Be Kind. Be Positive. Make a Difference.

Over the past week I have been thinking about how every weekday at around 2:20pm EST between 2010-2013 that the Portland Public Library would fill up with anywhere between 30-70 teens. I recall the dramatic change in the library, and no I’m not talking about how the sound level would increase. What I’m talking about is the energy, the passion, and the kindness that came into the library every day with these teens. These teens needed the library to connect, to share, to socialize, and to learn. The library gave them a safe and welcoming space to do all of that, and that space continues to thrive and offer the same wonderful and excellent services to many new teens today. It is a beautiful thing.

Around 75% of the teen population that came into the library back in those days were not born in the USA. They came from countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Sudan to name a few. They came from countries where their lives were torn apart, their families were displaced, and in the words of a former co-worker “they came from places where one of the first things they learned to say was “please don’t kill my family.”” The people that came to us needed the library but more importantly they needed the United States of America, a place where they had the opportunity to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

I have been thinking about about the teens I worked with at the Portland Public Library today all this weekend and today as I take in all of the news about the travel bans enacted by our government here in the USA. I think about those teens and their families and hope they are safe and well. I worry about them a lot these days. I also think about the future teens and their families from other countries that might come to the USA someday seeking a place to live their lives and pursue their dreams. I want to help them, but how?

It is a time of great unease and there is a lot going on is very troubling. Sometimes it gets to a point where it wears me down, but then I realize that I can’t let it defeat me. I have to stay strong….we have to stay strong. The way we can do that is to continue to promote kindness and positivity in all of our actions.  Kindness and positivity go a long way. This is one way we can help those that we care about.

Andromeda Yelton’s latest post (quoting the ALA Code of Ethics) reminds me of what I need to do every day as a librarian….I need to “provide the highest level of service to all library users.” I need to be there for everyone in my community. And I need to continue to be there for those that I worked with in the past and those that I will work with in the future. This is another way that we can help those that we care about.

We each have our own way of making a positive and kind impact on our own world. I urge everyone reading this to think about what they can do to make someone else’s life better these days. You can have an impact!

(title from Andromeda Yelton’s post, read it here: We provide the highest level of service to all library users. Thank you Andromeda for this post)

Some thoughts on “THE SECRET LIFE OF A PUBLIC LIBRARY SECURITY GUARD”

Me, Dillon Bates (who is now a Maine State Representative), and Marko Petrovich, February 2013.

Me, Dillon Bates,  and Marko Petrovich, February 2013.

Sometime this past week, a very well written and interesting essay titled “The Secret Life of a Public Library Security Guard” made the rounds on the internet. I was immediately drawn to this article because of my strong belief in the importance of having a strong security staff at urban public libraries. What’s that belief? It’s simple. A strong security staff at all urban public libraries is critical for the health of the organization. When an urban public library has a strong security staff, this allows both the community and the librarians to better utilize the library as a community center. Everyone loves a happy, healthy, and safe place. Security in an urban library setting allows the public library to establish that “safe place” setting.

The second reason I was drawn to the article was because I had a professional connection to the subjects of the article. From 2010-2013, I worked at the Portland Public Library and as manager of the Teen Library had a great working relationship with the security staff at the library.  The security staff at the Portland Public Library is top notch. Marko, Paul, and the other members of the staff run a tight ship that allows the library to be the community center for Portland, ME.  Simply stated, the security staff at the Portland Public Library puts forth many of the qualities of what an urban public library security staff should be: safety first, community oriented, and human focused. This comes directly from the security staff, a group of employees who at their core care about the public library and the community. You can see this when Petrovich states at the end of the essay, “You don’t need to respect me,” he reminds patrons. “Respect this place. Respect this library is public.”. They’re at the library to help keep it a safe place for the community.

I know that to most non library people who read the article that the entire “sex, drugs, booze” slant of the article stood out the most. I bet many people thought “THIS STUFF HAPPENS IN THE PUBLIC LIBRARY WHERE I TAKE MY KIDS TO STORY TIME/PICK UP MY DVDs/USE THE INTERNET?” The answer is yes. This stuff goes on at pretty much any library around the country.  I’ve worked in big libraries and I’ve worked in small libraries. It happens everywhere.  It’s a part of the job that all librarians have to face, understand, and come to terms with. It will never fully go away, and this is another reason why it is important for larger urban libraries to have a security staff. They’re the people that make sure this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in the library or if it does, they make sure it doesn’t happen again. They do all of this without the community and staff (usually) knowing that anything happened.

Marko and the security staff at the Portland Public Library have done an amazing job at making their library a safe and welcoming place for their community. Their efforts and care for the library and the community show in their day to day work. Their leadership and management of all things security related at their library help make the community of Portland, ME a better place for the citizens.

Public libraries, take note. The Portland Public Library Security Team have developed a great model for how we should manage our spaces.

Fin

Today is my last day at the Portland Public Library.

May 15 2010 at the Grand Reopening of the Portland Public Library

May 15 2010 at the Grand Reopening of the Portland Public Library

Three years ago we came to Maine as a trio and now we leave as a quartet. We’re heading to the South, somewhere just three years we thought we’d never call home, but now we’re proud to be moving to such a forward thinking city full of awesome people doing great things. Here we go.

I have learned a lot here in Maine and will always look back at my time and the people I surrounded myself with very fondly. I had some major ups and major downs, but I wouldn’t change a thing. From these moments and situations, I’ve grown as a person and I feel better equipped to handle life and everything that comes my way.

Thank you Portland, ME, specifically the teens, members of the community, and the folks that I worked with at the Portland Public Library. I have nothing but love and respect for each and every one of you. I know I use the word community a lot on this blog but I don’t think I really understood the true power of community until I lived in this town. The way that I’ve seen this town come together has shown me that no matter what, if we work together towards a common goal, we will get there. My heart goes out to so many people that I’ll forget to mention a few but I’ll try: Tim Spalding and his family, Jan Kendrick, The West End Neighborhood Association, The Rowe Family, The Schuitt Family, Leza Gough, Kirsten Cappy and Mark Mattos, Michael Whittaker and Michelle Zichella, Justin Busque, Abraham Schechter, Michelle Souliere and so many others…you know who you are.

Three Things That I Learned in Three Years (4.9.13)

When you move onto the next chapter of your life, you can’t help but look back to see what you’ve learned and how you can continue to grow.  The past two weeks have been full of that and a flood of other emotions for me.  It’s cool.  I embrace this.  However, keeping this all locked up in my head and in my heart doesn’t do any good so here goes: a soul baring blog post about the things I learned.  Warts and all.

ONE
When I came into town three years ago I was a bit naive.  I thought that no matter what the situation was that I could use my positive approach and all of the love in my heart to change things.  While I still believe in the power of positivity and a good heart, I now understand that there’s more to consider.  Some people can’t be changed.  Some mountains can’t be moved.  And that’s ok. 

Out of this came Three Punk Rock Lessons for Surviving 21st-Century Library Hell.  If the system doesn’t respond to the way you approach things, you circumnavigate the system.  You find something that works that is a blend of your style while pleasing the mountains that cannot be moved.  You get things done, you’re happy because you’ve served your community, and no one bugs you.

TWO
I would love to say that what I got most out of working in Portland, Maine came from my community and the teens I worked with but this was not the case.  That’s what I got from my previous job at the Cape May County Library.  But that’s not to say that I didn’t get anything from these two powerful groups: what they did was REINFORCE everything I learned at the Cape May County Library.  If it wasn’t in my head and my heart enough in 2010, it is now embedded there forever and has no chance of slipping away.  Folks: if you don’t have your community in the front of your thoughts, your library is not winning.

Twitter - JustinLibrarian- Libraries are easy folks- say ...

I learned a lot from managing a small staff of people in the teen library.  What I did learn the most during my time is that freedom, respect, and support for your staff is the most critical thing to have when you are working with others.  If you have a staff that doesn’t trust or respect you, forget about it.  INSPIRE them.  Say YES.  Let them run wild in the library.  Your library is stronger with everyone’s ideas working together.  It will form an institution that is not only dynamic but full of personality.

One of my favorite moments in Portland was when I noticed that one of my staff members was an amazing artist.  What did I have him do?  I had him draw amazing things while he watched over the teen service desk.  Call it a bit of performance art and a little bit of library decoration: the teens and other patrons got to see the creation of art in progress and the end result still proudly hangs in the library so that patrons can go OMG WOW when they see it.  It’s a beautiful thing.  The best part?  Having my employee not be bored while watching over the teen desk and seeing them look forward to working in my part of the library.

THREE
And finally: Your happiness in your job has a lot to do with your happiness in the world.  Remember, your job is not your life but it does have some impact on it.  Are you unhappy?  Frustrated? Tired?  Grumpy?  Have you tried to change things and you keep hitting a brick wall?  Have you REALLY tried to change things and STILL keep hitting that brick wall?

It is time for you to find another job.  

This is difficult to say and even more difficult to comprehend, but PLEASE do yourself a favor and go down that path.  Your heart will smile in the long run.  Don’t get caught up on the what/who/when/where/why/how of it all.  Just do it.

Why I dig LibraryThing

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not big into the social books/cataloging scene, but I do have mad love for the community that it supports.  I also have mad love for LibraryThing.  Yes, founder Tim Spalding is my neighbor (see?).  Let’s put that aside because it really doesn’t mean anything.  Here’s why I dig Tim and the LibraryThing team: they are real, honest, and caring people.  They don’t hide their feelings, they share, and they look out for the community that helped get them where they are today.

I say go Team LibraryThing.  May Goodreads becoming part of Team Amazon mean good things for you, the LibraryThing community, and your families.  Why?  Because good, honest, people (and businesses) should succeed.

Things to read:
LibraryThing: How to succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads world
LibraryThing: How to succeed in an Amazon/Goodreads world (Part II)
Free LibraryThing accounts through Sunday

THE WHOLE WORLD WAITING

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While I still have almost two months left here at the Portland Public Library, tonight feels like the closing of a chapter.  At 6pm, we will host a viewing of THE WHOLE WORLD WAITING, a film about  15 immigrant teenagers from Portland, Maine.  I’ve seen all of these teens in the library at some point.  Some stop by to say hello every once in awhile while others are in here every day.

I want to take the opportunity to thank not only these teens for sharing their stories but to Sonya Tomlinson, David Meiklejohn, and everyone at the Telling Room for putting this film together.  This project is beautiful and these stories are so great to hear.  Also, thank you for your kindness and support during my time in Portland, ME.

For more information on the film, the filmmakers, and more:

Budget Fabulous Films by David Meiklejohn

Young Immigrants Share Their Stories for the Camera via Portland Press Herald

The Whole World Waiting and The Young Writers and Leaders Kickstarter

The Whole World Waiting

Eight months ago I told you all about THE WHOLE WORLD WAITING, which is a film by David Meikeljohn, Sonya Tomlinson, and The Telling Room featuring fifteen teenagers from the Portland, ME area.  Today, I’m here to share the finished film with you…and isn’t it great!  It’s so wonderful to see so many of the teens that come through the library every day sharing their story.

Thanks to everyone who supported the filmakers, the teens, and The Telling Room via their Kickstarter page

Information about the project:

Young Writers & Leaders (YWL) is a free, afterschool literary arts program for teenaged refugee and immigrant English Language Learners. The program runs for nine months each year, engaging each student in weekly afterschool sessions that provide unparalleled opportunities to work directly with some of Maine’s best writers and artists, creative writing and arts programming and job skills and leadership training.

YWL is offered in partnership with Portland, Deering, and Casco Bay High Schools, and has served teens from Haiti, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Russia, Sudan and Kenya, improving their writing skills, academic performance, social and emotional wellbeing, and their chances of future success.

Teaching artist Sonya Tomlinson and filmmaker David Meiklejohn created The Whole World Waiting to showcase all fifteen students from The Telling Room’s Young Writers & Leaders program (2011-2012) in three-minute segments. Each story tackles the myths of America told from the perspective of immigrant and refugee youth.