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. 

 

Advertisements

The Emotional Labor of Librarianship

Librarianship isn’t what you might call a physically demanding profession. Youth librarians do exert quite a bit of energy–I regularly hit 6000 steps during a day of book talks, and if I’m not sweating at the end of my toddler time then I feel like I’ve failed as a presenter–but compared to, say, my stint as a family farm hand or  my time as a motel housekeeper (tip your hotel housekeeping staff, please), it’s definitely on the lower end of physically demanding work.

But what about the mental and emotional work that librarians have to do? I’ve been thinking a lot lately (and always, honestly), about women’s work, emotional labor, and the mental load–that last being a fairly new way for me to consider a workload I’ve been managing for years.

When I was a preschool teacher, I remember being physically exhausted at the end of most days, but more than that, I remember being emotionally bereft. I had a dozen small children clinging to me physically and emotionally from 8 in the morning until 6 at night. They turned to me for comfort, reassurance, support, and I was happy to give it when they were in my care.

But then I would go home, and have very little left for myself. I’d given everything I had to these children, and had no one in my life who could do the same for me, other than my cat and my small group of friends. As someone who was already depleted from a childhood of living with abusive, alcoholic parents, this was not a good situation.

When I made the career change from early childhood education to librarianship, I expected that my emotional reserves would be better protected. This was true, to a certain extent, but as time has gone on and I’ve assessed my experiences, I realize my emotional workload is probably the same, if not more, because in my library work I often have to do emotional labor for management and administration as well as for my patrons.

Just being in a customer service position, and having to smile in the face of everything from indifference to hostility, can take a toll on employees, especially women. This expectation that when serving the public, or discussing important work issues with colleagues, or advocating for more staff or more money, that women will be pleasant, quiet, and calm, is damaging. This quote is about attorneys, but could easily apply to librarians:

Jennifer Pierce, a University of Minnesota sociologist, found that the expectations for emotional labor in the legal profession apply to women working in every part of the field. In other words, while male attorneys—generally speaking—are allowed and even expected to be aggressive and domineering, that does not extend to female attorneys, who are frequently penalized if they attempt to conform to these emotional norms.

To take this further, think about even the most innocuous seeming reader’s advisory interaction. Have you ever done a reader’s advisory interview with a parent who is trying to get a book for their child from a school list or list from some Educational Conglomerate, where all of the books are twenty years old and often out of print, and no other options will do because the parent has this list, and been promised that this list and this list alone is what will help their child be successful? Think on how stressful that is, for the parent, and you, and eventually the child who ultimately must read this book that is impossible to find.

Or simply helping someone with the printer, and they start telling you about how they really need to get these naturalization papers printed and submitted because they’re terrified that their spouse will be deported by the new administration.

Or having to console a school age child who is attending a library program independently, and makes a mistake on his project, and becomes inconsolable, and his parent is nowhere to be found.

Or as a storytime presenter, programmer, and outreach person, think about all of the time you must be ON and ON STAGE. It’s not just happy good fun times presenting a program or reading books. It’s 30-60 minutes of being the focal point of a group, having to shepherd kids and families from one task to another, transitioning from a song to a story to a fingerplay, getting and holding the attention of large groups of children. As an introvert, the hours I spend in front of audiences, giving of myself, needs to be balanced by enough time being on my own, and replenish my emotional well.

Think about this in terms of a profession that is made up primarily of women, but more often has men has managers and decision makers. Do they understand the toll that emotional labor is taking on their female reports? Are they even aware that it’s happening, and do they care? Is it possible to make your library’s leadership understand this issue?

I’m exhausted. Aren’t you?

edited to add: I’d be interested in hearing about this from the perspective of a librarian of color; I expect the workload there is even more intense.

 

Management According to Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton

 

picture2

Alexander Hamilton

Their name is Alexander Hamilton, and don’t you forget it. In fact, you couldn’t, even if you tried. This employee doesn’t usually stay around too long, but when they’re in your organization,  you can’t avoid hearing their name. They work their way into the best projects and onto the most interesting committees, and make their voice heard. If you don’t give your Alexander Hamilton enough challenges and opportunities, you’re going to lose your Alexander Hamilton.

picture6

The Work Style of the Hamilton

The Hamilton doesn’t usually come in early, but they’ll often stay late. They can’t help but overhear conversations and jump in to offer their opinion, as well as three or four observations or solutions that hadn’t been previously considered. When they’re engaged, they’re laser focused and their productivity is off the charts. When they’re bored, they can be cranky and irritable and come across as the worst employee you’ve ever had, when that is not the case at all. Keep your Hamilton engaged with high profile projects and problems that require creative solutions. Have your Hamilton work on teams that need some inspiration and energy injected into their work.

picture5

The Career Path of the Hamilton

The Hamilton moves through the ranks quickly. If they stay at an organization long-term, it’s often because opportunities for growth, challenge, and promotions are available. Hamilton starts out as a page and becomes a manager within five years, if their talent and drive are recognized and nurtured. If you ignore your Hamilton they’ll be gone within two years, if not sooner.

picture3

Managing an Alexander Hamilton

This go-getter thrives on praise, challenge, and variety. Give your Alexander Hamilton ample opportunity to try new things and fail. Let them get out in the community and make a name for themselves. You’ll never have to push your Alexander to work better or harder, you’ll just have to reign them in when their reach gets too far. Make sure your Alexander is on a team that complements them rather than competes with them. Let your Alexander be a leader for a while before giving them formal managerial or supervisory duties–they need time to figure out their style and get their attention seeking behavior out of their system.

picture4

Being Managed by an Alexander Hamilton

If your Hamilmanager has been around for a while and they’ve gained enough personal glory, they can be excellent managers, especially to other Hamiltons. If they’ve been promoted too soon, however, they’re going to compete with their employees rather than nurture them, and you’re going to end up with a dissatisfied, under-producing team. If you’re competing with your Hamilmanager, try to position yourself as a comrade rather than the competition. Ask to take on assignments or tasks that don’t interest your Hamilmanager, and that will put you in their good graces while also allowing you to gain experience.

 

Hi, Miss Julie’s Loves of Librarianship

  1. Libraries are for everyone

  2. Everyone benefits from libraries, whether they use them or not

  3. Make every interaction delightful, wherever it happens

  4. A degree does not a librarian make

  5. Every library its community, and every community its library

Libraries are for everyone

Libraries are for everyone in your community, whether they are homeless, trans, on the spectrum, divorced, high school dropouts, PhD students, or whatever else.

Libraries are places where all lives really matter, and we prove that we believe that statement by holding  open discussions on race in America, creating Transgender Resource collections, having police officers interact with the public within our walls, and putting up Black Lives Matter displays.

We remove financial barriers such as fines and fees whenever possible, and make getting, having, and using a library card as frictionless as possible.

Our programs are inclusive and we strive to make accommodations whenever required.

Our collections reflect our communities both as they are and as they aspire to be. Everyone in our community, especially children, should see themselves reflected in our collections, and also have ample opportunity to experience stories from those who are unlike themselves.

Everyone benefits from libraries, whether they use them or not

Rich old white man who continually writes articles about how no one uses libraries anymore–please shut up. People who aren’t you use libraries all the time, and the information, education, and sense of belonging that they gain from those visits ultimately benefits our whole society, even you.

You’re welcome.

Make every interaction delightful, wherever it happens

We strive during each reference interaction, every readers’ advisory session, every storytime, every program, through every online social interaction or email, to delight and inspire our users. We waive fines for the single mother who doesn’t want to go back out to her car in the rain to get her credit card, and the smile of relief on her face is worth so much more than her small fine; we bring stacks of books to a reluctant reader and let them know that while these are some of our favorite books, our feelings won’t be hurt if they hate them all–because we really want them to find their next (or first) favorite book; and when first grade teachers tweet about how their students are learning to write letters, we tweet back and ask for one, and send one in return.

2015-10-05-11-06-04

A degree does not a librarian make

An MLIS can be a wonderful thing. It can also be an expensive piece of paper that never really ends up making you good librarian, or gets you a job that allows you to pay off its cost before you die.

When I define librarian, I’m definitely more Urban Dictionary than Webster’s Dictionary (I  still love ya, Webster). If you must, I suppose you can make the distinction of degreed librarian or put MLIS at the end of your email signature…but in the end, I don’t care. Are you passionate about stories, regardless of medium or delivery method? Are you insatiably curious and demand answers, even for questions posed by others? Do you consistently post Snopes links on your friends’ facebook pages? Do you currently or have you ever worked in a library and brought joy to those who received service from you? Congratulations–if you want to refer to yourself as such, you have my permission to call yourself a librarian.

Every library its community, and every community its library

While everyone can use every library, libraries should begin and end with their immediate communities. Not only does this make practical sense–the community’s taxes are at work within your budget, after all–it makes everything else easier.

I attended a workshop recently about design thinking for libraries, and while I can’t encapsulate everything I learned here, I do want to share a bit about one of the steps–interviewing members of your community. When your library has a problem–crowded storytimes, lackluster program attendance, drug use in the bathrooms–it’s not your library that has a problem, it is your community, and the only way to begin solving this problem is to talk to your community. Interview members of the affected groups, and from that information work in small teams to create solutions.

Some communities love their libraries, and others seem able to take the library or leave it– and sometimes this has nothing to do with the actual quality of the library. If you’re a beloved member of your community, rejoice–and keep working hard to earn that love on a daily basis. As in any loving relationship, don’t take it for granted. And if you’re still trying to earn the love of your community? Don’t fret. Go back to love # 1, lather, rinse and repeat, and you’ll get there. I promise.

 

Every Action Has an Equal, Opposite Reaction

In my post Where Do The Teens Go? I posited a Youth Services Department which is formed around a core staff of four two-person teams. Ideally they would all be full time, but that might vary depending on the size of your community and the number of schools you serve. Certainly some of the positions could blend, depending on the interests and skill sets of the people you hire. But I’m pretty adamant that positions be either devoted to in-library work or devoted to outreach, with collaboration led by the appropriate lead. This is because outreach is a full-time job, or if it’s only part-time, it should be the primary focus of the staff member.

Why so much outreach? I’ve always been a firm believer in outreach, because I’ve seen it be successful from both sides of the equation. I’ve been the in-library person benefiting from excellent outreach efforts, and I’ve also been the outreach person who brings people into the library and acts as a recognized face from one place (school) to another (the library).

In my experience, here are all the things a person in any outreach position must do, and if you don’t think these duties deserve a full-time staff member, or at least a staff member dedicated to it, I don’t even know:

  • Reaching out–writing emails and making phone calls can take up a lot of your time, and if you have too many other duties (desk, collection development, in house programs) you’re going to play a lot of phone tag and a lot of email threads are going to get buried in the process.
  • Making connections–I’ve come up with a lot of great ideas just hanging out and chatting with teachers during a program break or while having lunch with them in the staff room during a day of multiple book talks. Making the time to just chat is very important, and often overlooked when people consider outreach positions.
  • Researching community partners–like you research a company before you apply for a job, research potential partners so you can propose projects and programs that meet their needs
  • Remembering names.
  • Booking visits–you need to check your calendar, check everything else, offer times, accept counter-offers, and be prepared for changes. If you have your outreach person staffing a desk for fifty percent of their work time, good luck. You’re setting them up for failure.
  • Tapping appropriate collaborators from the community and your own staff–I’m not great at everything (I know, shocker!) so when certain events come up on my radar, I’ll often reach out to my ever-widening network and see if I can’t collaborate and make the experience that much better for the entity I’m working with.
  • Being in the library– yes, I just said you’re setting your staff up for failure, but only if you take up too much of their time with duties other than outreach. Having some desk time, and helping with some in-library programs, is great for an outreach person, because the people they see in the community will be really excited to see them in the library. Countless times I’ve been on the reference desk and kids have walked by, staring at me wide-eyed, and then they’ll finally remember why they know me and yell, “You came to my school!” I once even had a child formally introduce me to his parent, by saying, “Dad, this is my librarian who comes to my school.” We shook hands and then I died.

Essentially, and to vastly simplify (for the sake of a Hamilton reference), outreach staff are the Hamiltons of the library, and in-library staff are the Burrs.

vdzw32veqrgoq

You see, outreach staff should be constantly (non-stop?) going out, talking, telling everyone about the library and what it has and what it can do, and yes, sometimes they should talk less and smile more, so they can learn from their community partners.

On the other hand, in-library staff can be a little more laid back–they can wait for users to come in, after they’ve been charmed by the outgoing Hamilton approach.

While both approaches can yield results, neither is as successful as when they both work together–which means no one in the library has to throw away their shot.

 

 

 

Where Do The Teens Go?

Where do the teens go? (saxophone solo) Where do the teens go?

I’ve long had a belief that service and programs in the public library, especially Youth Services (if you define Youth Services as 0-18), is a conveyor belt of sorts. We start with children in lapsit storytime, and our ultimate goal should be to create life-long library users who stay with us well into young adulthood.

I think that most public libraries do a pretty good job of getting kids from storytime to elementary programming, but start to lose those same kids during middle school. In my experience, middle school is rarely anyone’s favorite group or specialty. They’re hard to work with. They’re like toddlers, but bigger, and with more hormones. They’re trying on different personalities from day to day, and again, like toddlers, like to say no and push boundaries.

But you don’t have to (just) take my word for it!

The emergence of the middle school movement in the 1960s represented a milestone in the history of Human Development Discourse. This movement recognized that young adolescents are not simply older elementary school students nor younger high school students, but that there are dramatic changes that occur during this time of life requiring a radically different and unique approach to education. Middle school educators understood that the biological event of puberty fundamentally disrupts the relatively smooth development of the elementary school years and has a profound impact upon the cognitive, social, and emotional lives of young teens. In line with this important insight, they saw the need for the provision of special instructional, curricular, and administrative changes in the way that education takes place for kids in early adolescence. Among those changes were the establishment of a mentor relationship between teacher and student, the creation of small communities of learners, and the implementation of a flexible interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages active and personalized learning. (emphasis added)

I argue that middle school students require a unique approach to library programs, spaces, and services. Librarians for the middle school set can, and do, apply these same principles–a mentor relationship, small communities of learners, programming to appeal to interdisciplinary interests and encourage personalized learning.

Yet many libraries consider “Teen Services” 6th-12th grade, which is (in my opinion) a ridiculous age spread. A sixth grader has as much in common with a 12th grader as a baby does with a 5th grader. But so many libraries wonder why they are grappling with the question, “Where are the teens?” Can you imagine anyone being happy with your programs if you had lapsit lego time, or booktalked board books to a fourth grader? No! Then why do we do this disservice to our varied teen audiences?

But this approach doesn’t work for older teens who are in high school, which is where the 6th-12th “teen” melting pot really becomes sticky. 9th-12th graders are more firmly aware of who they are and what they want, and they have an increasing amount of autonomy.

By high school, youth are largely independent, making their own decisions about how to spend their time and exercising their increasing freedom. They are starting to think about what will come next for them postgraduation, and many have developed interests that they can pursue in youth programs. As a result, high school programs’ efforts to retain youth are different from those of middle school programs, as a provider acknowledged:

‘I think the high school programs are easy to run. I think a lot of times you have kids in a middle school program who may not want to be there, but it’s used as a form of afterschool day care by the parents who are working. I think once you get to the high school level, most of the participants really are motivated to be there, and they’re doing it because they want to—not because they have to.’ (emphasis added)

While librarian positions for early childhood have become more targeted–many libraries have a staff person in charge of early literacy programming, which is sometimes held by someone with a master’s in early childhood rather than an MLIS–and programs and materials for the elementary set have never been lacking, the expectation that one (or no!) teen librarian or a youth librarian who is interested in teens can adequately serve the entire population of sixth to twelfth graders in any one community is a bar set impossibly high.

(A lengthy aside, that perhaps deserves its own post: Serving audiences by age groupings is a popular model in libraries, and while it is a fine model, we must never forget that within any age group–from middle schoolers to senior citizens–there is a diverse range of interests and abilities, and when we program and develop collections, we need to hone in even further– twenty-something tech geeks are not interested in the same programs and resources as twenty-something organic backyard farmers. While age groupings can be a starting point, don’t forget to dig deeper.)

This also ties in to the discussion about where the Teen Librarian/staff should exist within the library ecosystem. In my experience, staff for teens are either part of Adult Services or Youth Services. (Although, sadly, sometimes there is no staff at all explicitly devoted to teen services, but just a children’s librarian or adult librarian with an interest in programming and/or literature for teens.) Both placement options have benefits and drawbacks.

I think in terms of collections, having teen books–and in this article, teen books are aimed at 9th grade and older–closer to the adult collection makes more sense. No self-respecting 16 year old wants to have to go into a children’s section for their reading material.

However, when it comes to programming, I believe that teen staff are better served by the programming know-how and collaborative nature of a youth department.

In my ideal and imaginary library, there would be the following full time positions, in terms of teams:

Middle School Team

  • Middle School Librarian (5th or 6th-8th, depending on where local middle schools put 5th grade; partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)
  • Middle school outreach librarian (5th or 6th-8th grade, partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)

High School Team

  • High School Librarian (9th-12th, but collaborates with Middle School staff for 7th/8th grades)
  • High School outreach librarian (9th to 12th, but again collaborates with Middle School Staff for 7th/8th grades)

Early Literacy Team

  • Early literacy librarian (0-3rd grade, partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)
  • Early literacy outreach (0-3rd grade,partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)

Elementary Team

  • Elementary librarian (3rd-5th, partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade programming, and Elementary outreach librarian for 4th/5th)
  • Elementary outreach librarian (3rd-5th, again partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade, and Elementary librarian for 4th/5th)

Further, the Adult Department would have a Young Adult librarian for 12th grade to early post college, and they’d collaborate with the High School Team.

Why does the Early Literacy team go up to third grade? Because early childhood is defined as such; when you are certified to teach Early Childhood, it goes up to 3rd grade/eight years old. Further, 3rd grade is typically a fraught time for emerging readers, and they can often use the support and skills provided by targeted early literacy programming.

I’ve lovingly collected several articles and posts for you about this very subject. Go forth, read, and learn.

3rd grade reading success matters

Grade level reading- 3rd grade

Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters

Early Warning Confirmed 

Middle School Students and Their Developmental Needs

Can’t Stop Talking Social Needs of Students in the Middle

Middle Schools Need to Focus on Caring and Connections

Developmentally Responsive Middle Grades Practices

Characteristics of Middle Grade Students

Developmental Differences Between Middle School and High School Programs – Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies

Are Middle School and High School Students Really That Different? Observations and Advice From MS/HS Teachers

Working with Middle and High School Friends: What Are the Developmental Differences?

Middle Schools: Social, Emotional, and Metacognitive Growth

CONNECT, CREATE, COLLABORATE: TEEN LIBRARIANS UNITE! THROW AWAY YOUR PICTURE BOOKS.

Private Lives

Or, Private Eyes Are Watching You.

Everyone (paid or unpaid) who provides governance, administration or service in libraries has a responsibility to maintain an environment respectful and protective of the privacy of all users. Users have the responsibility to respect each others’ privacy. – http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill/interpretations/privacy

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in public facebook groups dedicated to ostensibly professional purposes for librarians. It’s only happened once or twice (that I’ve noticed, and admittedly I can’t read every post in all the groups I peruse) but it’s been often enough and egregious enough to get me back on my blogging soap box.

It goes like this: someone will pose a problem for which they seek advice or an answer, and many people will offer this needed advice. Then, somewhere in the comments, information is leaked–the name of a library. The date or time of the situation. And, recently, a patron’s first name, coupled with many specific, identifying factors. Like this:

Screenshot 2015-12-30 12.54.11

If I knew that library, those librarians, and that person’s information, I know too much. I can’t un-know it, either. The situation I am most distressed by involves a patron who possibly has developmental delays. The tone used in the discussion was pretty disparaging.

I took a screen shot of it, which I won’t post or use. But it’s that easy. Your manager or HR department or the father of that patron could do the same thing just as easily. Most of these groups are public, and what many people don’t realize is that if your settings aren’t quite right, people can see these group posts or your comments in their own feed.

Listen: working in a library is tough. We need advice, support, a place to vent. But we also owe it to ourselves and our patrons to respect their privacy. I was heartbroken when, after initially tweeting about this nagging issue, a twitter friend of mine shyly spoke up, voicing that she sometimes worried about gossip or judgment from librarians or library staff.

Do I want to impede conversation and stop lonely librarians from getting help and support? Of course not. But I do want us to maintain our ethical integrity, and protect what’s worth protecting.

So what do we do? Not talk about these issues? No. I think there’s a way to do it without naming names or giving away too many details.

Here’s my strategy:

  1. Tighten up. Have a small, private, trusted personal learning network that you can complain, grouse, and bitch to. A group that will hold your confidence. Your most trusted inner circle. Everyone should have this. Even here, though, don’t name names. Never name names.
  2. Obfuscate. I get this strategy from Car Talk, when they would change puzzler details to make them more difficult to solve, and therefore more of a challenge. Do this with your library anecdotes and queries.  Change the details to your scenario just enough so that you’ll still get appropriate advice, but no one will be able to figure out exactly when, where, or how this situation happened. Change names-all the kids in my stories are either Billy or Suzie, and those are usually the only details you’ll get about them.
  3. Wait. Is it a pressing, time sensitive issue? Then maybe talk to a colleague in real life instead, or your manager, or your smaller, private network first. After some time has passed, you can get more input from a broader audience (but you still must obfuscate even after waiting).

 

I’m passionate and uncompromising about this subject because I am a beast when it comes to ethical behavior (in libraries and in life), but I also screwed this up very badly in my youth, and know how much damage it can do to all parties involved.

When I was in college, I worked (briefly) in the health center, as assistant to the primary counselor. I was held to utmost privacy standards. I was not to talk about anything I saw or heard in the office. I did not fully understand this, and one night I related a story to my housemates about someone I’d witnessed having a severe mental crisis–he’d been yelling, throwing magazines, crying. I didn’t name names, though, so I thought it was okay. A college staff member happened to be visiting my housing that evening, and heard my story, and reported me to my boss. I was called on the carpet, and severely reprimanded, but I was given another chance, because I was seventeen and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. My boss made it clear to me how hurtful it would be if this student in crisis, pained and vulnerable, later found out that other people were discussing gossiping about his private matters. I considered how much I disliked being talked about behind my back, especially about issues I had no control over, and I told her I now fully understood the policy, and would do better going forward.

I think of that story each time I read another post where patrons are clearly identified in everything but name, and sometimes by name as well. That kind of sharing doesn’t just hurt the person in the story, it hurts the teller, too. It might be satisfying in the moment to vent or cast aspersion, but in the long run–if your boss finds out, or your library board, or the patron–that satisfaction will be cold comfort.

 

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

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?