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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Criticism, Boycotts, Free Speech and Censorship – Oh My

What do Abrams Books, Carve the Mark, The Continent, When We Was Fierce and more have in common? This year they were all challenged for having offensive and harmful representation of marginalized people. Things exploded this weekend for Abrams Books. It’s being discussed all over Twitter and in the news, so I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details. What I want to do, however, is talk about the idea that any or all of these are acts of censorship.

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

First, let me just recap it real quickly for you. Earlier this year, Abrams Books published a “satirical” piece of literature called Bad Little Children’s Books. Kelly Jensen pointed out over at Book Riot that this wasn’t just bad satire, it was flat out racist. Many people read the article and asked, “Holy Crud, how did this even get published?” In particular, marginalized voices stated that not only was this book offensive, but that it was actively harmful to their well being and safety, particularly in the year 2016. They criticized Abrams Books. They stated they were going to boycott the book and the publishing house.

So what did Abrams books do? Well, first they doubled down and said we stand by this book and against censorship. Debbie Reese has a running commentary on this all here, including links to articles and Abrams Books various statements. It’s important to point out, censorship is not actually a part of this story. Then a couple of days later they released a new statement saying man they really hated censorship but were going to be censored so they were pulling the book. (Edited: They are not pulling the book, they are just not doing a second publication run according to Publisher’s Weekly.)

So let’s break this down.

bannedbooks

First of all, citizens and consumers have a right to criticize any art, product, action, etc. This includes calling a book racist and asking the publisher to consider the harm done with the book and yes, asking them to reconsider publishing it. They have the right to call for a boycott. This is how both free speech and the free market economy work. Abrams didn’t have to pull the book, but in the end they VOLUNTARILY chose to respond to those expressing complaint by opting to pull the book. This is not censorship.

In fact, this is no different then the Target corporation releasing a statement saying they support the GLBTQA+ community and Christians calling for a boycott against Target. Or Kellogg’s announcing that they will no longer advertise with Breitbart and the conservative party calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s. They are the exact same principles at work. Neither one of these are censorship. The same principle is at work if someone decides to drive 30 miles to the next town over to buy 8 boxes of Kellogg’s cereal at Target. Not that I know anyone who did that.

Censorship is when the GOVERNMENT tells someone that they can’t speak or publish a book. Or when the GOVERNMENT pulls them out of circulation and burns them. Or when the GOVERNMENT issues fines or imprisonment for saying a thing. See the difference there. Censorship is a very real threat, however. Censorship is when President-Election Trump says we should shut down part of the Internet or more closely control the press or when he – now an elected official – blocks the citizens he is supposed to serve on Twitter because they don’t agree with him. Well, blocking people on Twitter is probably not censorship, but it’s not a good move on the part of an elected official. How can he serve the people if he isn’t even open to hearing from them? That is not what Democracy looks like.

There are exceptions to free speech. Hate speech (Edit: hate crimes) is not a guaranteed right because it puts people in jeopardy and infringes on THEIR human rights. Likewise, calling fire in a theater or bomb in an airport, not covered because they can incite panic and harm.

Some hateful speech is unprotected if it crosses over into conduct — such as the use of a racial slur to threaten or intimidate someone. And hateful speech in the workplace can create a “hostile environment” that the courts have treated as a form of discrimination.- LA Times Opinion Piece on Hate Speech

Sorting out what freedom of speech is, and isn’t | First Amendment

Limits on Free Speech: United States Courts

Schenck v. United States: Defining the limits of free speech

Image at xkcd comics

One is censorship, but what we have seen time and time again this year regarding offensive books is not. It is, I believe, free speech and consumer activism. I’m not entirely sure I didn’t just make up the term consumer activism, but if it’s not a real term I claim copyright. (Edit: Heather Booth assures me consumer activism is a real thing. Darn.)

“One answer is that the First Amendment creates a marketplace of ideas in which everyone can participate. Everyone can try to sell his or her ideas to the marketplace and the buyers in the marketplace eventually decide which ideas have value and which do not, which ideas are truthful and which are not. We are all sellers and buyers in this marketplace.” – Know Your Constitution 5: Free Speech and Hate Speech

So let’s add parental rights into the mix, shall we.

In Illinois, a parent is asking for removal of a book for all kids because she objects to its sexual content. This is different. One, she is not imploring the content creator – the author or the publisher – to reconsider their actions or their book. She is asking an already published book by a third party content creator to be removed from access for all people because she objects to it. The problem here is that she is involving an innocent group of people that she has no right to influence or control – in this case other minors that are not her children – in her personal protest. She should direct her issues and concerns with the content creators and ask them to respond, or not, to her concerns. What she doesn’t have the right to do is make those types of decisions about access to available material for children who are not her own. I get to decide for my children, she gets to decide for hers. Though to be honest in reporting, in this case her “child” appears to be 18-years-old, a legal adult who can go see rated R movies and buy porn online.

It seems like splitting hairs, but it’s not. They really and truly are two distinctly different situations.

Book Censorship Toolkit – National Coalition Against Censorship

Abrams could have said nope, we’re going to publish the book any way. And then consumers would decide on an individual basis if they would support it by reading/purchasing it on their own. They, as the content creators, have the right to decide or not whether to respond to direct criticism of their work.

Criticism is not censorship. Boycotts are not censorship. Both are protected free speech. If you as a content creator or publisher voluntarily decide to pull a book because you are receiving intense criticism, that is not censorship, though it is commonly considered a good business practice.

The flip side to all of this is that of course words have meaning. If you are in the writing, publishing, teaching or librarian profession and you don’t believe this, then you are probably in the wrong business. We know from study after study after study that reading can increase intelligence, compassion and stronger world views. So of course representation matters. It matters if we continue to portray people of color as savages in tale after tale; of course that feeds into the cultural narrative that has people chanting build that wall and Muslims are terrorists (For more context, Justina Ireland discusses The Continent, Carve the Mark and the dark skinned savage trope here). We keep telling them this with our art. And that’s why marginalized groups keep speaking out and challenging the tropes and asking us to do better. Words matter.

I will fight with all that I have to stand up against censorship, especially when it comes to having books pulled out of libraries. I feel like that is a professional responsibility. But I also support the rights of individuals to criticize and boycott and call on content creators to write better books. I’m complex that way.

Finally, and perhaps most important, think about how the marketplace of ideas functions: even if hateful ideas are communicated, the theory (hope?) is that counter-speech will emerge to rebut it and to fight it. In other words, more speech rather than less is the remedy. – Know Your Constitution 5: Free Speech and Hate Speech

When readers speak out against what is published and challenge the publishers/creators to cease publication, that’s what they are doing – being the counter-speech trying to fight the hate speech.

Note: This post was edited to fix a couple of typos and to add a couple of clarifying points on 12/07/16, including the two quotes from Know Your Constitituion.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: On Being a Teen Librarian 2 Weeks After the Election of Donald Trump

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

I knew eventually something like this would happen, I just didn’t think it would be so soon. The call came on Friday. A co-worker, her nephew took his own life. He was both black and gay and he saw the writing on the wall and he was scared. He read the news, he heard the hate, and he saw no future for himself. Just days later Trump supporters were seen praising the election results while making a Heil Hitler salute. (See: At White Supremacist Meeting: Nazi Salutes, Heil Hitler Chants ; White Nationalists Quote Nazi Propaganda, Salute Donald Trump)

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Last night I went for a walk with The Teen. We walked long and far as she told me how sad she was about the racist things she was seeing and hearing in the middle school.

Why don’t you go back to where you came from? . . . .

I can’t wait until we build that wall . . . .

You are a terrorist . . .

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Another friend reported that last week there were 2 sexual incidences at work. In one, an employee asked maintenance to get them a garbage can and they replied, “No, I’d rather see your tits.” In another, someone said a sexually assaultive remark and replied, “That’s just how men talk.” (See: Trump’s ‘locker room talk’ ; Donald Trump, ‘Locker-Room Talk’ and Sexual Assault)

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In the meantime, Donal Trump has met with the press and is already attempting to attack Freedom of the Press. He has tweeted out about the New York Times 7 times, stating that they are “not nice.” He has tweeted about Hamilton the Musical. You know what he hasn’t tweeted about? He hasn’t tweeted about the rising incidence of hate crimes, many of which are being carried out in his name. This is Trump’s America now some say, as they taunt, harass, and intimidate others. (See: Donald Trump Personally Blasts the Press – The New Yorker ; Billionaires vs. the Press in the Era of Trump ; Trump Says Freedom of the Press Must Go Because He’s ‘Not Like Other People ; Donald Trump’s War on Press Freedom)

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I was a librarian on 9/11. It was a scary time. I was in the library, working, when the towers fell. I remember the fear of not knowing what comes next. But there were some things that brought me comfort. The press, for example, was not under assault and being intimidated by our elected leaders.

This feels like scary new territory.

Freedom of the press and speech, those were things a lot of us took for granted. That fight had already been fought and won, I thought. As a librarian, it was – to me – a given. Now suddenly it is something I have to keep reminding myself and others to be vigilant about.

gloryobrien

A. S. King is one of my favorite teen authors. She writes surreallism. In her novel, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, “from ancient ancestors to many generations forward, Glory is bombarded with visions–and what she sees ahead of her is terrifying: A tyrannical new leader raises an army. Women’s rights disappear. A violent second civil war breaks out. And young girls vanish daily, sold off or interned in camps. Glory makes it her mission to record everything she sees, hoping her notes will somehow make a difference. She may not see a future for herself, but she’ll do anything to make sure this one doesn’t come to pass.” The book was written in 2014, and here we are in 2016.

The Hunger Games was a warning my friends, not a guide book. Dystopian literature was not meant to be a sounding board for government leaders, but a warning call to world citizens.

And yet here we are, 2016. Freedom of the press is being assaulted in the nation that felt so strongly about it that they made it the first item in the Bill of Rights. The very Nazis we once applauded Indiana Jones for defeating our saluting our newly elected leader. Men are talking about sexual assault and proclaiming, “that’s just how men are.” And our children are lining up to call each other racial slurs.

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At a recent conversation over at School Library Journal, YA author Michael Grant suggested that now was not the time to worry about little things like representation in kidlit and cultural appropriation. But the truth is, maybe we are here because we didn’t worry about it sooner.

See also: Spending the Day After the 2016 Election with Teenagers

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Dealing with Minors and Pornography

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolDoes your library have a plan for what to do in case a patron is caught viewing child pornography on your public computers? What about if you suspect that a child or teen in your library is being subjected to pornography, such as receiving nude pics?

In my library career, I have had a couple of extreme instances that I have had to deal with. In one, we caught a patron using our public computers to search for and view child pornography. In the other, we learned that an adult was sending inappropriate pictures to one of our teens. Here’s what I’ve learned from the police and legal counsel about dealing with these situations. Please note, this is not legal advice.

Both incidents occurred in different libraries and we were told both times that we were not only right to call and report the criminal activity, but that there would be severe consequences for us had we not (Duty to Report Suspected Child Abuse Under 42 U.S.C. § 13031). Those statements have always stayed with me. To be honest, I wasn’t clear what to do because I never imagined being in these type of situations. So I’m sharing with you what I have learned in order to help you better prepare. Although to be honest, I hope that you never have to face a situation like this if you already haven’t. If you have additional thoughts or experience, please share them in the comments. And again, let me stress, this is not legal advice, I’m just sharing with you what I was told and what I have learned.

1. You need to have a plan and train staff BEFORE something happens

Our staff made several missteps along the way because we didn’t know what we should do. Both times we went back and formulated policies and trained staff, but it would have been better for everyone involved if we had already done this. In order to create your policies and plans, consult with your local police and legal counsel. Know what your legal obligations are.

2. Know that pornography involving minors is a crime and you are legally obligated to report

This is not the same as being a mandated reporter. This is about being aware of criminal activity and failing to report. And since your library devices are used for the transaction of criminal activity, you can become complicit if you fail to report. Not only is pornography involving minors against the law, but it is my understanding that so is viewing pornography with minors or sending/receiving pornography to and from minors. But I can not stress it enough, talk to your local legal counsel to help staff better understand what is illegal activity and what to do about it.

Citizen’s Guide To U.S. Federal Law On Child Pornography

3. Preserve the evidence

It’s uncomfortable, but staff needs to preserve the evidence. This means taking screen caps, printing pictures, etc. If you can, unplug the device and remove it from the public so that the police can investigate it. Do not log out of any accounts if it can be avoided.

4. Have staff fill out a detailed incident report ASAP

The police will show up pretty promptly, but you’ll want to make sure that you have as much detail as you can to give to the police. You’ll have to make sure and understand your state’s privacy laws and incorporate that into your policy and staff training, but there are often exceptions in the laws regarding criminal activity.

Defining Child Pornography | Stop It Now

5. Take detailed notes during the process

Get the name of any reporting officers. Ask for case numbers. Keep in contact with your library’s legal counsel.

6. Advise staff on how to talk with the public/press

Should the information get out into the public, you’ll want to make sure and advise staff in how to handle the situation. Give staff a scripted response that basically says, “You’ll have to talk to our library director about this.” Let them know that they should avoid talking with other patrons or the press about the situation. Also, you’ll want to remind staff not to talk about the situation in a public space where patrons can overhear. Your goal here is to protect any victims, prevent misinformation from getting out, and to prevent staff from making any statements that can be misconstrued and garner negative PR for the library. And again, your goal is also to keep the library free from any legal issues.

Sexting & Child Pornography Laws in the United States

7. TRAIN YOUR STAFF

After you have written a comprehensive policy and procedure on what to do in the event of pornography involving children, train your staff on how to implement it. Have all staff and department meetings, especially for those departments that work directly with children on a regular basis. Make sure all staff understands what to do, who to contact, and when in the case of suspected pornography involving children. For example, do you want staff to contact their immediate supervisor or call the police themselves? That should be made clear. I think that in this type of scenario you always want to make sure the director is contacted ASAP, this should also be made clear.

8. Invite the police and your legal counsel to come train your staff

Get the people who deal with these situations on a more regular basis to come do the training and answer any questions. They best can explain the law and your library’s legal obligations. And I can’t say it enough, train your staff.

Guidelines and Considerations for Developing a Public Library Internet Policy | ALA

9. If you have an incident, do a postmortem

If you have an incident, meet with staff to make sure that all of the steps in your policy and procedures manual were followed. Also, use this as an opportunity to clarify any questions and refine your policies and procedures.

10. Know that you may never know what happens after the fact

In the case of the minor who had been sent pornographic images from an adult, there was not follow up with the library. We reported it to all the appropriate authorities and then we just had to trust that they were doing what needed to be done. Because of privacy issues, they don’t really come back to you and say x, y and z happened. In the case of the patron caught viewing child pornography, they had enough evidence that the library wasn’t really involved.

I will be honest, it is scary and stressful when this happens. And I definitely hope it never happens again. But having policies and procedures and a well trained staff in place can help staff should a situation occur. And although I’ve mentioned that this isn’t legal advice (seriously, I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice), I do want to give you this one piece of advice: don’t wait until it happens to figure out what you’re supposed to do.

Before You Ask “Where Are the Parents?”

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschool

Where are the parents?

  1. Before you start complaining, “where are the parents?”, I would like to remind you of a few things 1/?
  2. Some parents work swing or night shift. This requires that they sleep during the day. They have no choice. 2/?
  3. Some parents gets forced into mandatory overtime. They have no choice. 3/?
  4. Some parents are juggling 2, 3 or more part-time jobs to barely make ends meet. They have no choice. 4/?
  5. We have created a business friendly environment that offers low-wage, part-time, no benefit, family busing dynamic. 5/?
  6. So where are the parents? Well, they are often at work. Or trying to find work. Trying to survive. 6/?
  7. So before you start complaining about kids today or parents today, ask yourself, what are we doing as a culture to support families? 7/?
  8. We don’t have livable wages for a large portion of our workforce.
    We don’t have benefits 4 a large portion.
    We don’t have work/life balance
  9. And no, they can’t often just go and get a better job.
    And no, they can’t often just move and get a better job.
    There are no better jobs.
  10. Or there are no good support systems.
    Or there is no good childcare.
    Or there are no good school systems.
    So they struggle & make do.
  11. And you think it won’t effect you, but it does.
    It effects us all.
    Because when a part of the body is sick, the whole body is sick.
  12. They are bone weary tired and stressed out and even sometimes depressed and fighting anxiety. They feel shame, fear…  https://twitter.com/i/web/status/780840344648880128 …
  13. What are some things that public libraries can do to help families?
    Offer a variety of programs a variety of different days and times.
  14. If you only have Storytime on weekday mornings, that means a lot of the kids who need it most can’t come, their parents are working.
  15. Try setting up rotating activities in the open spaces of your library as drop in activities. Puzzles, hands on STEM, etc.
  16. If you can find the $ and space, set up a small Maker or Craft center. Anyone can come & do hands on when it works for them.
  17. Consider circulating maker kits & book bundles on specific themes. Again, allows people to engage and explore on their own time.
  18. Repeat programs. If someone can’t come the first time, then maybe they can catch it on another day or at a different time.
  19. Consider dropping fines for overdue materials. Many people don’t have reliable transportation. As long as you get the materials back, why?
  20. Let’s just all think before we judge parents & kids. There are a lot of forces working against them.

Saying goodbye to a successful program

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolLast month I hosted another Career Conversation event at my library. I really enjoy these evenings. I’ve learned interesting things at every single one of them, even when the jobs that the panelists hold are nothing like the kind of work that suits me. The same has seemed to be true of the teens who attended. Those who came to the events because the topic (Politics, Arts, Engineering, Education, Sports, Health Care) is something that they want to pursue got practical advice and information. Those who came because their friends were interested still learned and were entertained. There’s nothing quite like listening to people who are passionate about their work share their love and encouragement with teens.

So it is with mixed feelings that I decided that November’s panel on careers in the Sports world would be our last. The series ran for a full year, and there wasn’t a stinker in the bunch. So why would I pull the plug on a good thing? Several factors come into play. And while I’ll miss hearing about the varied life experiences our panelists offered and we haven’t covered all of the areas of work that our teens are interested in, I feel confident that this is the right choice. Why?

  • The planning and coordinating of the event had become unwieldy.

I ran this event every other month, which means that before one panel had happened, I was already contacting panelists to come to the next one. Schedule-wise, this was difficult and time consuming but not out of the ordinary for programs. What made the planning of this really stressful though, was that I’d begin seating the panel by contacting my top four or five hopefuls. And then I’d wait. And sometimes then I’d wait more. And more. And then I’d contact another few people. And wait. And wait. And by the time I was a week or two ahead of the event, I’d still sometimes be scrambling to find one last person, or replace someone who had an unexpected schedule conflict. Working with one presenter poses some difficulties. Working with unpaid presenters poses others. Working with four or five unpaid presenters? Well, you can imagine the stress involved. This is not to say that anyone I worked with was difficult! It was just the process and the worry and the unending schedule coordination that really started wearing on me.

  • I had limited support in recruiting attendees.

Sometimes, the panel had a clear audience with community and school partners who were happy to promote it. For example, when we hosted engineers, I contacted the high school’s GEMS club and the word spread like wildfire. For others, like our event focused on politics and political science, there wasn’t as clear a link between school organizations who would promote the event. And our education panel – which I thought would fill to capacity – had the lowest attendance of all. After the fact, several regulars commented that they “already know what teachers do all day*,” so they figured the panel wouldn’t be useful. I’m not averse to running programs for the same core group of teens–there are lots of benefits that aren’t just numbers based. But in this instance, given the amount of adult involvement and goodwill from community members I was dependent on, I felt it needed to pull a wider audience to continue.

  • There’s a better way to do it.

It occurred to me that part of the hurdle in getting teens to come to an event like this is the social nature of teen programs. Would the teen who wants to go into archeology come to an event on engineering just because her friend was? Maybe, but more likely than not, she’d find other ways to occupy her time. But what if this event got bigger so that it could encompass the future archeologist and her engineer-hopeful friend, and their buddy who has no idea what to do after high school? I’m hoping that after a bit of a hiatus, I’ll be able to bring Career Conversations back, more in the spirit of a job speed dating event. This would bring groups of teens together, and would allow for one (albeit large and probably unwieldy) planning season. It would also be less dependent on individual presenters as I’d hope to bring in a lot of different folks who love their work and want to share about it. It could also serve as a community bridge building event by inviting the local community college and trade schools to be present.

  • The teens who originated the series were ready for new challenges.

This was a teen-generated program idea. Last year’s Teen Board came up with the idea and the first few topics, and had been a help in recruiting participants. This year, several of our movers and shakers have graduated and the new group of teens is interested in other events and programs. And this is what it all boils down to: programming by teens is going to change as teens change, and we have to be open to that and willing to change course. Even when by outward appearances, it’s all going well.

*

Brad Pitt laughing

Right?!

Sunday Reflections: Be a leader. Be a troop leader.

sundayreflectionsI’ve said it on Twitter a number of times, but I really do mean it, so I’m going to say it here again, firmly: become a scout leader. If you are interested in becoming a YS or YA librarian, or are seeking your first YS or YA librarian job, or think maybe becoming a YS or YA librarian is something you might want to do but want to get a little experience first, I highly encourage you to consider becoming a Girl Scout leader, or an adult volunteer for a troop at the very least.

Every year girls want to be a part of Scouting but are unable to for the lack of adult leaders. This means that girls in your community are likely unserved by a troop, or they have a troop with a harried leader with more girls than she intended to take on, who is going to burn out fast without another pair of helping hands. That alone is a reason to volunteer with this organization that has been a part of the lives of so many influential women. You don’t have to have a child in Girl Scouting and you don’t need to be a woman. You just need to be there.

Girl Scouting is the organization I have experience with, but I am nearly certain that many other youth organizations would offer similar benefits – Boy Scouts, 4H, Campfire, etc. But I’m going to speak to my personal experience here, and how it directly applies to my work as a librarian.

Program Planning

A scout leader, like a librarian, does program planning on both the small and large scale. On the small scale, you have your troop meetings. You’ve got to know your audience, their abilities, the time you have, the space and supplies that you have, the budget that you’re working with (and if you think library budgets can be skimpy, well, you’re in for a special treat here–at least until that cookie money rolls in next spring!), and you’ve got to hit the high marks for the program and get your larger message across. And you do all of this in about an hour once or twice a month. On a larger scale, there are Service Unit and Council events that you can help coordinate, or just be involved with, that require longer range planning: fundraising, registration, being a liaison with outside presenters or locations, promotion and more. All of this is part of the nuts and bolts of being a librarian that they don’t teach you in library school.

People Skills

You’ll learn crowd control, like how to bring the troop’s attention back to the activity at hand and still have their interest and smiling faces directed at you. You’ll learn how to talk to parents about what you need from them in the way of support to make meetings go the way they’re supposed to go. And maybe you’ll even get some experience working with girls who need a little more help than you anticipated. These are all skills that you will definitely need once you have your YS or YA librarian job, and reading an article about classroom management is only going to get you so far.

Girl Scouts, like libraries, takes all comers. That includes girls with the extreme giggles, girls who have perfected the side eye way too young, girls whose special needs you will come to understand, girls who are still learning English, girls who are older than your regular troop’s age because their best friend and ride is in your troop, and more. Not to mention parents who really want to be involved but are stretched thin with other obligations, volunteers with very clear personal agendas, and people you might never have chosen to sit in a room with if not for Scouts. But that’s the beauty of it. Because you get to experience all of these interesting people and learn their stories, and be a part of helping them have a great experience that they wouldn’t have been exposed to if you hadn’t been there. Just like in libraries.

a large circle of girls and leaders linking hands

Bureaucracy–but no, wait–it’s good!

Every organization is going to have layers. In scouting you have a troop, with it’s leader, co-leaders, parent volunteers, parent non-volunteers, cookie parents, and drivers. Then there’s the Service Unit, Council, and National organization. Learning who in this structure can help you with what, who will champion your successes, who will pull you out of the weeds, and whom you can lean on whenever you need it is a critical skill to have in your work life too.

What success looks like

I’m starting my third year as a scout leader, and I’ll be honest: sometimes it felt like I was piloting a sinking ship. But then these amazing things happen, and you never know when to expect them. Like the girls discussing how to spend their cookie money, and in the midst of a debate over whether a water park or a trampoline center would be better, they decide to donate some of it to a local animal shelter or food bank. Or that day that you realize that they have all memorized the song you taught them, or the Girl Scout Promise, and that they actually look forward to the ceremony of it all. Or seeing the girl who was in tears and hiding behind her mom the whole first month but now races into the room and gets giant where-have-you-been-all-my-life hugs from her new best friends. Or the way parents look you in the eye at the end of the year and say “Thank you. She has had a great time, and you have done so much work, and this is really such a great experience for her,” and really really mean it.

Girl scout & Bill Nye

Girl Scout Gold Award recipient meets Bill Nye at the White House Science Fair

Scouting makes a difference in the lives of these kids. And it is so incredibly rewarding to see it happen and know that you were part of it. My biggest successes in the library world have felt the same: sometimes it’s a a real slog and it’s hard to remember why you’re doing it. But you keep doing it because you get these glimmers of reward. The half head nod from the teen you helped find a book last week. The kids that came to your program last week even though you didn’t think they had fun the month before. The book you took a chance on ordering that is always checked out. And then one day, you see that teen in the grocery store and they react in a way that makes you feel like a celebrity, or a parent comes in and says, “Oh YOU’RE So-and-so, my kid talks about your programs/book suggestions/etc all the time!” It happens. But it takes work. And time. And persistance. And a fair amount of tolerance for extreme giggles and perfect side eye, and challenges you didn’t anticipate. And parades without marching bands because maybe it’s too wet for them, but nothing stops a Girl Scout or a librarian.

But it’s so worth it.

The Girl Scout year begins October 1st. They’re waiting for you!

SRC is Coming: 5 Tips for Staying Calm During the Stressful Summer Months

thingineverlearnedIt’s almost here – summer reading. If you are a YS or YA librarian you’ve most likely spent the last month getting publicity together and out into the public, making school visits, decorating, and making sure performers are all lined up and payment paperwork is in order. It’s a busy time of year. And that’s an understatement.

This year I had a first and a booked performer contacted me to let me know they had a terrific new job opportunity in a new state, which is great for them but was a few stressful moments for me. It all worked out, in part because the performer was kind enough to recommend a back-up and that transition went smoothly. After 20 years of doing this I feel kind of calm about it all, but even I still approach the oncoming summer months the way one might approach an oncoming storm. There’s no denying that it’s an intense period of programming and marketing and watching statistics, because at the end of the day those stats matter very much to library administrators.

There’s a lot of very real internal and external pressure during these months. So it’s important that we find ways to de-stress and keep ourselves going. Here are some of my favorite tips, please share yours in the comments.

1. Network for Support

Now more than ever it’s nice to have relationships with fellow librarians who I can complain to because they alone understand. Whether it be the problems of trying to deal with last minute snags on the day of a performance or what happens when that one family comes 15 minutes after the program has started and you are very sorry but you can not let them in because the room capacity has been reached, it’s nice to have that friend that you can meet for lunch or send the what do I do now text to get a moment of support. For more check out networking part 1 and part 2.

2. Keep a Stash of Snacks and Water Handy

A hungry Karen is a cranky Karen, which is super bad for prime SRC days. And sometimes despite your best planning and preparation, you can’t get to lunch before a big program because you’re too busy setting up and decorating and putting up signage. Make sure you have healthy snacks – and don’t forget some chocolate! – nearby. It can make everyone’s day go better. Also, stay hydrated. Staying hydrated is good. There’s a lot of truth to those Snickers commercials.

3. Have a Backup Plan to Your Emergency Backup Plan

So one time our performer ended up being more than 30 minutes late, which caused a whole host of problems. We had 100 people waiting around the library and it was not awesome. After about 15 minutes of crying kids, complaining parents, and a noise level that dramatically interfered with others trying to use the library, I grabbed some books and corralled everyone into the program room for an impromptu storytime. I have since learned the value of having an emergency activity ready in case a performer is late or, worse yet, cancels. Always have a backup activity on standby.

4. Consider Letting Staff Take Vacation During SRC

So let’s talk about a controversial part of SRC: summer vacations. Many libraries don’t permit youth services staff take vacation during the summer because of the intense focus placed on summer reading. This means that any youth services or young adult librarian who has school aged children never really gets to take a family vacation, which I hope we can all agree is an issue.  But don’t get me wrong, it’s an issue for all youth services staff because everyone wants to take a vacation during summer sometimes. One time my brother had the audacity to get married in the early summer – in a different state. Trying to get time off to attend the wedding of my only sibling proved to be challenging, which is unfortunate because our family obviously can’t be expected to arrange their life around our work, no matter how much our work may mean to us. I have had conversations with others on Twitter about this very topic and always get a lot of responses ranging from no we’re not allowed ever to yes we are and it makes all the difference. If you are an administrator who does not permit your youth services staff to take any vacation during the 6, 8, 10 or 12 weeks that your SRC is taking place, please consider finding ways to make this possible for your staff. For example, you can have more performers and less staff lead programs so that other staff may sub in and do introductions on that day. You’ll definitely want to have back up people in place in case of emergency and illnesses any way, so why not let them make sure your youth services staff can have one week of vacation in the middle of summer.

5. Color Yourself Calm

colormecalm

Recently there have been numerous articles about coloring books for adults and the health benefits. You can read some of those articles here, here and here. So when Quarto Publishing Group and I discussed doing a series of posts and giveaways, I knew I wanted to include this book because I wanted to write this post – it’s timely for us all – and I wanted one of the books to be for you  because I know what is approaching us all. So much of what we do as youth services and young adult librarians is about serving others, knowing them and meeting their needs. But there is a thing they tell you when you are a new parent: in order to be a good parent you must also make sure to take care of yourself, to make sure your needs are met and you give yourself permission to recharge. I think this is also true for any of us in a service profession. We have to keep filling our tank in order to keep having something to give. So take a few moments and color a picture, de-stress, find your calm, fill your rank. Give yourself permission to take care of you during this very busy time.

Trust me, we’re all going to need it.

About Quarto Publishing Group

The Quarto Publishing Group (formerly Quayside Publishing Group) books have earned a reputation for style and quality in the fields of art, crafts, hobbies, food and drink, nature, lifestyle, reference and children’s. The children’s program just launched in 2014 with the creation of Walter Foster Jr., but expanded dramatically with the “coming home” of our Quarto UK imprints Frances Lincoln Children’s Books and QEB Publishing, now formally published through Quarto USA. In addition, a number of our general and specialty book imprints, such as Quarry Books, Motorbooks, and Race Point, publish books on history, craft, art, and other topics of interest to teen readers. Visit us know at www.quartous.com and beginning this June at www.QuartoKnows.com.

Don’t forget to go to the Quarto Publishing Giveaway post to win a copy of Color Yourself Calm in addition to four other Quarto titles. Giveaway closes on 5/26/2015. Open to U.S. Residents.

The origami revelation: 1 program fail; 3 reminders


The other day I hosted a very regrettable program. In addition to my role as a teen librarian I also host a regular craft night for adults. It’s a nice way to extend my service population, and to be perfectly honest, I like seeing how an adult group handles a project before I hand it to teens. And thank goodness I tried this darn fabric origami thing out with adults first.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It met all of my criteria for craft programs: inexpensive, can be completed in an hour or so, no special tools or skills required, easy to replicate, attractive. The idea is that you stiffen fabric with diluted wood glue, then cut the fabric to a square, and fold it up like you would any sheet of origami paper.

But here’s the thing: I thought all of the difficulty was in the prep that I did at home: figuring out the glue to water ratio, figuring out how to dry it quickly without destroying my dryer, figuring out how to iron it smooth without destroying my iron (failed at that one), figuring out how to cut a couple dozen pieces square… Frankly, it was a hassle I won’t be attempting again. The library members who came to my program would only have to fold the gorgeous fabric into a decorative lily or a useful box. Simple for them, right? After all the hard work I put in on the front end?

Well, no.


1. It’s not about me

All of that prep work had nothing to do with them! In my annoyance and preoccupation with the messy preparation I’d neglected to stop and look carefully enough at how my patrons would approach the project. Yes, I’d prepared step by step models and printed out instructions, but I overlooked the doing of the project in the preparation for the project. Origami is tricky. Some people practice for hours – days – years before perfecting a design. To expect people who had never done it before to do it with a difficult material and use a pattern not designed for beginners was way more than was reasonable. The doing of the program, for each person in that room other than me began when they set foot in the room. Not days before while buying the fabric, stiffening it, drying it, and cutting it. When we come to the desk, to the program, to the RA interaction, our preparation is merely prologue. It makes a difference for our patrons, but it doesn’t matter to them. The prep is our job. Not theirs.

2. It’s not about the project.

That evening as the group gathered, I tried to cut some problems off at the pass by fessing up and telling them that of all the programs I had helped them with, this was the trickiest. I showed them my steps and results and warned them of pitfalls, and assured them that I was here to help. And you know what? It was tricky for them too. They struggled too. And as each of them left, I don’t think anyone left with a product they really liked.

3. It’s about community

But in spite of that, they all had a good time. They laughed, poked gentle fun at each other, encouraged and gave tips, and actually thanked me. A couple times. I even got an email after the fact! And I realized that what they leave with each month is not a craft. It’s a sense of belonging, an hour or two of socializing, laughter and a break from their regular lives. It’s community. And we are part of it.

In our library service, let’s remember that the right answer is just one of the things we give our patrons. And I might argue that it’s frequent of far less importance than the other things they gain.

Help Me Help You Help Them by Heather Booth

I recently had an awesome conversation with a 6th grade language arts teacher from the local Catholic school.  It was so great, I wish I could’ve had that conversation with every teacher in my community. The teacher didn’t come to the library to talk about her students and research, but as we chatted at the reference desk, that’s where the conversation turned.


Here’s what she told me that I think every public librarian should hear:

  • She reminds her students not to wait till the last minute to do their research.
  • Her students often need a nudge… or more than a nudge, a LOT more than a nudge… to get into the library.
  • Sometimes the road block isn’t the students, but their parents.
  • She values the library and wants her students to value it and printed books too.
  • She knows print isn’t the only way to get information and is encouraging her students to find reputable sources online too.
  • She recently learned a bit more about the differences between our databases, and why we sometimes say “It IS from a book” even if we accessed it online.
  • She wants her students to succeed in their research.

Here’s what I told her that I think every teacher should hear:

  • Your students often come to the library not really understanding how information is organized differently in books than it is online.
  • We try to give your students both the books they need, and a mini lesson on information organization while they’re here, because it’s often difficult to convince them that a book on anatomy will actually be a useful resource for their paper on arthritis.  
  • We buy databases not because we think the Internet is better, but because it’s more economical and space saving then buying the equivalent reference books in print.
  • We know you’re busy, but we can give your students a much better experience if we have a heads-up that dozens of them will be coming in asking for the same thing. 
  • We would love to work with you, visit your classroom, or provide support materials – just say the word!
On the public library side, it’s often frustrating to be swamped with a request that is unclear, or beyond the scope of what we are able to provide, or terribly urgent. It was a good check in reminder that we are just one part of the team of community partners that are supporting kids in their learning and that the teachers aren’t “out to get us” with confounding assignments. It was reassuring to hear that this teacher is doing her best to prepare her students for doing research at the library.  We’ve all run into teachers who don’t have that same approach — and one of my more frustrating librarian moments was while interacting with a teacher at the same school — so I took the opportunity to be as gracious as possible and send this teacher back with a stack of my business cards, in hopes that she would share them with her colleagues.

What do you do to connect with teachers and school librarians? What would you add to the above lists?

Top 5 Take-aways from ILEAD-USA

This year I’m jumping out of my comfort zone of YA fiction and crafty programs and have joined a team that was accepted to the ILEAD USA program in Illinois.  Over the course of the year, our team will design and implement a program using technology to improve service to our patrons and more deeply connect with our communities.  My team, the Techno-Whats, will be exploring simple robotics for children and teens, and structuring staff training so that more people in service to kids and teens will feel comfortable and supported in trying these new STEM programs.

Find out More about ILead

But what I learned at our first in person session is that ILEAD is so much more than technology! Here are my top 5 take-aways from what several have aptly termed “library sleepaway camp” that I think everyone can benefit from.

1. The process is more important than the product.

We were reminded repeatedly that trying is more important than not trying, and the final product will not be as useful or meaningful to the library world in general as going through the process of learning something new. Robotics is something I have so little knowledge of, I was reassured that becoming an expert will not make this a success, but learning something new and working with a team will.  The phrase used frequently throughout the week was Fail Forward. When you learn something new, even if you learn what to never do again, your perceived failure is not really a failure.
 

2. Where imaginations play, learning happens.

Don’t you love this? This quote from Michael Steven’s presentation gets to the heart of both libraries, and our project. Creating a space within our walls and programs where teens can be imaginative and explore without undue restrictions — where they can play — they have the distinct opportunity to learn something new. They might learn about robotics, or poetry, or how to be a better friend, and they might just learn about themselves.  Where imaginations play, learning happens.
 

3. Accessible design helps everyone.

Sina Bahram used a familiar example from everyday life to explain how everyone benefits when our programs and services are designed in a way to be accessible to people with diverse needs. Curb cuts, those sloping bits of sidewalk leading toward crosswalks, may have been implemented to help those in wheelchairs, but it’s folks pushing strollers or pulling rolling luggage that use them the most. We all benefit when opportunities and information are offered in as accessible a way as possible. How can we bring accessibility into our web and library design, beyond what our institutions are required to do?
 

4. It’s not about technology, it’s about people.

This might seem an argument against expanding tech offerings and programs in libraries, but in reality it’s the opposite. We’re not in the book business or the tech business, we’re in the people and community business, and we have such great opportunities to connect with and serve our people and our communities through technology. As we consider trying or disregarding new tech, we need to ask ourselves — are we doing this to serve then tech, or the people? As a sidenote, this lesson was further reinforced to me, and dovetails nicely with point three above, in this Ted Talk about bionics. The speaker, who sports two bionic legs and was part of the team that designed a leg for a dancer who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, said something beautiful. After suffering a double amputation after a climbing accident, he reasoned that “a human being can never be broken. Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate.” When we use technology to serve people, we are using it right.
 

5. We may be in sharky water, but we are the sharks.

I’m pretty sure Beck Tench’s talk changed my life. What a great birthday present that was. In it, as she walked us through her suggestions for being an agent of change in your organization. (The formula is small change x time = big change.) The first deeply resonant moment in her talk for me was pointing out that trying new and different things seems scary and hard because of all of the “sharks in the water”… but that those sharks are quite often our own fears and insecurities.  It’s a wonderfully gentle and and brave and affirming talk – I encourage everyone to watch it.
I’m planning to keep all five of these life lessons in my back pocket for a long time. Hopefully they’re useful to others as well!
-Heather