On My Radar: Summer 2018

I haven’t done a TBR style post in a hot minute! I kind of feel obligated to participate in the summer reading fervor. Despite the fact that it’s been summer for a whole month already (I follow the meteorological seasons) the DC area is only just now experiencing out first real heat wave of the summer. 100 degree heat + insane humidity + a chronic autoimmune disease that’s sensitive to heat and humidity = spending a lot of time inside reading. So, here’s my unofficial list of things I either have already read this summer am interested in getting to at some point before August 31–with the usual caveat that I almost never follow TBRs and will not read everything from this list/am likely to read things not listed here instead:

  1. The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang
  2. We Are All That’s Left by Carrie Arcos
  3. A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir
  4. Give Me Some Truth by Eric Gansworth
  5. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  6. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  7. The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
  8. Spill Zone, volume 1 by Scott Westerfeld
  9. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
  10. Mortal Fall by Christine Carbo
  11. The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz
  12. I Just Ate My Friend
  13. Furyborn by Claire Legrand

From my perspective, that’s a pretty good mix! As usual, there are no romance titles. I’m also going to be reading a nonfiction title related to my newly diagnosed autoimmune disease but I don’t feel comfortable listing it here as it would give away my diagnoses (and that’s none of the internet’s business!). I recently found out there are romances featuring dragon-like characters–maybe THAT will be the subgenre that finally makes me a romance reader…but not this summer.

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. Last year, I discovered Thinking Sideways and then branched out to The Generation Why and, occasionally, Sword and Scale. Cycling through these guys every week is great but only 3 podcast episodes a week is not enough so I’ve started listening more regularly to In The Dark, Astonishing Legends, Already Gone, Reveal, Millennial, and Hidden Brain. Thus, I have not been listening to very many audiobooks in the past year or so and I feel less bad about not reading very much nonfiction.

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The Freaky Circle

My husband and I recently moved into a new apartment that’s closer to my job and his school. It has an interesting layout in which the bathroom is connected both to the living room and the bedroom. Where our previous apartment was basically one long rectangle, this apartment is a square with the ability to become a circle.

It’s been fun learning to live inside of this weird box/circle combination. It’s even more fun watching the dogs figure out that they can exit the bedroom via the bathroom exit to the living room. My husband and I have both found ourselves taking the long route around the apartment even though we should have learned after two weeks in this new place that there’s a shorter way.

Every time this happens (to us or to the dogs), we like to call it the freaky circle. We are both obsessed with Thor: Ragnarok and Korg’s explanation of the holding cell for the fighters on Sakaar. The thing about that holding cell is that you can run around the circle as many times as you like and never make any real progress, sort of like a cosmic hamster wheel.

Lately, I’ve been feeling like I can’t quite extract myself from the freaky circle that is life.

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For someone who so highly prizes work/life balance, I have been working A LOT for the last three weeks. I’m just going to say it–I worked 14 days straight. Yeah. Two absolutely full weeks, many of which had 12+ hour days jammed in there. Maybe the reason that I can’t quite figure out my new apartment is because I’ve barely spent any time in it.

Friends, that is absolutely ridiculous and nobody should have to do it. Don’t worry–this isn’t a plea for more staff. I know that isn’t coming. I knew it when I took this job. What we have here is a promise to myself (and to the internet) that I will never do this to myself again. Not ever. No matter what.

Although I maintained my rule to never work if I’m not being compensated in some way (comp time is compensation, even if it’s not $$), I realized that working this much just isn’t feasible. I’m saying this as a person who is super privileged and whose only obligation outside of work is to three dogs and a very understanding husband who does more than his share of the work when he needs to. If I had kids or had to work like a dog just to make ends me, I don’t think I’d make it very far.

But in the library world, we routinely ask people to do things for free–either by not paying them for their time or by asking them to pay for supplies/fees/materials out of pocket. Even when you’re not explicitly asked by a supervisor, it’s so heavily implied that you’ll do these things that many of us find ourselves performing under pressure. For example, staff often give me a perplexed look when I refuse to give out my personal cell phone number or when I tell them that I don’t answer work related questions (via email or otherwise) when I’m not at work. It has become unimaginable in our society to not be working, on some level, 100% of your waking time.

I think this is all sort of tragic. It leads to tired employees, frayed nerves, and a loss of one’s selfhood. If you’re tired, on edge, and have no life or sense of identity outside of your work, you’re on the fast track to a seriously dangerous physical and mental health crisis. I refuse to participate in this culture. Libraries are not life and death. Guard your days off closely, my friends.

Stay off the freaky circle.

Teen Tech Week: Day 2

(Cue slightly less ominous 24 style countdown clock!)

There is both bad news and good news to report from day two of Teen Tech Week. The good news is that it’s almost all good news and the bad news turned out not to be so bad after all.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: there was a mix up with the devices that I requested for this program–they were trapped at another branch and wouldn’t be available. On the bright side, the branch where I was presenting had two laptops that we could use and this was a group coding program. So BOOM! The issue became a non-issue.

From there on, it’s pretty much gravy. This program was titled Create Your Own App. I decided to offer this at a branch where I know their teen staff member is absolutely amazing and where they have a decent teen following. The teens and families of teens in this community are used to the idea of teen programs being offered. I anticipated that this would be my most well attended program annnnnnnnnnd I had a grand total of 4 teens participate!

For some of you, this is nothing to celebrate but it is for me. It’s three more kids than I had at Podcasting. Three of the kids just happened to be in the library and the announcement about the program intrigued them enough to actually come in. One teen came specifically for the program. HEART EYES TO YOU, WONDERFUL TEEN!

I decided to go the route of “guide on the side” for this one, since I basically have zero coding knowledge and I have no experience with javascript whatsoever. Code.org has a really great, easy to follow tutorial service called AppLap that teaches kids the basics of the language and let’s them create their own simple app. It takes about one hour of following the tutorial to create a simple app that teens can then further develop on their own time. Perfect fit!

We worked in pairs to facilitate collaboration and the groups even worked together a little bit to test their apps against one another (because everything’s a competition, amirite). It might have been a small group, but the kids had a lot of fun and so did I. We ended up staying about 15 minutes over when the program was supposed to end…which means I got home SUPER late but it’s all good.

Overall, I’m going to call this one a success and move on. Today is the last program that I am hosting and I’m not sure if anyone will show up for this one. We’ll see! I’ll update tomorrow.

Excelsior!

Teen Tech Week: Day 1

(Cue ominous 24 style countdown clock!)

Teen Tech Week is one of my favorite professional weeks of the year. Teens! Doing fun, unexpected things with technology! What’s not to love, right?….right?

Well, this year there have been a couple of things not go love about my beloved TTW. I should note that I took a bit of a gap year(s) between teen librarianing and this is my TTW renaissance. The last time I observed this week, I was a Teen Librarian in a branch setting and I had a hell of a lot of regular kids who I saw day in and day out. We had an absolute BLAST with Teen Tech Week. This year is, to put it mildly, not going as well as my first time around.

I thought it would be a good idea to kick the week off with a bang and so I offered what I thought was my coolest, most original program: Podcasting 101. Podcasts are in, they’re fun, and they’re easy to get into no matter what tech you have available. A creative, tech centered program that plays to teens’ interests and is about as equitable as you’re going to get in terms of access to necessary technology? BOOM!

So, I chose a branch who were interested in hosting this program, marketed the absolute hell out of it, wrote a really good program plan with fun and informative activities, and then showed up at the branch excited to get started. We even had our county news crew come out to film us and produce a segment about it–and then nobody showed up.

To be fair, five separate teens independently got really excited when they saw the program name written on the whiteboard outside the door and tried to come in but all five of these kids were with their families and, unfortunately, their parents all said no. SIGH!

So, it looks like the program idea was a good one in terms of teen interest but I think I missed the boat on the parent education piece for Teen Tech Week on this one (and maybe in general). I’ve said several times on this blog that I don’t mind program failures because they teach you the most valuable stuff, and that’s still true. I learned where I might need to target my efforts to get teen services off the ground in a large county where schools really are awesome and parents aren’t used to thinking of the library as a place for their teens. Even so, it sucks to put a lot of time and energy into a program and then have nobody turn up.

Also, parents play a much more substantial role in the social lives of their teens than I have experience with. In my previous position, I was lucky if the teens even lived with their parents. They certainly weren’t having to beg permission to attend an educational program at the library. It’s a different dynamic that I’m going to have to learn to work with. For one thing, it means that I’ll have to market to parents where I’m used to marketing directly to teens. For another, it tends to mean that the teens I’ll be dealing with in programs will be slightly more…fragile? Innocent? Okay, I’ll just say it–they’re a bit infantilized by their very wealthy parents and extremely privileged upbringings. Not all, but a significant number.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that serving rich teens and their families is a lot different than serving poor teens and their families and I’m still learning how best to do that. Let’s see if we have any more luck with tonight’s program: App Coding!

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.

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.