Zen Breaks

I was happy to see this post from my colleague Leah Langby over at Keeping Up with Kids.  She discusses a number of good reasons to create breaks in storytime sessions. Her list is clear, encouraging and concise.

I am a big advocate of this concept and have blogged about it before. Some people pile too much on their plates and keep jamming more on to serve all the needs - no breaks and just keep doing more. Some people are happily comfortable with routine and love storytime so much they just can't give it up - and are fearful of trying something new. No breaks for this person means things can stay at status quo.  Some people are so fearful of people leaving and not coming back that they just keep grinding out sessions.

It's ok to recharge and re-group. It's ok to take time for other tasks on the job - from collection development to developing partnerships to outreach. It's ok to give yourself the space and time to evaluate, re-work, blue sky and improve the content of not just your storytimes but all your programs.

Talk to your families and let them know that what you are doing in storytime is giving them the tools to enhance literacy with their children.  Talk to your families and let them know you serve many ages of children and you balance the many needs. Talk to your families and ask them what other types of do-it-yourself spaces and stealth programs you might develop to engage them while they are at the library. Talk to your families and let them know you are also there to help them to connect with great books, media and digital content. Letting them know the reasons behind changes helps them navigate that break.

Not only will they get zen, but so will you!


It's the End of the Year As We Know It

I really like end of the year lists - great books and materials; accomplishments; even adventures my friends have experienced - from the craptastic to the truly profound. I seldom have any round-up though.

For those of you who have met me, you know that I am starting to get, ahem, up there in years.  So thinking back over the year to remember exactly what book I've read, accomplishment that got accomplished or place I've been has become blurrier than it once was. I am mindful of my mom who sweetly went into dementia and can only hope that I can follow that mellow path rather than my usual cranky one. So indulge me a bit while I write a holiday letter to see if I can keep track.

At the library, we kept an ongoing list of new, good stuff. A few team highlights:
Library Star 2nd grade tours, high-energy field trips targeted at every 2nd grade class were developed, funded and were a huge mega-hit.
Reading is Key Club, a successful stealth program for tots was developed to encourage use of lots of collections besides Picture books
Partnered with pediactrics clinic for Reach Out and Read, a long-held dream
Introduced ECRR concepts into monthly Childcare Provider CE Meetings
      Sunset the CD-rom collection
      Started a Juvenile illustrated fiction - for 3-5th graders
Redesigned our Play, Learn, Read area into a more friendly, usable space for tots.
Added internet terminals in the Teen area - now they have their own space

All in all we made some good progress. We tried some fun new programs and are looking forward to more experimentation there. Had some highs; had some lows. The team did good.

In my professional life this year, I tried some new stuff too: Twitter and Pinterest; ALA Council and our WLA board of directors; National Legislative day; served on the brand new South Asia Book Award and the ALSC School Age Services committee; traveled out of state to KS for two weeks to present SLP workshops there and taught an online graduate SLIS class. It was very stretchy and good for me to try LOTS of new stuff..

On the blog front, Blogger happily keeps my stats and tells me things. This year, on the very same day last week, I hit 100 followers and 100,000 hits. Holy smollies. Thanks for reading the blog! I have met amazing people through this venue and it has been fun to be able to think, chat and rant with you all. I look forward to more of the same next year!  Have a great holiday season!


I Can. I Can't. I Won't. Well, Maybe.

Sara, over at her blog Bryce Don't Play, had another thoughtful post the other day in which she explored how she creates and how she solves problems the way she does. In her typical matter-of-fact way, she describes her reality and how that has led to an adaptability and level of experimentation that directly influences her creativity. Best money quote: "everything is possible if its definition is malleable."

Over a long career working with people at libraries, in associations, at workshops and on committees, I've met a boatload of creative - and un-creative - people. What is that ineffable thing that helps creators, create; innovators, innovate or librarians, succeed? I've been a manager for all but a few years at the beginning of my career so I've had plenty of time to chew on this particular nut.  Although I sure don't have all the answers, here are a couple of thoughts.

There are some people who are innately pretty darn creative. Whether it's how their brain is wired or just a fascination with problem solving or tinkering, they are playing and adapting consistently. Collaboration and partnering seems to play a big part in  their creativity.

There are also people who, while feeling less naturally creative, try and fail and try again until they find the right combination; they seem to find the path to creativity through learning/observing/applying how it all fits together. One of the things that happens as people tap into their creativity is they learn to take one and one and make something much greater than two. I think the degree of problem solving that happens is because these people are thinking, "I can". These two kinds of people are the ones we go, "Wow, I like that thing/program/service you thought up. I want to try that too!"

There are also people that, for whatever reason, think more in terms of "I can't" or if they are foot-draggers or pretty negative are more in the "I won't" category. Trying anything is a big step and one failure or idea that doesn't pan out stops them dead. These are often the people who say, "We tried that before..." or "We've always done it this way..." or "See, I tried it and it was a miserable failure."  These seem to be people (as I commented in Sara's post) who want lanes and doorways; paths and clues. When something happens that gets them out of the lane or off the path, they try their hardest to get back in or on. It feels safer there - but not very creative.

Sometimes when people hatch an idea and  hit a wall, they just back up and hit it repeatedly - "Well", they say, "I can't go forward" or "You stop me from going forward." or "There is no forward. In any case, guess I'll stop". I think creative people and problem solvers keep tapping along the wall until they find a door or window or weak point in that wall to break through. They just keep trying until the right combination happens. It's not their  first thought or attempt but maybe their second or fifth or tenth and they hit the right combination. It might be a few minutes, a few weeks or longer but that "Well maybe" keeps driving on the problem solving.

It's being open to creative solutions and collaborating along the way to achieve them that makes a difference. It's getting out of the box; into the weeds and off into the forest to explore the possibilities that leads to that experimentation. And that pursuit of possibilities; that willingness to collaborate and being open to change leads inevitably to a more creative approach.

Where are you on that continuum?

Image: 'untitled'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/14064991@N04/3885841075 Found on flickrcc.net


Where You Been, Loch-Wouters?

Just seconds ago, I hit the "submit" button for grades to go to the registrar. Yep, I've been an instructor this past semester. At the graduate level. For my alma mater UW-Madison SLIS. Teaching Public Library Service for Children and Teens. On my off time. Online.

When the job opening came up in June for a fall online graduate-level 3-credit course instructor in my career field, I was like, "Oh I could do this." I've thought off and on about whether I could teach at some point in my career. It was a long-time (albeit, secret) dream. After all the workshops I've given on youth services I thought SNAP! After looking at a syllabus from the last online instructor (about five pages), I applied with confidence and was hired in early July.

From there, I can only compare the past 5.5 months to a wildly careening run down a steep ski hill by a skier who had never strapped on downhill skis before. Syllabus building; learning the online component; going through piles of books to finalize my textbooks; driving the five-hour round trip weekly to consult with faculty; meeting and talking with generous and supportive teaching colleagues to get up to speed - that's a peek into those first two hectic months. And everything felt completely Alice-in-Wonderland nuts.

There wasn't a minute of that time that I wasn't worried and scared. What HAD I gotten myself into? This was...hard!  And challenging! And intellectually stimulating! And freaking time consuming.  The online component was a little challenging and I sucked alot of the ever-patient Distance TA's time away holding my hand. I was glad I had vacation (sorry, honey, the Utah hiking trip is off). And I got used to getting up at 4am daily to do my course prep and saying goodbye to weekends.

The very worst moment was discovering that each of my online lectures needed to be very short and concise - no more than ten-twelve minutes. Whaaa?!?!?!  For a chatty person like me, that was a hellish nightmare and THE number one most difficult challenge. I think I kept them down to that length once.And to get there usually took 7-8 hours of writing, thinking and composing per lecture.

I woke up thinking about my readings, lectures, class discussions and students and went to bed thinking about them. That concentration really pulled me through. But it didn't leave much time for anything else.

By the beginning of October, after the first assignment was in, with a month of lectures under my belt and the students really bringing it on in the course, I calmed down and began to enjoy the experience. I felt more comfortable with the software. I wanted to stimulate my students to see the big picture of youth librarianship and they really responded. It wasn't a fancy course and if I ever get the chance I will make it a little more interesting ("OMG," I can imagine the students saying, "Not another lecture/discussion AGAIN? Can't she mix it up a little to create a more interesting format?")

I'm a little wistful it's over. I loved watching students learn over the couple of months and share their discoveries. As challenging as it was, it was THAT satisfying. But what will I do with all my free time? Hello, blog. Hello, family. Hello, friends. Hello, reading for pleasure. And that's good too!


Gift Kids with THESE Books

There is always a flurry of recommended book lists that appear in November in anticipation of the holiday buying season. Most (my own included) concentrate on gems and somewhat gauzy suggestions that appeal to the gifted kid, grandkid, great niece or nephew. Not that most kids are that gifted but adults in their lives sometimes make picks that they think the kids might like.

Sara over at Bryce Don't Play takes holiday book selection in a delightful new direction, steering adults away from their insanely stupid inclinations to more practical and soon-to-be-devoured-by-reluctant-readers picks. If you missed this, get on her feed and make sure you follow this blogger!


Women and Girls - Power or Not?

Kelly over at Stacked just wrote a powerful post on being a woman and speaking your mind. If you haven't already, head right over and read it. I'll wait for you. *quietly scrolling through tweets*

Ah, good. You're back. Kelly has a couple of, oh, ten or twenty cogent points, eh?  She is speaking truth to power - and to us.

The issues of gender and power, girls and power and the destructive subtlety of people speaking and working against women who wish to be themselves and self-directed has been a lifelong concern of mine. As a young fire-brand librarian I was active in Women Library Workers, a feminist library network and support group that now is in an embers stage of it's existence. I have stood down from much of my active work but I have never believed for a nano-second that we are in a "post-feminist" age.

My partner is a guy with a voice pitch that is slightly higher than encountered in most guys. He has spent considerable time on the phone in his jobs. When men on the other end of the phone mistakenly think they are talking to a women, to a man, they are patronizing, dismissive, abrupt and sassy. When the person on the other end thinks my partner is a man, he is treated completely differently.  This has been a conversational topic between us for over thirty years. "Post-feminist age," my eye.

When Kelly talks about the expectations that men and women have for women and girls I hear her talking. As I commented on her blogpost: "I was reminded of a photo going around FB where Jada Pinkett Smith was asked why she let her daughter shave her head. Pinkett Smith wrote, 'The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don't belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power, or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit, and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It's also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother's deepest insecurities, hopes, and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be.' "

This spring I attended a wonderful and empowering unconference at UW-Milwaukee called "Out of the Attic and into the Stacks: Feminism and LIS". Lots of students and lots of old-guard feminist librarians. It was great to be around that living timeline of  feminist librarians. One question that came up from the students to the vets was, "How do you bring feminism into your work?"

This is what I said: You bring feminism into your work every day in every way. By making sure that you purchase and display materials that highlight strong women and gentle men; that open up the hidden contributions of women and that highlight girls as strong and not just frilly.  You do programs that empower girls but also don't shut out either gender. When girls come in to your library, you compliment not their hair or clothes but tell them they are looking strong or tall or smart today. The messages that we give - no matter how small - matter.

We need to stand strong together on these issues of women and girls and power. It does make a difference and will make a difference for decades to come. But we have to commit to doing the support every day in every way.

Image: 'Superherohttp://www.flickr.com/photos/51336161@N02/5416260011 Found on flickrcc.net


Stop Making a Divide!

It has been a rambunctious few weeks on the alsc-l listserv and then followed up on the ALSC blog. What is ruffling feathers and raising tempers?  The basic question of how we as youth librarians incorporate and curate digital content for kids - including very young kids.

A simple request to share thoughts with an app developer passed on to the listserv by Cen Campbell over at Little eLit blog elicited more action than I've seen on alscl in a while.  Some people got quite off topic with flame-worthy insistence that digital content had no place in the library lives of kids between 0-5. The ALSC blog guest posts followed - here, here and here.

I never weighed in on this brouhaha except in comments. I will tell you, though, I was dismayed at some of the attitudes displayed and the arguments made against including digital content for young kids. Although we haven't made much of a leap at our library, it is a direction I expect our team will be going much sooner rather than later.  Again, Cen pointed the way in her Wrestling Your Bear post at the beginning of November. That  coupled with the provocative posts in the Libraries and Transliteracy blog (now finished) really informed my thinking.

Cen's thoughts dovetail with mine. This semester I have been teaching a graduate level Children's and YA Services course for UW-Madison.  One of our textbooks, Adele Fasick's From Boardbook to Facebook, published in 2011, makes the case for the direction youth libraries will inevitably be moving in. It's a direction that seamlessly blends traditional print with digital content to meet the needs of our families. I would be remiss as an instructor - and as a practicing librarian - not to look further and more deeply into the future that is truly happening right now. My students need to be open to the possibilities they will experience at the beginning - as well as at the end - of their careers.

While I appreciate the hesitation and worry about screen time expressed by people, I also think it is incredibly short-sighted and darn near dereliction of duty not to stand-up, research-up, read-up, learn-up, understand-up AND change-up for positive support and curation of digital content for kids. Arguing as Luddites that screen time is a no-no below a certain age ignores the rich (and sometimes stupid and banal) content that parents are tapping into already. As youth librarians we need to understand and lead, model and recommend to help our families find the best for their kids.

I hope people stop thinking of why not and start thinking of why and how. We serve our communities best when we add to our knowledge base, bridge the divides - and change and evolve with the times. By learning from and collaborating with each other we all gain.

Image: 'Canyon do Buracão' http://www.flickr.com/photos/58817442@N00/352819555 Found on flickrcc.net