I Feel Like Rip Van Winkle

rip van winkleYes, I can hardly believe that fourteen months has passed since my last post. Obviously I am now worried that my relevance has passed as well.  In these months, I have gone from being part-time employed to being full-time employed.  What a difference 20 hours makes.  I am working at a public library that services five high schools in a marginalized area of a metropolitan city.  What on earth do I do with my 40 hours?

It began as a fairly innocuous assignment, but quickly became a challenging turf war.  Though seldom fully-staffed, our branch has a high turnover rate because everyone transfers out.  The challenge for continuity of staff disadvantages the establishment in general.  Librarians are the go-to when the Senior Librarian is absent and I can vouch for the fact that at least three of my week days is spent being in charge.

Now, while I am not paid for this, it is the way the system is designed. To compound the responsibility, the full-time librarian is expected to manage outreach, programming, and all manner of mandate that comes from the administration.  But all of that takes a back seat to the daily duties of managing hundreds of after-school teens.

The Teen Advisory Board is the best place to put my defenses.  It is this small group that helps me with small projects, collection-based and program-based.  They pull inactives, weed for condition, shelf-read fiction, sort and organize floppies and media and cut out all manner of display and programming supplies.  They meet almost weekly and manage to make themselves a part of the library in a big way.

Then there is the other contingent, the small dozen or so of trouble-makers, the truants, the teens whose allegiance is to idle trash talk, and idle loitering.  They want to claim my library as their turf.

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While I Dreamed

The past two years has gone by in a blur, but I have spent most of my waking hours in one public library or another. Have I learned a thing or two? I’ve learned that a library is an organization that has an administrative hierarchy and that hierarchy pretty much calls the shots. As a librarian, I am committed to the free exchange of ideas and information, which are the basis of most mission statements.

But many library decisions are made at the city council level, and the majority of library missions have morphed into some blend of social-services and community oasis. While the budgets of one library allow for truly cool paid programming, another relies on a central programming model that routes preplanned programs in boxes through the system of a couple dozen branches.  Some programs rely upon volunteers and others are hosted by library partners, which are mostly other service agencies.

Programming has become an important part of library services and patrons rely on these calendared items to remain fairly unchangeable. Outreach is another new buzzword in library services that I have not embraced entirely. According to the latest Pew Research Center’s report, ” A New Way of Looking at Public Library Engagement in America,” only 14% of the population is completely nonengaged from the library. The library as an educational institution is there to support all aspects of formal education, from preschool to graduate school. Our main value is in providing resources for those who are seeking opportunities, career or personal. Those who cannot make it to the building are able to access us online.

The collection itself requires constant monitoring, weeding, and replacing. These duties are rarely seen as having the importance of programming and outreach, but I believe that books are the reason most people use the library and I am convinced that Steve Coffman’s blog “Betting on the Book” has some major and valid points.

The kind of part-time librarian positions that I have been working since I graduated in 2012 have left my talents underutilized. I have been mostly on the outskirts of decision-making and policy discussions, and have often been assigned to a desk. But the benefits have been an increased affinity for the library user and an understanding of the importance of customer service in public  librarianship. Our customers want us to help them navigate the world of information, technology, and upward social movement. They want us to provide intellectual stimulation as well as entertainment. They want to understand how to find and obtain materials, how to reserve computers and study rooms and how to use the library. We are their friendly guides and helpers.


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A Year Old

just walkingMy last post was at the six-month mark, and I had passed the Age of Looking and Response, the Age of Attack and Purpose, and sat at the Threshold of Understanding. Now, as I enter the Age of Meaning, I can walk alone as a librarian, yet I still have a certain amount of anxiety about adding the skills I now see are missing from my resume. As I babble about, toddling barely steadily, my strength lies in my curiousity.

A natural interest in picture books, for both storytelling and for sharing, has somehow grabbed me. As I weed the picture books — reading them, repairing them, cleaning them — I get to know them. The process of compiling reading lists requires a high degree of familiarity with the selections.  While it is easy to find lists, I aver that it is not always easy  to find the books on the list. Libraries compile lists for grade levels, reading levels, interests, genres, and various other defining criteria. When analyzing the collection, I look at several lists, note similarities.  These I make a beeline for, sometimes waiting on Holds lists until I can read them. The popularity of these oft-mentioned books means that they are sometimes not so easily obtained from the library, where a limited number of copies circulate. It is important to maintain adequate number of copies of listed books.

In this spirit I am ready to trade some hand-holding for some help now and then with my balance. I can feel confident in my ability to acquire, evaluate, and maintain a collection. I understand the use of reviews and recommendations. I am in the process of creating my own lists.  The question of how people access lists is of interest to me, as I find so few people who are actually familiar with and consistently using the library website and online public access catalog. There is still a very old service model expected from librarians, and curiously, I am willing and able to help with that. My two feet take me into the stacks a hundred times a day. That is the true pleasure of librarianship.

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Developing Flexibility

baby with foot in mouth

As anyone who knows me knows, it is easy for me to put my foot in my mouth metaphorically, but flexibility comes from an openness to experience. I am learning that my employment is more about what I am “willing” to do than what I am “able” to do. Which is a very good thing, because a librarian must be able to sense the needs of individual patrons. Linking cause and effect, I have learned that my smile and greeting invite questions that patrons may feel insecure about asking. There is always the child who wants a specific book that he or she has been exposed to in school or in a peer setting. Then again, there is that octogenarian who simply has never used a computer, but wants to order something from costco.com. Each has a specific need and I am there to patiently and completely help. Building trust is the first basis for successful librarianship. I want each patron to have a positive experience from a reliable institution. It is this “trust vs. mistrust” psychosocial theory promoted by E. Erikson (1902-1994) that convinces me that my interactions will create a strong belief that the world is a good place for both myself and my patron.  These initial interactions are critical to the development of a autonomous library user. There is no place in public service for mistrust. I trust my patrons to respect the library and its shared resources and my patrons trust me to deliver those resources to the best of my ability.

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The Birth of a Reader

One of the simple truths that I know as an individual was that there was not that “one” book that made me into a reader, but essentially it was the freedom to choose that book. At different times in my life, different books made a distinct impression. From early childhood, I remember A Wrinkle in Time, Big Doc’s Girl, Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Bronze Bow, The Witch of Blackbird Pond.

High school brought me face to face with the whole idea of “banned books” since the Catholic school had distinct ideas about the acceptability of content. I grew to love the freedom that my parents allowed me to choose to read what I wanted. I read The Catcher in the Rye, Crime and Punishment, Gone With the Wind, Lonesome Dove.

As a young woman and throughout the early years of my marriage and child-bearing, I often enjoyed an escapist novel like Taylor Caldwell, Thomas Costain, or Kathleen Woodiwiss would produce. During these years I much preferred a lengthy tome, something to really bury my head in. I read Ancient Evenings, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Tell No Man, Mists of Avalon. 

Then I became interested in the bigger picture. I wondered about classicism, mysticism, philosophical and psychological isms and began a broader reading more akin to a college reader’s list. I explored many subjects and started a classical reading project, in which I challenged myself to read the 100 Best Novels Written in the 20th Century as chosen by the Modern Library Association.  This project has been the single most driving force behind my recreational reading. You can read about my ongoing challenge on my blog The Reader- Rater.  There are accumulating there short reviews of those novels which I have read.

Part of my commitment to librarianship is to literacy. It is to spread the joy of reading, of recreational, time-wasting reading. I know it has enriched my life beyond belief. I have found the common core of man, the universal truth (if only for an instant). I have felt the pain, the anguish, the disappointment, the misery, the mystery, and the exquisite joy of connection.  In all its formats, reading is an asset to life. It is educational, entertaining, eye-opening, inciting, and peace building.

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Stretching My Limbs

Well, creating and displaying my cyber self for the world has posed some challenges. In lieu of creativity, I have chosen adaptability. There are themes galore, images to be had for a song, and stock design layouts. But what cannot be duplicated is the tenor of my own thoughts and the style of my own writing. I have added a page called Reader’s Advisory which offers a general look at this service in the age of computer technology. I am partial to this area of librarianship, because surveys show that people still see the library brand as books, though public computer access has become very important.

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Hello world!

The test begins with birth. The birth of an idea, the birth of a life, the birth of a bird. All the smallest and most substantial progress is caused by a birth. Birthing a website, an online brand, a “personhood” beyond the physical into the veritable world wide web. It truly is humbling, challenging in all the same ways as a baby embracing the world, and obviously a work in progress. That requires a human empathy and forgiveness for flaws of execution or presentation.

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