Benson Memorial Library, Books, Chattanooga Public Library, Community Building, ebooks, Libraries, Library Director, Management, Technology

Ditching The Hype and Focusing on The Community

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This is where I live. This is the community I serve.

Like a computer our brains need to be restarted every once in awhile. Events and shifts over the last few years of my life have made me realize this. I no longer work to only serve kids, tweens, and teens. I no longer live in an urban area. I no longer live in a world which I fully understand. My life these days is very different than what it used to be, and with that I feel the need to reset myself. This post is an attempt to put this reset into practice using words to coalesce my thoughts into one coherent belief that moves me forward in my work as a librarian.

I believe that a strong part of the future of public libraries will be in focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level. This differentiates from where I believe public libraries are focusing their efforts now, which is looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession to see what they are doing before acting themselves. No more is this apparent to me than the recent effort for public libraries to shift a lot of focus towards STEM/STEAM/Makerspace/Coding efforts. Please do not get me wrong: I believe in teaching and exposing citizens to things such as these, yet at the same time I do not believe in a one size fits all solution that can be applied to every public library. This is the case here, as it was with eBooks and any other “trends” in recent history.

The idea that we should be focusing our efforts and services on a hyperlocal level instead of looking outwards towards everyone else in the profession is doing became clear to me when I was completing a survey sent to me by our State Library. In that survey, participants were asked about STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and nothing else. I understand that the point of the survey was to better understand the libraries in my state, but while reading it I thought of the following scenarios as I imagined another librarian in my state reading the email:

  1. The State Library is focused on STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and we’re not doing this at all so we must be very behind.
  2.  The State Library created a survey about this, so it must be very important and I must get behind this trend even though I do not know if it is right for my community.
  3. I need to learn more about all things related to STEM/STEAM/Makerspace in public libraries and if I do not I risk losing patrons and support.

I understand that not everyone will follow one of the paths that I laid out above, but many will.  Human beings are creatures of habit and enjoy following the leader. There is probably something embedded into our DNA that makes us this way.

The problem with following the hype and trend of the moment is that it is usually fixated on something that worked well for one particular library and that it does not translate well to other libraries. When I lived in Portland, ME I felt like my library was focused on what happened everywhere else and the idea that “if they’re doing, we should be heading that way too.” In reality, Portland was its own very unique community that needed a specific set of programs and services. A huge part of why I moved to the Chattanooga Public Library in 2013 was because they were looking (and still do) at their programs and services on a hyperlocal level. Programs like DEV DEV, The 4th Floor, Makeanooga, and many more worked and continue to work because they are programs for that community, not programs that were copied/pasted from what someone else in public libraries was doing.

Why are we at where we are now? I believe that social media, large organizations, and large publications have led the charge towards public libraries focusing outwards towards everyone else in the profession instead of inspiring those in the profession to think for themselves and focus inward on their communities. A culture of “here’s how to be successful with your public library in 5 easy steps” combined with ego boosting catchphrases like “rock star librarian” have not helped us but instead presented public libraries with the path of least resistance.

How do we change the conversation? 

  • We need more public librarians out there willing to share their stories about how their focus on a hyperlocal level is benefiting their public library and their community. To start, I recommend following the work of librarians and libraries in New Zealand and Australia. You can do that by starting here with this Twitter list that I have compiled. The work done by the people and organizations is focused, inspiring, and uplifting.
  • Share through any platform that you feel comfortable with. I personally would like to see an increase in public librarians writing more and maintaining their own blogs or Medium profiles
  • Remind each other that our communities come before everything and to keep the message positive. Support and reminders from other public librarians is one way that we can spread the message that we need to focus our work locally.

Ditch the hype. Don’t copy and paste. Focus on your Community. This is what I believe to be the path forward.

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Books, Libraries, Life, Things

All Time Favorite Books

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Here’s the LibraryThing collection

People still ask me what my favorite books are even though they know that I’m not that kind of librarian, so I made this list as a handy dandy reference. These are the 19 titles that have changed my life.

Books, Libraries, Library Director, Life, Management, Titusville, PA

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. 

Books, Libraries

Reinventing Reference: How Libraries Deliver Value in the Age of Google

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Radical! Reinventing Reference: How libraries deliver value in the age of Google is finally in print!

I was honored to be a part of this book! Back in 2011 when I was just beginning my “outside the library that I am currently employed at” librarian journey Katie and Vibiana were one of the first people in the library world to give me a shot at doing something in the greater librarian community. I am eternally thankful to them for asking me to be a part of this!

It was really neat and interesting to write a book chapter. I found it to be a really great learning experience: I had to balance my enthusiastic and untrained writing style with something more….well, book-ish. Was it tough? Sure, but it was a great learning experience.

I got my own copy a few weeks ago and have been digging through it. I LOVE all of the stuff said by the collaborators and I found it very useful and informative.

If you want to check it out, you can purchase it in that old fashioned yet very handy print format here: REINVENTING REFERENCE

Books, Chattanooga Public Library, Chattanooga, TN, Kids, Libraries, Management, Teens

End of the Fiscal Year and All That Jazz

I’m going to take a moment and share something that I am very proud of: statistics for the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year for Youth Services at the Chattanooga Public Library. Now I’m most affiliated with all things on The 2nd Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library, but as we all know it takes the whole picture and the team to make something truly magical happen.  These stats will show you that it is the TEAM at the Chattanooga Public Library that makes things happen.  Some of us have been called Rock Star Librarians but in the great grand scheme of things that isn’t what matters. It’s how the team comes together to do amazing things.  These statistics are proof that amazing things are happening in Chattanooga:

2nd Floor Kids Programs: 676 programs, 11,073 attendees
2nd Floor Tween and Teen Programs: 522 programs, 9233 attendees
Branch Library Kid Programs: 903 programs, 19,811 attendees
Branch Library Tween and Teen Programs: 95 programs, 1,326 attendees

Overall, the Chattanooga Public Library improved all programming and outreach from 51525 attendees 2012-2013 to 82849 attendees in 2013-2014. That’s a 37.8% increase.

Our circulation statistics were also pretty awesome:
2012-2013 Kids Circulation: 233,042
2013-2014 Kids Circulation: 318,485
That’s a 37% increase!

2012-2013 Tween/Teen Circulation: 31,974
2013-2014 Tween/Teen Circulation: 42,598
That’s a 33% increase!

Yes.  These are just numbers. And numbers only tell a part of the story. But they are a very important part of the story. And it is good to have all sides of the story.

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To end, here’s one of my favorite photos from 2013-2014 at the Chattanooga Public Library. It’s Megan Emery and one of our tweens cracking a smile. It took SO much for us to get this guy to smile, but we got there.  And once we did, it was all awesome from then on out.

 

 

 

 

 

Books, Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries

The Guts

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Yesterday I took 15 minutes to put new shelf labels (made by Janice Keene, thank you!) onto our Tween book shelves.  I found myself really enjoying what I refer to as “the guts” of library work…the simple tasks that are necessary for the operation of the library.  I took great delight in putting up the signs, screwing every screw into the shelves, and stepping back to look at the amazing color selections.  It was nice to complete a job that so many people will get so much from.

As I move up in the library world, these are the little things that I miss doing.  What is clear to me now is that I need to find time to do these things.  I want to be a librarian that thinks outside of the box and does amazing and new things, but I also want to always remember that I am a librarian.  I think that’s important.

 

Books, Libraries, Teens

The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services

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I am honored to be a part of the upcoming ALA publication The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services, which was edited by Heather Booth and Karen Jensen and features a lot of great pieces written by some of the most awesome teen services librarians around today.  It comes out this summer and you can pre-order it here

Here the official summary:

ALA’s popular and respected Whole Library Handbook series continues with a volume specifically geared towards those who serve young adults, gathering stellar articles and commentary from some of the country’s most innovative and successful teen services librarians. Sections focusing on practice, theory, and the philosophical underpinnings of the profession are supported by current research and historical perspectives. Both instructive and reflective in scope, this essential handbook

  • Provides a comprehensive introduction to the background and day-to-day realities of teen librarianship for LIS students and those new to the field
  • Offers expert tips and wisdom invaluable to those already working with teens
  • Highlights trends, challenges, and opportunities in the changing world of how teens interact with libraries, and what they expect
  • Emphasizes advocacy across all spectrums, including in local communities and among fellow staff who may be anxious about teens in the library
  • Guides staff in providing readers’ advisory to teens
  • Includes ready-to-use marketing resources, templates, and sample teen services and teen volunteer plans