Bhujangasana (for libraries)

I should do more yoga. It makes me happy. My brain feels less full, my body feels great, and it gives me time away from the hectic pace of day to day life so that I can be inside of myself for a moment or two. Bhujangasana (aka the cobra pose) is one of those yoga poses that I think about a lot. I love how this pose makes me feel. It enables me to breathe a lot easier and I feel as if a lot of the baggage in my head and in my heart are able to be let go.

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Bhujangasana in library form, February 2016

Before I accepted my current job at the Benson Memorial Library, my family and I made a trip to check things out one Saturday in April. It was a long trip from Chattanooga TN but it was worth it. It helped me know that those feelings of “yes, I want to take this step in my journey” were actually real.  Upon my arrival, I knew that if I was to accept the position of Executive Director my first task would be to embark upon the task of collection maintenance aka weeding. I don’t like to call it weeding cause that just sounds weird.

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June 2015

The first thing that I noticed when I dove into the collection maintenance project at Benson Memorial Library was just how big and wonderful the collection was. This was a library that had a long and beautiful history. I studied that history, learned about the town, and did my best to wrap my mind around how I could preserve everything that had come before me while at the same time thinking about how to make the library a place that existed long into the future. I thought about this for weeks before actually starting up the physical process. I looked really closely at circulation statistics over the past five years. In those numbers I saw stories and understood how this collection had come to be. It sounds weird, but I had to sort of become best friends with the collection and the circulation numbers. I had to absorb them and in a way they had to possess me and tell me where to go. They did, and shortly after that I began collection maintenance on our nonfiction collection.

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The process was long, tiring, and sometimes extremely difficult. It is often said that the hardest and most rewarding part of working in a public library is working with the public itself. This is very true. I love it but sometimes I feel the need to crawl into a hole and hide away. Collection maintenance in public is a tough thing. There will be questions and comments when the shelves look empty or someone’s favorite section has moved slightly to the left or right. I kept reminding myself to breathe and take this one step at a time. Some days it was easier to breathe than other days. The best advice I can give you is to keep your eyes on the prize. You’ll get there.

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Katoomba NSW Australia

In November 2015 I took a trip to New Zealand and Australia and saw that they too were practicing collection maintenance and giving their collections a chance to breathe. Seeing this in action at another library gave me inspiration and the determination to finish what I had started. As a guest at the Katoomba Library I was able to experience the benefits of having a collection that breathes firsthand. I found myself touching the shelves, thumbing through the collection, and being generally interested in what this library had to offer on its shelves. This was the goal at the Benson Memorial Library; to have a collection where a community member could get lost in the stacks, thumbing their way through a collection that could possibly change their life.

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Expansion of ideas. New stuff. 

I also saw our collection maintenance project as a chance to bring new materials and ideas into the community. Growth and discovery of new things is a healthy part of human life. The public library is there to help the community grow. I am excited to fill our shelves up with new materials and ideas that help Titusville PA grow as a community. The new materials also give us the chance to start up a natural cycle in the collection maintenance project: we analyse our collection, we remove materials that are no longer circulating, and we add new materials that the community will use in the present day. The library becomes extremely relevant to the community in the moment, thus ensuring a healthy future for the organization.

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-fin- (sort of)

In order to thrive long into the future, some aspects of the past have to change. Change is one of the hardest things that we as human beings experience. I think about change constantly and I still have trouble dealing with it. This is OK.

What are my parting words to you? Trust in the idea, trust in the process, trust the library staff, and trust in the future. There are no hidden agendas, no secret messages, and no hard feelings. Work is work and the best work is done with a positive mind, a good heart, and with the community in mind first and foremost. This is why I do the things I do in the public library and I hope you too can read this and adopt that approach.

Open up your heart and breathe. 

THREE THINGS 2016.4

I̢̠͔̼͇͓̅̍ͥͅ ̲̬̺̝͍͔̲̯̊́ͅą͚̖͔̗̲̞͆ͬ̑ṁ̷̺̯̖̺̭̪͙̮̟ͦ̅̋̀ ͓̘̃͑̾͌ͯ͊͟n̝̩͖̋ͭͭ͑͋̐͛ͩ͟ó̱̣͢ͅt̷͕͓̰͖ͯ̋͋̅ ̯̹̙̻̣̥̭̾̕ș̠̬̞͕͇ͯ̈́ͨ́͠ụ̵̱̫̤͕̎̌̔ͮͨͣ̈͡r̶̳̣͍̱͈̪̗̳̿ͫͦe͚̰͓͌̒ͤͣ͟

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A glitch is a beautiful thing. I look at glitches and I feel like I am looking at my life. It is something that happened but at the same time may not have happened if things were just a little bit different. I am a glitch and I am OK with that. You are a glitch as well. We are all glitches. This whole damn thing is a glitch. This is alright.

WINTER BLUES
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My Dad calls it the winter blues. I call it depression and I think everyone else in my generation does as well. I think there is a big gap in how generations view depression.

Am I in the middle of “the winter blues” right now? Yes! This year feels different, as it is nowhere near as bad as it has been in the past.

Most of us are probably in the middle of this right now as well. Just know this: there’s a world of amazing people out there that are here for you.

BREATHE
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I owe the library world that still reads this blog a proper post about my experience in collection management at my new place of work. I’ll get there, I promise.

We’ve been in the thick of it for pretty much 9 months now and we’re making progress. The space is able to breathe. We have a smaller collection but it is easier to browse. The library looks like it exists in the modern world a bit more. It looks like less of a warehouse. I like this. I believe in the work that we’re doing and know that in the long run it will improve the health of this very wonderful organization.

THE THING THAT HOLDS US BACK

If you are feeling lazy today, I’ll sum up everything I will get to right now. The thing that holds us back is our general uneasiness and inability to deal with changes.

We’re all guilty of this. I know I am. I know you are. It’s not something that we can fully get rid of. We are after all blessed and cursed with all of the things that come with being a human being. You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…you get it and now you can’t stop thinking about Lisa Whelchel.

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Image by Shawn Carpenter via CC License (#1) see below for link

In my library work, I have seen everything when it comes to our general uneasiness and inability to deal with change. It is one of the biggest problems facing the public library at this point in time. For some reason, librarians are really, really scared about things if they’re a bit different. I’ve seen this terror manifest itself in many ways.

The first approach I have seen is where libraries and communities are ground to a halt out of a fear of change. “We’ve always done it this way” and “well, we’re unique in that we don’t have to do what others do” is their rallying cry. They rely on what is familiar to keep them afloat, and floating is all that they’re doing. They are at their level of ease that helps them get through their day to day. They don’t want anything to deviate from the ritual because that deviation makes things a bit uncomfortable. The library and the community suffer the most from this approach. The library becomes a relic of the past, something that occupies the present moment in space and time but feels like it is from 50 years ago. When the library becomes a relic of the past, the community reacts and sees themselves as living in the past as well. It’s a cycle that becomes way too easy to get caught up in. We forget about the present and the future just because we wanna feel good, and we’ve gotta think about the present and the future if we wanna continue to live.

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Image by tracyshaun via CC License (#2) see below for link

The next approach is one where we recognize the importance of change and we do one of two things: we either talk about change so much that our faces melt off or we overcompensate and change the hell out of everything so much that we piss off everyone around us.

I’ll talk (briefly) about how libraries talk about change so much that our faces melt off. Our professional publications, conferences, and tweetotumblrblogosphere have rallied around change as the go-to theme and topic. Change sells! It must sell so much because I feel like we’ve spent pretty much all of our library energy  talking about it for the past 5 years.

The “change it all change it now change it fast and change it hard” approach is also there. While I’m more of a fan of this approach than anything else, I also must recognize that it too has some big downsides. As I mentioned before, a large amount of the population has a general uneasiness and inability to deal with changes. When you make the changes that you want to make in that “change it all change it now change it fast and change it hard” approach you are basically putting a stick of dynamite in those people and waiting for them to explode. After time, they’re gonna get to the end of their rope and explode, thus setting up a toxic work environment that will have to be fixed.

So what’s the solution? Doing nothing or doing everything both have massive drawbacks. Do I have the answer? I don’t. I think balance has something to do with it all but I am having trouble putting it into words. Maybe patience is another word that I’ll toss out there. Anywho, I’d love to solve this problem. I don’t think we will ever fully solve it because we are human beings and we’re generally flawed, but in the long run our general uneasiness and inability to deal with changes is something we’ve gotta at least be mindful about.

Image #1 https://www.flickr.com/photos/spcbrass
Image #2 https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracyshaun

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THREE THINGS 2016.3

BOWIE

I never met the dude in real life but his passing has really had an effect on me. I think it comes from one simple thing: the man created honest and pure art that genuinely brought happiness and excitement into the world. Bowie’s final album ★ is a brilliant piece of art that should be enjoyed/examined by everyone. I hope that when I am 68-69 years old I am still capable of creating such amazing things.

SPLIT

I am a Gemini and I have talked about that before. The older that I get the more I see that I am really two ideas living inside of one body. I am becoming very ok with this! I think the best thing that I have attempted to do is split myself into those two ideas and have outlets for both of them. You can’t suppress who you are! You just gotta be.

SOCIAL

Social media is a big thing for me and wrestling with identity in social media is something I think about a lot. I aim to be as authentic and available as possible in this life. I think there are some struggles with that! I found this post by TotalBiscuits (who I was not familiar with until I saw this post) to be very inspiring and spot on when it comes to what social media is/can do to someone. While I am not in the same situation as TotalBiscuits (he has cancer, I do not), I do find what he is saying to be very honest when it comes to social media:

Look, let’s be real here about the reality of what could happen over the next few years. In a few years, I could very well be dead—two to three [years to live] average is what I’m given for this particular form of this disease. I intend to outlive that by a significant margin, but if it ends up being the last few years of my life, I want to spend them not being fucking miserable. And if that involves disconnecting from everybody, so be it.

My family is gonna come first, my fucking mental health is gonna come first. The expectation that everyone who ever made it on the Internet’s gotta be constantly connected to their fans all the time 24 hours a day 24/7 is insane. It’s unreasonable. Nobody can fucking handle it. Nobody. [sighs] God. You have no idea how many of my friends are in therapy just because of this job.

Read the full post here and think about things.

I STAY UNDER GLASS

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There is snow on the ground.
It will be there for the next few months.
Put on your slippers and sit on the couch.
Play a video game or watch a movie.
Netflix is pretty awesome.
Get a cozy blanket and snuggle up.

Think about all of the awesome things you can do with your life if you stop worrying about what modern society will think of you. They’ve got it all wrong. When they say you’re a weirdo what they actually mean is “wow, you’ve managed to truly find yourself and discover that modern life is just a facade.” They just haven’t figured out how to liberate their own hearts, minds, and souls.

I am a passenger
I stay under glass
I look through my window so bright
I see the stars come out tonight
I see the bright and hollow sky
Over the city’s ripped-back sky
And everything looks good tonight

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It’s all ok.

 

A SCHEDULE OF EVENTS FOR A LIBRARY CONFERENCE I’D LIKE TO ATTEND

7:00-9:00AM: Sleep in because you deserve it.

10:00AM: Eat Breakfast and Talk About Things

11:00AM: Stand up, talk to someone new, and ask someone to go for a walk with you.

11:30PM: FIRST SESSIONS. Choose from one of the following:

  • Let’s sit around a table and talk about books we love
  • Let’s play some video games/board games together
  • Let’s go outside and be nice/do nice things to/for random strangers

1:00PM: Lunch and Talk About Things. There will be a stand up comedian who will put on a really funny performance while we eat because laughing is great.

2:15PM: SECOND SESSIONS. Choose from one of the following:

  • Let’s sit around a circle and talk about what we can do every day to make our libraries better for people. Think about the small things!
  • If you like to make music, join us in a room where we all can play instruments and make music.
  • Meditate: We’re just going to sit in this room and meditate.

3:45 PM: Afternoon Tea/Coffee and some exercise

4:15 PM: We’ll invite a guest speaker to talk to us for a bit. 30 minutes tops. They will be awesome and funny and inspire.

5:00 PM: Everybody needs a little time away. Go get some dinner by yourself or with a group. We don’t have to babysit you the whole conference. Do what you want.

9:00 PM: We’ve organized a get together at a bar. Beer and liquor make people feel relaxed and then we all can talk more and take our crazy ideas even further.

12:00 AM: Dance Party. Let’s find a really great gay dance club and dance for awhile.

2:00 AM: The dance party may close up at this time and we are probably worn out from dancing a lot. Let’s go to a greasy spoon and get some breakfast food.

4:00 AM: Goodnight everyone. Go to bed. You deserve it.

THE NEXT DAY: No sessions, no meetings, nothing. You get to take the day off and sleep in. You deserve it.

Community Engagement Projects in United States Public Libraries by Frances Tout

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Everyone needs a pick me up and some inspiration from time to time, and Frances Tout report titled Travelling Librarian 2015: Community Engagement Projects in United States Public Libraries (for a pdf of the report click here) was that inspiration for me today. I was originally pointed to it by a colleague who said “hey, part of your work at the 2nd Floor at the Chattanooga Public Library is mentioned in this piece.” It was super nice to read about the positive experience Frances had during her visit to the 2nd Floor. I was and remain very proud of that place. It was a great chapter in my life! Much love to Lee Hope, Vicki Prater, Kaye Rose, Olga Russell, Janice Keene, LaDonna Spruill, Ali Banks, Jessie Meyer, Alondra Gomez, Victoria Caldwell, Megan Emery, and many, many others that helped build the 2nd Floor and make it what it is today. It is really neat to see all of that work live on.

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Thanks for the kind words Frances!  :)

The big takeaways I got from this excellent report were as follows:

  • The emphasis (in US Libraries) is now very much on programming rather than stock.
  • Every library’s community is different, engaging with communities and meeting the needs of individual communities is vital, there is no one size fits all when it comes to programming

It’s great to read these things when you’re in the middle of them. It reaffirms the work that we do and why we do it.

Follow Frances Tout on Twitter @francestout
Read more from Travelling Librarian 2015 @ the blog