Monday, April 21, 2014

When the Death Star is a (small) good thing

"Star Wars books?": lady in her 30s.

The usual reference interview, revealing that what she is actually looking for is a clear picture of the Death Star so that she can use it to make a birthday cake for her son.

We find a few books with great Star Wars pictures, but all of the Death Star ones are over two pages (staple in the middle) or too small, so while she's still flipping through books, I tell her I'll try to find one online.

When I hand her the Death Star (sounds like the title of some avant-garde novel, doesn't it?), she practically squeals with excitement. "You just made a little boy's birthday!"

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A jump and a wave

The dude who came to install our new library sign this morning (just in time for our big Library Commission meeting, held at my branch library this afternoon) left his radio on while he was doing the installation. Dead battery, no jumper cables.

He came into the library for help, and because our middle name is LET ME HELP YOU (so that's not as much a middle name as a middle phrase, but you know what I mean), and because my car does not beep when you leave the lights on and I have found myself in the position of "Oh crud, I need a jump" too many times to count, AND because I happen to have jumper cables at the ready in my trunk, I helped the fellow out.

"Can I pay you?" he asked, once said cable was jumped and his van was running again.

What a baffling question. "Of course not! Just go forth and do something nice for someone else."

Yes, I actually uttered these words. I am a librarian. I help people, but I want to live in a world where that means it will inspire someone to help someone else.

Small good thing making for more small good things PEACE OUT.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Where do you keep your beautiful things?"

I'm at a small branch library right now while my beautiful-yet-ragged Central Library is renovated, and while I miss the space and the people of my original library, I feel fortunate for the opportunity to work more closely with children that a branch library gives me.

(Okay, to be honest, this is true MOST of the time. Occasionally, I could use a little less child-interaction of the screaming or crying kind. But veteran children's librarians have assured me this is true for them, too.)

One of my favorite things about the children at my "new" library is how they love to give us their drawings and artwork. They know these creations are gifts, and I really am thrilled to see what new things they sprouted from their growing brains.

Last week, a little girl (around 4 years old, though with a vocabulary of a much older child) came to the desk after making something at our "Creation Station" table. She was a little shy with me, but told her grandmother, "I made this for HER" (meaning me).

I played it up big, of course. "You made this for ME?!!? Wow! Thank you so much!" I described what I saw in the picture and asked a few questions ("Oh, look, there are some red circles here... What crayon did you use to make these squiggles?")

At the end of this, she asked me, "Where do you keep your beautiful things?"

Of course her artwork was a beautiful thing: she wanted to know where I was going to put it!

"I have a bulletin board at my desk in there" -- I pointed to the back staff workroom -- "where I keep all of the beautiful things that little girls and boys give me. I like to look at them when I work!"

She smiled, I smiled, and for that moment, and truly a long time afterward, I really did feel fortunate to be there.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Library for the Lost

I renewed the visitor library cards of a woman and her 9- or 10-year old son who are staying in an emergency shelter right now. It was Valentine's Day, and the lady had a heart sticker on her cheek, which the boy told me he gave her. "Happy Valentine's Day!" he said, brightly, smiling genuinely. I asked if he gave his mom a valentine, and he said he'd given her a special one, homemade. "The best kind," she said, putting her arm around him. They spent an hour or so choosing books and talking quietly, and I marveled (silently) at their close relationship in what is surely a difficult situation. I'm so glad they could have the library not just to get books and use computers but to be in a place of peace, of quiet and (I hope) kindness.
Laura, associate librarian

I haven't seen this mother and son in about a month, and I hope that's because they are in a permanent location now and using one of our other libraries. I think about them often, however, because they are so unlike what most people think of when they hear the label "homeless."

Soon, the Central Library will be closing for a complete, two-year renovation. It needs it. The plumbing, heating, and electricity are all about 20 years out of date. We're spending insane amounts of money just heating and cooling it, more each month as the systems break down. It's been remarkably well-kept, but even remarkably well-kept buildings -- particularly ones used as much as the Central Library has been -- start to fall apart.

Despite this, and despite the fact that the renovated library will be for ALL of the citizens of Tulsa and Tulsa County, we've all heard complaints from people who sneer at "giving the homeless their own library." (Of course they have the right to say this, though it's difficult to support the free speech of others when that speech is so hateful and ignorant, isn't it?)

I want to introduce them to this woman and her son and then ask, "So, do you think they don't deserve a place of learning and peace?"

Of course, the happy, loving, clean, and "normal"-looking mother and son are easy to get behind, will serve as great billboards and faces of my imagined PR campaign. In contrast, many homeless people are the opposite of my Valentine's Day visitors: unhappy, angry, dirty, mentally ill, and with a tendency to display a host of un-social behaviors.

But here is what I, and most public librarians, believe with every fiber of our people-loving beings: these people are also equal citizens of our city, and as such, they also deserve a place of learning and peace.

In The Atlas of New Librarianship, R. David Lankes writes:

"The power of librarians is not just about an 'A' student, a suburban family, a trial attorney, or a doctor. It is also about the failing student, the battered wife, the pro bono client, and the indigent patient. That is what makes librarians powerful AND noble."

This profession I've chosen to invest my life and being in IS noble, and sacred, and pretty amazing, all things considered.

I end the library-class portion of this project with the written suggestion from a nearly-homeless library customer about the name of our temporary library as the Central Library is renovated.

He wrote a beautiful, page-long description of how, as a veteran with very little money but a desire to still live a meaningful life, he "was searching for a place to land... I utilized the one place that disseminated information perpetually... the Library."

He continued: "I met perhaps thousands of people in my lifetime... spanning half the globe... and while I am not monetarily well-off, I am well-read... I'm sure that there are many people to whom the new temporary library could be dedicated to, but it is my suggestion that it be named for all of those seekers of answers... to those who have a need in their lives for solutions... for those who will endlessly pursue a better way.

"I think that you should consider a name something like 'The Library for the Lost'.... while I've never been good at putting a title upon a particular thing, I think that consideration should be given to those who will utilize the facility more so than anyone else."

This letter hit me in my soul's center. It reminded me what we're all about, who we're all about. Our people, all of them, laywers AND pro bono clients, homeless AND not, are people. Some are lost, some stay lost, some get found, some are already found but get more found. The library is for all of them. What a library does matters, but who we do it for matters even more.

I think the stories in this "One Small Good Thing" collection show this. I hope my reflections honor the good people who kept track of their stories, and Connie Van Fleet, the public librarian extraordinaire who inspired the entire enterprise.

Ray Bradbury said "I found me in the library," but he's not the only one.

Pop! goes the library

Staff person volunteered to serve as Buddy Bookworm at unveiling of the Pop Up Library at MTTA Denver Bus Station. A Pop Up Library is a small collection of children's books that appears in an unexpected location. 
Lynn, department manager

Have you ever stuck your head in the old sneaker of a 14-year-old boy? After he's worn it all day? When it's 100 degrees outside?

Then you have some notion of what it's like to put the big old bulky and less-than-fresh mascot suit of the library's Buddy Bookworm, which various people wear at community events like this one.

In other words, it ain't all that great. At first. But then you're at the event, and children come running up to you, their faces full of joy and excitement, and they're hugging you like you're a combination Santa Claus and Mickey Mouse, and you wave at them with your four-fingered foam hands and hug them back and bounce around... and yeah, then it's pretty great.

The "pop up library" at the bus station was an awesome idea, and while of course I'm pretty stoked that TCCL is sharing literacy in unexpected places, what I like the most about this story is that someone volunteered to put on the Buddy Bookworm suit, with all of its negatives -- because the positives, the smiling children and joy and hugs and fun, completely buried everything else.

The end of technology?

Worked on creating meaningful but manageable weeding lists to send to branches. Decided lists with more than five but less than 50 titles should work. Ran high circulation weeding lists for each branch in Decision Center [a software program] for adult fiction items that had circulated more than 100 times. I was pleased that I had to lower the number to 75 or 50 for a few branches in order to get more than five items on the list. I plan to run similar lists regularly so that branches can stay on top of weeding but not feel overwhelmed by huge lists with thousands of items on them. Also, I want to find more creative ways to look at weeding beyond the traditional low circulation dusty book lists. Decision Center has several reports to help with this such as High Circ Weeding, Supply/Demand Weeding, and Age of Collection Weeding.
Gayle, support services librarian

Although it may sound like doth protesting too much et cetera, I really have nothing against technology. My household boasts 3 eReaders/tablets, I watch entirely too much cable TV, our microwave is a blessing, and I like breakfast smoothies and occasionally curly hair, thanks the blender and the curling iron, respectively.

My problem comes when we conflate the positive results of technology -- the curly hair, the mid-afternoon popcorn -- with the tools used to reach these ends. In education, this often means rhapsodizing over a school simply having an iPad or a Smart Board... regardless of whether these technology tools help students learn any more or better than they would with chalk on a board or a printed book (also technology tools, of course). Sometimes they do, but it's in the using and the user that determines the results, not the tool itself that magically makes good thing happen.

Neil Postman said all of this better in The End of Education about 15 years ago, though his distaste of electronic technology (specifically television) was much higher than mine.


What Gayle has done in this example is use the technology tools available to her brilliantly.

Weeding -- the professional librarian task of evaluating a collection, whether print or electronic resources, and determining what should go and what should stay -- is frequently a difficult and painful process, but Gayle has harnessed the power of creating lists with the Decision Center technology that will be extraordinarily helpful to our branch libraries in the process.

I'm in awe. Not of the technology (though it does sound pretty nifty) so much as the efficient USE of the technology by a human being who knows how to use it.

Color me impressed. Just don't use Photoshop if a crayon works just as well.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The student is the teacher.

People often assume that you develop closer relationships with readers working in smaller branch. The likelihood of this happening is probably higher at neighborhood libraries where the staff tends to know more people on a first-name basis. Still, I really enjoy the avid readers who visit the Central Library. One gentleman who comes in frequently reads a lot of gay literary fiction, and I usually make a few comments about what he's returning or checking in. We've had so many great, impromptu discussions about books over the past year or so. This morning, he returned By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham. As he handed me the book, I immediately started gushing. He had never read read anything by Michael Cunningham and was blown away. This opened the door to discussing Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize winning novel (and one of my all-time favorites), The Hours.
Hillary, librarian

I don't have much to say, except that I love this story not, surprisingly, because of its emphasis on books (and not just books, but literary fiction, which I heart!), but because of the metaphors Hillary uses to describe this interaction: it's a conversation between two passionate readers, and it's also a door onto future and further conversations.


Do you know those horrible Lifetime kinds of movies about teaching where the tag line is something like "She was the teacher, but her students taught her as much as she taught them"? (Cue massive eye-rolling.) The idea, if not the expression of the idea, is valid. In the best educational interactions, teachers are also students and students are teachers, and, labels aside, everybody comes out ahead.

Well, librarians are also readers and, sometimes, readers act as librarians, and the sharing that happens is priceless.