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)

 

 

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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.