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I’m feeling a little guilty. I just ended a google+ conversation with “You obviously know nothing about what libraries do, so I will just end this conversation here.” And I added a little passive aggressive smiley face.
Why do I feel guilty? My fellow public librarians know. I should be using the opportunity to educate the public. I should smile and tell about all the wonderful services we provide to those who need them. But when you tell me that “they” should take 25% of the public library budget to create a free 4G network so that people can download books for free? How does that provide access for all? That serves the upper middle class single male.
I should have told him about all the free digital books we already provide–for free–as well as about the great services we can provide him when he loses his cozy coding job over at Acorp. Living out of your car? Get a shelter address and you can have access to 90 minutes a day of computer time, take advantage of the free wireless and download books to the e-reader you bought just before you got that pink slip. At least till you sell it for food money. Don’t think it could happen to you? Watch The Company Men. The only thing saving Bobby Walker from life on the street is a loving family.
I recently read Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It’s a hard to believe tale about a boy who’s mother dies sending him to live with an unknown father one town over who turns out to be a grave robber. Yes, the story is a bit unbelievable, but the situation of going from a living wage family to being practically homeless is not. This is what our middle class male that works in tech forgets.
And what about the other people they have to share the earth with? What about the elderly patron who can’t use a mouse? Those who can’t imagine reading on a screen? Those who need audiobooks on CD because they are blind and can’t see the readout? There are many more scenarios, but I think you get my drift.
This description applies to two of my brothers and my brother in law. I find them to be a bit more enlightened about society than many, but they still don’t quite realize how good they have it. Doesn’t everyone have extra money every month? And I know I shouldn’t just pick on men, but they are the majority that have these blind spots and are in the tech field.
My excuse for not educating this guy? Google+ comments didn’t seem like the place. It would have taken too long and too much space on someone else’s post. Internet etiquette (netiquette?) tells us to blast away on our own forum, so here I am.
I’m terribly bad at following through with my promises on here, aren’t I? I believe that I said I would talk about how programs and teen advisory groups build community. When I mentioned that, I was planning a short post because I was hoping to give a presentation on it at WLA this April. Instead I will be helping facilitate a round table discussion. No more qualms about talking too much.
I absolutely love having a teen advisory group. As I said before, I looked at a lot of programming ideas before I settled on on TAG (I’m a dork, I like to say “TAG, you’re it!” on publicity. The teens forgive me.) but after talking to Jackie I just felt like this was the right fit. Our branch has a lot of teens and younger kids, a lot of families. We lose the teens for a while in high school because they just have so much gosh darn work to do–I don’t think I would have gotten this group if they hadn’t started out in middle school last year. Now they are in high school and they bring in their friends. That means more teens using the teen area and the homework table. More teens being a positive presence in the library.
When we have programs, our meeting room is right in the front of the library and everyone looks in to see why we are having so much fun. If it’s a TAG meeting, we get curious gazes. When we have a program, I make sure to put a sign in the window so that everyone knows what’s going on. We celebrated National Gaming Day on Saturday and we got about 15 teens right at the start. Later, families started to show interest and as the teens were game, we invited them in to play with us. Moms, Dads and kids all came in and played Apples to Apples and Mario Kart. I got to tell them why gaming in the library is so cool and they told me how wonderful it was to do something on that rainy day outside their house. I invited everyone back to our inter-generational game and craft day in late December.
Building these bridges with teens, kids and parents is invaluable at the library. Giving teens a library connection to hold onto when they get into high school is key to getting them to return as library users when they become adults. Having friends that advocate and sell library with the air they breathe helps that happen, as does seeing that friendly librarian face as they’re racing towards the lunch room at school. I table a couple of times a year and offer candy for library cards. I revel in the teens that can recite their library barcode numbers to me. The ones that don’t have them want to know what all the fuss is about so I end up giving out applications with a “you’re going to need this for school” talk. Teen advisory group members stopping by to say hi helps pave the way.
I also try to draw the community into programs. When we had the neighborhood scavenger hunt last session, some of the locations were local businesses. I took the opportunity to talk with the employees and managers of the businesses to let them know that they would have visitors and that there is a library, right down the street. I’ve made acquaintances with some of them–we nod and smile now on the street–and one place has become very connected. The employees use the library and the manager has offered to help with some prizes in another program down the line. Full disclosure; I’ve been buying coffee and doughnuts there for a couple of years now. I don’t frequent the other businesses as much and my coworkers don’t talk about the library as much as I do (they probably think I’m crazy ;) I wear my badge proudly and talk about books and services when I’m out and about. Stalkers be damned. But my point is that if I spread my spending money out a bit, I would probably have a wider impact.
I don’t have to tell you that community is the lifeblood of public libraries. Some libraries get sleepy, though. They forget. They serve the people who come in their doors with excellence, but don’t take the extra steps to bring in more (and yes, even when we have more patrons than we know what to do with, we need more advocates, more users). What do you do to entice people through your doors?
As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the mentor program at work to help me figure out if management is the right path for me. I am reserving my opinion on that for the moment. At the same time, I am pursuing other professional opportunities outside, or somewhat outside of my workplace.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a PhC student at the University of Washington asking if I would be interested in taking part in an educational project at a local high school. A peer from my cohort recommended me; she is someone I see in my work neighborhood and knows a bit about my work with teens. The volunteer experience entails giving instruction in database use and being a professional contact for students after they have chosen a research topic.
I also helped the PhC student get in contact with librarians at the county library system when I found out that the school would be in their area. I was able to do this easily because I know their cluster manager. I gave her the information on the program and let her decide if it was something that was supported by the library system’s goals. She conferred with the librarians and they decided to support it.
I met with the teachers and other librarians last week, then today I taught my two database classes. The other two librarians are teaching tomorrow. The biggest challenges teaching these classes had little to do with navigating the website. One was to NOT show how much better my system’s website is than the county’s. That wouldn’t help. The second was to keep the workshop within a half hour. The first one went over and the second one I left out authority. I was sad when I realized that.
The good news is that I wasn’t nervous. What I learned is that I want to get better at my delivery, so that is what I’ll be working on the next few months. My poor adult computer learners will be my guinea pigs. I’m sure they’ll love it.
Other things I do in my own time to supplement my resume? Mentoring a teen in the juvenile rehabilitation system, taking part in my P-Patch government, being a board member for my union and participating in conferences–although that last one is partially on work time. I say only partially because there’s a lot of effort that goes into getting myself to a conference. Some of the cost is covered and some of my time is paid, but not all, and if I didn’t have a will, I wouldn’t find a way. Over the next couple of years I plan to focus more on local conferences, as it will minimize the time I’m spending away from home and be a bit easier on the pocket book. I’m looking forward to participating in the Washington Library Association conference this year, where I will probably be facilitating a round table discussion.