Tag: public library

Bring it to La Crosse…

For anyone who was wondering, our Board approved replacement of my position.  That means if you’ve ever wondered about La Crosse, ever imagined tackling storytimes in the Boat, ever thought you’d like to work with Mesdames Director and Storyteller or the infamous Acquisitions Man…here’s your chance!

The formal job description is available here and I imagine will be or is going out to the usual job boards. Please share it around.

What can I tell you about La Crosse Public Library?

LPL is a vibrant resource library for both the La Crosse community, which uses us heavily, and for our system, which spans 90 miles and includes many smaller libraries.  We have a really great DVD and audiobook collection–I have not had nor felt the need for a Netflix account nor an Audible account.  ILL is solid. We have video games, graphic novels for kids/teens/adults, and I’m pretty proud of the chapter book collection.   We have an Archives and an Archivist. It’s a pretty good bet that if I send up a pleading email to the appropriate selector, the book or movie will be ordered (which is why we have the Smurfs and a couple of sock knitting books).

We’re a little tight for collection space, what library isn’t?  That being said, it’s bright and feels spacious.  There’s a huge basement to explore and there are secret storage areas that one feels could also lead to mysterious tunnels that are at the beginning of some adventure novel.  We have the Boat.  I’m sorry to say that I think with my departure the Chocolate Drawer will be no more, but not everything can stay the same.  We have a very nice staff room and it does not have a television in it–so it’s usually quiet!

There are people I have greatly enjoyed working with. I mention the Director, Head of Reference, and Head of Youth Services often enough right?  They have been wonderful sounding boards and always willing to share things from a more experienced perspective or just from the other side of the desk.  I don’t hear the word “no” often but when it comes it is with an explanation.  The transparency they have shared with me about library operations has been invaluable.

I am leaving a good place; my taking a new job is about being ready for different challenges.

What can I tell you about La Crosse?

La Crosse is a beautiful town on the banks of the Mississippi. Yes, it gets really cold in the winter; hot and humid during the summer. We see a temperature swing of about 100 degrees between mid-March and mid-July.  You will need a 3/4 length down coat, wool socks, and a really fabulous hat. That being said, they know how to handle snow removal and I’ve only been unable to get myself to work on two days in three years.

It’s a wonderful family town. We have good schools and a strong community that really focuses on families.  Festivals seem to happen every weekend between May and October, many of them several day events with dancing, music, kids shows, beer tents, ethnic foods and crafts. The public library is good ;).  We have a community college that is overflowing with students, a popular UW campus and a private Catholic university here.  There are two major hospitals. There are a lot of churches and community organizations.  Decent music and theater scene.  We’re a small hub for conferences and get a lot of national tours through on a one-night/one-weekend appearance.

There’s an airport and Amtrak.  You connect either through Minneapolis (Delta) or Chicago-O’Hare (American).  It’s a 3 hour drive to the Twin Cities; 2.5 to Madison; 5 to Chicago. There are five yarn stores in about 45 minute radius, possibly more now…

La Crosse is a good green/eco/outdoors destination. If you like hiking/camping/trails/nature/gardening–definitely consider coming up to La Crosse.  There are many freely available trails (talk to MVC and HPT), there are places to rent snowshoes, and we have Mt. La Crosse skiing. There’s a Food Co-op and plentiful farmers markets. Many people bike though we don’t have bike lanes.  Madame Storyteller reminds me that the region has been known for it’s commitment to organic and locally grown foods since the sixties.

You will need a car. There is a bus system but the timing is sketchy and the downtown drop-off is a bit of a walk from the library.

I’m happy to answer questions, my email is on my About Me page–which I need to update with a non-braces picture and my new work information. 🙂

Dear Vendor….

Dear Vendor,

I received your postcard in the mail today, along with all the other vendor stuff that’s coming to me in the week prior to the ALA Annual Conference. I found myself really annoyed by your clinging to the stereotype of librarians as silence addicts.

To quote: ‘The Spine Label Printer Librarians Are Raving About. (Quietly Of Course)”

Is your marketing department really so shallow that the catchiest thing they could come up with was this patronizing tag line? Are you really so removed from libraries that you think libraries (particularly public) are quiet places?

I will remember your name,  yes, but I won’t be coming to your booth at ALA. If you’re still stuck in the stereotype, how am I to believe you’re connected to what I’m doing today?


Addressing the Librarian Age Gap

Andy has a provocative post looking at the numbers in libraries and where ages of the profession are trending.

He asks the question of what we think is causing the age gap.

I think it’s somewhat propagated by two things: by librarians primarily recruiting people into the profession who are closer to their own age and the expectations of what our future coworkers will bring to the table from their work in other professions.

Librarians and libraries have self-promotion issues that we’re struggling mightily against–particularly in the current climate of budget cuts/layoffs/closures/etc.  We may know we’re doing cool things but we’re insular and primarily talk to ourselves and about ourselves. We have our own conferences, our own professional networks, and the navel gazing can become exhausting.  Dorothea pointed out on the Book of Trogool that we’re hiding in the comfortable space of library conferences, publications, and desks and not showing relevance to professions we’re trying to serve. One of the side effects of that is adults in other professions don’t see and know what we’re doing and so aren’t promoting us as an interesting profession choice to their children.

Add to that our stereotypical reputation of being aging pruney spinsters, usually disciplinarian, and underpaid without the “making a difference” reputation that young adults perceive in something like education or social work and we’re up against an unappealing wall.  Future librarians have to come to us, break into our inside-joke-riddled inner circles, and what outreach we are doing seems to be to people who are like us–in looks, in mindset and in age. We bring the already faithful into the fold instead of actively creating the idea of this being a valuable and cool future for people just starting out.* There are young scientist, author, engineer, etc programs, yet at present I can’t see a young librarians program really getting off the ground. Maybe someone will prove me wrong.

Some libraries will step up and push their single teen/children’s librarian, hipster adult librarian, etc to the front and say “But we have HER!” Right. Her**. Singular. I’m the youngest professional in my library by nearly a decade and let me state: one young person in your building does not create a work place culture that appeals to young professionals. Because young adults are graduating from LIS programs in small numbers, young librarians are scattered incredibly thinly–doled out as new blood among branches of a major library system or singular creatures in a smaller library, or headed across country to find that elusive first job.

What internally or public facing do we do to encourage or appeal to young adults? I see conference programs regularly about how to get multiple generations to understand their differences, but the hiring reality doesn’t seem to be so inter-generational.  Instead the young ones are the exceptions to the rule, and if hired, still flung at the web/computer problems whether they like them or not, expected to pick up extra time because coworkers plead family responsibilities or have endless weeks of vacation, or anticipated to pick up extra responsibilities simply because of their youth. Couple that with the pervasive “we’ve always done it that way” attitude that still runs rampant in many libraries and wonder how exciting you would have found it at twenty-two.

In slides posted from a recent presentation, Jenica Rogers talked about the fact that she’s considered old by the college students at her library (slide 18), despite being a mere 33–quite a youthful age in libraries. I have had my Master’s Degree for five years already and I’m still shy of thirty. I can speak first hand to running into librarians who dismissed me as not worth talking to or not worth hiring because of my age. I’ve been written off as one of those upstart kids demanding older people retire, despite never having said that. Can I prove reverse discrimination? Of course not.  But I’m competing with people who have equal experience in the field and a decade in another profession that they can show as having parallels to library work. The perception I have been given is that it is not enough to have wanted to become a librarian first.

And that leads me to my second point:

We don’t create a culture for young adult librarians because, when we hire new people, I think we expect them to bring their other experiences to round out what it is they are doing in libraries. LIS programs are supposed to be there to teach us how to find and evaluate information and be excellent generalists. But the reality for job seekers is that you’re also strongly preferred to have multiple years of  outside experience (extra bonus for management experience) and/or an extra degree in the humanities, in medicine, in education, in business, in a subject area that will make you seem “legitimate” to your patrons. I’m certainly not against more education, continued learning, specialized librarians bringing what you already know or other things that you’re interested in. Not by any means. But if those are the entry hurdles that must be leaped to join the profession, is there even any wonder that anyone under thirty and considering their first profession is skeptical of libraries?

So what happens? Students who might be interested in library careers are looked at askance by their peers, who see them going into a profession that keeps loudly proclaiming itself dead and dying.*** They may instead go out to other careers, get their student loans pared down and then put themselves through two-three more years of a LIS program to incur more debt and graduate to face a stiffly competitive job market for, primarily, management positions. To read the job boards and the listservs, libraries seem to be bleeding directors and department heads. While many of us have, will, do and are striving to be good managers and while library management has it’s own black eye, it’s another area where you need experience to get the job, need the job to get the experience–and young adults often have neither.

I am a blatant exception to age norms, having started my LIS program before my 21st birthday. It’s the career I wanted, not my second choice, not what I whittled down to after burning out or decided I didn’t like my first choice. When I started library school there were four of us in our 20s, I the baby by about four years. We headed into four very different branches of library science: one to law, one to Ivy League, one to archives, and I’ve worked in two public libraries. Then we were “the kids” together. Post graduation we’ve spread across multiple states. Of the four of us, the one with pre-LIS management experience got a job the fastest, though last I heard said librarian was looking to get out of libraries.

I’m not against working with multiple generations. I’ve done it in every job I’ve worked in and expect to for the rest of my life.  I’ve certainly benefited from those who have done this before me and with whom I’ve had the opportunity to talk and work and I expect to benefit from people coming to the profession after me. I’m not against recruiting people into libraries as their second career. We see a lot of really dedicated librarians come to the profession, ready to advocate because they do see a point and a do see a purpose. And I do presently work in a system where we do have a number of people who did do undergrad straight to LIS program.

But one of the ways libraries need to show their relevance is to demonstrate that we’re not solely internally focused, and that it can be and should be a first career choice for the enthusiastic undergrads.  Now then, off to research acquiring a Hollywood lobbyist.

*My library friend Eric Sizemore says we need to lobby Hollywood to get a better reputation of librarians out there. He’s got a point.

**Mostly they are women, men are fewer and farther between.

***Oooh–sign me up! Oh wait…did that already :-p

Wee Reads: Week One

One of the things I’ve had parents ask for was something for children who are emerging readers. As I see it, it is not enough to hit the pre-literacy, we really need library programs and services to capture those kids who are just tackling reading on their own. English isn’t an easy language to learn or to read. It’s a mix of rules and exceptions, phonics and sight words, sounding it out and “why do you pronounce it that way?”

So this spring, with Madame Storyteller’s blessing, I put out the idea of an older kid’s evening storytime. I planned for 12 kids and hoped to at least half fill it. The response was gratifying–we closed out the “waiting list” at 16 (NO MORE, I announced). The children are between 4-7, with the majority 6-7. Little siblings, though not completely forbidden, are really strongly discouraged.    

For three weeks the youth services aides tackled creating picture boxes for me. I’d picked up 20 8x8x8 boxes a few months ago and I raided the never ending stash of donated National Geographic Magazines. I told the aides I wanted the boxes covered with pictures on all sides.They did a beautiful job. 

There are 20 different brightly covered boxes.

Starting 15 minutes before storytime (now that I’ve told them about it) and through the first five minutes of “actual storytime”…I invited the kids to grab a box and tell their grown ups a story about the pictures they saw. The kids engaged very quickly with it, as did the parents. I think over time it will go even more smoothly as they come up with wild and crazy stories based on tree frogs, pyramids, buildings, and wild cats.  

We did a hello song.  Always a good way to draw focus.

Then, I got to read them a book I’d never be able to read to my 3 year olds (Wednesday starts my regular Pre-school storytime too):

The Book That Eats People
by John Perry

It’s a lot longer than my usual pre-school books, but this crew can handle it.  And while the dark and sinister is giggle worthy, rather than nightmarish. It’s a phenomenal read aloud. 

Then I pointed out a whole slew of Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books that I’d brought in for the kids to grab. Often parents are looking for “the good easy readers” and I have the chance here to highlight authors and bring in some classics.

For tonight’s selection, I read:

I Will Surprise My Friend!
by Mo Willems

I don’t think I could ever live up to the reading I’ve seen the author do of Pigs Make Me Sneeze but the kids, fortunately, are not judging my reading against his. 

And this is a separation storytime, which most of the parents have been pretty excited about (“Ten minutes to go look at adult books all by myself? Really? Sign me up!!”).  So after those two books I shooed the parents out of the room. We only had a little anxiety about staying in the room with a book that eats people. I put my chair on top of it so it wouldn’t eat anyone.  (We counted 3 times to make sure the book hadn’t eaten anyone.)  

During this ten minutes I’m going to do a short activity and then read to the kids from a chapter book. I’m staying away from crafts and snacks, though not entirely ruling either out either. This week’s activity was ribbon dancing (ribbons taped to straws) and we started Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka. I only had time to get through one chapter, but that’s okay.  What was important was that they listened–clustered around and nearly right on top of me.

We finished by scooping up carpet squares and grabbing Mo Willems books and then our Read to Rover program followed hard on the heels of the storytime. Several of the kids headed out to the children’s area to wait their turn to read aloud to a dog, and I saw one boy painstakingly reading aloud an Elephant and Piggie book.

Can’t wait to see how next week goes!

There’s Got to Be More to Youth Services….

Madame Storyteller and I were recently in a discussion about continuing education, particularly as it related to youth services. This was part of a larger discussion with coworkers and someone from our system about what is needed and can be provided in terms of local continuing ed. It allowed/caused me to raise a point that I see as a major issue in youth services.

Essentially the professional literature, classes, continuing education, and conference presentations we’re seeing can be boiled down to three categories:

1) Preschool Storytime and Early Literacy
2) Summer Reading Program (See link for Madame Storyteller’s wisdom on this)
3) Teens and Gaming

I’m not trying to devalue any of these. They are all important aspects of what we’re doing, service we’re providing, youth we’re reaching.

But it also means there are huge gaping holes that are going by the wayside. Broad sweeping statement, no? Let me point out some issues I’m seeing–keeping in mind that these are not one-size-fits-all at your public library.

What I’d like to see
addressed by continuing ed, conference sessions, etc.:

1) Our public library “children’s” websites are primarily for adults.

  • Adult librarians are writing for adult parents with the assumption that that’s who will be visiting the website. They will but parents can navigate through something intended for kids. If we used that logic, we wouldn’t decorate our children’s spaces in bright colors, with low shelves and seats, child friendly signage, and puzzles.
  • Kids are incredibly perceptive and recognize something intended for them isn’t really written for them or is written in that condescending cutesy “look at me writing for kids” tone. They’ll see, they’ll leave, and won’t come back.

2) We aren’t programming for emerging readers.

  • I know, they’re all in daycare, preschool, K4–but I have had multiple parents ask me for something to keep those early readers going. When I asked one of the professional lists I’m on if anyone else was doing emerging literacy (as opposed to pre or early) storytimes, I was met with a resounding “not here.” I felt like the little red hen…
  • We make an enormous push for pre-literacy and early literacy and then we drop off at that pinnacle moment when the child is finally starting to read. *headdesk*

3) There is a gap of about ten years between leaving storytime and becoming a teen–hundreds of educational milestones, thousands of great books–and we’re missing out on it.

  • But the elementary students have school media specialists: I hear the cry. I’m not disparaging those working in schools: not the work they do, not the value of their work, not the difficulty of it in this economy and the current test-prep focused educational mindset. I’m disparaging public librarians who are resting on the laurels earned by SMS hard work. And let’s be realistic: increasingly children don’t have a SMS to turn to at school.
  • How much time are those school media specialists still allowed with the kids and what do they have to get through in that time? One of my regular moms is a middle school English teacher and she was telling me about working with her SMS to get the kids to create indexes to meet a state standard. The year I was at a public elementary school with a library we spent perhaps 20 minutes a week there. In junior high and high school I was allowed in the library on special research visits only. The libraries were closed at lunch and before and after school. The only extended period I spent in a school library was during a six week session my senior year that I was excused from a class for an independent study. In that six weeks, I can count on one hand (possibly on one or two fingers) the number of times the librarian did anything other than ignore me.
  • Private schools may or may not have a school media specialist or even a library. They eliminated the one in an “elite” Massachusetts school last year.
  • There are an increasing number of students, I think, being home-schooled or attending an online school.
  • Kids need exposure to books and resources outside of a classroom/school setting. Forcing their only association with reading and information seeking to be school work makes it a non-fun activity immediately.
  • Public librarians have a lot more programming freedom, depending on budget. I know everyone is strapped for cash, but generally public libraries aren’t restricted by curriculum too.

4) Teen librarians are being expected to pick up the slack where youth services are failing in outreach and keeping young readers engaged.

  • There. I said it. I think there is a failure on the part of many working in youth services, presenting at conferences, teaching new librarians, and leading continuing education to focus on actively recruiting, working with, and reaching out to elementary students. Contrastingly there is a strong expectation that teen librarians will “get the teens back in the library.” Rather than giving our teen librarians a solid base to start from, we’re requiring them to try to appeal to tweens and teens mostly ignored since they left preschool storytime.

What I think we need?

1) Children’s library websites written for kids ages 6-12. As much as possible, we should get feedback from those kids as to if the site is helpful and where we can, we should let them be a part of it. We, the adults writing the site, need to remember the different voice and vocabulary we use with kids, certainly not talking down to them but changing the tone from how we might speak to their parents. Let’s convene a panel and talk about what kind of language works best on a truly kid-focused website or a have an afternoon writing workshop on blogging for kids.

2) Even if we’re not seeing the rate of return that we get for the two year old storytime, it’s no reason to slack on helping early readers. If not regular programming, occasional. If not active programming, passive. Would it be that hard to introduce word cards into the room and encourage parents to work with their kids on sight words while they are at the library? Could we gather and figure out how to grow storytimes where the kids talk back in complete sentences?

3) Let’s increase the focus on elementary students at our conferences. Let’s have sessions on helping parents see how important continued library visits are as their children become increasingly overscheduled. Let us convene panels on the best non-fiction series that are coming out or where to find foreign language materials. Who will lead the forums on how best to explode things in your library without your maintenance crew or director having a coronary (**ahem** Madame Storyteller and Our Lady of Programming, I’m looking at you /**ahem**)? Rather than talk about summer reading, let’s have sessions on year round reading; how to overcome the September-back-to-school slump; best books for homeschoolers; and how to pair with your school media specialist and elementary school teachers rather than to be independent of him/her.*

4) Our professional magazine covers can be devoted to something other than teens and gaming in libraries. Really.

5) You already know I think age parameters are not evil. And I know this isn’t always an option. I worked at CPL and had to deal with the 9 year old who had to babysit her 6 year old twin cousins and 3 year old brother; I did “storytime” for 75 children between the ages of 1 and 7 and all of the older siblings who tagged along. But let’s find, create, and share programs that we can’t scale down or force to become “family” programs where the elementary students are relegated to helping the toddlers. Something other than book groups.

6) Adult Services needs to step up too. Families as a whole need to see the value in libraries. If the parents don’t see reason/need/value, it’s hard to get them to come or to bring their children. They need to see how libraries can help them grow too. But that could be a whole different blog post.

Doing it Right

I was recently pleased to see that ALSC seems somewhat aware of this issue. I got their winter online courses and the majority are focused on elementary age children. So I’m not the only one thinking this. And there are many librarians who are stepping up, reaching out, and scoffing at my list. Are you presenting, teaching, and writing?

Wow…you made it this far. Okay. So prove me wrong, would you? Email me your fabulous children’s websites, your amazing articles, and your programming lists that show tons of focus on elementary students and emerging readers. I know Abby has some strong kids reading groups–who else is out there? Let me shine the spotlight (okay, fine, the flashlight) on what you’re doing so others see.

And kill the summer library program panels.

*Alright, pipe dream. But hey–wouldn’t it be nice if we could get to those elementary teachers BEFORE they assign everyone to read the same two books?