Do Your Own Programs, Fam

Every library system is different when it comes to programming. Some systems designate their programs from on high and staff have little choice or say-so in the matter. Others are pretty hands off and let staff do their own thing at the branch level. HPL is the former. My current system is the latter. Here are my current thoughts about that.

When I left HPL, I thought they were THE. WORST. library system on planet earth. And they do kind of suck for the most part. That said, the further removed I become, the more I can see some of the positives and being in administration makes me better understand why they might have done the things that they did.

Honestly, It’s so easy to fall into the “I’m in admin so I know better than all these people under me” mindset. So easy. Truthfully, some staff do drag their feet and aren’t doing the things that they should be. Since I’m an overachiever who prefers to work alone, it is my natural instinct to step in and do things for people. Why? Because I’m better at their job than they are. Is that arrogant? Hell yes, but it’s also, for the most part, true.

But so what? Just because that’s mostly true doesn’t mean much. True doesn’t necessarily mean good and it certainly doesn’t mean kind, inclusive, compassionate, or supportive. Exclusion in the name of truth and control is not a path you want to go down. I saw that path at HPL and it doesn’t lead anywhere good. Would it feel good? Sure. Does that mean I should do it? Absolutely not. In fact, when something appeals to the ego, it’s probably good to not do that thing without some serious deliberation.

All of this is to say that I don’t agree with the way that my system currently views library programming. I’m not a fan of hiring outside programmers for every little want or need. I prefer learning about subjects that are of interest to the community, mastering them to a certain degree, and then sharing my knowledge with the community. That’s the fun part of being a librarian–we get to be a little bit of everything.

When all you do is sing some songs and bring in magicians, the library becomes a vessel for entertainment instead of enrichment and the librarian stops being a community educator and instead becomes the community event scheduler. There’s nothing wrong with creating partnerships for programs that are outside the library’s scope. Librarians can’t be everything, but they do need to be something. Event coordination is a great skill but it can’t be your only skill.

Imagine Buffy if Giles had to call for outside help every time a new monster popped up. The world would have ended in season 1. Let’s all live to see season 7, guys. Step away from the crafts. Learn some new things. It’s going to be just fine.

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You Got Into Harvard Law?

No, guys. I did not get into Harvard Law. I did not apply to Harvard Law and I have no plans to do so…well, ever.

But today I wanted to talk about something that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit since I stepped into my new position: challenges and how we perceive them in the library world.

I am the sort of person who requires a certain degree of challenge in my job in order to stay engaged. It’s very easy for me to get bored when things become repetitive and routine. I don’t think this is unique to me–lots of people have a hard time enjoying their work when monotony sets in. That said, now that I’m working for and with a ton of different people, I am realizing that my penchant for deeply engaging, innovative, and challenging work is not something that everyone shares.

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This has been my general experience in libraryland. A lot of people (and not just older people) have a tendency to do the same things over and over with no thought to changing things up. For example, I am finding that a trend in my library system is for staff to host regular, recurring programs and to bring in performers or outside programmers to host one time or new programs. A lot of branches even outsource their book clubs to community members who have or have had children in the program. Wow! I guess that’s one way to do things. To me, though, there are some issues with this.

The first issue is that it makes library staff seem inexperienced and nonessential. If someone from the community can run your programs for free, why do we need to pay trained staff? If you can’t develop, promote, and host a new program without help from outside of the organization, why should we pay you for your expertise? Why shouldn’t we hire someone else? Are you really an asset to this community? Is this a smart way to spend our tax dollars? So on and so forth.

The second issue is related to staff time. I suspect that everyone in a public service career has heard time and time again that they’re understaffed and under-resourced. These things are often both true, particularly for things that are viewed by the powers that be as nonessential services. Unfortunately, libraries frequently fall into this category. In my system, we are not what I would call understaffed or under-resourced. We serve the second wealthiest county in America in the wealthiest metropolitan area in the United States. Every Youth Services department in the system (with the exception of the branch that I came from) has more than one person in the department. Yes, we get a small part of the budget. Yes, we did have a reduction in force during the recession from which some positions were never refilled. It happens. It will happen again, probably sooner than most people think. But when the powers at be find out that library staff say that between the five people working in their department, they can’t cobble together the staff time to do a weekly program, they will not accept that. And they shouldn’t.

What I am discovering is that there is a marked disconnect between what I find to be challenging and how I would define pressed for time. Being that I’m in charge of programming for the system but do not actually directly manage staff in the branches, I’m finding that the line that I need to walk is somewhat tricky. It’s a balancing act that I’m learning how to perform daily.

My natural tendency toward what I view as incompetence is to be dismissive. If I don’t trust someone to do something to my standards, I will often just do it myself. I tend to not take concerns seriously if they seem illogical or if I can find a reasonable way around them. I’m trying to let go of this knee jerk reaction, though. Why? It’s not because I no longer value competence or excellence. I do and I always will. It’s because I’m starting to learn that I am different from many people in the way that I operate and this does not make me superior nor does it mean that everyone should be like me.

So, I’m trying to learn to accept things that I previously found unacceptable. And it’s hard! I have to fight the urge to shoehorn things into the way that I want them to be every single day. But I’ll keep learning. And I’ll keep trying.

I GOT PROMOTED!! (a blog in gifs)

Y’all read the title. I am now the Youth and Teen Services Coordinator for my library system. I’ve moved from branch services to administration. I’m responsible for system wide programming and initiatives as well as overseeing A LOT of Youth Services staff. I am in heaven.

But we have to back up a little bit to tell you the story about why I decided to leave my pervious job (a job that I loved) and how I’m doing now, a week and a half into my new gig. Here we go!

So, in August, we got a new branch manager who was hired from outside the system. He was…not awesome. Less than great. During our first meeting he told me, the person who runs a solo department and does a program or an outreach EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. that I wasn’t doing enough programming. Coooooooool. So, of course, I was like

but-whyHis low opinion of me caused me a significant amount of stress at work. You see, I am one of those people who really, really, really wants to be thought of as competent in their job. So, I try super hard where some people might just coast. I’d done a hell of a lot of work to get my programming up to snuff and then this dude comes in and tells me that I’m sub-par? Nah, fam. So, I started thinking about other jobs that I could do. Jobs where I would be more useful. Jobs where people might appreciate how hard I was working to do the best that I could.

Shortly thereafter, a new position for our system was announced: Youth and Teen Services Coordinator! The new position would be working in the programming department and would focus on school age and teen programs. Several people who I work with sent me messages that I should apply. And I was like

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So, I applied. And then I got an interview! Being that I’m pretty early in my career, I thought that my chances of getting this job were slim to none. Then, just a few days after my interview, I got a call that I got the position. Y’all can imagine how I was then.

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After the initial excitement worse off, I realized that I was going to have to actually leave my current job to go to this new job. I LOVED my old job. I loved the kids, the parents, and I especially loved my co-workers. Pretty much every day was a good time. I didn’t want to not see some of the coolest people that I know anymore. And so, for a few days I was like

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I got over that pretty fast. A couple of weeks later, I find myself settling into my new job and feeling great. I have some pretty big and cool things on the horizon. It seems pretty surreal that I’ve managed to reach my career goal in just 3 years. Basically, I feel a lot like this lady right now

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The end, for now.

Review: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illustrated by the Fan Brothers

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Why do some songs make you happy and others make you sad? Do islands like being alone? And what’s the best way to find a friend you can talk to?

 

 

 

What happens: Marco the fox has a lot of questions. They’re not your average fox questions and he’s having trouble getting answers. When the antlered ship shows up on the shores near his home, Marco hopes this will be a way to get answers. Deer, pigeons, and Marco embark on a great adventure to a wonderful island. Those aboard soon find out that some journeys are more complicated than you expect and that the journey is, in fact, the destination.

The good: Our main character, Marco the fox, is weird and wonderful. He will appeal to any child who has ever felt a little out of step in their lives (aka, me as a child). His questions are so beautiful that Dashka could have just overlaid the illustrations with the one liners and I still would have loved the book.

Let’s talk about the illustrations–they’re gorgeous! I’m not sure if I love Marco’s questions or the illustrations more. This is one of those books that could also have been wordless and been great. It’s a one-two punch. What I especially love about the illustrations is the way in which they bring so much character and emotion to the characters. As much as I love animals, I often find it difficult to connect with complex animal characters in books (which is why I still haven’t read Redwall, in case you’re wondering). These animals, however, are so expertly drawn and expressive that it’s impossible not to get sucked in and identify with them.

The not so good: There’s nothing that I didn’t love about this book.

Rating: 5/5 stars!

Reading Aloud to Big Babies

I had an interesting experience in June when I was doing our annual summer reading booktalk visits. When I told the kids (boys and girls alike) that I was going to spend a little bit of time reading to them, they got REALLY excited. Of course, there was the odd kid who seemed to think the whole ordeal was going to be boring. But that’s not how I tell stories so they were in for a treat.

Something interesting happened, though. Once I hit the fifth graders, the excitement started to wane. Sure, they were cool with me (because I’m nothing if not cool) but they were not really down with being read to. They endured it. They humored me. But it wasn’t like anyone was having a blasty-blast.

Sixth graders are, in my opinion, already of the middle school variety. I have no idea why they’re lumped in with elementary schoolers around here. They’re just too old at that point. The same approach doesn’t work for them. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I was going to bother reading to them at all. And then, I found Scythe.

I knew as soon as I opened that sucker up that kids would be down for that book. It’s creepy, eerie, and it sucks you in with the first chapter. Boom! When I said that the kids were about to be read to, they all did the obligatory roll of the eyes. By the time I was done reading my little segment, they were staring at me open mouthed, waiting for more.

I couldn’t go more than a few days without a kid coming in to ask if we had the book in. Of course, it was almost always gone. I ordered 10 copies to keep at the branch during the summer and I only saw it on the shelf a couple of times.

I wish we didn’t stop reading to kids when they got older. I wish we had the time, energy, and dedication to work hard finding books that the kids want to hear and not just reading books that they “need” to know about. The busier kids get, the less time they have to do anything for fun, much less read. Seeing the spark in those should-be-middle schoolers’ eyes made it very clear to me that kids both want and need us to take time to tell them stories. We should care enough about them to do so.

 

Toddler Time #1: Lots of Laughter

This post is numbered because I don’t generally theme my storytime programs. Numbering the posts makes it easier for me to blog about them. I’m starting from #1 simply because I haven’t blogged consistently about storytime programs…until now!

I love toddlers. Toddler Time is so unique and fun. I look forward to doing it every week. This week was mostly attended by new families. It’s always interesting when that happens because you never quite know how the group dynamic is going to play out. Lots of kids new to storytime could mean we end up having a very reluctant, shy group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but my Toddler Time program is super high energy and that quickly dissolves into pulling teeth if the kids are more content sitting on someone’s lap than having a dance party with a strange lady.

Lucky for me, this particular group was ready to rock! At one point, we were laughing so hard that we had to pause during 5 Little Popcorn Kernels to catch our breath. Man, I’m lucky I get paid to do stuff like this!

Here’s my program outline, for those interested:

Opener: Hello Friends sign song

Movement: Zoom, Zoom, Zoom

Book: What is Chasing Duck by Jan Thomas

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Action Song: 5 Little Popcorn Kernels

Fingerplay: 5 Fat Peas

Book: Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

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Movement: My Left Foot Has the Wiggles

Closer: Goodbye Friends sign song

Review: Do NOT Bring Your Dragon to the Library by Julie Gassman, illustrated by Andy Elkerton

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A dragon is sometimes a very rude beast. At story time he’ll take up ten spaces, at least!

 

 

 

 

What happens: There are some rules that you need to remember if you plan to visit the library. You’ll need to respect the books, be ready to have some fun in storytime, and use your library card to check out your items. Most importantly, though, you must never, ever, no matter WHAT, bring your dragon to the library. You see, dragons are too big, too loud, and entirely too fiery to come to the library. But, there is a way to bring all of the magic of the library to your dragon waiting patiently at home…with your library card!

The good: I’m a sucker for a good library themed book. This is the second one this year that I’ve enjoyed (the other is The Not So Quiet Library). If you knew me on a personal level, you’d also know that putting a dragon into a book is a sure fire way to get me read it. So, I had high hopes for this one. And it paid off! The prose flows nicely and the use of end rhyme is nice if a bit sing-song.

The full page illustrations, though, are the highlight of this picture book. The best way that I can describe them is expressive. They portray the story well enough that you don’t need the words to tell the story. The best part of the illustrations, though, are the diversity that they highlight. We have BROWN PEOPLE! YES! We also have a disabled child and the person of authority in the book (the librarian) is a female POC.  Here’s a massive thank you to Andy Elkerton (the illustrator) and the folks over at Capstone Young Readers for publishing this book.

Obviously, I’m also happy that the book addressed all of the cool stuff that you can do at the library and the fun that you can have at home by using your library card.

Did I mention there are dragons in here….?

The not so good: Nada.

Rating: 5/5 stars!