The Whole Library Approach

When I was still a preschool teacher, we talked a lot about the whole child approach, which, essentially, meant you took a whole child into consideration when you are teaching him or her. When we deal with children we teach, we can’t just have Susie the student. We also have Susie the daughter, the artist, the kid who doesn’t get enough to eat at home, whose parents can’t pay the utility bills so she cries before going to sleep because she’s afraid of the dark. We consider her immediate family, the community she’s in, and the experiences and exposures that impact her life and her development. We teach and take interest in the whole child, and take steps to help her thrive.

In so many public libraries, we’re so concerned with our own private domains. Children’s services, Adult Reference, Circulation, Technical Services, Administration– each little island has its own procedures, processes, vision, and expectations. The best libraries do what they can to unify these disparate departments, and have a library wide vision and mission, but so many don’t. So many libraries have departments that are so disparate in their approaches that it’s amazing they manage to (dys)function at all.

I am a children’s librarian as well as a staunch advocate of teens and those with special needs. (If anyone wants give me a job where my title is Toddler Tween Librarian and Purveyor of Programming, I would gladly accept.) I’ll help anyone who is within my reach, even if they’re not asking for something that a children’s librarian would typically help with.  Because that’s just what you should do.

Even though I work at the children’s desk, we get a lot of adult traffic as well. Some of these adults are parents, others are adults who don’t realize they are at the children’s desk, and others who wander over to us because of our proximity to the photocopier. I never turn adults away when they ask me a question. I will find books or resources for them, help them make photocopies, answer questions about computer classes, and walk them to the appropriate collection area if needed, the same as I would do for any child. My title is Children’s Librarian. Anything a librarian can do, I can do. Answering a reference question, regardless of the age of the asker, is something I should be able to do. I might not be as passionate about some of the reader’s advisory questions I get from adults, but I should know enough to do a RA interview, and I should have a working knowledge of major trends in adult literature.

I believe that in a public library, this should be standard. You should be prepared and equipped to serve the public at any and all times, regardless of age, ethnicity, or ability. If someone’s needs absolutely require someone else in another department, please walk the person over, make contact with your colleague, explain the situation, and make sure everything is ready to go before you leave. There’s nothing worse than being passed from person to person and department to department without any continuity or follow through.

Think about it: when you’re on the phone with customer service, don’t you hate having to give the same damn information over and over again, every time you are transferred? If you don’t like it, then don’t do it to your patrons. It’s not necessary, and it’s bad service.

Which brings me to another point: if you don’t like people, don’t work in a public library, period. Become an archivist, a collection development librarian, or, you know, go live in a cave and don’t bother any one anymore. If you like books–great! I like books too. But in the public library, books are just a means to connect with people.

Further, you need to like all people, and have a strong desire to help them. I don’t necessarily like everyone I help, but I enjoy helping them, even when it’s difficult. Sometimes the most ornery patron is the one who needs you the most.

Of course I have my preferences, like anyone does. I love working with children, which is why I specialized in children’s services, but I like helping everyone. I love talking about Doctor Who with the middle schoolers, and singing “I love my white shoes” from Pete the Cat with the special ed class, and helping an elderly patron make copies of photos at the copier. I don’t ignore or short-shrift any patron because I’m not the adult or teen librarian. If they’re in my library, they are my people, and I need to do what I can for them.

Which brings me back to the way we set up our public libraries. Most people don’t care about our stupid little divisions. This is why I love tiny branch libraries, where the reference desk and check out are usually in the same damn place. I helped you find all this stuff, and  now I am going to check it out to you. From beginning to end, I was with you, and we’ve made a connection. There was no reason for me to shuttle you off to another desk or another person to make things happen for you.

I’ve written about these kinds of issues before, but my ire was raised once again after reading Anthony Molaro’s excellent post The Apple Way for Libraries: A Manifesto? (I’d remove the question mark, though; when your points are as good as these, don’t soften or second guess your message):

In the library environment, the departments feud with each other.  This creates a hostile work environment in which collaboration simply cannot thrive.  In all honesty, when was the last time your technical services and your reference staff actually collaborated?  I’m not talking about a joint project, that a leader approved, but an actually collaboration.

Apple also cuts the fat, or drops dead weight.  Apple is known for only having A players.  Sometimes B players were pushed hard to make them A players, but more often than not, they were fired.  In lots of libraries, we have lousy staff.  We know it.  We joke about it.  We even lament it.  But the truth is if you fail in another profession you end up here.  Even worse, good C players end up with promotions and then you have an entire C rated organization.  Any A players there are pushed downward until they only strive for C results.

Yes, perhaps I’m hard on library staff today.  I have worked with some great people.  But even that statement says a lot.  They are great people not great librarians or library staff.  Most of our staff strives for the status quo, or mediocrity. They plan for tomorrow based on what happened yesterday.

So what are we going to do, guys? Are we going to let these problems destroy our libraries? Or are we going to get serious about solving these problems?

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

librarian, weed thyself.

So the most recent Andy Poll was about weeding the library profession:

http://twitter.com/#!/wawoodworth/status/129942473882611713

Most people are replying with attributes (View the story “Weed the librarian” on Storify) rather than a set of criteria, which I don’t think is really answering the question. How do you weed librarians out of the profession? Don’t reinvent the wheel–just use the same process most libraries use for materials: CREW and its charming companion MUSTIE. CREW, as everyone should know, stands for “Continuous Review, Evaluation, and Weeding.”

As a professional, you should be continuously reviewing and evaluating your own performance, and weeding the skills and projects that are no longer beneficial to you or your organization. If you realize at any time that you’ve become MUSTIE*, then you should quit your job immediately and allow a newer, better librarian to have your job. If it’s good enough for our materials, it’s good enough for us.

*M is for : Misleading–factually inaccurate. I think we’ve all been there–we’re sitting on the desk with someone else, listening to them give out blatantly WRONG information. Even with gentle correction, our coworker refuses to change his or her way. Or, at best, they decide that they’ll just make you answer all of the hard questions because they’re too lazy to actually do their job.

U is for: Ugly–worn beyond mending or rebinding. Let’s not get into this one too much, except to say that ugly, when it comes to people, applies more to their attitude than their appearance.

S is for: Superceded–by a new edition of by a much better book on the subject. When you use the computer mouse by banging it against the desk, or answer a ready reference question with the phone book, you’ve been superceded.

T is for: Trivial–of no discernible literary or scientific merit. Have you been running the same programs for youth year in and year out with no changes? Do your booklists not have any titles published in the last twenty years on them? Are you chained to your reference desk?

I is for: Irrelevant to the needs and interests of the library’s community. Closely tied with trivial, many of the same questions can be asked. If you’re sitting at your desk waiting for people to come to you with their questions and their needs, you are irrelevant.

E is for: Elsewhere–the material is easily obtainable from another library [or librarian]. There are thousands of people with library degrees frothing at the mouth to work, and at least some of them have to be more outgoing, engaging, exciting, and innovative than your MUSTIE a**. How about you do one brave thing in your professional life and QUIT, so they can have a chance?

adventures in weeding

I have the sense of humor of a twelve year old boy. Farts, poop, burps–anything gross and juvenile will set me off. Any time I see a Ford commercial, as soon as they mention “super-duty” I am snickering.

Recently in my library adventures I came across discovered a book with the phrase “three magic balls” in the title, and I nearly lost it. Needless to say, it got weeded (for many other reasons besides the balls, but the balls were funniest reason).