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.

Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, Kids, Libraries, Library Director, Management

Library To-Do List: 2017

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EXPAND OUR LOCAL HISTORY/GENEALOGY OFFERINGS
Titusville, PA has a wonderful and rich history (for a glimpse of it, just read this). As our local public library, I believe that we should be doing as much as possible to make that history accessible to our everyone in the community. To date, we’ve done a few things to increase awareness of our great history. Jess Hilburn started up a blog to share some great local stories she digs up in the Titusville Herald Archives. We’ve got the Titusville Herald archive online for in library use. But in my opinion we’ve got to do more, and slowly but surely we are getting there.

A partnership between the library, the Titusville Historical Society, Drake Well Museum and Park, and the Titusville Alumni Association came about in 2016 and resulted in the beginnings of the Titusville PA Heritage Connection, a website/digital portal that aims to bring all of our organizations together in one online space to make it easier for people to find what they’re looking for. While the site isn’t anywhere near complete, the fact that we have it up and the framework is there is a step in the right direction. A big thank you to our Clarion University of PA intern Kerry Neely for her help in getting this set up!

UPGRADE OUR INTERNET CONNECTION
Living and working in Chattanooga, TN was pretty great and one of the big reasons for that was their gig fiber internet connection. Speeds were fast, reliable, and the excitement of having something so state of the art created such a positive buzz in the community which led to some great things being tried out to make Chattanooga TN a better place for all.

Since moving to Titusville, PA, I’ve been wishing we’ve had that kind of thing to spur some excitement. Our internet options here in town are lacking, and the ones we can connect to have average to terrible service. HOWEVER, I hope to change that in 2017. To my excitement, I discovered that the town does have fiber internet lines in a few places. After some conversations with people around the community and others in the state, I found out that THERE’S FIBER LINES SURROUNDING THE ENTIRE BENSON MEMORIAL LIBRARY. Here’s a beautiful image of that fiber line coming right down in front of the library and turning right down our alley. Wow.

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In 2017, I’m gonna do my best to get us connected to these fiber lines so that in the future we can offer better internet access to our patrons. I don’t know how this will look, I don’t know how much this will cost, and I don’t know if I’ll fully succeed, but I’m going to try. As far as I know, we’d be the second institution in Titusville to access this connection (the University of Pitt at Titusville is the first) and the first public space to offer high internet speeds. Like I said above, we’ll see, but for now I’m gonna dream big and try out something that’s potentially huge for our community.

PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS, PROGRAMS

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Yup, these are my kids Aero and Finn at a library program. They come to a lot of them because they have a lot of fun and they enjoy getting to hang out with other kids. That’s what it is all about!

One of the big things that libraries do best these days is to offer educational and fun programs for all ages. In 2016, we’re going to have offered 320 programs that were attended by over 8,000 community members. That’s not bad for a public library that has a service area of around 14,000 people.

2017 is gonna bring a lot more of that and hopefully in larger numbers. I can’t and won’t take my foot off of the gas pedal when it comes to programming in libraries. We have to constantly be offering something to our community members. Programs are unique to libraries and something that we do very well. Story times and after school clubs work best for our younger audience, while nighttime events and musical performances work well for our adult and senior citizen crowd. We plan on having more of those throughout the year.

DO MORE TO ESTABLISH THE LIBRARY AS A COMMUNITY SPACE
One of the best things public libraries have going for their is their space. Most, if not all of us, have amazing buildings in centrally located areas. These buildings are one of our biggest assets. They do some of the simplest things that a library can do: provide space, warmth, comfort, and adventure. I’ve been thinking and speaking about this idea for a few years, and in 2017 I hope to do more to make that idea more cohesive and understandable to everyone out there.

STAY POSITIVE
No matter what we face directly in front of us in 2017, we have to remember that there is love and support all around us. Take a look around at your online social networks, groups like EveryLibrary, and your local community organizations that support the library. Take a moment and look at the community members you serve on a daily basis at your library. All of these groups and all of these people believe in the work that you do. I’m going to do my best to keep that up front in my head and my heart in 2017. I urge you all to do the same.

Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, Family, Fidelia Hall, Libraries, Life

My Brain is Workin’ Overtime

 *this title comes from a wonderful Weezer song that the band played live around 2000 but never released commercially. I love this song!*

My head and my heart have been really full the past few weeks. September was full of our book sale, the rise and the fall and the possible rise of our Friends of the Library group, and working on hiring a new Youth Services Librarian. October was the month when we finally got that (really really really awesome) new Youth Services Librarian in place, I worked on the 2017 budget, tried to figure out how to get my staff a well deserved raise, and received my first ever request for the reconsider of a library material. On top of all of that, it’s been getting cold and soggy outside and we haven’t got Fidelia Hall fully heated and let’s just not get into the 2016 Presidential Election. Mix in past 2016 happenings such as the death of David Bowie and Prince and what you’ve got is one heck of a year. Just like all of you reading this, I am ready for a break but honestly there’s no end in sight. There’s never an end in sight.

There’s never an end in sight just about what it sums up to be a human these days. For the day to day workers, the parents, educators, and the people who are getting out there and making a difference in their communities the phrase “there’s never an end in sight” has become commonplace. Life has becoming tiring and stressful for so many people out there. Our brains are workin’ overtime. So are our bodies.While I do believe that hard work and dedication can lead to success and accomplishment, there’s a limit to which a person or a group can take….and I think there are so many people out there who are reaching that limit or are well past it. We’re not whining. We want to work and do great things for the world. But we’re tired because we’ve been pushed so hard for such a long time.

I would like a future where this was balanced out. That’s what I am personally working towards for myself and my family. I don’t know if and when we will get there, but I hope we can. And then I hope I can help bring that change to many, many other people.

Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, Family, Libraries

Outreach/Community

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Here at the Benson Memorial Library I’m kind of thrust into the  outreach portion of the library. I don’t mind at all….it is a portion of my job that I’ve enjoyed at every library I have worked at and I believe it is one of the most important things a public library can do in this day in age. Getting out there and talking to your community can lead to amazing things.

This past weekend, my town held its yearly Oil Fest event. The library wasn’t really involved in my first year here as we were just moving in and getting settled. This year, we went all out. On Friday, the library kicked off the festival with our LOL: Lunch on the Lawn Local Music Series. All through the week we hosted the Oil Region Alliance Exhibit “Walking The Line“. We had a booth at the festival where we raised money through our Friends of the Library group by raffling off a basket of books donated by DK Publishing (thanks!)

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The big event was our participation in the parade (pictured above). My awesome partner Haley, our sons Finn and Aero, and our most awesome janitor/all around radical human being Emi Foxberg and her kids Tilley and Abe led our “float”. I use quotes because it was just a book cart full of 200 books that were handed out to kids. Many thanks to Haley for pushing that rickity old cart for a mile in the 95% humidity that day.

You make outreach happen however you can. Sometimes you have staff helping out. Sometimes you have volunteers and library related groups like the board of directors or the Friends of the Library helping out. Other times, you call on family and friends. Outreach is a lot of work: there’s the planning and the execution. Always thank those who help out every step of the way. In the end, always remember just how important outreach is to the community. This gets your library’s name in all the conversations happening around the community. It is a positive thing. THIS is one of the ways we can keep libraries relevant and funded in the 21st century.

 

Benson Memorial Library, Community Building, Libraries, Life, Technology, Titusville, PA

Pokémon GO at the Library

Before I start, I must give credit where credit is due: amazing librarians Chantel Theunissen and Pam Jones of New Zealand for their awesomeness and inspiration to do something with Pokémon GO here in Titusville, PA. They helped me see what libraries are all about once again….people, conversations, and connections. It was perfect timing. I was getting a bit negative there. (sorry)

The idea was simple: purchase a few lures, set a time, set off those lures, and tell people to come to the library. Once they came, the thing that would connect us and start conversation would be Pokémon. We had some books out and about but the real goal wasn’t circulation…it was community building. And it sure did happen.

One helpful way of promoting this event was to target Facebook groups. In my semi-rural neck of the woods I found 4 Pokémon GO related groups. There’s probably more but that’s all I felt that I needed to find to help promote the event. Of course, we also used our own library Facebook page and got our awesome paper the Titusville Herald to also help us by running a story.

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Our Youth Services Librarian Ashlee Norwood hangs out with a new library patron and chats about Pokemon GO.

 

 

We had a blast running the program for our community. It was two hours full of conversation, sharing, and community building. Will we do this again? Of course! We will do whatever we can to start up amazing conversations with our community.

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It rained a bit so we went inside. No worries though! We still had a blast.