Every library out there has their specific “things” that they’re good at. Those things are the core of who you and and what you do, and no matter what path your library takes you should always have you focus on them. At the Benson Memorial Library in Titusville, PA, we’ve got three things: excellent small town library customer service, great and plentiful programs for youth, and a local history and genealogy focus. That focus on Local History and Genealogy is our big thing in 2018. Just this month we added free access to Ancestry.com Library Edition for (at least) the next two years at our library. In just 26 days, that free service has been used quite a bit, garnering 611 searches so far! Plus, our Historian Jess Hilburn has been running workshops to teach people about Ancestry and the different things you can find using it and those have been a tremendous success. It has been good to see people learn about their past at our library.
This photo comes from one of those workshops and attached to it is one of my favorite library stories. Jess (on the right) was helping this library guest during one of our Intro to Ancestry.com Library Edition classes. After a basic introduction this library guest was able to find some really interesting information about her Grandmother. She already knew that her Grandmother remarried later in life, but when she found her Grandma in her high school yearbook she made a very interesting discovery….the man who shared the page with her Grandmother was in fact that man that her Grandmother ended up marrying late in life! That’s the neat photo you see on the screen behind them in the picture. Just imagine how neat that must be….a little interesting slice of history that was a preview of what was to come!
These types of things that happen in libraries are magical and the thing that warms my heart the most is that they’re happening every day in so many libraries all over the country! This may not be the big boost in budget you’ve been waiting for or the major construction project that your building needs, but these stories are the ones that matter the most. As I’ve said before, it is the little things in libraries that keep them humming along. When grouped together, the little things don’t seem so little anymore and in fact come together to form something big and possibly life changing for a person, a community, or a library.
Please continue to share your stories! More information on Local History and Genealogy at the Benson Memorial Library can be found here and here.
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.
I am very uninspired with library work. I have two major projects in my mind for the Benson Memorial Library but I feel stuck. The projects are: bringing high speed fiber internet into the library and repairing and renovating our Community Room. Both of these projects are much needed and would be well received by the community. I am having a hard time finding the funds to pull these projects off which then leads to a general malaise inside of me that festers with time. Money and the lack of it really holds things back. My brain then reacts to being held back in a negative way. I want the path forward to be clear and positive, yet money is always standing in the way. I’ve researched grants, foundation money, and other paths but nothing is clicking. Maybe it will click soon enough. In the meantime, I am right here sitting at my desk feeling like the end of libraries is right around the corner.
I have signed a contract to provide a library related news platform with 6 articles/pieces from now until June 2017. Writing is something that I enjoy doing and the challenge to come up with a 2,000 word piece has been tough but ultimately rewarding. I’d love to write more of these. Heck, maybe someday I would like to be my full time job. I enjoy the opportunity to craft all of the thoughts inside my brain into well structured sentences. I also enjoy talking to others, getting their insight into the topic I am writing about, and sharing their story. There are so many good people out there.
One of my favorite things to do on the weekend is to do our laundry.I have developed a system in which I tackle certain segments of the laundry one at a time. It helps me manage the flow of work to be done and provides a good feeling once each segment is done.
I am not happy with my weight. I am over 200 lbs for the first time in my life and my body does not feel good. While I do not have the world’s best eating/exercising regiment, I feel as if I’m doing pretty well. There is room for improvement and I will get there.
I am well over 50 hours into The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch and I still cannot recommend this game enough. It is what I’d call a perfect video game: a marriage of great gameplay, visuals, sound, and experience. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing or where you are headed in the game. You will be amazed every step of the way.
And finally, the rehabbing of Fidelia Hall continues. At a recent auction, we acquired 8 radiators, 3 steel doors, 1 set of track lighting, and 1 hot water heater for $125. My mother and father also made one of the nicest donations to us: they got a furnace for our downstairs space. Both of these things were so very inspiring in the restoration process. The next steps look something like this: repair and paint the tin ceiling downstairs, repair and varnish the floor downstairs, install and hook up gas pipes to our new downstairs furnace, build a bathroom downstairs, repair/install new outlets and light switches downstairs, and finally rip out the upstairs radiators and install our newly acquired radiators. The work never ends, but the end product will be glorious for our family and the community so I am OK with the process.
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.
I’d like to talk about two albums that were conceived and released in between 1964-1965, Today and Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)
In 1964 Brian Wilson had a mental breakdown. He was heading for another Beach Boys show when it all hit him. He couldn’t go on any longer being the person who wrote, produced, and performed all of these songs. He knew what he wanted to do, and that was writing and producing the band’s music. He wanted to stay at home and hone his craft.
I was all over the place in regards to libraries in early 2011. I was involved in way too many projects and was dipping my toes in way too many areas of interest. I was cutting myself into little pieces trying to make everything happen and please everyone. It didn’t work.
What did I get from these albums? FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DO BEST AND DO THAT.
“When I Grow Up To Be A Man” and the whole second side of Today are the best examples of why focusing on what you do best can lead to great things. When I listen to these selections, I hear the sound of a songwriter really understanding what he can do and where he wants to take this. Looking at what Brian Wilson did with music over the next few years, it’s easy to trace his movement towards a more spiritual form of music.
Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!)is, to me, the ultimate “summer” album. It has all the elements of fun, sunshine, the smell of cotton candy, roller coasters, and more. It reminds me of my own summer vacations on at the Jersey shore as a child. The song “California Girls”, with its pop orchestral introduction is one of the most recognizable and beautiful pieces of music ever created.Left to focus on what he wanted to do, Brian was able to create some of the most recognizable songs of his generation. That’s why I am stressing the importance of every librarian finding out what they do best and focusing on that. It may look great to be on every ALA committee, have tons of library programs under your belt, and do all of these other library related things, but in the end you’ll get worn out. Take a step back, breathe, and look at what you really want to accomplish.For me, I wanted to focus on people….seeing the goodness in everyone, connecting with people, and making sure my community came first before everything else. I’m just starting my journey, but I’m refreshed. I’m ready to be the librarian that I always wanted to be.
I leave you with this great performance of “California Girls” from 1965.