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.