It’s almost time for the mid-year wrap-up of books I’ve read and liked best so far this year. There’s still plenty of June left, but I’m preparing for a book talk later this month, so it seemed like a good time to go over the past five months of reading in my LibraryThing catalog. This isn’t BuzzFeed so I won’t be doing a “Top [odd number] Books You MUST Read RIGHT THIS SECOND” style of list, but I have separated them by category. As always, these are books I’ve read in this time frame; some are recently published, but others are older.
There are a lot of picture books, because we read a lot of picture books (and, at about 32 pages each, you can read many more of those – even with repetition – in the same amount of time it takes to read an adult book). So we’ll start there, and if you have no interest in picture books, then skip ahead!
Picture Books Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi (illus. Laurel Molk) The Way I Feel by Janan Cain A Different Pond by Bao Phi (illus. Thi Bui) Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins (illus. Paul O. Zelinsky) Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue (illus. Pamela Zagarenski) Flyaway Katie by Polly Dunbar The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman 88 Instruments by Chris Barton More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams Perfect Square by Michael Hall Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t) by Barbara Bottner Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Interestingly, all of these fall under the umbrella of “speculative fiction.” Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon Starlings by Jo Walton Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill (esp. the novella “The Unlicensed Magician”).
Nonfiction Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling by Philip Pullman So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
Cookbooks Dinner by Melissa Clark: lots of good ideas to follow or riff on, all based on the idea of a single dish being a whole meal (though that single dish usually has many components)
Middle Grade & Young Adult Stella by Starlight and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper The Marvels by Brian Selznick The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille P. DeAngelis Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson & Emily Carroll (graphic novel) The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
And this batch of novels, each of which is satisfying if you’re looking for contemporary realistic fiction with some romance and diversity: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman; The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; Puddin‘ by Julie Murphy; You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Looking ahead to the second half of the year, I’m excited to read new novels by Kate Atkinson (Transcription), Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers), Angie Thomas (On the Come Up), Hank Green (An Absolutely Remarkable Thing), and Therese Anne Fowler (A Well-Behaved Woman). Looking back at a to-read list from November 2017, there are still a few titles there I haven’t gotten to, and more coming out all the time….What books are you looking forward to reading?
The Massachusetts Library Association conference was in Framingham this year; I followed along on Twitter (#masslib18) for the first two days, and attended (and presented) on the third and final day.
It seems that the opening keynote by Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White, was extremely well received. For those who missed it, she has a TEDx Talk here.
The first session I attended on Wednesday morning was Co-Creating Library/Social Services Partnerships: A Statewide Collaboration, presented by Michelle Eberle of MLS, Joe Vallely from the MA Department of Mental Health, and Shelley Quezada from MBLC. Michelle showed data that a majority of libraries are interested in partnering with social workers, but only 30% already do, to manage issues like homelessness, mental health, substance abuse, and help for immigrants. Library workers are interested in partnering with social workers – perhaps even students of social work – and in receiving staff training such as mental health first aid. MLS has a LibGuide for “Responding to the Social Services Needs of Our Library Communities.“
Next, Joe told the room about the outreach and engagement teams serving over 1600 individuals within Massachusetts. They have had a few trainings at different libraries to introduce themselves (“what we do”) and look for ways to collaborate. “We have a common mission,” which gives us the opportunity to collaborate to assist people in need. “You provide a safe, warm place where many individuals, who are very fragile, go.” Many are clients or potential clients – how can we begin to assist? The organization Eliot was also mentioned, a part of PATH (the federal Project for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness).
Shelley spoke next, telling the audience about available LSTA grants and how MBLC can help with the grant process. Before applying for a grant, she said, there are a number of questions to ask, including: Who are your best community partners? How do you identify them? What is the overarching goal for your library to achieve? What resources do you need (staff, materials, training, equipment, publicity, space, etc.)?
Shelley reeled off a list of additional resources, including: Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership, Mass Legal Help, the Opioid Overdose Prevention project of Mass.gov, and Mass 211. Audience participants added Pine Street and Rosie’s Place. Audience members also spoke up to say that “Even with a social worker on staff, there are overwhelming needs”; staff training is still necessary for trauma-informed care, mindfulness, etc., and a series of trainings is better than a one-time session (grant funding can help with this!). One person also spoke about enforcing library policies apologetically, but “It’s okay to have rules. Rules keep people safe.”
The need for social services for a variety of often related issues (mental health, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence) is receiving more attention recently due to the movie The Public (trailer), which writer/director/actor Emilio Estevez said was inspired partly by an article by Chip Ward (I’m guessing this one: “How the Public Library Became Heartbreak Hotel,” 2007).
For the next morning session, I chose Charlie Grosholz’s interactive session on “The Role of Fantasy in the Library.” This was a small, hands-on session in which Charlie led participants through three exercises: world building, character creation, and role play. But first, a definition: What is fantasy? It is the “improbable, impossible…held down by rules.” (As any reader of fantasy knows, even magic has rules; otherwise it would be surrealism.) Any of these three exercises would be a great prompt for a creative writing workshop, but they could be used in a variety of other programs too, or to re-envision the library itself. For example…
Around Halloween time, a library in a walkable area might host a program starting with a zombie attack scenario: Where in town are the safest places, the most valuable resources?
Character creation can be used to develop personas; staff can collaborate to build personas based on library “characters,” an exercise that can build empathy.
Role play allows people to build social skills, public speaking skills, empathy, and conflict resolution skills. Charlie ran a successful murder mystery party for teens, complete with costumes, music, artifacts, and Shirley Temples (there was a speakeasy theme). Role play can also be used for emergency preparedness drills, or even in ELL conversation groups.
If your library has (or is thinking of starting) a Library of Things collection, acquire some board games; you can build programming around each new game as you introduce it, and bring fans of the games together.
The last program of the morning was a general session, “Librarians on the Front Line: Protecting Free Speech,” presented by Steve Woolfolk of the Kansas City Public Library. Woolfolk’s name may be familiar to those in the library world; he was arrested during a program at his library for defending a patron’s right to speak. Though the case seemed incredibly clear-cut (for an overview, see the American Libraries article from October 2016), it dragged on until he was ultimately cleared. The incident certainly didn’t shake his dedication to free speech and the free exchange of ideas; when an audience member asked if it had had a chilling effect on programming at KCPL, Steve replied, “Nope! If anything, we’re getting more controversial.”
The First Amendment, he said, is about more than just being able to say what you want; “you have a right to express your ideas, and I have the right to be exposed to your ideas.” He pointed out that the government does not lead on issues, the public does – and librarians are already “committed to opening people’s minds.” He asked, why can’t we do with ideas what we do with books? Recommend something outside their comfort zone. “Nobody’s obligated to agree with the ideas they hear…but we have to make an effort to understand why people believe the things that they do.”
Steve’s talk was very well received, and I wasn’t the only one taking photos of his slides to post to Twitter.
After a break for lunch, it was time for “Readers’ Advisory in the Age of Uncertainty,” which I presented along with Kevin O’Kelly from Somerville Public Library and Louise Goldstein from Waltham Public Library. We each took a different angle on the topic: Louise talked about the “Initiating Inspiration” book group at the Waltham library, in partnership with the Agape Spiritual Community. The group met five times in its first year, discussing five different titles. Kevin talked about bibliotherapy, from the little-known Sadie Petersen Delaney (“Our Lady of Bibliotherapy”) to author Alain de Boton’s “School of Life” to the Changing Lives Through Literature program. And I talked about readers’ advisory at the reference desk, whether people are looking for escapism or a deeper understanding of current topics (or – through speculative literature – both!). My handout with book lists is here.
The closing keynote session featured Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale and author of (most recently) On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017) and The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America (2018). The talk was entitled “The New Authoritarianism: Where It Comes From and What Readers and Citizens Can Do About It,” and was essentially a summary of On Tyranny. If you missed the talk, read the book – it’s only 126 pages.
Tim Wu is a lawyer who clerked for a Supreme Court justice, worked at a Silicon Valley startup, then moved into academia; he’s now a professor at Columbia and a columnist for the New York Times. But if his name rings a bell for you, it’s probably because he coined the term “Net[work] Neutrality” in 2003.
The fundamental idea of Net Neutrality, said Wu, is that the user should decide what the internet is. The carrier (Internet Service Provider, or ISP) shouldn’t get in the way. ISPs should be “a medium in the true sense of the word medium, respecting the wishes of those on each side.” They should be “faithful agents” providing reliable service, not blocking, discriminating, or censoring.
The federal government adopted Net Neutrality as a rule under the Bush administration, but the Trump administration killed it (though it’s likely to return under the next administration). Why were they focused on that? “Free flows of information can be very threatening to those who wish to consolidate their power. The censorial instinct remains very strong.”
The next issue threatening our democracy, said Wu, is the “crisis of attention.” (His newest book is called The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads.) “Our attention has become our scarcest and most valuable resource…[and] when you have a purely attention-based business model, the competition runs to the bottom. It’s not who can be the most accurate, it’s who can capture attention.”
As Cory Doctorow says, if you’re not paying for the product, you ARE the product. Wu put it differently, as he described an 1830s New York newspaper publisher’s idea to re-conceive the audience as a product to sell to advertisers. The advertising model, he said, is “the harvesting and resale of human attention.” And this is the “original sin” of nearly all of the Internet’s giants: they “embraced advertising as their only business model and tied themselves business to attention harvesting.” (Wikipedia, as a recent New York Magazine article pointed out, is an exception.) This, despite Google founders’ early recognition that “advertising-supported search engine will always be biased, always serving two masters (users and advertisers) and cannot be expected to produce reliable results.”
The dark consequences of this setup are clear, with new examples in the news every day (most recently, the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal). Sites and platforms based on an advertising model are driven to capture people’s time and attention, and to learn more about them in order to offer targeted ads – or to manipulate them.
“We’re at a moment in our democracy…information flow has changed how this country is governed.” What can be done? What should be done? Wu asked. Whose responsibility is it, who are the trustees of our time? He argued, “The largest information intermediaries of our time…must start operating with a true sense of fiduciary public duty or face regulatory consequences….The goal of aiming for truth is something that the tech industry needs to learn right now. The time has come.”
For the final two programs of the day, I indulged my YA-loving side. First was “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” presented by Kayla Marie Figard of San Mateo County Libraries and Elizabeth “Biz” Tanner of the County of Los Angeles Public Library. Their “How to Adult” programs teach “life hacks,” i.e. necessary life skills like healthy cooking, public speaking, car maintenance, etiquette, time management, organization, stress management, mindfulness, finding a first apartment, money management, self-defense, first aid, laundry (and sewing and mending), and the list goes on!
The presenters provided many short activities (tongue twisters for public speaking; a “multitasking is a myth” task) and a very handy program planning worksheet (see below). Some of their workshops for teens were single events, while others were a series. Nearly all included food, a surefire way to boost attendance at any program. Librarians ran some workshops, while others were conducted by outside presenters. With some research, you can find willing partners, like county/city/town departments, credit unions, and local businesses; some presenters may come for free, others may charge a fee.
To decide on the topic(s), ask teens what they want to know! Think about your own young adult life – what did you wish you had known, and what surprised you? Talk to teachers at local high schools – they will know what school does(n’t) offer and where students’ knowledge gaps are.
Along with planning and running the programs, the presenters discussed evaluation and measuring outcomes – required for grant-funded programs, but good for every program. They suggested: (1) determine anticipated outcomes, (2) ask: do the programs teach teens something? Do they feel better prepared for adulthood? (3) conduct pre- and post-program surveys to assess growth.
This was an excellent program: the presenters were good speakers, and came prepared not just with their slides, but with copies of their worksheets, planning documents, examples and activities from their workshops. A+!
For the very last PLA program, I went to the YA Crossover, or “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books that Work for Teens and Adults.” Despite the program’s title, it didn’t really focus on the “crossover” aspect so much as the teen aspect, except in the sense that some of the audience had read some of the authors’ books as young adults, and still loved them.
Luanne Toth of School Library Journal moderated the panel of four authors:Ally Carter, Carolyn Mackler, Gayle Forman, and Ashley Woodfolk. Woodfolk is a debut author (The Beauty That Remains), and the other three are further into their careers. Mackler’s most recent book, The Universe is Expanding and So Am I, is a sequel to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things (a Printz honor book in 2004).
Here are a few quotes and paraphrases from the panel:
“I write about young people but I don’t write young stories” -Gayle Forman
“Young people are given license to feel your feelings.” There’s this idea that as you age you don’t feel things as strongly/intensely. You do have to moderate your feelings but you do have them. Satisfying as a writer and a reader. -Gayle Forman
“A lot of what happens in high school shapes your adult life….And you don’t really get it until you get older.” YA writing is cathartic because it helps revisit and dissect what happened & what you felt. -Ashley Woodfolk
“The world would be a lot better if we all read more broadly and more representatively.” -Ally Carter
“Libraries are our outposts in every corner of the country” (some places don’t have bookstores or people can’t afford books) -Ally Carter
“Encourage people to read everything…a kid might want to read something you won’t expect they want to read. Find out what a kid wants/needs” – Ashley Woodfolk
“Every book is a mirror. No matter how different somebody is from you, there is still an emotional through-line.” -Gayle Forman
And that is a wrap! See all PLA 2018 posts here. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go to this conference, and I think I made the most of it, attending a variety of sessions and programs. I do wish I had a Time-Turner and could have been to even more. If you were at PLA, or followed along via a great blog or Twitter thread, please share your favorite links!
My first event on Friday was another stop at the PLA Pavilion for “Early Literacy Enhanced Storytimes: Intentionality is the Key” with Saroj Ghoting, an early childhood literacy consultant (earlylit.net). Presenters packed a lot into these 20-minute sessions; Ghoting addressed the challenge of keeping adults engaged during children’s storytimes, and provided several specific examples* to make storytimes more interactive. She also noted the different types of interaction during a storytime: librarian-children, librarian-adults, children-adults, and adults-adults. Adults value time with and advice from each other, and if they’re engaged during stortytime, they’re more likely to do the same activities with kids at home. Adult-child interaction also supports rich language development for children.
*Examples included books that lent themselves to two call-and-response parts, like Too Much Noise (kids make animal sounds, adults say “too noisy!”),The Cow Loves Cookies(adults say “but the cow loves…” and kids say “cookies!”), and Jump, Frog, Jump (adults say “how did the frog get away?” and kids say “jump frog jump!”).
After the “Enhanced Storytimes” session, I went over to the Children’s Book Buzz on the other side of the exhibit hall to hear about more upcoming children’s and teen titles, but left in time to get to the first morning program, “The Path to U.S. Citizenship Can Start at Public Libraries.” Laura Patching from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) spoke first, giving a short history of the service and talking about its work in and with libraries: sending community relations officers to do naturalization workshops, including mock interviews; setting up “Citizenship Corners” or “New Americans Corners”; and the “Bridges to Citizenship” program. Community relations officers will visit any library; find your local one by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, Tiffany Nardella and Nate Eddy from the Free Library of Philadelphia (“Start here. Go anywhere”) spoke about their work welcoming new Americans in the library, in partnership with USCIS and with other partners, like the Office of Adult Education and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians. And Michelle Gordon of the Fresno County Public Library in California said that naturalization ceremonies in libraries are “the best thing that I do,” and “If you don’t work with USCIS yet, do it! It’s worth it.” She suggested inviting local representatives to these ceremonies – new citizens are new voters! Elected officials might come or not, but it’s nice to invite them.
After the citizenship program, I followed a tweet from @NYPLRecommends and chatted with the hosts of the New York Public Library’s “The Librarian Is In” podcast, Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius, who were delightful. I rarely listen to podcasts, but I am sure I would enjoy theirs.
I ate my lunch sitting on the floor and listening to the Adult Book Buzz, and then it was time for the afternoon programs. The first one I attended was “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral’: Supporting Civic Engagement & Information in the Library,” presented by Amy Holcomb, Amy Koester, and Mimosa Shah, an enthusiastic team from Skokie, IL. As the title of their program indicated, they refuted the idea that libraries are neutral: “If your library adheres to the Library Bill of Rights, you are not neutral.” Being neutral, however, is not the same as being nonpartisan; the library can have a stance (being in favor of access to good information) without taking a political position.
The Skokie Public Library started a Civic Lab to promote and facilitate citizen engagement by increasing awareness of issues, facilitating conversation, and providing access to quality information. They hoped to achieve several goals: to have patrons participate, not just passively consume; to offer more active, participatory experiences; and to have patrons engage with information so they feel confident and can make decisions based on that information. “We don’t want to get them to a particular point of view, we want them to have a point of view. If you have bad information, whoever gave you that information is making up your mind for you.”
The Civic Lab is a pop-up event in the library four times a month, addressing topics planned in advance as well as those that are timely and topical . Library staff at the pop-up station facilitate discussion between patrons, and each pop-up has a banner, display crates, media, books, and an activity. They suggest having “multiple access points [e.g. reading, listening, viewing]….There isn’t a right way to engage, it’s whatever is comfortable for the patron.”
Skokie also offers news discussion groups, which are scheduled events about quality news sources and how to navigate through the many news outlets. These cover news literacy in general as well as specific topics. They employ the reflective listening model for discussion.
There were also some good strategies for engaging kids and teens, from gamification (activities and questions that are more like trivia than quizzes) to clever program titles (“The media wants your brains” for teens). To get adults – patrons and staff alike – engaged, have them bring experiences from their own lives and family histories; “help people understand how much they can learn from each other.”
“The library is a place for difficult discourse.”
Programs like these can be equally inspiring and intimidating; you might want to do something similar in your library, but you’re already doing many other programs and displays. “Don’t add ‘civic engagement’ [on top of] everything you’re already doing,” the Skokie team suggested; rather, “Apply a civic engagement lens to what you’re already doing….Do a civic engagement audit of what you already offer.”
During the Q&A after the panel, someone asked, “How do you keep it to a discussion and not regurgitation of strongly entrenched opinions?” The Civic Lab team advised, “As a facilitator, restate what they’re saying and then ask to hear from someone else.” You can say, “You obviously believe this very strongly. How did you come to hold that belief, what are your sources? Tell me more, where can I find more information?” They said, “Opinions are fine, we want people to have informed opinions based on facts.”
“We want people to have informed opinions based on facts.”
For the final program of the day, I went to “The Information Needs of Citizens,” presented by Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center. Lee Rainie is a regular at library conferences; he is an excellent speaker, with excellent data which, it just so happens, supports the value of libraries. Although the country is experiencing “a crisis of truth, a crisis of trust, a crisis of democracy,” there are a few institutions and professionals that the public still trusts: librarians, teachers, and the military.
It’s no surprise that someone from a “fact tank” still believes that “facts matter.”
“Facts are the atomic unit of truth.”
“Facts drive outcomes for individuals and societies.”
“Facts underlie justice” – they are the cornerstone of democracy.
Facts are democratic. Facts are tied to trust – when trust grows, good things come from that. Trust in a culture binds people together, to overcome vulnerability and uncertainty. Trust cements interdependence.
Librarians, Rainie said, are in the vanguard of people who are going to help us solve these problems. Libraries are a free, open, trusted institution for learning. Research shows that people are glad that libraries are still here and providing access to information, helping bridge the digital divide and navigate the information environment online, and serving people and communities and on issues like net neutrality.
The next library will be built around five new insights:
People seek personal enrichment and entertainment in new ways
People seek knowledge and reference expertise in new ways (reference questions have gone down in number, but up in complexity)
Some groups especially need and want access to technology through trusted institutions (library as tech hub, tech support, wifi)
Learning is a social process, an ongoing process (learning happens in networks)
Where they fit on these continuums (PDF: ALA’s Confronting the Future report) physical/virtual, individual/community focus, collection/creation, archive/portal, everything for everyone/specialized niche
Rainie concluded, “A day spent with librarians is a better day.”
The first event of the day on Thursday was the “Big Ideas” talk with author Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert is a polished speaker, and an inspiring one. Her theme for this talk was about focus. She told the audience about an encounter with a woman she admired when she was in her mid-20s; the woman, an artist, asked her, “What are you willing to give up to have the life you keep pretending you want?” Gilbert learned she needed to say no to things, even things she wanted to do, in order to shine “the spotlight of her attention” on what was most important.
“You are only one energy stream – what are you going to use it for? …The question is one of priorities – knowing what matters to you, and what does not matter to you.” Sometimes it takes a crisis: “A crisis forces a reckoning about who you are and what you care about.” You have to determine your priorities; set boundaries; and the third thing, Gilbert said, is mysticism – the idea that “there’s something going on her beyond what we can see…beyond the rational, empirical, logical.” At this stage in her life, Gilbert said, she is in search of teachers who are relaxed. Everyone is stressed, worried, anxious, so when she meets someone who is relaxed, she wonders how they got to be so at ease, and what she can learn from them. “You cannot be relaxed if you don’t know what matters to you.” Gilbert closed with words familiar to readers of Eat, Pray, Love: “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
After Gilbert’s talk, it was into the exhibit hall to hear a quick presentation on “Every Child Ready to Read: Play in the Library” from librarians from the Carroll County Public Library system in Maryland. Every Child Ready to Read consists of five simple practices that parents, caregivers, and educators can do with young children to increase early literacy skills: talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. Skills developed in play include language, creativity, problem-solving, and social skills. The CCPL librarians described an interaction with two young children, a librarian, and a pop-up toy that illustrated all of these: the librarian helped the children take turns and introduced new vocabulary, while the children figured out how to make the animals pop up and go back down. Storytimes offer an opportunity for structured play as well, like using dry paintbrushes along with I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More, or scarves to blow in the wind with Mouse’s First Spring.
CCPL offers a 12-hour training course for educators on using play across the seven content areas of the curriculum; storytimes, playgroups, and “baby Rembrandt”; puppet theaters and Play and Learn centers in each of their libraries; and Make & Learn programming kits for use in the library and with library partners (e.g. daycares, preschools). Play and Learn centers can be set up in any space relatively inexpensively; remember to reserve one drawer for “Sanitize me!” (items that have gone into kids’ mouths). A final tip from CCPL: When you have the opportunity to renovate or redesign your space, go timeless: avoid typefaces, and try to bring the outside in (trees, trains, etc.).
The morning session I chose also had to do with childhood development and early literacy efforts: Jane Park Woo of Too Small to Fail and Maricela Leon Barrera of the San Francisco Public Library presented “Talking is Teaching: Opportunities for Increasing Early Brain and Language Development.” Too Small To Fail’s goal is to “make small moments big,” and “to promote the importance of early brain and language development and to empower parents with tools to talk, read, and sing with their young children from birth” – work that librarians (“trusted messengers”) are already doing, making the library a perfect partner.
The SFPL already offers storytimes, Play to Learn areas at all locations, ECRR workshops, “Big SF Playdates,” an “Early Literacy Buffet” (for educators), and community partnerships. Their message to parents and caregivers is “Talk to/with your kids! Sing with them! If you’re doing that, you’re on the right track, they’re learning.” This message is generally well received.
After lunch with some other folks from Massachusetts, I went to my first afternoon program, “Push Comes to Shove: Supporting Patrons of Color in Your Institution,” presented by Kristyn Caragher and Tracy Drake of the Chicago Public Library and Aisha Conner-Gaten of Loyola Marymount University.
“You have a lot of power and privilege as an information worker today,” said Conner-Gaten. Ask yourself, “How do I leverage my power to help this person?” Racism lurks in libraries: in policies, one-on-one interactions, and in programming.
White activists: Listen to understand, not respond. Make mistakes, be uncomfortable, apologize, educate yourself.
Ask: Are your policies a barrier? When were they written, why were they implemented, how often are they revisited? When you have to say no, does it make sense? Particular policies to revisit are those around sleeping, food and drink, and identification needed to get a library card.
Librarians are fond of jargon, but many of our abbreviations (e.g. ILL) aren’t necessarily familiar to patrons. “De-mystify and de-class the library” by reducing your use of library jargon, or making sure you explain yourself in interactions where a patron seems confused.
If security or police officers work in your library building, they should be familiar with (and follow!) the library’s policies. Often it is better if a librarian handles the face-to-face interactions with patrons (but leave it to security if the patron is violent). Small changes make a big impact.
Harness community-driven energy and effort, especially with youth. Develop engaging collaborations with students. When looking for partners, check to see if they are coming from within the community or outside it.
For those in a position to hire, hire more diverse staff. Give serious consideration to out-of-state candidates, and advertise in other places than library job boards (like indeed.com) if the position doesn’t require an MLS.
The presenters supplied a handout with framework terminology (oppression, anti-racism, collective liberation, and social justice) and questions for reflection (Who are you? Who is your community? Who do you serve? Who is doing good work right now at your institution? In your community? What are you doing? What are you going to do? Who are your allies/partners? What resources do you need?).
For the final program of the day, I chose to go to “Lost in the Library? Never Again with User-Centered Design,” presented by Bridget Quinn-Carey of Hartford Public Library, Margaret Sullivan of Margaret Sullivan Studio, and Maxine Bleiweis of Maxine Bleiweis and Associates, LLC. The audience was encouraged to use a nametag (see photo at right), though it wasn’t an interactive session.
Quinn-Carey started by defining “design thinking.” Design thinking is: service design, human-centered design, user-centered design, user experience. (See also: http://designthinkingforlibraries.com/.) She talked about eliminating barriers to use, like offering online payment for fines (or getting rid of fines!), having an open holds shelf, eliminating computer sign-ups. Consider physical barriers, service barriers, and language barriers too. Focus on customer-centered services, library trends, community values and needs; foster and cultivate staff and public engagement. Think about your space in a new way: “The library is a place for…” “The children’s room is a place for…”
Sullivan asked, “What kind of community do you want to create? What kind of library do you want to create?” She said to foster learning outcomes, design with empathy and intention: “Empathy is the greatest asset of the public library.” Ask, “Who are we designing this for and why? How will the space support the activities and programs to foster the feelings and outcomes that we want for our community of users?” She advised going on “service safaris” to your favorite “third places” to examine how they achieve the effects you may want to reproduce in the library. Also, ask your patrons what they love about the library already!
For her part, Bleweis talked about the importance of staff buy-in. With current staff, identify the leaders and watch for opportunities. When hiring new staff, restructure the interview process to make it experiential: have them interact with patrons, have them show you or teach you something. Throughout the library, identify the “points of confusion” and put help there. Instead of documenting questions, document interactions. At programs, overstaff them if you can (ha!) and give people roles; talk to early arrivals and follow up if necessary. (It’s much easier to initiate conversations before a program if you aren’t worrying about if the presenter will show up, if the AV will work, the temperature in the room, etc.).
I wasn’t on Twitter as much as I usually am during conferences, and there wasn’t a huge Twitter presence (unless people were using a different hashtag?) but I sent out a few quotes from the sessions I attended, and enjoyed others’ quotes and comments from other sessions, so I’ve included some of those here.
And that was my first full day of PLA! Stay tuned for more.
Despite “winter storm Toby,” PLA went more or less as planned. Over the next week or so, I’ll be condensing and revising my sixteen (16) pages of notes into a more easily readable, digestible format to share here, but for now, here is an outline of my conference activities:
Wednesday: Drove from the Boston area to Philly. Definitely not the worst weather conditions I’ve ever driven in, but bad enough to keep lots of people off the road, so no traffic! Arrived safely and in good time, checked in at the hotel, and went to the convention center to sign in and walk through the exhibit hall. Met some friendly vendors (especially from Charlesbridge and Candlewick), and picked up several Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs).
Thursday: Started bright and early with the morning’s “Big Ideas” talk, with author Elizabeth Gilbert. The exhibit hall opened up after her talk, and I was able to meet a few authors and pick up a few more galleys (Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead!). Then I caught a quick (20-minute) talk at the PLA Pavilion about “Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR): Play in the Library,” and – on the other side of the exhibit hall – caught part of the AAP Children’s Publishers Book Buzz, where we heard about upcoming titles.
For the first program of the day, I chose “Talking is Teaching: Opportunities for Increasing Early Brain and Language Development,” where we heard about a partnership between the San Francisco Public Library and Too Small to Fail. Then I zipped back into the exhibit hall to meet Simon Winchester and pick up his upcoming book, The Perfectionists. Lunch, and then the first afternoon program, “Push Comes to Shove: Supporting Patrons of Color in Your Institution.” At the break between that session and the next, I caught some of the AAP Adult Publishers Book Buzz. Finally – and this was the hardest time slot to choose a program, because so many looked so good – I went to “Lost in the Library? Never Again with User-Centered Design.”
Friday: Another visit to the PLA Pavilion for a quick session on “Early Literacy Enhanced Storytimes: Intentionality is the Key,” then over to sit in on part of the Children’s Book Buzz. (I ran into an old acquaintance from publishing, Juliet Grames, who is now working for SoHo Teen!) The morning program I had planned to go to, “Re-envisioning the Library: Engaging Staff and Building Capacity for Change” with Maureen Sullivan had been cancelled, so I went to “The Path to U.S. Citizenship Can Start at Public Libraries” and learned about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Following a tweet from NYPL Recommends, I went to visit Gwen and Frank to talk about books, and I might have been on a podcast. (Do you listen to NYPL Recommends? Let me know!) They were excellent to talk to (and they were handing out neat “The Librarian Is In” buttons). I grabbed a quick lunch from Reading Terminal, then sat on the floor to listen to some of the Adult Book Buzz before it was time for the afternoon programs: “Refuting the Idea of ‘Neutral’: Supporting Civic Engagement & Information in the Library” and “The Information Needs of Citizens: Where Libraries Fit In,” the latter with Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center.
Saturday:Started the day early with the final “Big Ideas” speaker, Tim Wu, at 8:15. Two more sessions after that – “How to Adult: Teaching Life Skills to Teens” and “AAP Crossover Appeal: Books That Work for Teens and Adults” – and we were packed up and on the road back home.
Throughout the conference, I met library people from all over. I tried to strike up conversations everywhere, and met people from Grand Forks, North Dakota; Peterborough, New Hampshire; The Portland (ME) Public Library; Arkansas; New York (the Brooklyn Public Library and the NYPL); and Calgary, Canada. The Convention Center itself was also great: easy to navigate, pretty temperate (many conference centers are either overheated or like refrigerators), and full of art. And the section of Philly where it’s located is on that lovely, lovely grid, which makes it so easy to get around. Overall, a great conference!
It’s been a little while, but I’m still here. The last week and a half has been difficult because of a tragedy that occurred at the library. In the aftermath, everyone has been incredibly supportive: town officials, library administration, the local community, and the broader library community have all shown care and concern in different ways. Patrons left kind notes in the book drop while the library was closed, many people sent flowers or brought food, and a counselor has led coping groups and met with people individually.
In more pleasant news, I just wrote a long post about my favorite picture books for toddlers. And I just attended a singalong at the Cambridge Public Library for the first time and was inspired to make a song cube as a future storytime tool. (The song cube idea is stolen directly from my friend and colleague LB, a genius children’s librarian if there ever was one.) I actually had more songs that I wanted to include, but a cube only has six sides…I may need to make another one the next time we use up a box of tissues.
Song cube decoded: Turtle for “I had a little turtle, I named him Tiny Tim,” Rocket ship for “Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon,” Spider for “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” Hand for “If you’re happy and you know it,” Teapot for “I’m a little teapot,” and ABC for the alphabet song. All pictures drawn freehand with marker and crayon, except the hand (traced my two-year-old’s hand).
I’m also very excited to be attending PLA for the first time this year. I’ve started combing more closely through the schedule, and realized that there are at least seven sessions that I want to attend in the same time slot on the same day. Where is Hermione’s Time Turner when you need it?
Questions for you, readers: (1) What are your favorite storytime inventions, songs, and books? And, (2) Are you going to PLA? Which sessions are you excited about?