Category Archives: professional development

ego, thy name is librarianship

cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar
cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a bit of an attention problem. No, not attention deficit– I have a need to be, if not the center of attention, at least left of center. Even though I am an introvert at heart who needs significant alone time to recharge and prepare, I am actually happiest when I am in front of a crowd. I meet this need for attention in many ways–by working in an area of librarianship that demands that I present storytimes and other programs, by being a performing songwriter on my personal time, by writing this blog. Often these endeavors are satisfying enough in themselves, but sometimes–during dark, lonely afternoons as I type up program plans, or ponder what to write about next on the blog–I crave even more attention, but I don’t know how to get it.

Doesn’t this all sound awfully conceited? I know. It does. But I’m nothing if not honest, so yes, I’ll admit to thinking I am awesome. I think I do excellent work, and have unique contributions to make, even though I don’t have a slogan or a hashtag or a large, slavish following. Sometimes I wonder if I were a man, writing about ebooks, if I’d get more attention. But since I am a lady writing mostly about playdough and early literacy, decidedly unsexy topics in librarianship (and when did “sexy” begin to equal “intriguing” or “worthwhile” or “interesting”?) I have a decidedly smaller circle of admirers and colleagues, most of whom are my fellow unsung heroes of the library world. As a children’s librarian, if you write more about how you use books with children than you do about the books and authors themselves, you don’t get as much notice.

Perhaps it is just my sensitive ego at work, but I feel like the librarian bloggers who work with children and teens and who write primarily about programs don’t get the recognition they deserve. Storytime blogs such as So Tomorrow, Awesome Storytime, Mel’s Desk, Playing by the Book, Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Bryce Don’t Play, and Storytiming provide real, concrete advice for creating worthwhile programming, which should be the bread and butter of libraries. If all of us wrote more book reviews and less about the programs we created using those books, or why we create the programs we do, perhaps we’d get more notice. If we blogged about hot button topics like e-books for babies or stripping our children’s departments down to look like futuristic lunchrooms filled with ipads, perhaps we’d get a ton of traffic. But we don’t. We write about our quiet successes and failures, about the simple craft of creating a flannel story, about what rhymes will fit with certain themes, and when we do review books, it’s always with an eye to How will I use this with a group of children? When we get dressed for work, it’s always with a thought about how easily we’ll be able to get up and down from the floor during storytime, and whether or not sweat will show if we’re doing a lot of jumping songs that day.

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship (Swiss Army Librarian being a rare exception, with his marvelous ref questions of the week). These men spin elaborate fantasies about librarians being information rockstars who dress to impress (either flashily or with an eye to ironic hipsterism), dismiss librarians who still use books to connect with patrons as hopelessly backwards, and come up with gimmick after gimmick to get libraries “noticed” without ever once writing about a concrete, applicable thing that they have actually done. Show me how libraries and librarians are amazing, don’t just tell me and expect me to be convinced.

I’m on very precarious ground as I write this, because honestly, my main motivation is that I am sad that I am not more recognized. [I really regret this sentence right now! While I, personally, do want to be recognized, more than that I want my tribe--kid and teen librarians who work so damn hard with little to no recognition in the wider library world--to be noticed and appreciated. Which they might be. I'll admit to not being able to read everything ever printed about libraries. JJ 01/16] I want to be noticed. I want people to listen to what I have to say. I want to be offered speaking engagements, to have a larger platform to  discuss my ideas of how to better librarianship, to be valued. I want to win awards. I crave approval and recognition, and yet, to paraphrase Lillian Hellman, I cannot and will not cut my librarianship to fit this year’s fashion. I don’t particularly care about e-books, only that I wish we could give our patrons what they want. I don’t particularly want to shove ipads into the faces of babies and toddlers because I still believe screen time is ultimately damaging. I don’t really care to have the perception of librarians go from shushing bun heads to strutting pimps. (I think Frank Zappa* is a better rock star librarian model than any rapper, but that’s just me. Like Frank, I believe in free speech, showmanship, and being a decent human being. Like Frank, I think you can push the envelope of expression without being hateful to women.) I like books, and I believe librarianship is about books, if you stop and think about how books equal stories, and it doesn’t matter what goddamn container they come in, be it paper, digital, audio, or a film or a video game. Stories are what people crave, and stories (like the storycorp partnership with libraries, or the not so new resurgence of reading aloud to adults–and adult librarians, if you need help on reading aloud, you know who to ask) are what libraries have and always will do best.

So next time you need a keynote speaker, perhaps consider one of us librarians who spend most of our time on the floor–often literally. Our subject matter might not be “sexy”, but we know how to tell a damn good story.

*”If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” – Frank Zappa

let’s stop worrying and love the common core

You’ll live to be read another day, sweet Catcher in the Rye. Beautiful illustration by naomi yamada.

Dear sweet baby Jane.

So if you want a rage stroke, read the articles I’ve listed below. If you want to just read an accurate description of how the fiction/nonfiction actually breaks down in the Common Core, just read this one.

I think the way everyone (yes, LITERALLY* EVERYONE EVER) was misquoting the 70% figure and assiduously babycrying about Recommended Levels of Insulation being an exemplary text (which it IS, for INFORMATIONAL TEXTS, not LITERATURE) really shows us that our ability to read different types of text SUCKS.

Listen. I think the common core probably has flaws, but I don’t care, because it has at least one major strength: knocking lexile off its perch as the definitive way we give kids books to read.

See, a major component of CC is text complexity. This concept forces us (us referring to teachers, parents, and librarians, mostly) to consider a whole text when we’re deciding when to read it and who to read it with. (I love this mostly because it reminds me a lot of the whole child approach to teaching). Lexile is only one piece of the puzzle. It must be used in conjunction with theme, levels of meaning, structure, prior knowledge demands, etc, to decide where a piece of writing would best be used. (I’d never be able to explain it better than Jackie Owens did in this presentation, so if you want to see how to evaluate a text, check that out, bookmark it, print it out and laminate it–it’s an excellent tool to use.)

The idea is that we want to empower kids to be stronger, more well-rounded readers. We want them to be exposed to a wealth and breadth of reading materials so that they can discover their talents and passions. You know that some kid is going to geek out intensely on that insulation text (well maybe not, but don’t we all know kids who pore over game manuals who could easily and happily make the leap to, say, car repair texts? or mortgage applications?), and who are we to deny that kid that opportunity?

Being able to adjust one’s reading style to the text at hand is an important skill, and one that we’re sorely lacking. You don’t read a verse novel the same way you read your tax form, and if we don’t teach kids that, we’re setting them up for failure. Maybe if more kids knew that it was okay to skim the boring parts of a novel (hello, flensing in Moby Dick and architecture in The Hunchback of Notre Dame) they’d be more able to stick with a difficult novel and get out of it what they could. Further, if we read more informational and technical texts, maybe we’d have been better able to avoid some of the effects of the financial crisis because it wouldn’t have been so damn difficult to read and understand loan documents and mortgage applications.

So teachers, don’t worry, you can keep teaching The Catcher in Rye (shudder) until they pry Holden Caulfield’s literary corpse out of your cold dead hands. But you can also spend a little time reading biographies of some of the famous people mentioned in the text (such as Gary Grant, or the Lunts, perhaps, although I can see many a middle schooler having a field day with that name), or looking at articles of the period from the Saturday Evening Post. CC isn’t about taking anything away, it’s about adding supporting materials to deepen and enrich the experience of reading.

It’s also a great opportunity to insist that literacy isn’t solely the responsibility of the LA teachers and librarians any more. Read a novel in math class (Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth both lend themselves wonderfully to big, beautiful, crazy making math discussions), or read Silent Spring in biology class. I read Silent Spring in biology class when I was in high school, and it’s pretty much the only damn thing I really remember, frankly. For kids who aren’t technically minded, having stories to hang these concepts on is a wonderful scaffolding and support technique. And for kids who love to crunch numbers and muck about with beakers, being exposed to the lyricism of Rachel Carson’s prose or the sheer goofiness of Milo’s adventures will remind them of the human element inherent in every discipline, no matter how far removed it may seem.

SO FRET NOT FRIENDS. The world of literature for children has expanded, not contracted; there is a bounty out there, with something for everyone. Rejoice.

AND DING DONG LEXILE’S DEAD. Or, at least, not so very powerful.

Now I want a ding dong. Or actually, a zinger.

*Chris Trager style

How To Do it Right

Two Common Core Blunders To Avoid–and How to Do It

The Role of Fiction in the High School English Language Arts Classroom

How to measure text complexity

Common Core and Nonfiction, Again

Rage Stroke Articles

Common Core Nonfiction Reading Standards Mark The End Of Literature, English Teachers Say

English Class: Hold the Literature?

Catcher in the Rye dropped from US school curriculum

 

September, I remember

September, how did you get here so fast? Oh, yeah, summer reading (Ingrid breaks it down for you, animated gifs and all). And, oh, yeah, I have a new job (which makes another Ingrid link relevant).

I’m going from being a storytime all the time librarian to a school services coordinator librarian. It’s been hard to say goodbye to a community I’ve served for four years, but it’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to all the new duties, challenges and experiences ahead of me.

Since the playdough post was so popular, I wanted to pass on these links with more ideas: Garden Playdough from Bakers & Astronauts and Playdough Power from NAEYC

How was your summer? And what are you looking forward to this fall?

Do I contradict myself?

In my dreams of big tent librarianship, I envision a field where librarians of all types are exchanging ideas on common themes and issues facing their libraries. I see an active interest in seeking out sessions at conferences and workshops that glimpse the lives of other professional specialties. I imagine a profession where organizations, divisions, roundtables, and committees still exist but the obstacles and impediments to communication between their members does not.

Backtalk: We Need Big Tent Librarianship, by Andy Woodworth

Apparently this communication and exchange of ideas looks like this:

 

you know what this is about. or you don’t.

You know, some librarians think the ARC issue is a waste of time, and others don’t. For my part, I don’t care to know much about cataloging beyond the surface basics, but I do appreciate the cataloging nerds who are really into it and keep it going and tell the rest about the most salient points.

It’s the same thing with the ARC situation. Not every librarian has the same passions, but as a whole profession we keep each other informed about a broad range of topics, and learn from each other.

Dismissing someone’s passions as invalid doesn’t do anyone any good.We all have different areas of expertise and passion, and we need to respect those. That’s the only way we can pull together, help each other, and move librarianship forward.

If you don’t care, don’t comment. If you do care, contribute. And also: don’t be a dick.

The Cockroach Approach: Doughnuts, an interlude

I posted this quote by John Green on my facebook timeline the other day:

“Adult librarians are like lazy bakers: their patrons want a jelly doughnut, so they give them a jelly doughnut. Children’s librarians are ambitious bakers: ‘You like the jelly doughnut? I’ll get you a jelly doughnut. But you should try my cruller, too. My cruller is gonna blow your mind, kid.”
― John Green

And seeing as I am friends with many a type of librarian, several adult services librarians I know became really defensive. I can see why. I’m sure there are many adult librarians who offer up crullers, long johns, muffins, and perhaps even hash brownies– but here’s the thing: you’re not seen that way, adult librarians. Your message isn’t being heard. Which is what I’m trying to get at with these posts.

If authors who are library advocates don’t comprehend your value, and other librarians such as myself aren’t sure of what you’re doing, then what are the chances that the public knows?

I’m not trying to anger people, but I am trying to provoke and inspire.

So adult librarians: tell me about your crullers. I dare you.

The Cockroach Approach: Outreach

Part One of a four part series. Read the introduction here.

Children’s librarians have cornered the market on outreach. We go out to schools, preschools, daycares and present book talks, storytimes and other programs that promote our services, materials and meet a developmental need for our users. Some librarians go even further and perform at summer festivals, block parties, coffee shops and doctor’s waiting rooms. We also do some passive outreach– I know many libraries will partner with hospitals and send a bag home with new parents that contains information about, early literacy, the library, and what it offers to new parents. And it’s not just the places we go or what we do, it’s how often we go there and how awesome we are.

I think if you are truly a great outreach librarian, you’re going to be treated like a rock star. Kids will begin to anticipate your visits, and–and this is truly important–they will love and want to see you so much that they will follow you to the library. Having a rock star librarian elevates the entire experience, and will spur your entire staff to higher levels of performance in turn (and if they act resentful instead, well, that’s why we fire people. Or hope they weed themselves).

I believe that this is why my preschool programs are so successful at my current place of work–because my outreach counterpart goes above and beyond in her visits, entrancing children and getting them excited about literature and the library, and she makes sure that promotional materials for our in house programs get sent home with each and every kid. She’s genuinely enthusiastic about every single kid she meets, and that kind of interaction is enthralling to kids. With that kind of direct marketing and heartfelt, genuine connection, it’s no wonder our program statistics continue to climb.

I don’t see this happening in public library adult services departments. Some libraries are getting on it and offering programming outside of the library— Oak Park Public Library is on the forefront with its many-pronged Genre X programming, and Skokie has joined forces with Morton Grove to present Lit Lounge, a book club in a bar, and Forest Park Public Library offers pub trivia. I’ve seen other libraries staff tables at Farmer’s Markets. But I think there’s still room for more outreach, more often–and with a better attitude.

More and more libraries are offering a summer reading component for adults, but where is the promotion? When your youth and teen services librarians are promoting summer reading in the schools, why doesn’t adult services go to the same thing, promoting the adult summer reading program to teachers and staff? What better way to motivate kids to read over the summer than to show them their teachers and principal are doing it too?

And speaking of teachers, why not make sure they know that the library offers classes on facebook, youtube, linkedin, twitter, and other technology classes? Is your library set up to offer CPDUs and CEUs through the state board of education? It’s incredibly easy to do in Illinois, and with some slight tweaking to your classes, you can offer an incredible amount of value to these adults in your community. In fact, why not co-present with a member of your youth services team, so teachers and adults can learn how kids are using these same technologies, often in very different ways.

In addition to teachers, what about college professors and academic librarians?  I know most academic libraries purchase some leisure reading materials–why not have public reader’s advisory services librarian come booktalk hot new titles? I think that would be a much more entertaining way of developing that collection than reading a journal. And colleges have a wealth of talent that could come present workshops or classes at the public library, if only those connections were made. Outreach begets collaboration–what a benefit to both parties involved!

A few years back there was a lot of discussion about roving reference, and getting out from behind the desk. While admirable, that’s not enough. Librarians need to get out of the library and make sure people realize the value of what we have and what we can do. Even with virtual outreach–twitter and facebook, and to a lesser extent the library’s website–we are falling behind. I see so many libraries with a twitter feed full of other libraries, authors, and publishers. Sorry– you’re doing it wrong. Why aren’t you following people in your community? And if there aren’t any people in your community on twitter, why are you wasting time on twitter anyway? You need to find out where the people in your community are, and meet them there. 

In the vein of virtual outreach, I’d love to see more libraries post staff pages with pictures. Yes. Sort of scary. But really– people don’t connect with a huge building called LIBRARY. They connect with PEOPLE. To a lot of the kids I work with, I AM the library, or Miss Stephanie is the library. I know some people are squicky about having their pictures and information out on the internet but…well. That’s your problem. The more times people see your face, and learn things about you–the more of a real person you are–the more likely it is that a connection will be made, and real, good library work can be done. Will you occasionally get a crazy stalker? Sure. But is that very likely? No. So why would you avoid a huge, real benefit because you’re afraid of a highly unlikely negative scenario? Librarianship isn’t for wimps. Get over it.

Further, it’s not enough to just do these things–you need to be awesome. Amazing. Charismatic. Like a children’s librarian. We squeal at adorable babies, we clap when a kid shows us the books they’re checking out, we can’t wait to get the new Pete the Cat or Elephant in Piggy into a kid’s hands, we flail like Muppets–and that’s what you, adult services librarian, need to do, too. Authenticity matters is all realms of librarianship. When people can tell you care, can tell you’re excited, can tell that they matter to you, they are more likely to return to you and request your help–and then, in your time of need, they are more likely to be your advocate. Because unless people like you, and care about you, and think you matter–then no one is going to miss you when you’re gone. Which is why children’s librarians–the good ones–will survive. If Miss Stephanie disappeared from the library–if someone threatened her job–there would be an outcry. There would be protests. There would be hand-drawn signs and tears and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Would that happen for you, if you were threatened? Would any of your patrons notice or care if you were suddenly gone? If not, you need to start making some friends.

(Does every patron need a Muppet flail, however? No. This is why librarians who are skilled in reading people and tailoring their approach are so crucial. Some patrons need a different kind of enthusiasm, otherwise they will think you are crazy. Children’s librarians are–whether by instinct, design, or learned behavior–are skilled actors. Perhaps its all the dramatic reading we do, but we know how to use our bodies and our voices effectively to provoke a response. We can soothe or excite depending on what the situation requires, which, in the realm of public service, is crucial.)

I certainly must have a few adult services librarians who read this blog. So tell me–where are you going? What are you doing? And is it making a difference?

Want to Save Libraries?

I think every library, be it public, school, academic, or special, can learn a lot about survival from the children’s departments of public libraries–because we’re not going anywhere. Even if the rest of the library as we know it collapses and crumbles, children’s librarians will still be around, in some form or another, doing what we do.

Why is this? Why will we survive budget cuts and closures while other libraries and library departments might fail? Simple: we provide unique, superior value and we make sure people know about it. Also, we’re the nicest people in the library world, and that keeps people coming back.

Now, this is not to say that no one else provides value, or gets the word out, or is nice. What I am saying is that the most successful children’s librarians–and, very often, teen librarians–have a certain formula that will consistently provide results. A great children’s department will often have both the highest program numbers as well as the highest circulation numbers, and depending on how the library budgets, that often means they end up getting the most money.

There are four key areas in which children’s librarians excel, and they are:

  1. Outreach
  2. Programming
  3. Service
  4. Collections
I’m going to discuss each of these four areas in turn. Stay tuned for our first topic, outreach.
p.s. I think that insect is actually a beetle.

Stifled: or, the exact wrong way to think about storytime

Oh, dear sweet baby Picard Jebus, there’s a rage making thread on pub-yac about a children’s department being forced to do all of their storytimes the same. Here’s a quote:

[...A]ll the storytimes for one age group should be the same because:
Patrons get disappointed when they can’t get into a certain storytime because its registration gets filled.
Using personal props, puppets or flannels is shunned because you may leave the library one day and the library patrons will be familiar with those items that were personally yours.
If you are out sick, another librarian will need to cover the storytime and the patrons will be disappointed if “Miss Tina” isn’t there and the librarian covering the storytime will feel bad, because the group is disappointed.
That the staff of librarians have different levels of performance ability and because of  that they should all work together to be about the same or at least contain the same materials.

My first flippant thought was, “Welcome to Camazotz storytime. All storytimes are equal. Now for 1.5 minutes of literacy time.” My second, equally flippant thought was, “Sounds like Amendments 211, 212, and 213 got passed at this library. Soon we’ll be seeing library job postings for a staff Handicapper General.”

When I was still working as a preschool teacher, there was a big movement away from genuine praise–instead, we were supposed to say things like “You did it!” No qualifiers, the only thing we talked about was done and not done. Which also ties in with our current climate of “Everyone’s a winner!” “A+ for trying!” And I can understand the impulse. You don’t want kids or people to feel bad. But by making everyone equal, we’ve done the exact opposite– when we don’t allow children, or staff members, to find out what they excel at, then we have a society full of people who aren’t really good at anything. Not allowing people to fail has caused so many people to never find out what they are truly good at, and by making everyone equal, we’ve inflicted a great injustice on many.

Equality isn’t about what we are–it is about how we are treated, and how we are utilized in society. Those who have talent and work hard at developing and applying it should be lauded, of course, but not at the detriment of others.

Forcing more talented staff to perform at the level of your least talented staff is demoralizing for all involved. Why would anyone do this? I think a smarter approach would be for your staff to try out presenting different programs to different groups and seeing what works. Not every group wants or needs a high energy, jazz hands style presenter. I actually think baby time/lapsit benefits from a calmer, more methodical approach, perfect for shyer or perhaps older librarians.

If you end up with a staff member who is incapable of successfully presenting to any group, in any style, well, then, that’s another discussion. But stifling the creativity and joy of your other staff to meet imagined needs of a public is simply poor management. If I were working with whomever created those guidelines above, I’d be on the lookout for a better situation.

This situation also reminded me of Mel’s recent, excellent series on the elements of storytime, which is as elegant and perfect and precise as Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. I highly recommend anyone who currently performs storytimes or wants to in the future read the entire series. And library school educators, you might just want to incorporate it into your curriculum–with proper credit, of course.

Muffins with Mom

Years ago, at one of my first library jobs, I had a weekend morning program that I called “Doughnuts with Dad.” I believe it was around father’s day, but it might not have been. All I did was brew some coffee, buy some doughnuts and juice, gussy up the tables with some table cloths, throw out some toys, crafts, and books, and I called it a program. Dads and kids of all ages came to eat, drink, and be merry. I circulated, talking to families, promoting our programs, and generally just having a lovely time.

I’ve done this at my current place of work several times now, and I’ve expanded it to include a Mother’s Day version I call “Muffins with Mom.” (One year it was Milkshakes with Mom. That was a nightmare. The milkshakes, I mean.) It’s the same gist as Doughnuts, but around Mother’s Day and with muffins.This year in addition to our cute Mum themed craft, we also took pictures of Moms and kids and I’m going to be turning them into custom READ posters. I also had some leftover blank board books from National Library Week, and a couple of moms actually used them to write their own family books!

Which is another thing I like about this program–if you can get your library to market it outside of just the children’s department, it’s a great inter-generational program. Crafts and treats aren’t just for kids! We actually had an adult mother and child pair, and I was so happy to see them! And allowing the adults to do the craft projects was great fun, and has great value for everyone. Why should kids be the only ones who get to enjoy the relaxation of coloring, cutting and gluing? If you have enough supplies, go ahead and let the grown ups join in!

I like these kinds of programs for several other reasons, too. I like that it’s on the weekend, which I think is a time that many librarians don’t think to do programs. I think for a lot of families, weekends are just a better time to come out. Often people don’t want to go out again on a weeknight if they don’t have to, and the pull will have to be pretty spectacular to get them in the doors–I’m thinking Lego Master Builders or a magic show. But the weekend is a little less hectic for some families, and a good time to try some programming. I’ve noticed we get some of our regulars, but I’ve also noticed a lot of people that I never see at any other programs.

Another thing I like is that it’s a passive program, where I can relax (to a degree) and interact with people without being on stage. So often as a children’s librarian I have to be “on” which really taxes my normally introverted personality. At these programs, I am still on but in a much more low key way, being a hostess and making sure everyone gets coffee, a pastry, and has enough materials for their craft project.

I also like this program because it allows people to do something nice for Mother’s Day that is free. So many places offer expensive Mother’s Day brunches and the like, which not everyone can afford. I always make sure to have nice food (this year we got some donations, which always help), something that’s nicer than what people might buy for themselves, just to make it special.

This is what I like to spend time and money on, rather than ebooks*. I think it’s a smart investment.

*I’m mad about ebooks and all the time librarians spend talking about them and thinking about them and blah blah blah and this is my passive aggressive way of complaining about them.