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.
Chelmsford 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
- 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.
- 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
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.)
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.