PLA, day one: You are only one energy stream

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Elizabeth Gilbert, photo credit Twitter user @brendageeker

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.”

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ECRR-logo-4CAfter 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.).

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A slide from Too Small to Fail’s presentation: “Let’s Talk Books”

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.

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A slide from “Push Comes to Shove”

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?).

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Nametags as icebreakers

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…”

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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.

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And that was my first full day of PLA! Stay tuned for more.

 

 

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PLA Conference 2018: Imagine the Possibilities

IMG_20180321_160127Despite “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).

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Adult fiction and nonfiction

 

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YA and children’s

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.”

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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.

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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.

IMG_20180322_203438Throughout 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!

Still here

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?