2008-2012/2013: Cape May (NJ) County Library and Portland (ME) Public Library. Little stuff. Teen Librarian. Neat little programs. The surfing songs version of librarianship. Very basic ideas that were creative and at the same time hinted at the fact that I had some bigger ideas up my sleeve. People seem to dig it.
2013-2015: Chattanooga (TN) Public Library. Let’s do some neat stuff. Month long code camps (DEV DEV), sewing machines, 3D printers, maker and learning tables, one gigabit per second super fast internet, entire floors dedicated to creativity, thinking outside the box, and trying to reinvent the library. The PET SOUNDS and SMiLE of my library career. Like Brian Wilson, I was surrounded by some of the most creative and talented people I have ever met. The best of times. The most creative library experience ever.
2015-Present: Benson Memorial Library (Titusville, PA). Little stuff. Very focused to this tiny community. The equivalent of the bedroom tapes, SMILEY SMILE, FRIENDS, and other tiny little Beach Boys and Brian Wilson gems between 1967-1971. The songs don’t change the world, but if you hear them you like them and they bring you happiness. Good work. Out of the spotlight.
A POSSIBLE FUTURE: A retreat. This stuff is wearing me down. I can’t please everyone and I do my best to make the experience a positive one for everyone, but the loud voices just keep getting louder. Do I want to use my time here on earth and my limited energy on battles? Do I have to change the world? I don’t. All that I have to do is take care of myself and my family and be myself. I can retreat. I don’t have to do this forever.
The title of this post comes from something my friend Peggy said to me recently. I needed to hear this. Sometimes we need to hear that we’re doing something good and positive in the world. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the work that we’re doing and the work that we’ve done in the past.
With that in mind, I’ve been updating my work resume recently. In late 2016 I deconstructed my resume. What I started to see on it was way too much bragging and buzzwords that equated to nothing. I looked at resumes of others, mostly people I have worked with, and in their resumes too I saw the same amounts of bragging and buzzwords. The need to embellish a resume seemed to have taken over the world and I did not want to have any part in it. So, I “trimmed the fat” as they say. I cut out the stuff that I did not think needed to be shared. Sure, I was given an award of some sorts by a prominent library publication 4 years ago, but did that matter? I told myself that it didn’t and I cut it out. What mattered was now and the work that I could do in my day to day life. One of the most inspiring people in the world (and a person on my “if I had friends this is someone I’d like to be friends with” list) Josh Homme said this recently:
“Now is all you’ll ever get, and there’s no reason for you to wait. If you wait to do something, you’re probably making a mistake.” -Josh Homme
This idea that now is all we ever have rang deep inside of me and it informed my decisions and my actions over the past year.
In recent weeks, I’ve been going back to this idea and I’ve recognized that I need to balance it out. Balance is the key to any healthy life and if you’ve read my posts over the past few months you can probably tell that I’ve been way off balance. With that in mind and with the words of encouragement from some friends, I’ve decided to get that balance now. I started updating my resume once again, adding back in some of the things that I’ve done in the past while trying to remain mindful of how I present myself. I still want to steer clear of the bragging and buzzwords. I think I’m getting there. In the meantime, you can find my updated resume here. In order to keep doing great work in libraries, I have to be proud of the work that I’ve done in the past. I have to remember that I have had a positive impact on the the people that I have met in libraries. I have to keep moving ahead in a positive way.
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:
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.
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.
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.