MLA 2019: School libraries, Neutrality, Youth Services

Read about the Keynote and breakout session with Deborah L. Plummer here.

11:45am “Advocacy for Access and Equity to Massachusetts School Libraries,” Greg Pronevitz, James Lonergan, Robin Cicchetti (Concord-Carlisle Regional High School)

In memory of Judi Paradis

Greg Pronevitz (formerly of MLS, currently a consultant) introduced this session off by acknowledging the great impact of Judi Paradis, a school librarian and advocate for school libraries. Judi was instrumental in the formation of the Legislative Special Commission on School Library Services in Massachusetts, which produced the report The Massachusetts School Library Study: Equity and Access for Students in the Commonwealth. “This study is a result of her efforts,” Pronevitz said.

The report concluded that there is a lack of equity in Massachusetts schools. In its long-range action plan to build equity, it suggests hiring someone at DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) to manage school library services; at present, it isn’t even possible to get a complete count of the number of schools that have libraries (let alone librarians, book budgets, and appropriate technology). A possible partnership between DESE and MBLC could conduct a census of school libraries, librarians, and services. School libraries should also be included in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) funding. The report also recommends that the state set regulatory minimum standards, to ensure at least some level of equity and access for students, whether they’re in rural, suburban, or urban districts.

Equity v PrivilegeJames Lonergan from MBLC (Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners) mentioned a number of other possible partnerships and stakeholders, including COSLA, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, EveryLibrary, and MLA. MBLC already supports school libraries through LSTA grants, the Commonwealth Catalog, and access to statewide databases; in fact, schools account for two-thirds of the use of state databases – would DESE consider contributing?

Robin Cicchetti, Head Librarian at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School and one of the authors of the Equity and Access study, spoke about the important takeaways from the school library impact studies:

  • A strong school library program (SLP) leads to higher overall test scores
  • Access to better libraries means higher reading scores
  • School librarians provide much more than access to books
  • High levels of poverty mean little access to books
  • Access to books appears to offset the impact of poverty
  • Economically disadvantaged children benefit at a higher rate

Unlike a classroom teacher, a school librarian can have a relationship with an elementary student for six years (in a K-5 school), getting to know their interests and preferences and helping them find the right books and other resources for them. Because many schools have lost their librarians due to budget cuts, nearly a whole generation of students (and teachers) does not know what a librarian can offer – “And you don’t know what you don’t have.”

More information about the Massachusetts School Library Research Project is located on this LibGuide hosted by Salem State.

EVERY Student Needs A School Library

1:45pm “Neutrality in the Library – A Continuing Conversation,” Laura Saunders and Rachel Williams

Simmons School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) associate professor Laura Saunders and assistant professor Rachel Williams each spoke for several minutes before opening up the conversation to the audience. “Neutrality” has been a hot topic in libraryland over the past year, especially around the Library Bill of Rights as discussed, amended, and un-amended at ALA last summer and last winter. (See Meredith Farkas’ take in American Libraries, “When Values Collide,” November 1, 2018.)

“Neutrality replicates existing oppression. Being true to our professional core values around access, diversity, and social responsibility requires finding ways to make historically marginalized members of our communities feel that they belong in our libraries and are reflected in our collections, staffing, and services.” -Meredith Farkas

Some questions that arose during the session (from the speakers and the audience) included: Are libraries ever really neutral? How do we define “neutral”? What does that mean in practice? What/who are we including/excluding? Our libraries reflect our communities; how do we make sure our libraries reflect everyone in our community? Do all library users feel safe? What voices do we support and amplify?

Are libraries neutral, can we be neutral, should we be neutral? (Remember, a position of neutrality doesn’t necessarily mean an outcome of neutrality.) As information professionals, do we want to promote/defend intellectual freedom when it comes at the cost of social responsibility? What are the impacts of intellectual freedom? Which voices will be limited, which will be amplified? If access to information is a human right, should the education to be able to evaluate information be a human right also (information literacy)?

It was pointed out that freedom of speech is a “negative right” (i.e., “Congress shall pass no law…”). Government cannot get in the way of freedom of speech, but it doesn’t have to promote it either.

The session closed with Saunders’ reference to Dante’s Inferno, in which neutrality was found to be “not just unethical, but damning.”

2:45pm “Youth Services Quick Start for Everyone,” Monica Brennan, Turner Free Library (Randolph, MA)

Brennan brought plenty of energy and enthusiasm to this session, which wasn’t quite what I expected but had an important core point: Identify your “tribe” (or team, or pack), what they need to know, and what you can learn from them. There are a couple “tribes”: one is library staff, especially those who may be working only a few hours a week in the children’s department and may feel especially overwhelmed and underprepared to answer specific questions about levels from kids, parents, teachers, and caregivers. Make sure everyone who works in the children’s department feels comfortable answering those questions, or knows where to find the information. (This might be preparing a binder full of pathfinders, posting the various levels and their grade equivalents and some representative books, or whatever else works for you and your staff.)

Another “tribe” includes those who come into the children’s department and may have knowledge to share with you: parents, teachers, caregivers, coaches, kids, siblings, peers,  librarians. Find out what the schools are using, talk to teachers (especially if they have very specific requirements). People are usually happy to share what they know, what they like, and what they don’t like.

Brennan shared two readers’ advisory tips that I liked: one was simply asking the kid to give a thumbs-up/thumbs-down when you show them or tell them about a book. This saves them from talking if they’re shy, but quickly allows you to gauge their interest and move on. Another strategy involves tiny colored post-it notes, which she sticks on/near books in the stacks so kids can browse without a librarian hovering; if it’s busy, you might use different colors for different kids.

Wipe Clean Workbook Uppercase Alphabet“Everyone deserves to be trained in kid’s services, but not everyone is” – Brennan gave an overview of the areas of the library (fiction/nonfiction, picture books, early readers, chapter books) and the different levels (Lexile, Fountas & Pinnell, DRA). Kids need books at their “level” to learn certain skills and grow as a reader, but can “reach” for books they’re interested in and are motivated to read. She is a big fan of the NoveList K-8 database, which can be a useful tool for those who aren’t as familiar with children’s books.

Brennan is passionate about children’s services and early literacy in particular; to that end, she has developed backpack kits that kids can check out for pre-K, toddlers, and infants. It’s never too early to start reading together; “families that read together achieve together.”

Librarians can “model it”: be open, be cool, be confident, be fun. Encourage a growth mindset with a “Let’s find out together” approach. Remember that “There’s no more important library patron than our youth,” and “The windows and mirrors you have as a kid literally shape the rest of your life.”

Read about Wednesday’s MLA sessions here.

 

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MLA 2019: Active Bystanders, Civic Hub Grants, Little Women, Usability and UX

Wednesday, 9am: #WeToo: Becoming Active Bystanders, Sharon Schiffer of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) 

This was a slightly smaller group, so we all introduced ourselves (including pronouns!) and Schiffer had us discuss the following questions in pairs or small groups: Have you ever felt uncomfortable? What did you do when you felt uncomfortable? Why do you think people do not talk about things that make them uncomfortable? Why should people talk about what makes them uncomfortable? What’s a bystander? What’s an active bystander? When you see a situation, why DON’T you get involved? Why DO you get involved?

Schiffer presented the “Four Ds,” strategies for active bystanders: Direct, Distract, Delegate, Delay:

  • Direct: Direct action can be verbal or physical actions that aim to address and stop the problem behavior.
  • Distract: Distraction will not solve the root of the problem, but can help someone out of an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
  • Delegate: Delegation is a way to get others involved interrupting in problem behaviors
  • Delay: It’s never too late to take action. Delay action until you have a better understanding of the situation. Check in with someone after the fact.

10:15am: “How I Became A Warrior Mother,” Marianne Leone

Leone read a little from one of her books, Ma Speaks Up, and spoke about raising her son Jesse, and fighting for him to be included in public school classrooms. Their story reminded me very much of two novels: Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper (middle grade) and Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern (YA).

11:20am: A Force for Good: Bridging Civic Divide Through Discussion, presented by MBLC Consultant Shelley Quezada, Desiree Smelcer of South Hadley Public Library, Molly Moss of Forbes Library (Northampton), and Jessica FitzHanso of Chelmsford Public Library

The three libraries represented at this panel had all received the Civic Hub grant through the MBLC. The aim of the grant was “to strengthen the role libraries play in promoting civic engagement, providing impartial, trusted information on a variety of issues as well and providing a neutral space for the public to participate in community conversations.” Each library took a different approach to programming, collection development, and promotion; the librarians showed a knowledge of what worked in their communities (book groups in Chelmsford, lecture series in South Hadley), and had some surprises as well.

Smelcer spoke about a successful lecture series, skillfully moderated by a local debate coach. She said that by creating a safe space for people to ask questions and not get attacked for their views, more people began to open up. (“By not talking about politics and religion, you never learn how to talk about politics and religion, and it gets harder to do.”) She also mentioned a finding from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC, parent of FactCheck.org) that “incivility” in Congress has actually remained relatively flat since they began monitoring it in the 1930s, but people who watch cable news believe that it has become much more uncivil (as opposed to people who watch network news).

Though Northampton is close to South Hadley, the communities are quite different; Northampton has a lot of activists, and the library wanted to raise its profile within the town by positioning itself at the center “passively and serendipitously.” Moss explained how they had divided the year into quarterly themes: Racial justice, community divides (which turned out to be “too broad”), climate change, and safety and justice. They had World Cafe-style conversations (facilitated conversation around open-ended questions) about each. For their “All Hamptons Read,” they chose Never Caught: the Washingtons’ relentless pursuit of their runaway slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar; Moss also mentioned The Common Good by Robert B. Reich. 

REACT logoChelmsford came up with a great logo and acronym; read more about their “REACT Grant” (Read, Engage, and Come Together) on their library website. They incorporated their theme (and branding) into existing programs like book clubs and lecture series, created displays, made handouts and booklists, partnered with many other organizations, and for their popular “One Book” program, chose Counting Descent by Clint Smith, an advocate for racial justice.

Lunchtime Spotlight session: Anne Boyd Rioux, author of Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters

Takeaways:

  • Little Women Helps girls figure out who they are and who they want to be. Each March sister is unique and has a different personality. There isn’t just one or two ways to be a girl, there are an infinite number of ways. Readers, too, can try on and reject different identities.Cover image of Meg Jo Beth Amy
  • Jo March: She is ambitious, she wants to be famous (taboo!), powerful. No one IN the book tells her she can’t or shouldn’t. Jo is defined by what she DOES.
  • Little Women is important to people not just when they’re children but as adolescents, young adults, and parents.
  • Coming-of-age narrative focused on boys; Little Women broke the mold and showed girls growing up. (And not the conventional “wild child becomes tamed” narrative – none of the March sisters are forced into a role they don’t want.)
  • Meg gets married in the middle of the book – marriage isn’t the end. When else does that happen? (Not Shakespeare, not Jane Austen…)
  • Marmee to Jo, admitting she shares her temperament: “I am angry every day of my life.” Maybe we’re ready to think of mothers as human beings, hmm…
  • What about boys, do they read Little Women? “There are real-world implications of telling boys they don’t need to understand girls’ experience.” Shout-out to author Shannon Hale, who has written a lot about this. (Here’s one article by her in the Washington Post.)
  • Librarians can help kids choose books about people different than themselves.
  • Descendents of Jo March: Katniss Everdeen, Rory Gilmore, Hermione Granger

1:45pm Do-It-Yourself Library Website Usability Testing, Jenny Arch, Callan Bignoli, Ran Cronin

User Experience Honeycomb
User Experience Honeycomb

Our slides are here. We talked about designing and conducting usability tests in our libraries (Winchester Public Library and the Public Library of Brookline) in order to identify areas of frustration or friction for people using the library website. Where are the problems? What do people have trouble finding? What do they not know about, and how can we make these things more obvious? How can we make the experience smoother and more successful? Running a usability test with as few as five participants and six tasks can be illuminating.

2:50pm Patron First: Patron-Focused Design and User Experience, Callan Bignoli and Roy MacKenzie, Public Library of Brookline

More user experience! UX is how a person feels when using a product or service. (Delighted? Frustrated?) Usability impacts UX. Key elements of usability are navigation, familiarity, consistency, error prevention, feedback, visual clarity, flexibility, efficiency. (If, for example, most people recognize that blue text with an underline is a link you can click, don’t reinvent the wheel by making your links orange with no underline.)

UX design is a process

Bignoli advised making UX part of the library’s strategic plan and action plan, if it isn’t already, and said that it’s a process that will never be completed. Observe, identify improvements, develop, implement, repeat. “Done is better than perfect. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good. You’re never done. You’re always going to be offering new services and evaluating your services. The final step of this process is to repeat it, and keep doing so.”

MacKenzie spoke more about library space, collections, and policies. Ideally, there is a committee with members from every library department that revisits every policy every year or two (so that you don’t end up with an Internet policy from, say, 2011). Questions to ask: What is the real goal of the policy? How does the policy impact users? Is this policy improving things for patrons or for staff? Is this policy really necessary? Is this policy enforceable? 

Regarding the library space, consider “desire lines” (do patrons keep moving furniture to different locations?) and noise levels. If the children’s area and the local history area are right next to each other, can you rearrange the space to make both audiences happy? In Brookline, they closed the main library for two days to shift the entire adult fiction collection off the ground floor, leaving the ground floor completely for youth services; they used the time they were closed for staff training.

Library collections are changing too. Ask, What do we have? What do we need? This is another area that will depend very much on the library location and population. Do your patrons want portable DVD players, cake pans, board games? Many libraries have begun building a “Library of Things” collection, from seed libraries to household tools to kitchen equipment to games, and they tend to be really popular.

Once again, there were plenty of great sessions that gave us a lot to think about at MLA this year. Thanks to the conference organizers, presenters, panelists, and everyone who was tweeting #MassLib2019.

 

 

 

 

 

MLA 2019: The Greatest Job on Earth

The Massachusetts Library Association’s annual conference theme this year is “the greatest job on earth.” And I guess we can claim that, because a quick internet search shows there’s not a lot of consensus on the issue. Moving on!

The keynote speaker was Dr. Deborah L. Plummer, Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial and author; her presentation was called “Radical Respect in Troubling Times,” and it was followed by a “Communicating Across Differences Workshop.” Plummer spoke about how to turn “Us and Them into We” through conversation – and not just conversation with the people you already agree with. It’s easy to respect people who look / think / talk / behave / worship / vote like you; it takes work to get out of your echo chamber. But bumping up against difference is how we learn about others and about our own identities. 

The paradox of diversity, said Plummer, is that (1) we are unique and like no one else (personality); (2) we’re each like some other people (similar backgrounds, views, genes, etc.); (3) we’re all like everyone else (i.e., human). And we don’t each have one identity; we have multiple and intersecting identities. We may emphasize or project one or another of these depending who we’re with. “Identity pulling” is okay if you’re the one choosing to do it, but it’s not okay for one person to do it for someone else.

Plummer gave the attendees strategies for successful “bumping”: (1) Focus on being respectful rather than being right; (2) Check your assumptions, and de-escalate if necessary by saying something like “I’m sorry, I made an assumption”; (3) Mirror the other person’s style by “grabbing their handle” – figure out if they are coming from the head, the heart, or the gut/soul; (4) “Take a helicopter ride” and observe from a distance if the other person doesn’t have the capacity to change their viewpoint or behavior.

Plummer also listed her three components of radical respect:

  1. Admiration: “Wouldn’t it be great if we treated differences like a challenge instead of a threat?” (We have different physiological responses to these: we react to a challenge with adrenalin, and to a threat with cortisol.)
  2. Civility: Listen for understanding, rather than for rebuttal
  3. Dignity: Honor that needs and concerns exist. Where do they come from?

one vase or two facesThere was a break after the keynote, and then the next set of morning sessions. I chose to stay with Plummer for the “Communicating Across Differences Workshop,” which included some of the same material as her keynote with additional exercises and examples, starting with a few of the classic Psych 101 images to demonstrate our ability to make perceptual shifts. You can’t actually hold multiple realities or perspectives at once, but you can shift back and forth between them – and if you don’t see another reality on your own, sometimes you can once someone points it out to you. (Ah, see what she did there? Clever.)

In this session, Plummer spoke about the traditional approach to difference compared to the contemporary one, and used an analogy of an hourglass: If the sand in the top is the dominant culture (white, male, Christian, healthy and able-bodied, adult, heterosexual, upper-class, educated), those on top are afraid of simply flipping the hourglass; “we have a better chance for creating equity if we tip the hourglass on its side.”

Communicating successfully across differences is tricky; Plummer’s “Intention vs. Impact” slide shows how a sender’s intended message might impact a receiver. If the impact is positive, we have effective communication; if it’s negative, we need to acknowledge and clarify. Intent and impact are both important; one of Plummer’s examples was a Black Lives Matter display. Some people thought it was an anti-police message, which wasn’t exactly the sender’s intended meaning (it was more like, Black Lives Matter too).

intention vs impact flow chart slide

Following this slide was one with a number of conversational “bounce backs,” ways to recover and things to say when a conversation goes wrong, such as “Help me to understand…” and “My experience has been…” Everyone will make mistakes, and these can help move the conversation forward if done with a degree of cultural humility and commitment to learning.

diversity petalNext was a “diversity petal” exercise: we identified the dominant or “up” identities for race, gender, age, mental/physical ability, sexual orientation, class, education, and religion and then our own identities within each category, then placed a check mark next to any category where our own identity matched the dominant one. Plummer pointed out that marginalized people know more about the dominant culture; part of privilege is not having to learn about how life is for others. “Black people know a lot more about white people than white people know about Black people. Women know a lot more about men than men know about women. People who have a disability know a lot more about the world that’s designed for people who are healthy and able.”

We came back to the “multiple realities” images to hammer home the point that just because you don’t see (or experience) something doesn’t mean that it isn’t there (or doesn’t exist). Plummer is a champion of cross-racial friendships (Some Of My Friends Are…), and pointed out how going through life with people who are different than you can highlight the ways in which you experience the world differently (or ways in which the world treats you differently).

All of this is ongoing; no one has “arrived,” but we can commit to continuing the conversation.

To Be Continued (more sessions from Monday, and sessions – and a presentation library website usability testing – on Wednesday)

 

 

Step Into Storytime, May 13

Stack of storytime titles

This morning was the last Monday Step Into Storytime for the spring; our summer schedule is different, and I’ll only have a couple of all-ages storytimes until the regular schedule starts again in the fall. I will miss seeing these kiddos for storytime every week!

For our last storytime, I requested enough copies of the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson so that every adult/child pair could have one. It’s an interactive book (tap, pat, swish, tilt, shake, etc.) so I wanted all the kids to have a chance to be involved throughout. (I borrowed this idea from Miss Lauren, who did it with her 3- to 5-year-old storytime group.) There are plenty of other interactive titles, too, if this is something you’d like to try in your storytime, or if this is a type of book your kid likes; see list below.

Copies of Tap the Magic Tree

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel: This is a storytime favorite because it allows for a lot of interaction, like checking clothing for spots and stripes, and saying hello to friends and neighbors sitting nearby.
  • Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson: Copies for everyone. This got loud (which is fine!) as kids and their grown-ups explored each page.
  • 88 Instruments by Chris Barton: Because we were pretty loud already, I handed out instruments (shaker eggs and jingle bells on sticks) for this musical story. (Storytime tip: if the group is loud, getting everyone to make the same noise makes things more manageable.)
  • Song: “Shake Your Sillies Out” (then collect instruments)
  • Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig: We did this one just a couple weeks ago, but it works so well. Kids can do a movement to go along with each page of the story: kneading and stretching dough, tossing it, spreading oil, sprinkling cheese, etc.
  • Song cube: “ABCs”
  • A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: Five of the kids got to put an elephant on the felt board, and those who didn’t got to come up and give the elephants pats to make sure they were stuck up there firmly. Then we marched round and round, trumpeted, yawned, and stretched.
  • The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith: Kids could come up and say hello to the donkey puppet before and after the story. (Note: some kids like being nibbled on, and SOME DON’T. Keep it to “hee haw” and ear wiggling!)
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Clean up mats, put out butcher paper and crayons, hand out surveys* to adults, remind everyone about summer schedule.

*Surveys: I’ve been wanting to do a brief survey for this group for a while, to see if there was anything I could tweak to improve the program. I based my four-question survey largely on Jbrary’s Sample Evaluation Forms. LibraryAware also has a long post about feedback on programs.

Seven adults filled out and returned the survey; two of the seven said that the books/songs/movement/crafts were “not engaging enough”; the other five respondents felt that the books/songs/movement/crafts were “just right” for their children. I may try to do fewer, longer stories in the fall (three or four books instead of five or six), still with plenty of songs and movement. Then again, it could be a different group in the fall. We’ll see!

A few other interactive picture books:

  • Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson
  • Press Here and Mix It Up by Herve Tullet
  • Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter
  • Bunny Slopes and Hungry Bunny by Claudia Rueda
  • Tickle Monster by Edouard Manceau

Step Into Storytime, May 6

This is our second-to-last Monday Step Into Storytime before our schedule changes for summer (which seems optimistic, as spring has barely arrived, but so it goes). A few a my favorite families were there, which made it extra special, and all of the books really lent themselves to movement and interaction (though we still did plenty of extra songs and movement in between them as well).

Stack of picture books with bag of shaker eggs on top

  • Welcome, announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex: Chu’s fakeout sneezes got some laughs. If you are looking for humor in books, sneezes are a sure way to go.
  • Yoga: stretch to ceiling, touch toes, repeat; step feet apart, touch toes; touch opposite toes (e.g. left hand to right foot – cross-body exercises stretch the body and the brain!)
  • This Beautiful Day by Richard Jackson and Suzy Lee: Perfect, as we’ve been having plenty of gray and rainy days and very little sunshine. “Beautiful” is in the eye of the beholder. And there’s some built-in stomping and toe-tapping.
  • Yoga/music: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
  • Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton: The BEST thing happened at the part where George sees the cat: When I read “What will George do?” one of the kids called out “He ate the cat!” which made everyone burst out laughing. (Don’t worry, cat lovers: no cats were eaten in the reading of this book.)
  • Song cube: “I’m A Little Teapot” and “Wheels on the Bus”
  • Yoga/music: Make stars with bodies (feet apart, arms out) and sway to “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”
  • My Heart Is Like A Zoo by Michael Hall: I brought out the flannel animals one by one and the kids yelled out what they thought they were. Pretty high accuracy on this, actually, and even when someone called out “a heart!” they weren’t wrong – all of the animals are made out of heart shapes.
  • Now by Antoinette Portis: Another book with some built-in opportunities for participation/movement, plus an audible “Awww” from lots of the grown-ups at the end (“And this is my favorite Now / because it’s the one I am having / with you”).
  • Song cube: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”
  • Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett: With animal impressions, of course.
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Clean up mats, hand out shaker eggs, put on music (“Shake Your Sillies Out” and “Wheels on the Bus”), dance! Collect eggs afterward.