Outreach in a Time of Uprising

My first job out of college was working as a preschool teaching assistant in a state funded preschool program. Children in this program were “at-risk”, meaning they were growing up in poverty, or with only one parent, or with parents who didn’t speak English. An essential part of our work were home visits, where my lead teacher and I visited every student’s home in order to get to know our students better.

During these visits we asked caregivers two pages worth of questions, including questions about discipline methods, family background, a typical day in the life of the family. We learned the names of beloved grandparents. We sometimes ate the same food that the child every day (who was I to turn down a homemade tamale?). We observed how many books were in the home. We made connections, and developed relationships. If parents had had bad experiences with education in their past, this work was a little more difficult. We’d need to gently untangle years of bad experiences and demonstrate to wary parents that we could be trusted. (And for many families, we were also working through years and years of historical trauma, although we didn’t know that’s what it was at that time.) Just as we soothed the feelings of a distraught child in the classroom, we extended this same care and concern to the child’s family. 

If we determined the family needed, we’d refer them to social workers on staff who would work to make sure utility bills got paid, ensure the family had enough food, or help caregivers finish their own education. By knowing and seeing the whole child–and the whole family, and school, and community–we could tailor their classroom experience to help them succeed socially, emotionally, and academically.

The six years I spent working in the field of early childhood education had a profound impact on my professional values. It was there I developed my passion for helping people, and learned that listening to people’s stories is the first and most powerful step in helping them change their lives. I’ve taken those lessons forward with me into my work in libraries. Those home visits taught me patience, understanding, and compassion, and those qualities have made me a better reference librarian and improved my ability at readers advisory. By having a deeper understanding of the needs and wants of the community I serve, every program, collection, or service I propose or implement will be stronger, better, and more useful. 

I’ve learned how to create safe environments for sharing and learning by being open, vulnerable, and nonjudgmental. While booktalking to middle school students I’ll share personal stories, inspiring the students to share their own.  By being easily recognizable and approachable in my community, I’ve become the face of the library to many people, and this has allowed me to have fruitful conversations with library users in grocery stores and in the clearance section at Target as well as at the reference desk. These interactions inform every aspect of my library work, and contribute to my vision for truly responsive and integrated library spaces, services, and programs.

I’ve always believed that this type of community engagement is crucial to library services, but I believe that now it’s more important than ever. When the humanity of people in our communities is called into question, one of the strongest responses we can make is by helping elevate and amplify their voices and their stories. This is why, even if your community is entirely white (which it’s probably not), books with children of color on the covers, and books written by authors of color, are still crucial to have in your collection, and need to be included in book talks, on book lists, and included during your readers’ advisory sessions.

But to go even further, there are stories in your own community that deserve to be told and voices that need to be listened to. Marginalized voices deserve a seat on your library board. They deserve a voice at the table when you’re planning programs, remodeling your spaces, and creating your collections. And you’re not going to hear these voices sitting behind a desk or holed up in your office, or even on the floor of your library, or commenting on your facebook page. You’re going to hear these voices out in your community, at the park or at church socials or at a school information night. You will have to do the work of being present, being engaged, being available. You’ll need to start by being vulnerable yourself, by admitting you don’t have all the answers and you don’t do everything right, but you’re there to listen, and to support.

Here’s the thing: it’s going to take months, if not years, for you to become trusted. It will take hours of being available in spaces, making sometimes awkward approaches, trying to prove your value. And you do. You need to prove your value, and be authentic. You can’t just throw up a sign or have one “multicultural” event and call it a day. That’s not how it works.

And this isn’t news. From Managing Library Outreach Programs: a how-to-do-it Manual for Librarians*, by Marcia Trotta, published 1993:

The first step toward success is the most important: commitment to the goal of making library services available to all. We need to face reality and realize that not everyone is comfortable within our traditional library boundaries. The buildings are imposing, the amounts of information are overwhelming, unfamiliar cultural manifestations are threatening. In many instances, people don’t know that the library has something for them. Outreach services, also known as ‘the off-site approach’, offer librarians the opportunity to open up communication about the library and its services on the user’s own turf. It gives librarians the chance to observe and listen to the population intended to be served, so that the barriers can be overcome. Bringing the library outside its walls requires a change of perception about the library and its roles, both on the part of the librarians and of the users (Trotta, 4; bold emphasis added).

Also from this book: Chicago Public Library added a social worker to its staff in 1969. I don’t think they employ one any longer, but they’re currently working to integrate library branches with affordable housing options. And while they lost their social worker, other public libraries have added this position in recent years, which is a step in the right direction. How much more embedded can you be, then to have your library where people live?

But even if you can’t integrate your library spaces in your community to such a degree, you can get out in your community. Go to events, be recognizable and available (which can be scary for some, so do what feels comfortable for you), and above all–listen. Listen without judgment, assumptions, or an agenda. Listen, and observe, and be present. This is the only way to learn about your community, and in turn, help them achieve what they want to achieve.

And above all, remember what Mr Vonnegut said: bekind

 

*If you have never read this book, please do. It has been updated, but I appreciated reading the older edition as well, to see how perceptions and approaches have changed, or in some instances, stayed the same. 

 

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The Librarian Dating Game

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I started writing this post in October 2015; finally published August 2016.

Once upon a time some librarian colleagues and I presented a program at our state conference talking about how public, school, and academic libraries can and should work together. We formatted it as a game show–The Dating Game, obviously–and had different librarians ask their counterparts what they could do for them, and talked about what they could offer.

It was a fun program and an incredible conversation.

As you can see from the above graphic, library users use multiple libraries in their lifetime, and multiple departments within each library. Just as a well functioning public library has collaboration with children’s, teens, and adult departments, so should the public library collaborate with school and academic libraries, and vice-versa.

Here’s some of my favorite sources on this subject. Let me know what you think.

NYC Public and School Libraries MYLibrary NYC Program

Teach More, Librarian Less

Libraries and English Language Learners 

Good School Libraries Bring Stronger Learning 

Study Ties Quality Library Programs to Student Success

Study Ties College Success to Students’ Exposure to a High School Librarian

How to Create a Knockout Summer Literacy Program

It Takes Two: The Need for Tighter Collaboration Between School and Public Librarians

Partners in Success: When school and public librarians join forces, kids win

We Need Tag-Team Librarianship: Active collaboration between public and school librarians benefits all

The Public Library Connection: The new standards require that public and school librarians pull together

School and Public Libraries Collaborate to Help Teen Community: Reports from the Field

A School and Public Librarian Find Common Ground on the Common Core

Nashville’s Limitless Libraries Hopes to Merge School and Public Library ILS

School and Academic Librarians Must Join Forces to Foster College Readiness

Factors Affecting Students’ Information Literacy as They Transition from High School to College

Informed Transitions: High School Outreach Program at Kent State

Community Collaborations: Librarians Teach High School Students

Academic Library Research Visits for High School Students

welcome, Illinois Library Association/Wee Be Jammin’ friends!

Wow, this year’s ILA conference knocked it out of the park. I’ll be exploring some of the things I learned in more detail later on, but I did want to say hello to anyone who finds my blog post-conference. In the mean time, the ILA Youth Forum blog has a pretty nice recap of all the programs that were of interest to youth librarians if you want to check that out.

Also! If you’re interested in starting music programs at your library, I’d be happy to come out and visit you! I can present a program for your patrons, a workshop for your staff, or both! See the music page for more details and contact information. And thanks for reading!

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?

top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

how to become the best, most versatile baby & toddler programmer ever

1. Buy all of John M. Feierabend‘s* books. Pay special attention to The Book of Tapping & Clapping, The Book of Bounces, and The Book of Wiggles & Tickles.Read them. Find the taps, bounces and wiggles that you like and can perform without feeling too self-conscious. Memorize them.

2. Buy all of Hugh Hanley’s Circle of Songs CDs, which come with photo-illustrated books. Repeat the same process as with the Feierabend books.

3. Buy all of Annie Kubler‘s board books. Revel in the simplicity of the drawings, the diversity of the babies, and the clarity of the nursery rhymes and classic children’s songs such as “I’m A Dingle Dangle Scarecrow” and “Row Your Boat”.

4. Buy all of Helen Oxenbury‘s board books. Enjoy the adorable babies and simple actions that are easy for parents to do with their child during storytime.

5. Buy some simple toys. Baby and toddler storytimes should be half program, half playtime. After all, children learn through play! Play time is also a great time for parents and caregivers to talk, share information, and make friends. Building community is just as important as building emergent literacy skills.

6. Build on the first five steps as needed. This is a solid foundation for baby and toddler program, and a great place to begin if you’ve never presented a laptime or toddler story time before. With these materials in your arsenal, you should be able to present a wonderful program at the drop of a hat, while continually adding new books, rhymes and toys to keep things fresh.

As for the actual storytime, I have my regular opening routine. For babies, I’ll read one book, then go through a sequence of bounces, tickles, wiggles, and songs (I play songs on the guitar, but you can easily sing songs without accompaniment). The order of these doesn’t matter too much. I try to read the babies as much as I can. Some babies love bounces, so I’ll do more bounces. Other babies love singing, so we’ll sing more. I’m happy to cater to their preferences.

For toddlers, I add one more book in the mix, sometimes two more if they’re particularly attentive.

*I just realized he has music CDs as well. You should probably go ahead and get those, too.

In case you’re wondering, at my library, the ages for baby times are 4-18 months, and toddler times are 19-47 months.

P.S. Do your baby and toddler times need revamping or freshening up? I’d be happy to come talk to your staff in person or via skype about programming for these ages. If you like, I’ll also throw in a 30 minute musical storytime for your patrons! Drop me  a line if you’re interested!

Summer Reading, pain in my…*

Summer Reading. We spend all year working on it. We can’t escape it.

I hate it. I hate summer reading.

But…but…it helps kids retain their reading skills over summer vacation!

You know why we even have a summer vacation?

So kids could spend the summer months helping out on the farm.

Wait…your kids don’t live on farms? They live in the suburbs? Or the city? Or even if they do live on a farm, it’s such a large farm that their meager help isn’t necessary during the summer months?

“Why operate on a calendar designed for the economy of the last century?” Kelly Johnson, communications coordinator for the National Association for Year-Round Education, asked Education World. “As we head into the 21st century, I don’t know of very many children who must work on family farms. So why do we continue to implement a calendar which has no educational advantages?

There’s no reason for summer vacation. Sure, it’s nice. Teachers love it, and probably want to punch me in the face right now. But really, why are we holding onto something that is nice but ultimately detrimental to our children and families? It has to be terribly difficult for working parents to find child-care for three months out of the year. I’m assuming a lot of kids just stay home unattended, or they get dropped off at the library for eight or more hours a day, without even a snack. Rarely will a child spend all of that time reading. Most of it is spent talking with friends, playing on the computer, or rolling around on the ground, rending his garments and crying “I AM SO BORED!”** Wouldn’t that time be better spent in school?

Are American schools serving up a quality education for all students? Although we provide students more years of formal schooling than any other nation, our school year is short, usually only 180 days. The world’s average is 200 to 220 days per year, and Japan’s is 243. (See “Give Kids More School,” USA Today, August 31,1992.) Over time, this difference can add up. [emphasis mine]

Further, in Chicago (where I live but do not work), our school days are among the shortest in the nation. We spend fewer days in school and even on the days we’re there, we’re not there for very long. And how many of those days are no more than an hour long?

Don’t worry about it, though! Summer reading will fix everything! Prizes from Oriental Trading and reading logs are an amazing cure-all for YEARS of educational neglect!

When a child is struggling with reading, I think the last thing s/he wants to do is spend the entire summer being forced by a well-meaning parent to read. Because that’s all it is– we give them a piece of paper or a database log-in and say, Here ya go! Read! Maintain your skills! What if Billy’s an eighth-grader and his reading level is only at the second grade? What good does it do for him to maintain that? How is he supposed to begin reading at his grade level without support, direct instruction, intervention–you know, SCHOOL?

The library is NOT school (no matter how many of my little patrons call me teacher), and most librarians are not equipped to teach children–or anyonehow to read, and I believe this is a major failing of most library school programs. How do we expect people to be invested in the library when they lack the one skill that makes it worthwhile? And even if libraries move away from storage and preservation towards content creation, how can we expect illiterate people to create content? How can we document community stories when the majority of the population lacks the ability to tell a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end? If we’re going to be putting on this “program” that is supposedly going to keep kids from falling behind in school, shouldn’t we know how literacy is developed, how kids learn how to read, how adults learn how to read? How many librarians reading this right now have a clue as to how any of that works, and how to apply it in a library setting?

This doesn’t mean I am opposed to fun programs at libraries, especially for children. I love programming and telling stories, and filling the library with whimsy. I think decorations kick-ass. I just think that libraries should do that sort of thing ALL YEAR, and not just spend all of their time, effort, and money during the summer, when, frankly, most people are just there for the chintzy prizes. Kids that want to read will read, regardless of how charming and well crafted your summer reading program is. Children who can’t read and don’t like to read won’t read, and your posters, prizes, and logs won’t help them one damn bit.

Much like a Vulcan, I can’t stand things that I find illogical, and I find the Summer Reading Program, with its high minded, idealistic mission, to be a completely illogical artifact of the past. I also never participated in it as a child, so I don’t adore it slavishly out of misplaced nostalgia. Yet I am an above average reader and writer, so I guess the lack of summer reading really didn’t hurt me any, did it? And I was one of those farm kids who was so urgently needed on the farm during the summer, one of those bare-foot, dust covered urchins that summer reading was supposed to help so much. Perhaps all that time I spent listening to my father ramble on about hog prices and what the neighbors down the road were up to helped my literacy skills more than I knew.

In summary, I do believe that the average summer reading program is little more than a crutch for the failures of the average American school system. What do you think?

NOTES

School calendars around the world

This article has a ton of links at the end about school calendars, start times, etc.

*to the tune of “Summer Lovin'”

**This is only a slight exaggeration.

Baby Rhymes!

These are some of the new (to me) rhymes that I will be using during this spring’s baby storytimes. I adapted most of these from  Baby Goose by Kate McMullan, adding the actions in parentheses.

Dance to your daddy
(have baby dance)
Dance to your daddy, my little baby;
Dance to your daddy, my little lamb;
You shall have a fishy in a little dishy
You shall have a fishy when the boat comes in.
(repeat using “mommy.”)

Oh, Baby Went a Walking
Oh, baby went a walking and walked into a store (move baby’s legs)
He bought a pound of sausages and laid them on the floor
Baby started singing la la la! a lively tune
And all the little sausages danced around the room. (swing baby gently to dance)

Hark, Hark the Dogs do Bark
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark (bounce baby in time to the rhyme)
The babies are coming to town
Some with flags and some with bags
And one in a velvet gown.

Cock a doodle doo!
Cock a doodle doo!
Baby’s lost his shoe! (tap baby’s feet)
Baby has looked everywhere
And knows not what to do!
Cock a doodle doo! Baby’s found his shoe! (tap baby’s feet)
Baby’s put it on again
Sing doodle doodle do! 

Donkey donkey soft and gray
Donkey donkey soft and gray
open your mouth and gently bray (tap baby’s mouth)
lift your ears (tap baby’s ears) and blow your horn (tap baby’s nose)
to wake (lift baby up) the babies this sleepy morn

Big Mama Stood
Big Mama Stood
At the tub, tub, tub (bounce)
Three dirty babies
She did scrub, scrub, scrub (tickle baby)
But when they were clean (tap cheeks)
and fit to be seen (tap near eyes)
They all dressed up
and danced on the green. (lift baby)

Dickery, dickery dare
Dickery, dickery dare (bounce baby)
the pig flew up in the air (lift baby)
Run, baby brown!
Quick—bring him down! (lower baby)
Dickery, dickery dare! (bounce baby) 

The Elephant
The elephant goes like this and that (swing baby back and forth)
He’s terribly big and he’s terribly fat. (hug baby)
He has no fingers, he has no toes, (touch baby’s fingers and toes)
but goodness gracious, what a nose! (tap baby’s nose)