Chattanooga Public Library, Libraries

564 Days (or, the story of THE 2ND FLOOR thus far…)

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The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library has been in its current state, a place for ages 0-18 and their caregivers, for 564 days, or 1 year, 6 months, and 16 days as of today. If you’re visiting The 2nd Floor for the first time today or have visited us over the past 564 days, you’ve probably wondered what it’s all about up on the 2nd Floor.  This post is my attempt to explain all of that and more to you.

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The 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Public Library is all about people.  It is a place where the community, library employees, out of town guests, and more can connect, share an experience, and learn something. It is a place where lifelong learning and fun meet in the middle, get all messy, and create something awesome.

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The 2nd Floor is a constant work in progress. Repeat visitors to the 2nd Floor always remark how “things have changed quite a bit” and that there’s “a lot more” than there was the last time they visited. Their observations are spot on. We may not have the newest furniture, shelves, tools, and more around (it’ll come), but we change everything around enough to keep it fresh and exciting for the community. We use what we have to make this place a great experience for the community.  If something works, we keep it around and refine it. If it doesn’t work, we let it go and try something new. To be the best library for our community, we have to move forward and meet their needs.

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When you visit the 2nd Floor, you won’t see endless rows of books in the space. Instead, you’ll find a well groomed collection that represents what the community wants. You may see two rows of The Hunger Games on the shelves, but they are there because the community asked for them. You will find our books arranged and presented in a way that best reflects the needs of the community. The picture books are as low to the ground as we can get them at the moment to allow for little hands to find what they want. The graphic novels have their own unique areas.  Our non-fiction shelves for middle aged readers are overflowing because that’s what the community wants.

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As I said above, the 2nd Floor is all about people. But we have to remember that a library is also made up of the people that work in it as well. The 2nd Floor is home to some of the most amazing colleagues I have ever had the chance to work with. Some have been here 15 years and some have been here 6 months. No matter how long they’ve been there, one thing connects us all: a passion for what we do and a great care for our community.  All of our 2nd Floor employees bring different attributes to the table: creativity, reliability, organization, energy, and more.  All of these attributes meet in the middle and create something amazing. Simply stated: the 2nd Floor staff are awesome.

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3D Printers, iMacs, button makers, video games, and more are just things that live on the 2nd Floor.  Yes, they are nice tools to have in the library and it is great that we can give our community access to them.  I am fully aware that not every library can have the same tools that we have in our library. But here’s the thing: they are just tools. The 3D printer will stop being the cool and popular thing over the next few years. The computers will need to be replaced. Items will break.  These are all ok scenarios. They are all just items. They are all just things. Without the community coming into the library to use the 2nd Floor, they are just empty, unused things. It is what the community does with these tools that makes their place on the 2nd Floor so special.

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The tools that your library offers to the community should reflect what the community needs. Does your community not want a 3D printer? That’s ok. You don’t have to get a 3D printer. It can start simple: pens, pencils, and paper. That’s an art and writing station. It can grow to include some hand-me-down or donated items, like a sewing machine. If it needs to, it can grow from there. In the picture above, one of our frequent library users is using an older sewing machine brought in by one of our library employees. They used it together to make a robe just like Hermione wears in Harry Potter.  It was a great experience using tools and items that we had all around us.

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The 2nd Floor is flexible. It has rules because it needs rules in order to survive and function properly. But the 2nd Floor is open to interpretation. The community will make it what they want it to be at that moment. In the photo above, the 3D printer has become the test subject for a teen’s interest in learning how to do time lapse photography. Flexibility and the desire to take a chance on something new allows your community to thrive and grow.

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The 2nd Floor is unique in that it doesn’t push kids, tweens, teens, and their caregivers into age specific corners. It’s about following your interests and sharing a positive interaction with someone…a family member, a friend, or someone you just met.  When you open up your library to interests and interactions like these, some great moments can occur. Instead of checking the IDs of everyone that enters the the library, the library employees are free to then interact with the community and develop relationships. They are able to chat and connect. This is where something magical happens and what I consider to be the best part of the modern public library experience: The library as the place where the community connects.

2014-05-03 12.54.56Sure, we have all this great stuff you can borrow. We have loads of programs and experiences for you if you visit our physical locations. We have loads of downloadables that you can enjoy on your device. All of that is great. But what makes the library magical is when people connect: all ages, all genders, all races. They come together to learn and have fun. They put everything aside and enjoy a moment together. From those moments, bonds and connections are made. Some last minutes. Some last a lifetime. Those connections are what helps our communities grow.  Healthy communities lead to happiness.  Happiness is something global. Happiness is something that spreads everywhere. It all starts with one interaction and it grows.

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Libraries, Teens, Things

TWO Youth Services Things That I Have Been Thinking About (2014 Edition)

1. WHAT THE HECK ARE WE DOING WITH YOUTH SERVICES?
Kids? Tweens? Teens? Teen Spaces? The Children’s Library?  All of the division by ages in libraries has really been getting to me over the past few years.

Say you’re an 11 year old.  Say your Teen Library is ages 12-18. What if the 11 year old is really into the stuff you have in the Teen Library? Do you not allow them in until they’re 12? Do you make a special secret handshake with that 11 year old and let them in, thus breaking the rules that your library created in the first place?  How do you decide which 11 year old is worthy of being in the Teen Library just because they’re really into something in the Teen Library?

All kinds of ages working together. Adults, tweens, and teens. I like how we all just don't give a crap how old we are and are just really into making 3D printed objects.
All kinds of ages working together. Adults, tweens, and teens. I like how we all just don’t give a crap how old we are and are just really into making 3D printed objects.

I say let’s blow up the whole damn thing and think about how we can reimagine Youth Services. Instead of dividing up our Youth Services by ages, why not focus on interest?  Do you like Legos? OK! That’s the Lego area! Wanna play video games? Sure! Anyone between the ages of 0-18 and their caregivers (I’ll get to that later) can enjoy our video games!  We can keep books divided by age because that’s really helpful but everything else? I say let’s let them all in to explore and enjoy the library.  Think less about the age and more about the interest.

2. RESPECT FOR THE PARENT/GUARDIAN/CAREGIVER CROWD
Like any good librarian that works with folks between the ages of 0-18, I sure don’t want any random adults hanging around in the same space as these kids, tweens, and teens. First up: it’s just weird to be an adult and want to randomly hang out with kids, tweens, and teens in a library.  Second: You already have awesome services directed at your age group at the library (and if you don’t, it is time to use your voice and speak up! Tell your library what you want as an adult!). And Third: WE’VE GOT TO PROTECT THE CHILDREN. The line is stale and old and we say it all the time as librarians but it is true: we have to watch out for our kids, tweens, and teens.  We are here to make their life better and safety is a huge part of that.

A son and his father and Ms. Pac Man. In a library. Together. Sharing and enjoying. So awesome.
A son and his father and Ms. Pac Man. In a library. Together. Sharing and enjoying. So awesome.

But what if you’re a parent/guardian/caregiver? Does that mean we should take you out of the picture and not let you in our Youth Services areas? Sure, we allow adults to always be in our Children’s Libraries with their kids, but we kick them out of the teen library and other areas reserved for youth.  And I’m just not into that.  As I said above, we need to think less about the age and more about the interest. So if you are setting things up in your library by interest, why not let parents/guardians/caregivers be a part of the experiences happening in the library? Let the grandmother use the 3D printer with her 11 year old granddaugther who loves Minecraft. Maybe this 6 year old boy can teach his babysitter just how to use the button maker.  The kid/tween/teen becomes the ONLY reason that the adult can be on the floor.  You wanna see all of this stuff that we have for ages 0-18? Cool! Then hang out with your kid and do things with them in the library!

On another note: Imagine a library that offered adults a library program that did the following: You come to the library. You get to have a few drinks. You get to socialize with other adults. You get to have a great night out at a great program (author talk, maker event, workshop, class, anything!).

BUT WHAT IF YOU HAVE KIDS? You have to think about childcare. How will I take care of my kids and take care of myself? By the time you are done thinking about it all you are tired so you just give up and say “well, I’ll do that some other day when the kids are older.”

Here’s where Youth Services needs to step up our games: PARALLEL PROGRAMMING. I can’t take credit for the name. Corinne Hill (this awesome lady) came up with it during a meeting.  Give something to the parents. Give something to their kids/tweens/teens at the same time. Make everyone happy at the library. It isn’t babysitting. It’s helping out your community. It’s thinking big picture.  It’s taking care of the community you serve in every possible way. The parents/guardians/caregivers get a night out and the kids/tweens/teens get to run around in a library and enjoy some great things.

This post was a little more “soap-boxey” than I usually like but when I started writing it things just came out this way. These are all just ideas.  Recommendations.  Thoughts. Try them and see what works best for you. If you don’t like it, don’t try it. I won’t be hurt!