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!


Miss Julie

you might not be doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better.

Part One: Education

I’ve been reading Steve’s posts over at Go Librarians about the changing role of reference librarians and degree relevance and I actually started leaving a comment on one of them when I realized it was going to be a huge chunk of text, and decided it deserved to be it’s own blog post instead.

It was this line that sent me off the deep end: “The MLIS is the minimal requirement and should be regarded as such. Its sustained relevance and its value to developing librarian positions is the onus of library school administrators. They’re smart people. I trust them.” (Emphasis mine).

Oh, lucky people who had a rigorous, edifying library school experience. I was not so lucky. Sure, some of my classes and professors were great; but when you’re paying as much as I did for my degree, I think every single class should be above and beyond excellent. My intro class in library school was taught by a last minute hire who’d never taught a class before. We spent the entire time looking at awkward power point presentations and joke websites– I remember there was one about the danger of water or oxygen or something, and it was supposed to be an example of how we need to tell valid information from invalid. Which is fine, I guess, except in every subsequent class, when a professor said “As you learned in your intro course….” I often had no idea what s/he was referring to.

I just went through the course catalogs of four of the top library schools (according to US News) and the school where I got my degree, and I was unimpressed. One school offered a class on making mobile apps. I think that, and a class about access and advocacy in youth services, were the most interesting classes that I saw. The top curricula still rely heavily on the old standbys of cataloging, reference, reader’s advisory, and materials for children and young adults. Which–don’t get me wrong–is fine. Like the title of the post indicates, you might not be doing it wrong–but you certainly could be doing it better.

Children and teen librarians need to take courses in Child Development. The one class period spent during a materials class is not sufficient. In addition to Child Development courses, we need courses on using music with children, using art with children, and working with special needs kids. Children’s librarians need to know that forty-five minutes is generally too long for a preschool story time, that 100 kids in any storytime is too many (yeah, way to be popular, but that’s not developmentally appropriate), that four year olds should be able to cut with scissors and that three year olds should be able to follow two step directions (pick up your bean bag and put it on your foot). We need to know how children learn to read, how they learn to write, and how to disperse this information to parents and caregivers. When a parent has a concern or question about their child’s development, we would be much better equipped to help them find resources and refer them to social agencies if we knew about child development ourselves.

All librarians should have the option to take theater courses so we’ll have the ability to improvise, think on our feet, and shed our inhibitions. The library world needs performers and teachers, and not just in the children’s department. Wouldn’t booktalks be all the more exciting if you could really act the parts?

And maybe, just maybe, we should suck it up and instead of hiring social workers, librarians should be able to have a specialization in social work. It’s happening anyway– we’re helping people look for jobs, apply for jobs, search for government assistance and apply for that assistance, why not take the next step and be experts in finding what they need and how to get it?

While I’m at it, I’d like to see more library school professors who are actually still working in a library, so that they’re better able to have their curriculum address the realities of working in a library.

If I had my way, people would get a master’s degree with the option of adding a certificate of library and information sciences. So, you’d have someone with a Master’s Degree in Child Development, or Film Studies, or Social Work, with an LIS certificate; perhaps the LIS certificate would be broken out into Public, Children’s/Teens, Academic, and Special. But the MLIS as it stands today? Boring, borderline irrelevant, and doing a pretty mediocre job at preparing people for actual library work.

But that’s just my opinion….what do you think?

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?


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.

not just cute

I recently found an excellent early childhood education blog titled Not Just Cute. The author, Amanda, has some incredible credentials, and her passion and dedication to early learning experiences shines through in her writing.

Whenever I have the opportunity, I encourage children’s librarians to work with and learn from early childhood educators. In my opinion, Library School programs need to offer more child development courses for students hoping to serve children and teens. The more you know about the population you hope to serve, the better your service is going to be.

I have an incredible loathing for cutesy crafts that have little or no value–you know the ones, the foam monstrosities that you can buy from Oriental Trading and other such suppliers. These crafts end up looking “cute”, but mostly they are either too simple or too difficult to put together, especially for preschoolers, and the parents or librarians end up doing most of the work. Yeah, sure, many parents love the end result, but all they’ve really gotten is a cute piece of crap that’s going to maybe spend some time on the fridge and eventually get thrown in the garbage.

Yet how can you plan crafts and programs that are developmentally appropriate and provide real value for children if you have little to no knowledge about child development? You can’t, not really.

If you’re still in library school and you want to be a children’s librarian, try to take some courses in child development. Not only will this make you a better librarian, it will make you stand out in a crowd of other job seekers with the exact same degree that you yourself have.

If you’re already employed, take advantage of excellent blogs like Not Just Cute and try out some of the excellent, developmentally appropriate activities she’s put together for you.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Check out zero to three to learn more about how important quality, enriching early experiences are for children.

who’re you calling an oxymoron?

I love this post  by Ryan Deschamps because it expresses so many things that I have thought or felt but haven’t been able to express about librarianship.

Let us look at point number eight:

8.   Accredited Library Schools Do Not Adequately Prepare Students for Library Work

The process for creating ‘professional’ librarians has long been criticized for its lack of relevance to real life library work.    It’s like saying we are great espresso-making experts because we understand the secrets of tea bag design.

It would be pretty easy for anyone to figure out where I went to library school, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say this: my library school experience was sub-par. The librarian who taught my intro course was pulled in at the last minute and spent the semester showing us websites and terrible power-point presentations. In all my following classes,  professors would say, “As you remember from your intro course…” and I would sit there, having absolutely NO CLUE what they were talking about. Out of all the courses I took, only three or four required effort beyond the minimum, and only two felt like actual graduate level coursework.

I must add that I think this is probably true of most graduate schools these days and even most colleges. A bachelor’s degree has really become the new high school diploma, in my opinion. Colleges are strapped for cash and have begun enrolling anyone who can pay the tuition or bring in the federal loan money. I mean, when I think of some of the people I went to college with…hoo doggies.

I think my master’s degree prepared me adequately for many aspects of being a librarian, but I don’t know if it gave me the tools to be an exceptional one. If I were less self-motivated and vainglorious, I think I’d be a pretty mediocre librarian. Frankly, without my background in preschool teaching, it probably would have been harder for me to get my foot in the door at many libraries, since my degree really isn’t all that special in and of itself . Especially since it feels like tons of people who went to my school are staying in the area, inundating the job market to a frightening degree. Couple that with all of the swarms of retiring librarians who got spooked by the economy and decided to not retire, and you’re left with a bunch of graduates with essentially the same credentials all vying for a dwindling number of positions.

We’ve sort of segued nicely into another topic that is dear to my heart–the job search. Specifically, the library world job search. How does one find a job in their chosen profession? What about ye old cover letter and resume? The interview! I’m no expert, but I’ve done quite a few searches in my short career, and I think have some good tips to pass on.  We’ll talk about that tomorrow*.

fondly yours,

Miss Julie

*and by tomorrow I mean, when I get around to it. I will aim for “soon”.

I need an idiot’s guide to ALA

Not only do librarians have to have a master’s degree from an accredited university, we also subscribe to a Code of Ethics, a Freedom to Read Act, and almost every division of librarianship (from Youth Services to Young Adult to Reference Librarians) has competencies that they are expected to meet. Further, we have five laws* passed down to us from the beginning of Librarianship, which, if you had to chuck everything else for expediency and sanity’s sake, would still ensure you’d be a pretty damn fine librarian.

Yet. Even with all of this education, guidance and oversight, there are still many complacent, lazy, and–dare I say it?–BAD librarians out there. Librarians who are content to give out bad information, who don’t bother to keep current on new trends and new possibilities, who are too indifferent or too afraid to challenge outdated policies and procedures. There are librarians who censor books by not purchasing them, who put together tired power point after tired power point and call themselves educators, librarians who don’t bother to stay aware of and interested in what is going on in their own library much less what is going on in the profession as a whole.

I want to discuss all of these issues in more detail over the coming weeks, but I am going to begin by asking for help from the top: ALA.

ALA does a lot for librarians, and the ALA website is an imposing chunk of information. Perhaps too much information. I want to be a member of ALA, and ALSC and YALSA, but I find the dues too rich for my blood. Since it’s the American Library Association, why can’t the memberships of the librarians who work in those libraries be put forth by their institutions? Wouldn’t that be easier on everyone? Wouldn’t it save a lot of issues of American Libraries from being thrown away?

I cry ignorance on this topic. I beg to be told what’s what. Because, Lord help me, I can’t even begin to wade through ALA’s website without twitching. To be clear, I value what ALA provides–I did link to much of their information above–but I don’t understand why they need my money, and once they have it, where it goes.

*By the way, this page sucks; could someone more savvy fix it?

do you understand me now?

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

-Robert Browning, from “Andrea del Sarto”

That is one of the most famous lines in all of literature, but what does it mean? To me, it means that  you should always strive for more than you can accomplish at a given moment. You have to go too far before you know you’ve gone far enough. It is easier to edit too many words than it is to add more.

I believe in that line from Browning’s poem. I believe that men and women both should have a reach that exceeds their grasp. I also believe that organizations and institutions have the same obligation.

In graduate school, a phrase I heard assiduously was “change agent“, a six-sigma buzz-word that has permeated many professional cultures in recent years. In almost every class I took, my professors charged me and my classmates with the task of being change agents in our future or present libraries. In one class, Information Ethics, I was encouraged to have ethical courage*–the courage to speak out when I felt something was ethically wrong, whether in a personal or professional context. In almost every class I took, our heads were filled with images of ideal libraries– paragons of intellectual freedom, teamwork, innovation and exploration.

In reality, libraries are just like any other workplace. The confluence of myriad generations, backgrounds, cultural and social norms, work experiences, professional philosophies, and educations in an organization can either lead to tremendous conflict or amazing growth. I believe that this conflict or growth is a choice that the leaders of any given institution must make.

I believe that change agents can either be seen by their organizations as troublemakers and rebels dissatisfied with the status quo, who voice their opinions simply for the sake of being combative, or they can be seen as catalysts (in the figurative sense of the term) eager to spark change for the betterment of the organization and all the people that comprise it (in the case of libraries, both employees and patrons).

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