for donation to libraries in Rankin County (Central MS Library System) and Madison County. We’ve communicated with the President of the Jackson ARC who will take the lead on the Hinds County (Jackson) Public Library System. Checking the online catalog of ARRL book holdings is an important act. The Central MS Library System had several titles but all were more than a decade old. Madison County, which has the highest median income in the State, had almost none. Surprising but that’s why we should always check a library’s online catalog of current holdings beforehand.

Getting the library’s Director involved in the donation is also vital. Don’t just “drop off” the donation at the check-out desk. Easy for the club official but terrible for the library staff. Library’s just don’t work that way regarding collection development. This “drop off” may well just get the blister wrapped donation of 10 books placed in the next sidewalk sale of the library. Take the time to get the Library Director involved. Get that person in the public relations photo and narrative as welcoming the donation so their acceptance is in the public view. Execute due diligence in this strategic investment for amateur radio. More work but far greater pay-off.

David K5UZ and I also provided an online Dropbox folder system for the “paperwork” to facilitate the implementation of this Plant the Seed! Initiative. Sub-folders include the logo, the map of the spatial ecology of clubs and public libraries (see above), a narrative document which both announces the Initiative, gives a description of the Dropbox file system and the link to it, and recommendations for Section Managers to implement the program within the Section. Finally, and this is a key to facilitating the Section Manager’s job of both encouraging and managing the roll-out of the Initiative in his Section, we created four spreadsheets. Two are the master list of ARRL affiliated clubs and public libraries in each Section. A third is a list of clubs with nearest public libraries. This gives the Section Manager an overview of the Section and helps in advising clubs on libraries to serve (see discussion above). Finally, separate spreadsheets for each club in the Section were created. This allows the SM to just email a single spreadsheet to a given club using the email contact within that individual.

These procedures reduce but do not eliminate confusion over the suggestions made to clubs. Imagine, however, just advocating that clubs donate to their libraries. Here’s the link to purchase at ARRL.org. Go to it, clubs. Check off that box. Done! Wow. That would be worse than stepping on an unseen covey of quail! More importantly, it would be destined for failure in terms of making a systemic impact on getting amateur radio material into public libraries.

It would also not create an ongoing relationship between the club and the library itself. The follow-up effort is called the Sow the Future portion of this Initiative. Offering programs on amateur radio at the local library leverages the initial book donation and benefits the library staff who are charged with creating programs for the public. This activity by ARRL affiliated clubs “serves” the public library in a very beneficial way. But it doesn’t happen without systematic planning. Planning the spatial ecology of linking national organizations like the ARRL and one or more of their Divisions to their Sections and their Sections to affiliated clubs is critical. It’s the return on the investment of the $200 set of books to get a continuing “served agency” relationship of giving programs on the amateur radio hobby at that recipient library.

Remember, Section Managers report to the Field Services Coordinator in most day-to-day matters. Getting the organizational links among the League, Division Directors (who comprise the governing Board for the League itself), Section Mangers, loosely affiliated Clubs, and individual ham operators is far from being a well-oiled or even well thought out machine. Hams who are not League members may be members of an ARRL-affiliated club. Or no club at all. So the final link in this chain is only a part of the ham radio operator market. But it’s the market that the League deals with most of the time. The need to use demographic data analytics like this becomes crucial in a loosely-coupled organizational ecology that is the case with amateur radio in the United States. The approach outlined here is just one example of using them to plan a new set of links in this ecology.

We hope that this Initiative will be met positively by clubs and their members. It’s a nominal financial commitment by clubs on a per-member basis. Doing the final leg-work on establishing an ongoing relationship with one or more local libraries is as important as the $200 donation of books. David Norris K5UZ is investigating whether it’s feasible to get the digital version of the new On the Air magazine available to recipient public libraries to leverage the wireless Internet access by registered borrowers. We will see how that materializes.

Public libraries are the dominant local community organization through which to consistently reach both women and youth, from the recent Gallup report’s findings. Libraries should be viewed as “served agencies” for educational outreach much as the League advocates ARES teams serving critical organizations in times of emergency. Or a bike race, which is more often the case. Because libraries are where the “money” is.


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