I don’t care about STEM. Or STEAM. Or even STREAM.
I just don’t care.
Ha, no, just kidding.
Here’s what I love:
The Boombox at Skokie Public Library. They had a ton of middle schoolers who needed something to do and exposure to teach, so they decided the library could help meet that need. But the Boombox is for all ages, Kindergarten through adults, making it multi-faceted and intergenerational.
Gail Borden Library’s live video chat with an astronaut. As part of their space themed summer reading initiative, they connected kids with an astronaut, getting to ask questions about space, and science. Their summer reading program included interactive exhibits to extend the experience and further
But wait a minute Julie! Those are all STEAM programs, aren’t they? Why do you like them but say you don’t like STEM or STEAM or STREAM?
Well, you got me there. I guess I don’t hate STEM or STEAM or STREAM–as long as it’s done well. You notice I don’t mention a single 3D printer sitting idle in a back work room, or technology for technology’s sake. These three examples all show intentional, thoughtful programs and services that are more than just tech–they use tech in service of storytelling, making connections, bridging gaps, and building community.
I do hate it when STEM is promoted, funded, lauded, and idolized above all other things. Just because as a nation we’re trying to make up for a lack in one area that doesn’t mean we should focus on it to the exclusion of everything else.
How will a kid ever grow up to read a technical manual if they don’t know how to read? How will they be the next black Steve Jobs in the making if they can’t tell a compelling story to consumers and stakeholders? How will they get funding for their amazing new project if they can’t speak and write persuasively to sources of funding?
So no, I don’t really hate STEAM–I just think a lot of other things are equally important, too.
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
May 4th is on a Saturday next year and so help me, I’ll be planning and implementing a large scale, fun for the whole family “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars nerdamondium party that will be so awesome I may just explode.
Other libraries have done it with much success. You can get free cosplay storm troopers etc from your local branch of the 501st legion which is really the thing that’s going to make the party. The idea is to have a wide range of activities that would appeal to all ages, bringing in families as well as single adults. Additional ideas include:
A station where you can dress your teddy bear like an ewok
I’m attending a small but mighty conference at the state capital called On the Front Lines this week, and I had the pleasure of presenting Tech for Tots to a lovely group yesterday afternoon. I’ve put together a Pinterest board of all the articles I used while putting the slide show together, so head over there if you want to read further.
Essentially my talk covered screen time for kids, and the difference between new tablet/touch screen technology and good old fashioned television. My basic philosophy is this: tv is passive, and will do nothing for children, especially those under two. Tablets, and their accompanying apps, are more interactive, and especially when parents spend time teaching their children to use the apps.
Many thanks to Little Big Blog for creating the awesome, mocking Your Baby Can … series (and the blog url is wrong on the slide, sad face!), and to Walton Goggins and Benedict Cumberbatch for being incredibly attractive.
I’m using Digital Storytime and the CYBILS site to curate a collection of early literacy apps for my library’s iPad. I’d really like to offer these apps to my patrons who are interested in items such as Your Baby Can Read and Hooked on Phonics, but I’m not sure of the best way to circulate this iPad. Do other libraries allow these expensive items to go out the door? Do you make them in house use only?
Here are some of the apps I’m looking to buy:
Wee Sing & Learn ABC.
The Edible Suit, based on the new vestments by Edward Lear
Dr. Seuss’ ABC (pretty much any Dr Seuss app, actually)
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Richard Scarry’s Busytown
Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App I have to get there Any BOB book apps
Nosy Crow Cinderella
Any Sandra Boynton Book Apps
The Monster at the End of This Book
Go Away, Big Green Monster
Does anyone else use book/literacy apps in their library, either as a collection or as a programming tool? Let me know!