Thursday, September 3, 2015

Just For Fun: It's Dark Out and We're Wearing Sunglasses

I've been writing these monthly "just for fun" posts for a long time now. This one will make the 48th in the series. In all that time, in all those posts, I can't believe I've never written about The Blues Brothers - so disbelieving was I that I combed through my backlog of posts twice to make sure. I love this movie so much that I know it practically by heart. If I've had a bad day, nothing is more guaranteed to cheer me up than a screening of this flick. Even writing about Jake and Elwood has me grinning. It's about time I wrote about their "mission from god," so here are some reasons why I love this movie:

Quotable, deadpan dialogue:
Case in point, the moment from which I took the title of this post...

Star-Studded Cavalcade of Cameos: 
Among the cameos we see Steven Spielberg, John Landis, Paul Reubens, and my favorite cameo: Twiggy.

Carrie Fisher:
Fisher's turn as Jake's jilted ex-fiance is pitch-perfect. Just the right amount of destructive force, and oh that lip gloss.

The Music:
So much great soul and rhythm & blues that I don't even want to pick a favorite song based on music alone. Instead, I'll pick my favorite for the cinematography aspects. Cab Calloway and those moves... wow.

I'm assuming you love this movie, too, if you've made it this far down the post. So tell me, what's your favorite thing about this movie?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

They're Back: Giving Students the Respect They Deserve


For me, the first few weeks of a semester are kind of like a party. Yes, I'm busy - crazily so, this year, with hiring and training two new part time library associates on top of all the other beginning of the year stuff. But still, it's a great time. Seeing all those smiling and familiar faces gives me a glow. And then there are the new students - our incoming class is exceptionally polite and eager and grateful this year. What do I mean by that? Well, I had an uncomfortable moment where a young woman was so grateful that she impulsively hugged me after I figured out what was going wrong when she tried to print using a library computer. It was uncomfortable, but seeing how relieved she was made me smile. Whatever else might frustrate me in my career, I can honestly say I love working with students. Are they perfect? Nah. They graffitti and have to be told - repeatedly sometimes - to be quiet in the quiet areas of the library. Is it fun when they lose their cool because they procrastinated and something isn't going perfectly? Nah. Was it a laugh riot when I had to fail a student for plagiarizing in my freshmen seminar? Not even. I had a stomach ache for days over that one. But taken as a whole, I truly find joy in working with our students.

That's why I find it so disheartening to look around at the so-called periodicals of record in higher education (which sometimes come across as upscale click bait lately), to see so many articles this time of year that bemoan the quality or attention span or even scent of our students. I was thinking this just the other day when I saw this tweet:

So glad to know that I'm not the only one who's lost patience with the practice. As grandiose as it might sound, we in education are involved with shaping the future, and I think we lose sight of that. Budget cuts and accreditation standards and crappy job markets in academia are deeply troubling, I'll admit. There are a lot of things I'd like to change about academia in general and academic librarianship in particular - I do tend to write shouty fist-shaking posts, in case you hadn't noticed. But I'm tired of us always blaming the students.

I'd like to suggest that we stop focusing on the problems and start working on the solutions. Maybe it's because I've predominantly worked at schools with big populations of First In Family Students, but I know a lot of the problems cited in those whinging articles mentioned above are really just cultural in nature. We all got into education for a reason, so let's educate - even if it's explaining the importance of getting the text books or showing someone how to write an email to a professor. We have a chance to make a difference in the lives of our students. Little things like making a goofy joke to help someone smile when they are stressed and big things like teaching student workers, who've never had a job before, how to be an employee... these are important teaching opportunities that the authors of those articles are missing.

In academia, we constantly get to learn and teach. We get to grow while helping our students do the same. I'm not blind to the problems in our industry, so I'd like to think I'm not being overly simplistic when I say: let's be grateful for the opportunities our careers afford us and find ways to help our students if we aren't satisfied with their performances. They give us a reason to go to work, and they are (usually) grateful for the learning. So let's get with the teaching, and respect our students along the way.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Essential Skills for Youth Services Librarians, by Natalie Korsavidis


I graduated from library school in 1997 and began my full-time job in 1998. Through the years, I’ve learned things that library school didn’t cover. Here are a few of the skills I think are important for every youth services librarian to have.

1. Have Enthusiasm
This is a must. Delivering a storytime in a flat monotone voice will immediately turn any child off. Be energetic. Show your love for what you do.

2. Embrace Your Inner Child
Get silly. Sing and dance. Know the words to the songs. Yes, this means you’ll know the words to “Shake My Sillies” by heart in no time and yes, it will be running in your head for hours after. Use different voices when you read stories. Ignore the parents and center on the children. Embrace play.

3. Know the Literature
No, you don’t have to read every single book that’s ever been published. No one has time for that. However, you should know what the popular authors and series are. Use databases if you’re stumped. Ask your fellow librarians. Ask the kids what they are reading. Read the books they keep asking about.

4. Practice Your Readers’ Advisory Skills
This takes time to perfect and everyone has their own way to recommend a book. Ask broader questions than what other books your patrons like. Find out what their hobbies are, what TV shows they watch, their favorite music. For my teens, I ask two simple questions: I ask them to rate how much they like to read on a scale of 1-10 (unsurprisingly, I usually get a 2 or 3) and then I ask what was the last book they read that they actually enjoyed. Based on the answer, I can usually find them a read-alike. There are also great listservs out there. Subscribe to them.

5.  Working with Children
Not every child is an angel. We all know that. Don’t expect children to behave all the time... they are children after all. Personally, I rank my storytime kids into three categories: the silent one, the interactor, and the runner. The silent one stays planted in Mom’s lap and barely blinks. The interactor reacts to the stories & songs, sings and dances along. The runner as the name would imply, doesn’t stop moving the entire program. Each one of these get something out of the program. If a parent apologizes, tell them not to worry. The only time I would say something is if the child was completely disrupting the group.

You will have a favorite child. There are special kids that burrow into your heart. I’ve been at my job since 1998. Some of my toddlers are now in college. You will also have a child you don’t like. Some children are plain terrors. There’s not much you can do about them but get them to behave as best as you can in a program. Regardless, you have to treat them all fairly. Treat them all like your favorite.

7. Teens
Teens can be a rough bunch. They’ll come & hang out at the library, but getting them into a program can be hard. Food programs are always a big hit. Who doesn’t like to eat? Talk to them and ask them what they want. Have a survey in your teen area asking them what programs they want. If you have a group of really interested teens, create a Teen Advisory Group.

Know the pop culture. You don’t have to watch the shows or listen to the music, but know what it is. If you try to fake it, teens will know. If you’re not into any of it, admit it. They’ll respect you more for being honest.

You are going to see all kinds of teens enter. If you can’t accept any of them, you are in the wrong job. They will be loud, they will create havoc. They are teens after all. Make sure to establish firm, but fair rules for behavior. In my teen area, I have a three strikes and you’re out policy. If a librarian has to go into the teen room three times to tell them to quiet down, they are asked to leave for the day. If it happens again, a week and so on. I’ve never had to do it more than once.

8. Parents
They have to learn the storytime rules. Have them typed out if needed. At the beginning of the program, emphasize that this is a special time for parents and children to interact together and we need everyone’s attention. No cell phones. No tablets. No chatting. I’ve stopped in the middle of a story and waited until the parents quieted down.

As with the children, there are going to be some very annoying parents that come into your world. They sometimes don’t understand the basic rules of our programs in terms of registering, residency, or age. When you try to explain, they get angry and usually try to get us to make an exception. If they get too irate, that’s when you get your supervisor to help back you up.

9. Network!
Create a professional learning network. Go to as many continuing education meetings as you can and meet the other librarians in your area. Find librarians online. Follow their blogs. Have great conversations with them. Attend a conference, even a local one, if you can. Share your programs; borrow theirs. Don’t be afraid to e-mail or tweet someone with questions about a program they ran. If you are thinking of running a program and don’t know where to start, ask the listservs.

10. Be Prepared for Anything
I found this great dream catcher craft to do with my teens a few years ago. Once the program started, I realized the craft was far more difficult than it seemed. We all laughed about it and made the best of it. This has happened a few times in my career and you have to make it work somehow. I am not a super crafty person by nature, so I usually end up learning along with the teens and children.

Plenty of other things can go wrong. Do not take it personally. Even if you only reach a few, those few kids are still getting a great experience and if the program was cancelled, you know there isn’t an interest for it at the time.

My last tip: try to avoid burnout. Take vacations. Talk to your fellow librarians when you need to vent. Don’t bring work home with you if you can help it. You never want to be a librarian that people don’t like. It’s an exhausting job sometimes dealing with the public, but if you remember to take care of yourself, the rewards are worth it.

Natalie Korsavidis is the Head of Young Adult at the Farmingdale Library. She has served on the NYLA YSS Board and is the Past-President of the Nassau County Library Association. Follow her on Twitter: @bookslover.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Library of the Future Versus The Future of Libraries

I've long contended that I'm not a library futurist, so I knew my name wouldn't come up in response to that tweet. I've always kind of poopooed futurists. "I have enough to worry about in the here and now," I might have quipped. Besides, I've seen people who try to sell the future of libraries who haven't worked in an actual library in decades, if they ever did. I wanted to distance myself from that crowd if nothing else.

But then Chris sent her request, and the names/twitter handles I saw in response got me thinking. Some of the names that were sent her way are people I respect and even like, but I hadn't associated any of them with "library future." Even better, nobody named any of those "futurists" I've made fun of in the past. So when someone I respect started looking into a topic I'd eschewed, it gave me pause.

It's not like I avoid thinking about the future of my library. I wrote a six year assessment plan (we are currently in the second year). I led the library through the process of writing a new strategic plan - something specifically designed to be practical and forward looking. I think about the immediate future of my library every day, whether we're flooding or working on collection development or just helping new freshmen log onto our computers for the first time.

So why do I have this disconnect? Why do I work toward the future of my own library but still resist the idea of it on a broader scale? Beyond the personalities and reputations of some of those "futurists," I mean. I think part of my resistance is because of how unpredictable the future can be. I remember a director for whom I used to work talking eloquently about how the architects of that library had created a space for the higher ed world right before laptops became ubiquitous. In other words: not enough outlets. Something that simple made that building a library of the past, and how can you predict the unpredictable?

But back to the thoughts inspired by Chris' tweet... I realized that I need to find a middle ground. I need to be conscious of how I'm working towards the future without getting unrealistic or thinking I know it all. I could easily get lost in dreams of the Starfleet Academy Library or that planet sized library from Doctor Who (minus the vashta nerada). I think maybe finding the middle ground is about looking in the middle distance. I am fairly certain of what I'll be doing tomorrow (paying bills, looking through student worker applications, answering emails). I have no idea what I'll be doing in ten years, although I suspect it will still have to do with libraries in some way. I think what I'm going to have to do is let my imagination wander a few years ahead. I need to think about the future of libraries instead of libraries of the future. I know I'll have to think about a utopian, a dystopian, and a realistic image. I need to think about the future of libraries instead of The Library of the Future. One thing I know for sure: libraries will always be about the people we serve. We might pretend that libraries have been about books, but the artifacts with which we operate are misleading. Libraries are about people.

How about you? How do you imagine the future of libraries?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

“…I’m a What?”: Mentoring as an Early Career Librarian, by Tarida Anantachai

As an early career librarian, the idea of mentoring and supporting other early career librarians and LIS students has been a particular interest of mine. This might also be partly because I started my library career in a residency program, a professional opportunity typically intended to bolster newly minted librarians (particularly those from underrepresented groups). [Editor’s note: See Annie Pho’s post from a couple of years ago for more on resident librarians.] Almost immediately after I was hired, I began seeking out other professionals from whom I could learn the ropes, so to speak. I flung myself at conferences, workshops, and other continuing education opportunities; volunteered for committees to connect further with and contribute to the library community; and reached out to my own library’s mentoring program. I was the quintessential enthusiastic recent graduate, excited to develop the foundation I had built in library school. Really, what I wanted was to grow from eager newbie into what I thought of as “legitimate professional.”
But something peculiar was simultaneously happening. Even while I was still orienting myself to the profession, I was already being asked for my feedback by other professionals. I was invited to participate on career-related panels. I was even asked to take our graduate student workers informally under my wing during their training. This may speak to my ongoing battle with impostor syndrome (note: opens .pdf), but while I was delighted to help out in all of these instances, there was a small part of me that questioned what place I had in guiding others when the ink had just barely dried on my diploma. And then one day, somewhere between my first and second year as a librarian, a peer, arguably for the first time aloud, described me as a mentor.
"You're a mentor, Harry!" Peer mentors are all around. Just take a look. (source)

If this were an audio post, this would be where you would hear the sound of a record scratch.
At the time I heard this, I still felt like I was the one needing a mentor, that other more seasoned librarians had more to offer than I could. I’d had (and still have) my own informal and formal mentors who I value highly. Yet what I also discovered was that, while I think sometimes the typical view of mentoring conjures up images of an early career professional paired with a more senior one, in actuality there are other types of mentoring relationships that are just as important—for instance, situational/ad hoc mentoring and peer mentoring. On some level, I’d already understood and appreciated these concepts. But in the moment I was specifically identified as a mentor, I realized that I hadn’t seen myself as ready for such a role, at least within librarianship. I certainly wanted to wear the mentor hat one day, and would like to say that my professional development opportunities were helping to prepare me for this. But again, with barely two years under my belt, I thought I needed more time to get there. And while not all of the situations mentioned earlier were mentoring scenarios per se, reflecting on them has helped me to recognize how not only is it easy to devalue yourself (again, impostor syndrome), but also that you can potentially assume mentorship roles at any stage of your career. When it all comes down to it, mentors are those people who are truly invested in your development, inspire you, and encourage you to explore and grow. In actuality, both the person who had called me a mentor and I had long been doing this for each other without realizing it. If you find such a person (or hopefully persons), or if you find that you are that person for someone, then embrace and remind yourself that we all have experiences and insights to offer. Peer mentors in particular can provide unique perspectives more closely related to your current situation. Additionally, remember that positive mentoring relationships are partnerships. They are not one-way streets with a mentor helping a mentee; rather, they should be empowering, reflective, and self-discovering opportunities of growth for both parties alike.
Since then, I have been fortunate to participate in programs that have helped me to improve my understanding of mentorship and how to be a more effective mentor and mentee. I’ve also joined my library’s mentoring team. So am I a mentoring expert and do I always employ successful mentor/mentee behaviors? Of course not! Still, it has made me think about how, as a service-oriented profession, perhaps we as librarians are inherently equipped to assume such roles from the start. After all, we trust eager newbies when they are first hired to assist our patrons from the get-go. We’re all just as capable of supporting each other. While mentoring a colleague isn’t exactly like helping someone at the reference desk, many of the same tenets, from providing guidance to focusing on another’s needs, apply. So forgive my soapboxery here (in many ways, I think I have still retained my post-graduate enthusiasm), but to all you early career librarians or anyone who doubts their ability to mentor, trust yourself, trust your would-be-mentee, and learn and grow with each other. Find your own mentors—seasoned and peer, formal and informal [Editor: Or even outside our profession!]—but also recognize that you can also serve in this capacity. If you still feel unsure (or even if you don’t), there are plenty of great resources out there on mentoring and how to be an effective supporter no matter where you are in your career. So pay it forward. You might be surprised what you learn. 
P.S.  I also should point out that the term “mentoring” is sometimes inadvertently misused. There are actually a number of other types of supporting relationships aside from mentoring, including helping and coaching relationships—distinctions which I myself may have also confused, or perhaps been confused as inhabiting in the past. Suffice to say that my own definitions of mentoring have shifted over the years. I actually co-wrote more about this in a related posting.

Tarida Anantachai is a Learning Commons Librarian at Syracuse University, where she began her library career as an insufferably enthusiastic Resident Librarian…an insufferability she arguably still exhibits today. She tweets at @taridachai.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Best Practices and Research Based Practices: Don't Be A Lemming

Lemmus lemmus
Summer is over. New students will show up later this week and returning students will be here next weekend. Transitions always get me thinking, and this current transition from the pin-drop-quiet of our summers to the "Can you keep it down to a dull roar?" of the semester is no different. This time I'm thinking about best practices.

Specifically, I'm thinking about the difference between "best practices" and "research based practices." Some of it is because of the inevitable rush of email from faculty asking us to do information literacy sessions first thing in the semester instead of having a librarian teach in that sweet spot between when the students get a research assignment and when that assignment is due ("just in case" info lit versus "just in time"). Another factor is that I finally got around to reading a partial transcription of a TED Talk about "Why the Widespread Belief in 'Learning Styles' Is Not Just Wrong; It's Dangerous."And then I saw a public librarian friend calling 3D printing services into question.

So here's my perspective on all this:
  • Best Practices can be very similar to research based practices. The key difference is that they are divorced from the research and are, too frequently, a fancier version of "everyone else is doing it, so we should, too." I can almost guarantee there is a grain of wisdom and experience at the core of every library trend. It started out as something that worked for the first few people who did it, but after that libraries become a bit like the apocryphal lemmings throwing themselves off the cliff because all the other lemmings are. 
  • Research Based Practices, on the other hand, are formulated to reflect research and science. I remember someone asking me what I thought of some new fad in instruction, and I think I ticked that person off because my response was "It sounds like an interesting idea, but I'm holding off my opinion until I see some research into whether or not it really works." The problem with going based on gut feeling instead of looking for research is that you become prey to things like confirmation bias.

The problem with those ideas is that research lags behind trends. Worse, not everyone has time to do big, longitudinal studies to prove the efficacy of new practices. So what are those of us who are interested in cutting or even bleeding edge ideas to do?
  • Action Research. There are all sorts of resources to help you with this idea, but basically it (usually) means small scale research to improve your practice. It includes all the same things as larger scale research, but it on a much more manageable and practical level.
  • Adopt, Adapt, and Improve. There are no neutral or normal libraries. That means that what made a project super successful at one library might not work at all at another library. When looking at a hot new trend, we need to pause and think about how it would work best for our community - if at all. We need to ask if there is something else we could do with those funds, and that personnel time, that might better serve community needs. We need to think about why we're doing a thing, and if the answer is "because everyone else is doing it" we need to reconsider. If we stay rooted in our libraries and our users, it greatly reduces that risk of being swept up in a trend for no reason.

While lemmings are incredibly adorable, whether we're talking about the real ones like up above or the fake ones that jump off cliffs, we're humans. We shouldn't emulate lemmings. Neither should we follow along with trends just for the sake of the trends. The problem here isn't with trends or the best practices. The problem lies in treating library best practices as off-the-rack solutions without checking the research and connecting the solutions to the specific context of our libraries and our users. We are an profession that encourages people to be curious and investigate, shouldn't we do the same?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Reading Planning, A Cautionary Tale (Also Known as “What Was I Thinking?”), by Jane Chirgwin

In the depths of a cold, brutal winter full of gray skies, snow and ice, ones thoughts turn to summer. When the SRP theme is announced, it is a delightful break from fighting with the heating system, shoveling snow, and teaching adults how to use computers. Every year I think to myself, this year will be amazing! For context: I run a medium size library and have four part-time staffers.

In February (it used to be March, but the larger libraries plan earlier), we go to a workshop to get pumped up about summer reading. We hear about elaborate, successful programs; we are impressed with the need to innovate, inspire and transform our patrons. We are told to rethink how we reward reading, for providing bribery implies that reading is an unpleasant task that requires pay. We are given lists of program ideas, lists of books, craft ideas, decoration ideas, costume ideas and lots of really bad jokes. I take copious notes and come back to my library, setting out my summer calendar eagerly. I order prizes, reading records, bags, and craft supplies, all the while picturing sunny skies, green leaves and warm breezes.

I should know better by now. I started my library career back in 1997. But it happens every year. First I put in a weekly program for each age group- preschoolers, elementary and teen. Then I have a family program every Saturday. Ooh, I should add more! Ill create all the decorations myself from paint and cardboard. Ill make special foods for each Saturday. We should have life-sized games. Ill go visit the summer camp. Ill make an online scavenger hunt. Well have an essay contest. Ill make a piñata for a Saturday program. I should have an example of each craft were doing on display. Ill get the Friends of the Library to fund this, this, and this. Ill go to all our local businesses and ask for incentives. Well participate in the County summer food program and give out lunches to children. Ill have flyers and newsletters and send out press releases and get onto website listings. Ill work with the school to have an assembly there and a library card drive.

Did I mention Im the director, and my duties include more than being childrens librarian? These plans do not seem excessive when Im putting out ice melt or processing books. They seem like fun! I forget that I find running events draining and stressful, and just remember the creative play of making things. I need to run the entire library, not just Saturday events and Tuesday craft times.

There have been summers where I worked 6 day weeks without a break, running story-time, craft class, and special events. I neglected my family and friends. At the end of the program I was so burned out. I felt like my summer had been stolen from me. I contemplated quitting my job and becoming a hermit, and snapped at everyone. When a presenter was late for her program, I said mean things about her to the waiting audience, and probably brought everyones fun level down. Were my numbers better on summers like that? No, not really.  

I know myself, so I work to prevent this kind of over-commitment. I have a member of my staff run story-time and do preschool visits. I have another staff person run teen events and promote teen book reviews. I plan to do things outside of work, and take Mondays off when I can so Im not working 6 days a week. I ask the Friends of the Library to help with our kick-off and school visit. I also write notes to myself at the end of summer, listing what went wrong, what I should repeat and other words of advice. Some of the notes are not helpful (like dont let staff quit mid-summer) but much is very useful. In June, just before we start the program, I cut out or pare down any grandiose scheme beyond the basics. I set goals, to remind myself why we are doing this program. We want kids to enjoy reading, to avoid their brains turning to mush over their school break. We want our community to know we exist and to use our services. None of my goals say anything about outshining large libraries who have big budgets and full-time staff or making everything by hand better than Martha Stewart. Sometimes looking at other librarys events or on Pinterest can be helpful, and other times it can make you feel inadequate.

Now if youll excuse me, I have to plan a Lego party for next Saturday. Instead of making a cake, Im making Lego snacks from packaged Rice Krispies treats and M+Ms. Instead of making a piñata, life-sized legos and a bean-bag toss, Im putting faces on yellow cups and putting out lots of bricks to build with. It will be fun!

Jane Chirgwin is a Library Director in upstate NY. Shes self-published three novels, available as e-books on Overdrive. Visit her blog on creativity, librarianship and writing at Find her on Twitter @Janesfolly.