Summer Storytime: Inclusion and Acceptance

Storytime books on chair

Again, I didn’t plan around a theme, but as I looked at the books I’d chosen, a theme emerged: inclusion and acceptance. Whether it’s solving world hunger through pizza, allowing every kind of pet into the pet club, or trying on new identities (penguin, mermaid), the kind thing to do is always to accept those who look or act differently.

  • “Hello Friends” with ASL (Jbrary)
  • World Pizza by Cece Meng
  • Stretching, “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes”
  • Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev
  • Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • “Shake Your Sillies Out” (Raffi music, scarves to shake)
  • I Am Actually A Penguin by Sean Taylor
  • Song cube: “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “I Had A Tiny Turtle”
  • Pete’s A Pizza by William Steig
  • “Goodbye Friends” w/ ASL (Jbrary)
  • Decorate a pizza slice

Most of the kids seemed engaged throughout, and the pizza slice decoration was a hit. I told them they could take their slice home or add it to our pizza on the wall, and almost everyone chose to add theirs, so we made a whole pizza (with lots of interesting toppings).

I’ve gotten out of the habit of checking the blogs I follow via Feedly (and I can’t blame it all on the demise of Google Reader, either), but I dipped in recently to see what I’d missed and found these great posts:

  • From Tiny Tips for Library Fun, an examination of the Diversity in Children’s Books infographic, comparing 2015 to 2018. We have made a little progress but still have a ways to go – especially since the percentage of books featuring white characters dropped, but the percentage of books featuring non-human characters went up.
  • From Story Time Secrets, a new storytime complete with books, songs, and activities. The Giant Jumperee is one of my favorites to read aloud for toddlers, and I might use her “Story time is starting, clap your hands”/”Story time is over, clap your hands” sometime, although I really like “Hello Friends” and “Goodbye Friends.” I also think the “elevator” movement could work as a variation on “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” while standing up.
  • Betsy Bird’s Newbery/Cadecott 2020: Summer Prediction Edition. My reading list just got so much longer, but fortunately, lots of the titles are picture books. I’m looking forward to new Brendan Wenzel and a Bob Shea/Zachariah Ohora collaboration, and I’ve already enjoyed Antoinette Portis’ Hey, Water! I love middle grade too: New Kid and Other Words For Home were amazing, and I can’t wait for Corey Haydu’s newest, Eventown. Queen of the Sea looks interesting too.
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Happy birthday, Harry Potter! More HP trivia at the library

Last January’s Harry Potter trivia was so successful that we decided to do it again on the last Saturday of July, as close to Harry’s birthday (7/31) as possible. Once again, registration filled up and we had a few on the waitlist (not as many as last time, but I suspect that has to do with it being summer and lots of people being away on vacation).

The program still required plenty of (team)work to run, but it was easier and smoother the second time around.

Ahead of time

  • Make up new questions and print two copies (one for MC and one for scorer)
  • Set up a new spreadsheet for scoring
  • Create calendar event (registration opened three weeks before the program)
  • Promote on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
  • Order prizes
  • Plan music (we used a library laptop streaming Harry Potter music from the London Studio Orchestra via hoopla)
  • Make refreshments
  • Gather decorations (re-used from last time: stuffed owls, Golden Snitches)
  • Gather supplies (“quills” from last time, pads of post-its, raffle tickets)

LEGO Hogwarts

Another added element to the program this time around was the display of LEGO Hogwarts, which had been build in the preceding weeks by kids (10+), teens, and adults in eight separate weekend and evening sessions. They did an incredible job and finished just in time! (Now, we’ll have to see if anyone wants to take it apart in such a way that it can be built again.)

Registration table with door prize raffle, quills, and post-its; owls; Golden Snitches

Day of trivia

Despite opening the doors and starting registration before our 2pm start time, the program did run past 4pm. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it was in part due to some younger teams taking longer to turn in answers, and partly me adding short breaks between most question rounds. Next time, just one break about halfway through, and full steam ahead (from Platform 9 3/4, naturally) the rest of the time.

Like last time, we had seven rounds of five questions each, one round per book in the series. We started with a practice question (for no points) and had some between-rounds questions for no points too – teams would just raise their hands, and I tried to let everyone who wanted a turn get to answer.

Snack table with pretzel wands, lightning bolt sugar cookies, jelly beans, and butterbeerThere were some really clever team names (Granger Danger was my favorite), and I was so happy to hear that at least one team at the event had been waitlisted for trivia in January, and were able to come to this one. There was also a team that left after round four because the kid on the team hadn’t read books five through seven yet, but said they’d had a wonderful time.

The questions were just about right, with most teams being very successful but not perfect (we didn’t want a fourteen-way tie for first!). Most of the snacks got eaten; we had pretzel wands, lightning bolt sugar cookies, jelly beans, and butterbeer. Some people used the Daily Prophet photo frame to take pictures.

Our door prizes were House-themed socks (Gryffindor socks for the Gryffindor winner, etc.), first prizes were Harry Potter postcard coloring books, and two teams tied for second place. One of the “teams” was a girl playing on her own, so I let her have first choice between Harry Potter themed socks (“Mischief managed,” etc.) and a vial of Felix Felicis (not edible! but good for putting on a necklace). The other second place team also chose between socks and Liquid Luck and everyone seemed pretty happy.

What to do differently next time

Other than running slightly over time, which no one seemed to mind, everything went smoothly, but there are always small improvements to be made – mostly to do with making the scorekeeper’s job easier.

  • Our participants got very sugared up on the snacks, so next time we might replace “Every Flavour Beans” (jelly beans) with popcorn. And maybe have pumpkin juice instead of Butterbeer.
  • Have teams bring their team names to the scorekeeper as soon as they decide on them – before the practice question.
  • Add a question for no points between each round, to give the scorekeeper time to catch up.
  • Multi-part questions are fine, but space them out – don’t do two in a row.
  • Design questions so the answers can be as short as possible (a few words, not a sentence or a paragraph!).
  • Calculate the total possible score in the spreadsheet (i.e. a perfect score), in case teams want to know how many they missed.

LEGO Hogwarts on display; a happy team on the front page of the Daily Prophet; a pile of answers on post-it notes

 

 

Summer Storytime: Being brave

Pile of picture books, spines showing

I have missed my weekly storytimes and was so happy to return to the storytime room this morning for an all-ages summer storytime! I chose some of my favorite summery (or anytime) books, and there’s definitely a theme about facing new situations with courage, though I didn’t set out with that intention. Sometimes it just works out!

Stuffed toy lobster on computer keyboard

  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL, via Jbrary
  • The Angry Little Puffin by Timothy Young
  • Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
  • Song cube: “Zoom Zoom Zoom, We’re Going to the Moon” and “I’m A Little Teapot”
  • There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi and Laurel Molk, with stuffed lobster (every time I held it up, the kids shouted “lobsters!” along with the word in the story)
  • Roller Coaster by Marla Frazee
  • Song cube: “ABCs,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It”
  • The Little Taco Truck by Tanya Valentine and Jorge Martin
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL, via Jbrary
  • Clean up mats
  • Activity: Use crayons to color on a food truck on butcher paper

Favorite interactive moments:

  • Before Jabari Jumps, asking who’s been swimming, who’s jumped off the side into a pool, who’s jumped off a diving board (two had!)
  • Before Roller Coaster, asking if anyone has been on a roller coaster before (yes, and it was blue!)
  • A younger kid about halfway through said “I’m done” and started toddling out. It’s good to know when to call it!
  • Asking for suggestions during “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” one kid raised their hand but then didn’t have a suggestion, so we sang, “If you’re happy and you know it, raise your hand.”

Five basic practices for early literacy: talk, sing, read, write, play

There were about fifteen kids at today’s storytime. I have one more summer storytime in August, and then in the fall our weekly storytimes will start up again. What are your favorite read-alouds for summer?

 

#MiddleGradeMay

Abby the Librarian’s #MiddleGradeMay wrap-up made me think of all the middle grade books I’ve read this spring (and of course it lengthened my to-read list; I’m especially excited to get my hands on Dear Sweet Pea, Pie in the Sky, and Roll With It).

My reading has certainly shifted along with my job in the last couple years; when I was the adult fiction buyer for my library, I read mostly adult literary fiction, young adult fiction, and some nonfiction (I was also the “speed read” buyer, for especially high-demand titles). Now that I’m working partly in children’s, I’m reading a lot more children’s books, especially middle grade books. In May, I got to go along and give book talks to classes of fifth graders in two different elementary schools in town – not about their required summer reading books for middle school, but a list of books we’d come up with that we thought they’d really like. (There’s actually a little bit of crossover with their middle school list, which is great.)

Some of the books I book-talked most enthusiastically at the schools were: New Kid by Jerry Craft (graphic novel), Blended by Sharon M. Draper (realistic fiction), The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (realistic fiction), To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (epistolary realistic fiction). I also really liked Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (realistic fiction), We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (science fiction), and It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (realistic fiction) but my co-worker talked about those ones. Teamwork!

Here are some of the (mostly new) books I’ve read so far this year. Books on our list for students entering sixth grade next fall are in bold.

Cover image of Night OwlNew(ish) middle grade books:

  • Wild Bird by Wendelin Van Draanen (2017)
  • Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (2017)
  • The Dollar Kids by Jennifer Richard Jacobson (2018)
  • Breakout by Kate Messner (2018)
  • Save Me A Seat by Sarah Weeks (2018)
  • The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani (2018)
  • It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy (2018)
  • Ana Maria Reyes Does Not Live In A Castle by Hilda Eunice Burgos (2018)
  • So Done by Paula Chase (2018)
  • The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn (2018)
  • Blended by Sharon M. Draper (2018)
  • Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (2018)
  • Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018)Cover image of Paulie Fink
  • You Don’t Know Everything, Jilly P! by Alex Gino (2018)
  • Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. Ever, edited by Betsy Bird (2018)
  • The Next Great Paulie Fink by Ali Benjamin (2019)
  • To Night Owl From Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer (2019)
  • We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey (2019)
  • A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (2019)

This kind of diversity did not exist in kid-lit when I was a kid. There is so much here and it’s wonderful. These books tackle issues head-on: contemporary racism, poverty and wealth, restorative justice, Deaf culture, historical fiction that isn’t set in WWII Europe or the American home front…lots of mirrors, lots of windows.

Classics:

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (1961)
  • Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, and Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary (1955, 1968, 1975)
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (1971)
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)

These all stand the test of time with flying colors. I read Frindle in print on a friend’s recommendation, and listened to the audio of the others; Stockard Channing reads the Ramona books (and Neil Patrick Harris reads the Henry Huggins ones!). I appreciated The Phantom Tollbooth more as an adult than I did as a kid (“it goes without saying”), and I’d never read Mrs. Frisby before but it’s pretty timeless.

Cover image of New KidGraphic Novels:

  • Princeless: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin (2014)
  • Awkward, Brave, and Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (2015, 2017, 2018)
  • The Babysitters Club (Kristy’s Great Idea, The Truth About Stacey, Mary Anne Saves the Day, Claudia and Mean Janine) by Ann M. Martin/Raina Telgemeier (1986/2015, etc.)
  • Little Robot, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke  (2015, 2016, 2017) (See also: Zita the Spacegirl)
  • Bingo Love Vol. 1 by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, Joy San (2018)
  • Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, Giovanni Rigano, Chris Dickey (2018)
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft (2019)
  • Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero (2019)
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry/P. Craig Russell (2019)

The rebooting of classics like Little Women and The Babysitters Club and The Giver is an interesting trend. In some cases, the graphic novel adheres closely to the original (e.g. The Giver). In other cases, there’s a major update and overhaul: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy is set in present-day New York, the Marches are a blended family, and…I don’t want to give too much away, but some other major plot points change as well. (I really liked it. That said, I’m not a die-hard fan of Louisa May Alcott’s version.) The Babysitters Club books fall somewhere in between, but closer to the “faithful to the original” end of the spectrum. (There is also, for those who are interested, a funny podcast called The Babysitters Club Club. More for a teen or adult audience.)

Cover image of The Poet XYoung Adult:

  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (2018)
  • Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (2018)
  • The Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James (2018)
  • Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert (2018)
  • 500 Words Or Less by Juleah Del Rosario (2018)
  • With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo (2019)
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (2019)
  • Sunny by Jason Reynolds (2019)

I’ve been reading less YA lately but I absolutely loved both of Elizabeth Acevedo’s novels. I read With the Fire On High in print, and listened to the audiobook of The Poet X, which the author reads – I’d highly recommend the audio version.

And what about adult literary fiction? I still love it, and there are a bunch of new novels coming out this summer and fall that I’m excited about, but that’s a post for another day.

 

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.

 

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)