Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's hard to be cranky when.....

.... this is going on right outside your window at work:

Yup, that would be the wading pool, which is now open. There is nothing on earth more lovely (and more evocative of summers of my childhood) than the smell of sunscreen and chlorine. I was a late swimmer (11-ish? I can't remember, although it was certainly a big deal at the time...) and never made it past Orange in swimming classes, but still. But still.

Also, the gardens at Nepean Centrepointe are lovely this time of year.

Friday, June 26, 2009

"Christ is the one son-in-law who doesn't cause me any trouble"

Forgive me; I had to lead with that because it just made me laugh uproariously. The magnificent Sarah Dunant has an article in the Independent about "a fresher form of historical fiction," meaning more stories of women!

Some factoids:
  • "By the end of the 16th century, something like half of all reasonably well-born Italian women were in convents."

  • An "abbess... had two children by the landowner next door and, when a serving nun discovered her secret, battered her to death with a shovel and had her body thrown down the well."

  • ...And then the success stories: "women exploring profound states of spirituality, copying and illustrating manuscripts, composing plays, arranging and even writing music."

Dunant encourages historians and novelists to provide many perspectives on one historical event - what she describes as being similar to "the thousands of dots used in a Pointillist painting to build a full picture."


And today's post title is brought to you by Isabella d'Este, who was, of course, speaking about sending her daughters off to join a convent.

Portrait at left is credited as follows:
Leonardo da Vinci, Portrait of Isabella d'Este, 1499
Pierre noire with red chalk and yellow pastel, 63 x 46 cm (24 7/8 x 18 1/8 in), Musée du Louvre, Paris, via

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Pack Horse Librarians

I just finihsed reading That book woman by Heather Henson, which is utterly lovely! I highly recommend checking it out - it's about the (real-life) Pack Horse Librarians of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky. Founded in the Dirty Thirties by Roosevelt to bring books to reomote regions, the Pack Horse Library Project organised librarians by horse or mule to deliver books every two weeks to residents!

A great story (in book form, and historical form) about bravery and selflessness. Also a great pick for storytimes about reluctant readers. I was all like, I'm not going to cry!!!, until I got to the part where the mother in the story thanks the librarian for making two readers out of one. You'll understand when you read it.

Other Pack Horse Librarian reads:
Down Cut Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt
Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area by Harry M. Caudill

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Library day in the life ... (vintage)

So, in the interests of talking more about the profession, and our day-to-day tasks, I hereby publish something I wrote ages ago (in the winter, a few years ago) for a speech given to a bunch of library school students.

An average day in the life of a public librarian

(It should be noted that at this time, I worked in a small-ish branch and did both children’s and adult reference and RA work)

1. Read e-mail and news feeds. Browse book reviews, book awards, publisher’s websites and library blogs online (including, but not limited to, the Guardian, TLS, New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Penguin). I also keep an eye on the major library association’s websites. Consume large thermos of coffee while reading – attempt not to dribble on freshly ironed clothes.
2. Before the library opens…. Go on a roaming tour of the branch. Fix displays, clean up random garbage, straighten shelves. Put titles face-out on edges of Fiction shelves. Refresh the new books area.
3. Set up for class visits – one in the AM, one in the PM. Oops! Revise that! One class left a phone message cancelling because it’s -35° outside and school regulation state the kids aren’t allowed outside when it’s that cold. Set aside materials for class visit in the afternoon, assuming it will warm up by then (which it does). Set up involves getting out the feltboard, arranging stories/felts to present, reviewing songs and nursery rhymes. Some schools stay in the library for 15-20 mins after storytime to browse, so I often choose 10-20 extra books at their level for them to read later and arrange them in the room.
4. Send out an e-mail call for casuals/part-time staff to replace me for an upcoming meeting of all Children’s and Youth Services staff. There’s a whole procedure for filling the schedule, but suffice it to say that in this case, staff have 48 hours to respond. I also set up a reminder in Outlook to check who’s responded in 48 hours and assign the shift accordingly.
5. Due to ongoing construction at the branch, we have some items (especially in our non-fiction collection) in storage. One large bay of shelves is currently housing limited nonfic, and the rest is “in storage”. As that one shelving unit gets full, we have to pull some that haven’t circulated recently and send downstairs to storage. Today, it’s overflowing so I spent 20 mins pulling titles to send downstairs. Since it’s wintertime, I leave all the travel books about warm places, and pull some Europe travel books since European countries are not usually a popular destination during the winter.
6. Re-arrange the YA graphica collection. This area sees a lot of traffic – DVDs are shelved near here, too, so two popular collections in the same place! Often a source of messy re-shelving! Today I took some time to shift books to higher shelves and put some titles on display.
7. New books arrive! They are left on my desk so I can see the new items for our collection. I usually check them in to help out Circ and also so I can see what we have and where it’s going in the system. I then put them out on the new book shelves.
8. Put the finishing touches on an article for the community newspaper. I often send in articles – recommended reading by season/holiday, an annotated bibliography for all ages, or a note about branch programs and services. I usually end up in the paper under the heading SCAT (which is their catchy acronym for the Society for Creative Alternatives to Television).
9. Reference question – conflict with the online booking system for the computers. Resolved!
10. Swiftly followed by another (actual!) reference question – a child wanting books in the Geronimo Stilton series. As the books are assigned call #s by title, not author (the fictional Geronimo himself), I spend awhile with the girl explaining how to find them. [editorial note: the call #s have since been changed! Thanks, Collection Development!]
11. A page has put aside a book truck of titles I asked for – a list of books in the Children’s French Paperback collection that have not circulated in more than one year. I browse through the titles, putting aside damaged ones and choosing which ones to send to another branch. We have a procedure for sending items to another (designated) branch if the collection fits criteria, and we also have criteria for withdrawal/mending/binding.
12. Reference question: someone wants to join the Library’s morning book club! I put her in touch with the coordinator of the club.
13. Reference question for an item at another branch. I call the other branch, have the Info staff there put it aside for the patron, and he happily heads off to pick it up ASAP.
14. Pause for a quick chat with the branch manager, who is stopping by for an hour or so between meetings/appointments.
15. The new book display is looking sad again – refill time!
16. Phone seniors’ home next door and ask if it’s OK to use the sunroom there for class visit this afternoon. Our programming room is closed for construction. Put all books, felts, etc. on book truck and cart over before lunch to set up properly later.
17. During lunch: my new “lunchtime” library book is Chicken with plums by Marjane Satrapi. It’s a graphic novel, so I’m finished it by the end of lunch. Lunch is not especially delicious, but the book is!
18. In the afternoon, finish with the Children’s French Paperback weeding.
19. Read 2 Publisher’s Weekly e-alerts. Frankly, most of the time they’re boring but I like to know what people are up to…
20. Receive a list of items in “trace” – cannot be found. After a certain point, these get filed as lost, at which point I get the list so I can decide if I want to ask Collection Development to re-order. Alternatively, I can check other branches to see if someone has a spare copy to send to Rideau permanently.
21. Repair a damaged board book. Technically, this is Circ desk staff stuff, but I saw it on the shelf, pulled it, and administered first aid! It’s those years of circ training… it’s still ingrained in me…
22. Storytime time! I close the Info Desk for 45 mins and go over to the seniors’ home to meet my visiting class. 35 mins of stories, songs, felts, and rhymes… and then I stayed to chat with the kids and teacher. Sometimes the kids hug me, ask me questions about the books, tell me stories about their dog or cat if we’re reading about dogs and cats. Today our theme is wintertime so we read If you take a mouse to the movies, Snowmen at night, and Snow (a new storybook in the collection that discusses what happens in nature when the seasons change: the water freezes, bears hibernate, snow falls, etc.)
23. A patron complains about a book title (I honestly forget what it was, but it did have some kind of profanity in the title) and I tell him about the library’s “Request for Reconsideration of Library Materials” policy and give him the related form in case he wants to fill it out.
24. Reference question – volume 2 of a certain DVD is missing – can we order another copy?
25. Our morning book club is doing Penelopiad by Atwood next month so I order a few extra copies to have on hand, anticipating patron requests.
26. Computer problems and printer problems on the public Internet stations! I intervene!
27. Reference question: request for the new John Grisham.
28. I order in some non-fiction books for an upcoming holiday so I can do a display. Even if we have limited non-fiction on the shelves right now, it’s important to make sure patrons still get what they are looking for ASAP, especially during the holidays!
29. Reference question: A patron desperately needs a video through inter-library loan from a university in another city. She wants to use the video in an art exhibit she is planning for school. Most libraries do not send audiovisual materials through ILL, but I help her get in touch with the AV librarian at the university to arrange a loan through her school or get her contact info for the video’s publisher.
30. Quickly browse a few professional literature magazines that have come in for me (Library Journal, Horn Book, etc.) My favourite-of-the-moment is Canadian Children’s Literature: it’s like reading TLS, because you need lots of time and a clear head, but the articles are often amazingly good.
31. Prepare for a class visit tomorrow morning: put aside books, prepare notes for booktalk. I use an elaborate system of sticky notes: many are stuck on the back cover so I can hold the book up and have notes to remind me in case I get off topic while talking. Most of the time, I save the notes in my “class visits” binder. I also print out a one-page summary of each class visit and what I talked about, so I can save them for later. I also add any notes about the class: do they like mysteries, are they into Harry Potter… etc.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Archived posts: CLA 2007

Building the Future: A Youth Development Model for Teen Services
This session focused on ways in which libraries are engaging youth, especially by reaching out and partnering with other community services to create youth-tailored programming. My favourite part was Halifax's Hear We Are Radio Project. Speaker Karen Dahl told us about how Hear We Are started out as a creative way to explore the Spryfield neighborhood of Halifax; the participating teens attended weekly workshops about radio and, during the March Break Radio camp, they went on a field trip to the King’s School of Journalism radio studio and the CKDU 88.1 FM radio station. Participants learned about interviewing and editing skills, and ended up producing audio pieces based on their personal stories and experiences growing up in Spryfield. Find out more about the Hear We Are Radio Project here.
Lita Barrie and Kirsten Andersen spoke about the changing nature of teen services. Some resources mentioned:
Building Better Communities: Community Development in Action
The complete text of this session is available here.
Some great ideas from Hamilton Public Library staff in this session, including:
  • Formalized partnership agreements (example)
  • Be creative when seeking out new partners – HPL went to the Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting, paid for the food and pitched the library databases to attendees!
  • Hamilton considers the city itself one of their partners, and tries to reach out to city staff in different departments by, for example, placing library databases on the city network computer desktops.
  • HPL staff also attend city department meetings and talk to staff about how the library can help them do their jobs better.
  • Training for staff to develop/sustain partnerships is crucial. In fact, she trains all new youth services staff about basic “meeting skills” when they are hired. Training includes a discussion of our role in meetings and a focus on how what was discussed at each meeting can fit with HPL’s goals and strategic plans.
Ken Roberts briefly discussed the Idea Store concept in Britain during this session! He proposed that while the “library” brand may indeed be lost in the UK, it is still exceptionally powerful in Canada.

The Big Adventure: Canadian Library Workers Go Abroad
  • Sue Adams, Librarian, Coady Institute, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS
  • Sybil Harrison, Hamilton Public Library, and recently returned from the United Arab Emirates, ON
  • Larry McCallum, recently returned from the United Arab Emirates
  • Bob McKee, CEO, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, United Kingdom
  • Janis Rapchuk, Librarian, Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, Calgary, AB
Bob McKee opened the session by briefly outlining some competencies and skills required for international library work: the most important things are personal skills, he underlined, because technical skills are taken for granted. He drew on the IFLA governing board’s opinions (after a one-on-one conversation he had with 20 members) to outline the basic skills:
  • A sense of adventure!
  • Acceptance of others (what is called “cultural literacy”)
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Consistency and authenticity (“being comfortable in one’s own skin”)
  • Awareness of the language issues – English itself may be different in different places!
He also outlined some criteria developed by a Danish library school about the issues around internationalism:
  • Only the minority of the population is interested in this type of work
  • Possibilities to develop leadership capabilities
  • Working with multi-ethnic staff
From looking at management texts about the global business world, McKee also noticed emphasis on skills such as:
  • An ability to cope with complexity/ambiguity/unfamiliarity
  • An ability and a desire to lead
  • An ability to cope with stress!
Finally, employability skills are the transferable, so experiences in foreign countries will be relevant to your career upon returning home.

Larry and Sybil then spoke about their recent experiences in the UAE. They were in the city of Abu Dhabi, at the Higher Colleges of Technology, a segregated group of 14 colleges with 16000 students. The UAE has a population if 1.5 million people, of whom only 20% are nationals. Sybil was manager of systems and technical services and later also dean of learning services. She mentioned the fact that there were definitely “different approaches to planning and executing” projects than she was used to. She mentioned the words “insh’allah” (God willing) and “wasta” (referring to influence – or sometimes favouritism - and the importance of forging relationships in business dealings) as being especially important to the culture – these concepts affected her interactions with others and her professional work in the UAE. She also found that some of her core ethical professional values as a librarian were “challenged” in her work: specifically, ideas about privacy and intellectual freedom were quite different in the UAE. She also listed some of the joys of working abroad:
  • The library community in Abu Dhabi
  • The diversity in her workplace
  • An overwhelming appreciation for her work and her efforts
  • Knowledge that what she does “makes a difference”
  • For her, specifically, one of the joys was working with the Emirati women. She talked about how this generation of women entering the workforce was the first to be educated and had a lot of enthusiasm. They were sponges for information and eager to learn all they could.
  • The expatriate community was also very valuable – Sybil helped organize a Terry Fox run in Abu Dhabi, which had 6000 participants and raised $ for local UAE cancer research.
  • She developed a broader worldview and feels she is a better manager and a better librarian because of her experience in the UAE.
Janis Rapchuk then spoke about her experiences working as a volunteer for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Her trip to Kabul last year was co-funded by Canadian Women for Women and the University of Manitoba. In Kabul, she worked at the Kabul Medical Institute, checking on the progress of collections donated by the Canadian Medical Students Association. She was supposed to be checking the usage of the collection and training staff; however, on her first day, she quickly discovered that things don’t always run smoothly! For one thing, all the computers were covered with dust cloths because they were unused because of frequent power outages. When they finally were able to get online for training the fourth day she was there, she discovered that many of the staff needed basic computer training and so she ended up focusing on that rather than library training. She also encouraged some basic changes in the library: when she first arrived, the library had barred windows and you had to ask for your item and a staff member would fetch it from closed stacks. She observed that staff were creatures of habit and tended to give out the same textbooks for each subject, regardless of the other similar textbooks available on the shelves. She encouraged the staff to open the stacks to the users, and created a binder of available books for students to browse in the meantime.

She also spoke about her visit to the Nazo Anah Library in Afghanistan, where they have a 22-year-old librarian (no library degree) working in a public library setting. She runs the usual children’s programs and also teaches human rights, maternal health and sewing in the library. The Afghan Women’s Centre, which she also visited, has an 18-year-old librarian and has Internet and Microsoft Office access for users. The library is packed with users on the computers! Finally, she visited one of three Fatima Tul Zahra schools in Afghanistan. These schools are one of her pet projects: they accept orphans into mixed classes, with lessons 6 days of the week and one meal provided (this is often the only meal of the day for many students). They have over 1000 students at the moment.

Lastly, Sue Adams spoke about her work with the Cody Institute, where development professionals get together and learn before heading back to their respective NGOs. Students come to the Institute from all over the world; countries in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean have a partnership with the Institute and the relationship continues after the students return to their home country. She talked about more important things to keep in mind when considering working abroad:
  • Skills: Adaptability, flexibility and a sense of personal autonomy
  • People skills: take time to really listen to and know people, interact with them, be personal and be involved with the local people. Interact in an “authentic” way.
  • Be sensitive to power differentials: if a librarian from Mali came into your library to lend his/her expertise, how might you feel? What if that person spoke another language? This is the type of situation you might find yourself in….
  • Build solidarity: get to know and relate to people; hang out with them outside of work!
Shawn Whatley, the president of the World Libraries Interest Group of CLA, closed by discussing the possibility of developing a Canadian website bringing together the various places that have openings for international library work. He noted that currently, the Foothills Library Association has an international section on their jobs page. There was a brief discussion about qualifications – North American, ALA-accredited library school degrees are the most portable, and further reciprocity/harmonization of various MLIS degrees in the English-speaking world will be discussed at Durban this year. Shawn and others noted that the bulk of applications for international library work come from new librarians – hiring a new librarian often has both benefits and risks...! It is apparently hardest to find people to fill systems/cataloguing positions abroad.

Mildly Delirious Libraries: Recreating your Library from the Top to Bottom
(This was the session that inspired bringing GASP to Ottawa! It featured Peter Robinson, the Managing Director of Mildly Delirious Design, along with the staff of West Palm Beach Public Library, Florida).

The GASP process of developing a brand identity was developed by Peter Robinson and used by West Palm Beach Public Library to complete its extensive library renovations in the mid 1990s.
G = Graphics – the image projected (e.g. bold, eye-catching…)
A = Ambiance – the feeling in the air (e.g. nurturing, warm, frantic…)
S = Style – service approach (e.g. formal or friendly? Hip/urban…)
P = Presentation – personality and programs (e.g. definition of place: distinctive and also refers to how you bring the concept to patrons)

According to the GASP workbook provided to attendees of the session, “once the identity is defined, this identity is translated into a cohesive concept. […] This concept is then used to guide all decision making in creating spaces, selecting colors, lighting, materials, integrating interior furnishings, graphics, style of services, and programs.” The plan at WPBPL was to create an ID or “brand”, establish a “look”, create a cultural shift with staff and create that “aha” factor in the library’s look and services.

Some interesting things from the WPBPL experience:
  • People behave better in a pleasant environment (dude! Totally!!!)
  • Like the Google logo, the WPBPL logo has different “costumes” for different seasons or themes!
  • Special attention was paid to the children’s area: they wanted to reach kids on their level (literally!), they wanted them to be part of the family and to feel that this was “their space”.
  • A short brochure for staff was developed. On the front were the “Four steps of service” (welcome your guest – use their name when possible; be your best self; make the transaction possible; say goodbye with warmth), “Who we are” and “What we do”.
The Role and Responsibility of the Public Library to Promote the Reading Culture as a Key to Sustainability
  • Dr. DeNel Rehberg Sedo, Professor, Mount Saint-Vincent University, North American Director, The Beyond the Book Project, Hubbards, NS
  • Janice Douglas, Director, Community Relations and Programming, Vancouver Public Library, BC
The session opened with a brief overview of some demographic and cultural trends:
  • The technological revolution is only just beginning and it is HUGE
  • Most of the planet (60%) now live in cities
  • The middle class is a thin line: the third world is still a big portion of the world’s population
  • 42% of the public is identified as being in the lowest 2 levels of literacy (out of 5 levels)
  • Refer to All Our Future: Creativity, Culture and Education (summary here) for more information about the importance of creativity, the arts, and reading in the economy of the future.
What does this mean for the library of the future? The library will be the cultural (not informational) hub of the community. There will not be one source of all information – rather libraries will support lifelong learning and life cycle librarianship.

The Beyond the Book Project
is an examination/explanation and comparison of the complexity and the uses of shared reading in different locations. Shared reading refers to projects such as One book, one city, CBC Canada Reads, Oprah’s Book Club or the Richard and Judy phenomenon in the UK. Specifically, some of the questions examined are: who participates in these shared reading projects? Who is excluded and on what terms? What is needed for the project to be successful?

Some ideas: the location of the meeting place is important (example of positive space given was Vancouver Public Library!) – it should be welcoming, supportive and comfortable. The setting of the book is also important – the topic or the themes should be regionally significant. The programs that have “community buy-in” are not run exclusively by the library: most are initiated by the library but with support from other partners in the community.

Pop quiz: who can tell me what a librarian does?

Not that many people, I can tell you from experience. From my real estate agent in Montreal telling me, "I was a librarian ... when I was about 16!" (yes, she meant she shelved books for a summer job), to the countless replies, "Oh, I had no idea you needed a Masters degree for that!," I'm not unaware that we have an image problem. I think the reasons we continue to have such a big problem when we have, in most cases, passed the point of the bunned, bespectacled librarian, are complicated. It has something to do with the way people romanticise libraries as a place, as a repository for knowledge, unchanging through time (as opposed to a vibrant, busy, constantly-adapting place filled with new and old knowledge).

It also has something to do with the type of people our profession attracts. By the time people get to a point where they understand what a librarian is, they have often become regular library users, and are therefore already part of one sub-set of humanity. We attract to the field of librarianship (and I am including knowledge management, archivists, and others in here, much to their probable chagrin) people who are readers, lovers of intellectual freedom, book-worshippers, dreamers, thinkers, observers, guardians. We do not attract (and I speak in general here!) people who are naturally outgoing, outspoken, political, ground-breakers.

In many places, these skills are unnecessary for everyday work. They are especially necessary, I would argue, in public libraries, where librarians often act, especially as they move up to management, as representatives of their organisation to the public, the media, local government, and non-users. Even on the ground, in community branches, it takes a certain type of person to do effective outreach in the community, and, let's face it, the person behind the Reference desk often isn't inclined (or well-prepared, but that could be a whole other post about library school education gaps!) to reach out, speak out, or effectively make those community connections.

I think about this situation all the time - not only do we tend to "keep our heads down," focusing on our work and advocacy for our organisation rather than advocacy for the profession as a whole, but we continue to undervalue people skills, love of connection and community, public speaking, and leadership potential when training and hiring (public) librarians. I think someone needs to do a scientific study about children's librarians, because I hear anecdotally (Superconference 2008: Session # 1206, entitled The Path to the CEO's Office) that they tend to end up as directors more frequently than other food groups. I suspect that once you've bid your dignity farewell by doing storytime in front of grown-ups, you have no shame left and are willing to speak up and take initiative.

I have an ongoing struggle trying to convince people that I was once exceptionally, debilitatingly, shy. I did learn to deal with it, mostly by pushing the fear down really far (I'm far too good at that, and at pushing down other emotions, too, but that's another story) and putting up a very brave front. It works a bit too well, because sometimes I say the wrong thing, and I'm sure people think I'm weird, but if it's happened to you talking to me, now you know it's likely because I was actually really nervous and blurted something out without thinking. I get nervous especially on the phone, for some reason, and even talking to people I know really well.

All that to say, I'm not insensitive to the often crippling feeling of shyness, and I understand why our profession ends up with so many shy people. I'm not saying we all need to be future leaders, or future revolutionaries; I'm just suggesting we need to take both small and big steps to advance our profession, some of which can be done by addressing our introvert (collective and individual) natures.

What triggered this rant was reading the Lipstick Librarian this morning. She was writing about minorities in the profession (or the lack thereof, rather). She points to a report by the ACRL Board of Directors Diversity Task Force (a subgroup of the ACRL Board of Directors) that states that "the biggest factor for minorities applying to library school is prior work experience in a library--in other words, direct exposure to the work." No kidding. That's why we don't attract lots of people, including minorities! How much do we talk about what we do, or show people? Sure, we get our friends' kids jobs shelving, and we talk about books to our friends, but do we talk about our day-to-day tasks? Do we even talk about them with circulation staff or pages in our own libraries (they are our biggest advocates, too!)? Do we talk about bigger issues, like copyright, the digital divide, intellectual freedom, RDA,.... with our non-librarian friends?

I try to make a point, at parties, for instance, if my profession comes up in conversation, of giving a few concrete examples of what I do in an average day. I might casually (at least I hope it's casually) mention supporting a book club with articles and online resources, visiting a grade 5 class and talking about great new fiction and non-fiction titles, judging book prizes, going to a teen mums' group to talk about babytime at the library, and so on. Every single time I do this, I get an exclamation of surprise, and interest: Oh! I had no idea you do that sort of thing! Once, my friend's husband asked me outright what I thought about the death of the book. I was so pleased, and on I went about libraries not being about books (books are a format; the format will change) but about knowledge, community, heritage, lifelong learning.... His eyes (luckily) did not glaze over, and he said, huh, I never thought of it that way.

I truly believe that even small victories like this advance our profession, slowly, step by step. There's nowhere to go but up: A 2006 survey of MLIS students at the University of Alabama’s SLIS found that only 2% listed the profession as a goal since high school. Seriously, 2%. Sadly, that says something about the state of American school libraries (or lack thereof, and therefore lack of good role models for our career), but it also says something about the general lack of awareness of libraries (public or otherwise) and of librarians as a part of children's communities, or personal lives.

The ARCL study goes on to underline that "The professional and research literature and Web presence on library and information science recruitment and retention ... suffer[s] from divergence," meaning that we divide our efforts and resources, instead of unifying them under one banner. The example given in the study of an unified presence for recruitment and retention is, but I would also suggest that Canadian chartered accountants have done a super job, also, with their CA advantage ad campaign. They're now implementing phase 2, "Decisions matter." The ads are brilliant.

Why can't we develop a national “ad campaign” for Canadian librarians? Coupled with recruiting, training, and supporting leaders within the profession, we could make a big difference in the type of professionals we attract, and the type of image we project in the world at large. Meanwhile, we have to never turn the "librarian" off, and seize every opportunity for public education and discussion of our role in the world. We simply can't afford to keep quiet, and toil in relative obscurity, any longer.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Urban bunnies

So, my week has so far sucked, quite profoundly. But this is Not That Kind of Blog, so, instead, I would like to point out the following: Ottawa has urban bunnies. In fact, it's one of the three things that keeps me from swallowing my own gun in this city (the other two would be Culinary Conspiracy and The Ottawa Writer's Festival).

Ce soir, I was out with a visiting friend, trying to restrain myself from trashing Ottawa too much while appreciating having a conversation with another educated, progressive-thinking, sympathetic-to-the-arts, human being, and on the way home, I wondered - crap, did I trash Ottawa too much? It's like going out for drinks with girlfriends wondering if you talked too much smack about your boyfriend.

And then this appeared in a driveway on my street, and I was utterly charmed.

And yes, the only nice thing I have to contribute this week is rabbits. They're not even calico, like yours, Bec. Alas.

Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries

I somehow missed this (old) link... Thanks to TEV for reminding me.

Scroll, scroll, scroll. It's worth it. The Biblioteca Di Bella Arti in Milan is now my desktop.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Archived post: CLA 2006

Idea Stores: A New Model of Service Provision
Summary: "An introduction to the principles of the Idea Store concept, and the market research which informed its development in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The presentation will explain the nature of partnership working which is central to the achievement of the strategy and will provide the latest information on this unique strategy’s successful implementation."
Speaker: Heather Wills, Idea Store Programme Director, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, England

Why Idea Stores? Well, in the Borough of Tower Hamlets:
• 31% of the population have access to the Internet
• Fewer than 20% use their local Library
• Fewer than 5% use adult education services
• 35% have basic adult literacy needs
• 30% of the population are Bangladeshi
• 50% are part of a visible minority
Intensive marketing research was undertaken to try to connect some of the dots here. Results showed that:
• 98% considered libraries to be important
• Many noted that the local libraries were old-fashioned, in need of investment and updating, or were located far from home/work
• Many commented that they would visit libraries if they could combine Library visits with other activities – i.e. if the Library was on a "high street" where the shops were.

Lessons to be learned:
  • Location is key!!!!
  • Barriers to learning include: opening hours, psychological barriers, image barriers….
  • Libraries have to be designed around modern lifestyles if they hope to stay relevant
  • Attract youth
  • Focus on books but also invest heavily in IT
  • Integrate related activities seamlessly
So, what are Idea Stores? (see news stories for more info!)
They are places that support libraries, learning (courses), exhibits and public performances, a café, a daycare (esp. for parents who attend courses), study support, and technology services. They have a strong, branded image (colours, logo, etc.) They involve partnerships (between libraries and adult education, local colleges and universities, and the volunteer sector). They are located on high streets, often near a local supermarket (“the supermarkets have already done the math” and people are coming to these locations).
Idea Stores promote employability, support the image of the Borough as a good place to live and work, boost local cultural and creative economies and combat social exclusion and promote a sense community.
Two interesting points:
  1. Opening hours are 9-9 Monday – Thursday, 9-6 Friday, 9-5 Saturday and either 10-4, 11-5, or 12-6 Sunday depending on local shop hours.
  2. In the UK, the Library serves all those who live, work or study in the Borough, and when Heather spoke about workers, she especially mentioned that the libraries were built with special attention to the needs of workers in the neighbourhoods (eg. Canary Wharf, many businesses and high-end sectors now, but Idea Stores are trying to primarily serve secretaries and cleaners in companies… not the executives).
Hallmarks of the Idea Store as a unique project:
  • Learning from retail
  • Extensive partnerships
  • Integration of services
  • Extensive and continuing consultations
  • Marketing and brand development
  • Visits to the libraries borough-wide increased 141% since 2001
  • PC access averages at 60% with a peak of 90% capacity!
Do you know what your customers want?

Can you learn from retail NOT from municipal service structures?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Queens Library: 2009 Library of the Year!

Queens Library was named the 2009 Library of the Year by Library Journal and Gale this week. Winning libraries are awarded a $10,000 prize. Says LJ Editor-in-Chief, Francine Fialkoff,"We hope this award is a good-luck talisman to Queens," referring to recent (proposed) budget cuts.

Warning: Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop is "racial"

...And apparently that means you should have the right to burn it. Bad grammar AND censorship - way to ruin my Saturday cheeriness. Oh, and did I mention the group in question "demands $120,000 (£72,000) in compensatory damages for being exposed to the book" in the first place? Sigh.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

IMPAC Dublin surprise! + quick update from Ottawa

Man Gone Down, by first-time American novelist, Michael Thomas, has catapulted ahead of Philip Roth, Doris Lessing, Junot Diaz, Joyce Carol Oates and others to win the IMPAC Dublin prize. Yes, that's €100,000 (£85,000). The Guardian reports he is "currently a professor at Hunter College in New York," and that "he said he'd use his winnings to pay some bills."

I love it when the underdog wins!

Meanwhile, in Alex-land, today was my first day back at my branch after a 2-week hiatus (CLA, vacay, meeting in Toronto, training). It's been wild, which I expected, but also a pleasure to be back, which I didn't expect. Unfortunately, I have a splitting headache, which is probably due to the wild part.

Yesterday, I amused myself at a press conference for the annoucement of the site of the new Central Library for Ottawa. My own report from the morning is here; other (real) news reports are here (Citizen), here (Metro news), here (CBC) and ici (Le Droit).

I wasn't too impressed with the CBC article, which quotes a patron outside Main Library as saying "he'd be sad to see the old building go." I think it's not by any means "fine as it is." Of course, some people will always say they don't see the importance of a new library branch, Central or otherwise, but this is a long-time library user. Argh.

I think part of this sentiment involves the mentality that, despite being a national capital, Ottawa is seen by Ottawans as a very "fine as it is" city. Our urban design doesn't strive for greatness, or even uniqueness. We seem to throw buildings up willy-nilly, letting development companies get away with whatever (ahem), and only ever asking for adequate spaces.

Let's take a chance or two with the new Central Library, and help set the tone for Ottawa as an awe-inspiring national capital!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Books good enough to eat

Maybe that image popped into my head because they're so bite-sized. I'm not sure. All I know is I am in love with (and have been for a few years now) the Pocket Penguins (btw, click on that link and then click on one of the spines. Enough to make you love Penguin, eh?). Since I always wear skirts and therefore rarely have pockets, I have recently christened these delightful book snacks as my emergency handbag book (you know, the one you pull out when The Husband is late, or you're stuck somewhere waiting). They are ideal. I'm currently into #47, and previously devoured #1 (didya know Forster testified at that?) and 45.

These also looks utterly delish.

Annoyed gets annoyed re. dropping Dewey: "Garsh, Edna, there's a number on the side of this book!"

The Annoyed Librarian is up in arms about the replacement of DDC with WordThink in Rangeview. She makes a few excellent points (DDC = 10 categories; WordThink = 45, for one, and also her idea re. tossing "the genre fiction into a big pile for the addicts, and have the librarians remember where the rest of the books are" is not entirely unreasonable) and is always funny.

Monday, June 8, 2009


On our weekly walk (OK, so we missed out last weekend, but still) we made a lovely surprise discovery on the side lawn of the old City Hall: some Canada geese and goslings, chowing down on a Sunday dinner of fresh grass. You could literally hear them pulling out the shoots. It was adorable. They were not deterred at all from their feast by our gawking: in fact, I waved goodbye to one who was oogling us quite unabashedly, and I swear he/she wagged his/her head in return...

P.S. Goose poo is bigger than you think.

Below is a somewhat clumsy home-made panorama of the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat on Sussex. I love the terraced grass on the far right. That whole stretch of King Edward on the left, by the way, is a nightmare. It is noticeably better since they re-did it last summer (that was fun. The Husband and I had to avoid various gaping holes, wade through gravel and mud, and I had to pick grit out of my contact lenses when I got home every time we went running) but still a headache. So much so that it has its own task force - just read their facts page! Don't get us started. It was once planned to be an alternative ceremonial route to Sussex Dr. but is now languishing in decay, compounded by the indignity of 50,000 vehicles pounding along King Edward daily (between Boteler and Murray streets). Anyway, at the top you get nothing but an inkling of the mess up ahead. In fact, last night, it was a positively lovely view.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In case you're wondering where the vast majority of OPL's fiction collection is...

I have it. I promise to return at least one item within the 3-week loan period.

Weekend scribbles

Did I mention I took a (hard-earned) break last week? In case I didn't let me just say it was the *best idea I have ever had.* First of all, I always come back from conferences exhausted. As I was discussing with Lina, there is something about those buildings conferences are in (and it's not just conference centres; no building is immune. Even when we had the ABQLA conference at the University Club, it was lovely but still left me drained) that sucks the brain right out of you by the end of the event. Maybe it's the ventilation; maybe it's the general lack of natural light (OK, so the Palais was a notable exception, and MTCC isn't bad); maybe it's the lack of decent food and coffee within a 5K radius. I could go on.

In any case, I always come home drained. Then, of course, like many of you, I'm sure, I slink back into work, lugging endless pages of notes, photos, books, pamphlets, brochures, and sometimes stuffed monkeys, to face a duel with the literal and metaphorical inbox (or in tray. *The best times* are when you have both, as I do). Endless stacks of books and notes from staff, as well as a groaning inbox: you have exceeded your mailbox limit.... The world stops for no one, least of all unimportant little me (I don't mean to suggest that all this stacked up work inflates my sense of self-importance, because, trust me, it stopped doing that when I was a new grad. Now it just makes me want to weep softly and run).

This time, brilliant young woman that I am, I looked at my schedule ahead of time (this in itself is, sadly, revolutionary. All too often when people ask me what I'm doing next week/month, I reply, "Not there yet!" As though not turning the pages in my agenda will make it go away). I said to myself, now, look here. You've been spending much of May just simply trying to breathe. You will be done in from CLA (volunteering, pub crawling, presenting, socialising!) and then you have that OPLA RA Committee meeting in Toronto the following Friday. Take three measly days off.

So I did. I blogged my notes from the conference, which should make that conference report for work easier, I rested, I made notes for the OPLA meeting (but on the balcony, while eating and drinking and sunning myself), I went for nice walks, and I just relaxed. The end.

Now, on to what happened in Toronto. Fun stuff, like hanging out at the Library Bar with The Husband, the OPLA RA meeting (those lovely ladies - and one gentleman - remind me why I am in this profession, re-charge my energy, and send me away with numerous book recommendations - this time, the latter included many suggestions for my homeschoolers' book club, The Believers by Zoe Heller, and The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, as well as a tip to check this out, and also to visit S. Walter Stewart Branch... see below!). More fun stuff: snippets of shopping (shopping makes me very cranky in general, but some opportunities are not to be missed), and, of course, if it's Alex in Toronto, it must be TPL time! How long do you think it will take me to visit all 99 branches?

We came across the Davenport Branch serendipitously (interior at right), on our way to something else. N.B.: This is the total length of the branch! One service point, needless to say! Behind me as I was taking this picture are shelves with holds (reserved items), a small children's reading area, and bathrooms. At the front is the magazine/study area, looking out on the street. Quite an interesting little sliver of a branch. Excellent use of space, but can you imagine being the one staff member? I assume they have a person on who can answer basic reference, but it's likely a lot of circ. And lonely. Sniff. When I got back to the car, The Husband was like, done already?

Next up is Wychwood Branch (adult area pictured at left). I have had this branch on my list (yes, there is a list. The geekiness knows no bounds) for almost a year. It's my friend Laura's home branch from her childhood and youth, and a Carnegie, to boot. I had previously visited one of the other triplets, Beaches Branch. I took the picture at left of Wychwood from the tiny study space on the third floor, which is more like a loft, really. To the extreme right of this picture, and one floor down from where I am, is a second-floor extension, seamlessly melded into the branch, with the old exterior windows framed on the connecting wall, and where my friend Laura always looked for a place at a window to sit as a child! Altogether charming. Great roof.

Last but not least, S. Walter Stewart Branch (interior at right): Sigh. Oh, the lead to this story is going to be forever linked in my head to this branch, which is unfortunate, as the branch is lovely. I got a kick out of the navigational signs around the perimeter of the ceiling. The branch has a very open and airy feeling, with the stacks out like spokes from the central hub. Full disclosure: some nutbar cut us off in her giant SUV while we were driving to S. Walter Stewart, gave us the finger, AND racially slurred us, so I was not in a sunny mood when we arrived. Hence only one interior photo. I was like, library, great, fan-freaking-tastic, pretty, get me outta here. I didn't even notice the KidsStop, which made me utterly disconsolate when I got home. Next time! There will have to be an S. Walter, part 2 entry.

Now, like it or not, I am tackling that inbox. I hereby resolve to kick its butt.

Litblogs vs. book blogs

So, according to this interesting post, and this follow-up after ensuing debate, a litblog would be a blog "cited most often in mainstream media," with "a journalistic feel to many of the posts," and "a sense that the blogs were, and still are, a jumping-off point to professional writing." A book blog would be a community blog, with emphasis on the discussion of books by passionate (if not numerous) followers. Speaking of blogs, some rankings put Canada's own Bookninja 7th - hooray! And The Guardian Book Blog at 13. Hmmm... is it their ugly logo?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CLA Annual Conference Day 4: lounge acts and the CLA Awards!

On Monday, I crawled into the Palais around 7:30 am. The fatigue was starting to hit me and I was looking forward to calling it a day. I dragged the laptop in with me, because we had no Internet café and Megan correctly predicted that we'd be swamped with questions, especially with people wanting to check in on their flights home.

I managed to attend an excellent session entitled "The Impact of Social Cataloguing Sites on the Public Catalogue: Patrons, Social Tagging and the New Face of the Catalogue," with Louise Spiteri from Dalhousie University and Laurel Tarulli (the Cataloguing Librarian! She has an interesting take on that C3 session I attended on Day 3, by the way...) from Halifax Public Libraries. The session promised to "examine the popular features that could or should impact public library catalogues and what you can do to enhance your own library catalogue," and it did indeed do that. The speakers introduced a lot of interesting points about features of social catalogues, and I think this session was best suited to those who have little knowledge of social catalogues. I found my attention slipping sometimes, but that could be because a) I am a LibraryThing addict, or b) I was simply exhausted.

Louise was a pleasure to listen to, not the least of which was because she has a lovely sense of humour (grabbing the mic from its stand, she mutters, "this is going to look like a lounge act, but..."). She told us that there are over 600, 000 LibraryThing users (LT count = 717,099), and then observed, "for those of you who think metadata is dead, HA." Indeed, LibraryThing users are tagging, cataloguing, and indexing their little brains out. Louise explained what a LibraryThing record looks like (her example here and throughout the study was this record - shout out to Yvonne! See, Austen-ites abound!), and told us she wanted to explore two things about social cataloguing sites: how interactive they are (how users use the site to communicate who has read what), and how granular they are (can you search and retrieve by ISBN, for instance?)

For the study (which appears in Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, Volume 47, no. 1, 2009), the 8 ISBD elements were used as benchmarks, and the study also added to additional elements: the presence of an icon (book cover) and language. The study examined the social features of Canadian public libraries and compared them to social sites. LibraryThing ranked quite highly (in one category, #1) as did Stashmatic and BiblioPhil. Public library catalogues do use some features of social catalogues, including professional reviews, links to commercial reviews, cached searches linked to subjects, client reviews and ratings, client-created discussion boards, client posted tags, and recommendations (people who borrowed this also borrowed..."). Laurel urged us to use our catalogue as a communication tool not just an inventory.

Laurel spoke very well, and I was very surprised to learn from her blog that this was her first presentation! She did an excellent job! She spoke about how we can integrate additional features of social catalogues into our library catalogues. She referred to the OCLC report, Online Catalogs: What Users and Librarians Want, for more information. She pointed out that most of our catalogues cannot rank results according to relevancy, don't offer federated search (we do! See the Quick Search box here), don't have enriched content ("search inside" features), and don't have any social features (sharing, ranking, etc). One great suggestion she mentioned was to make new book lists and bibliographies/reading lists available via RSS and Twitter. Our new and on order titles are available as RSS feeds by category (fic, nonfic) - check this out! We're getting there....

Overall, a great session with some thought-provoking points. I will be sure to read that study! The slides from the presentation are here.

I confess to skipping the closing keynote (due to general ennui and a desire to cover the Hospitality desk). I came in towards the end, to not miss the awards, and I caught a bit about supporting lifelong playing, not trying to be perfect but remarkable (Seth Godin quote), and so on. While I think there are some good points in there, I was turned off by the delivery, and massive oversimplification.

Vancouver Sun journalist Kim Bolan (see this and this) gave a particularly moving speech after receiving the 2009 Award for Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada. Kim covered the 1985 Air India bombing and legal case, and is now covering gangs in BC. She received a standing ovation for an excellent speech about freedom of the press in Canada.

Karen Lindsay, a teacher-librarian at Reynolds Secondary School in Victoria, B.C., was awarded the Ken Haycock Award for Promoting Librarianship, and also gave an excellent, stirring, impassionned speech. Anyone of my generation in Canada will likely remember one program she initiated in BC, Drop Everything and Read! (For those of you who are going, huh? that's a daily, school-wide silent reading program). Karen spoke eloquently about our profession, referencing that quote about libraries being the "single most perfect expression of the democratic ideal." She used a lovely analogy about librarians putting books into people's hands, regardless of whose hands those were - a woman's hands or a man's hands, black hands or white hands, poor hands or rich hands, and so on. Her love of our profession and her sense of social justice was palpable.

It was clearly a day for good speechwriting, because we were already on a roll and we hadn't even gotten to the best part yet. My boss, Ottawa City Librarian Barbara Clubb, received the 2009 Outstanding Service to Librarianship Award (see poorly-lit photo at left). She gave a lovely overview in her speech of moments in her career, people she has had the pleasure of working with, and our profession as a whole. She peppered the speech with great quotes about what a library is ("a house of healing for the soul," "a place for the soul to loaf," and, my personal favourite, a place "held together by devotion and duct tape" - I laugh because there was that giant tarp fixed with duct tape above my desk for the first 2.5 years I worked at Rideau Branch!). I was touched that she mentioned me by name in her speech, as one of our youngest librarians, and also that she mentioned LANCR as her local library association.

All in all, a great end to the conference. This concludes my conference blogging experience, and these posts will likely help me compile my (more formal, and shorter!) conference report when I get back to work next week. We now return to your regularly-scheduled programming. I am tempted to post the video I took of Ann's speech from ABQLA awards lunch on Friday, but she'd be mortified, so I won't. All I can say is it includes that little anecdote about the consultant with red shoes. Unfortunately, the video is jumpy because I was laughing so hard.

It was (and still is?) a pleasure to burn

I got as far as "the complainants seek the right to publicly burn or destroy by another means the library’s copy of Baby Be-Bop" in this article before I lost the will to live and put my face down on the laptop keyboard.

Oh yeah, and "The claim also demands $120,000 in compensatory damages ($30,000 per plaintiff) for being exposed to the book in a library display, and the resignation of West Bend Mayor Kristine Deiss for “allow[ing] this book to be viewed by the public."

What are the other signs of the apocalypse? I'm on the lookout.

C3, WordThink: Call it what you will

It still spells death to Dewey. Another library throws DDC out the window.

CLA Annual Conference Day 3: farewell to Melvil, and hello to furious minute-taking

I'm looking at my notes and thinking, where did this day go? Why is there a mysterious gap in the PM? Oh, right. I was giving my session.

My day started late (thank you, Megan, for being at the Hospitality desk early so I could get that swim in!) and when I arrived, we had an extra volunteer (hooray!) so I quickly dashed off to a session I really wanted to see, "C3: Replacing Dewey for Better Customer Service," with Markham Public Libraries. As it was already in progress, I sat on the floor, bagel with peanut butter, coffee, notebook and pen in hand (bagel fell on dress, because that's what ALWAYS has to happen the day you are presenting). Luckily, I was in excellent company, discovering Darla (from yesterday's session about Halifax Public Libraries) and Lora on either side of me (yay for floor networking!)

So, down with Dewey. I think Debbie was saying (I couldn't see any more than the tops of heads, so forgive me!) that after 120-odd years, we haven't yet managed to educate the public about DDC. For instance, Markham stopped in on a local conference of engineers, and asked them the #s for Canadian history and cookbooks; no one could identify them. Markham decideed they needed to think like a customer, developed a new, bookstore-style category system, and abolished call #s more than 4 digits long (kept Cutters, though). More on the details below, but feedback showed that people thought that the new organisation of the collection (adult non-fic only at first, then juv. non-fic) made browsing easy, made finding items faster, and was well-labelled and intuitive. A 2009 customer service survey compared Thornhill Branch (still Dewey-ing) with Markham Village (C3-ing) and showed that at Thornhill, 87% of people found what they needed, compared to 100% at Markham Village. When asked, "is it easy to find items in the non-fiction collection?" 78% of respondents in Thornhill said yes, compared to 96% of respondents in Markham Village. Pages (for non-librarians suffering through these library-heavy posts, that's what we call staff who shelve the books) stated they were more confident in assisting patrons, observing that they could at least navigate patrons to the right place in non-fic, and then they could get a librarian to assist further.

I think there's a lot to discuss here, about best serving our patrons and about the difference between a public and, say, an academic library. As Pat, a Markham Village circulation supervisor, and Dewey lover ("I dream in Dewey"), put it, "There is no reason for a public library to go to 16 decimal points." Damn straight.

Not convinced? More stats. Most larger public libraries now print up something we mostly call a "pull list" every day (sometimes more than once a day). The pull list is a list of items put on request by patrons, which pages then pull from the shelves to put on hold for them (still with me? Sorry you asked yet?). On average, it took 4.6 minutes in Markham Village for pages to complete searches for pull list items, whereas it took Thorhill pages an average of 16 minutes (if you're a scientist, and really want to know, they ran 4 separate tests and averaged out). In case you're checking, that's a 346% productivity gain. Think what library staff could do with that time! They could tidy and stage the branch before opening, fill displays, .... For shelving items, they also did 4 tests and averaged, but I didn't manage to right down the average before they went to the next slide. Suffice it to say, the first three tests took Thornhill 115, 115, and 85 minutes to complete (time reflects time it takes to shelve an entire sorted book truck), and Markham Village did the same size truck, this time unsorted, in 25, 21, and 15 minutes.

When Markham Village started looking at applying C3 to children's non-fiction, they had some work to do, and also some fabulously helpful changes to make. ALL THE CINDERELLAS ARE TOGETHER. How smart is that? Instead of 398.2, then filed by author. Seriously, people just want Cinderella. Where lots of work came into the equation was with super-specific children's non-fiction titles, such as I want to be a cowboy, or Joey has pink eye (says Lora, "poor Joey!).

Incidentally, they made Joey up, Lora! I could only find this record, which is nevertheless a good example of how item records are different with C3.

My notes abruptly stop there, because I left the session early to check on Hospitality Desk staffing. I remember MPL staff also discussed staff reluctance, Tech Services concerns (they dedicated a team for a few weeks - Lora, do you remember how many weeks - to the project), and that they are discussing copyrighting the C3 categorisation system.

Throughout the presentation, they did little pop quiz questions about Dewey, to see if we knew some of the more complicated numbers. It was rather humbling! One was, I think, something like: 941.0850924. Ya, try it. Not so easy, eh?

I held down the fort at Hospitality for awhile after that session (lots of people wanted to get to The Bay), helped Padma (one of the lovely speaker's for Terri's session, "Bringing Your Library’s “Cool” to the Information Community") find Terri (they had never met. I used Facebook to show Padma a picture of Terri. It was a fun use of Facebook for Reference, sort of. Also, Padma was lovely and charming, and I'm sorry I didn't make it to her session), dashed off to my own session, then lurked in the hallway for awhile being braindead.

My day ended taking the minutes for the CLTA AGM. A representative from ALA, Mary Ghikas, spoke about how Friends of Libraries U.S.A. (FOLUSA) and the Association for Library Trustees and Advocates (ALTA) merged to become an expanded division within ALA, now called the Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF). We need to get rid of some acronyms. Lina, you had a good idea for that.... Anyway, CLTA Vice-President Betty Thomas spoke about the financials and plans for 2009, including more outreach, communications and marketing. I knew I had to leave early, so I handed over minute-taking duties, and just as I was trying to slip out unobtrusively, Jan thanked me personally for helping (I also do the CLTALK newsletter), which was very kind and sweet of her, not to mention not necessary! But very much appreciated.

Then I went off into the metro by myself, which fills me with joy to be home and out on my own in my city, and cavorted with friends.

Speaking of cavorting with friends, I am now off to meet a dear friend and her 2-month old daughter, so I will recklessly not proofread this for a third time. Ha!

CBC website featured reader: me!

Hee hee, I didn't think they'd be so fast about it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

CLA Annual Conference Day 2 (evening): CLA Book Awards Reception

As you likely already know, the book awards went as follows:
  • Book of the Year for Children Award: The Shepherd’s Granddaughter, by Anne Laurel Carter, published by Groundwood Books.

  • Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award: Mattland, illustrated by Dusan Petricic and written by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert, published by Annick Press.

  • Young Adult Canadian Book Award: Chanda's Wars, by Allan Stratton, published by HarperCollins.

I spent a few anxious minutes looking around for BOYA's head judge, Helen Kubiw, who I have had lengthly phone conferences with over decision-making, but had never met in person. It's always embarrassing to wander around, asking at random if people are named Helen. I did finally find her, and also our fellow judge Donna, and it was a great pleasure to meet them both in person, and Donna and I clicked exactly as I knew we would.

Lovely speeches were given, of course, but even lovelier than I expected. Appalling photos were taken, as you can see at right and below. I have an old camera. Deal.

Tragically, it was difficult from the angle I was sitting at to hear all of Dusan Petricic's speech, but what I heard was inspiring and very moving. He struck me as a very kind and gentle soul. Anne Laurel Carter was a joy to listen to. She spoke about going kibbutzing twice, in 1971 and 1974, I believe, and how she later (after becoming a librarian in 1983) travelled to the West Bank in 2005. She had realised by then, when teaching about media awareness, that there were some stories that had not been told - there nothing on the bookshelves in the library where she worked to represent a Palestinian point of view to her Muslim students in Toronto. She decided that there was only one thing to do when she found herself ignorant about a certain group, and that was that she would have to go and meet them. She traveled to the West Bank in 2005, was welcomed by many Palestinian families, and met many people that we don't hear about in the media. One Palestinian man, grazing his sheep illegally on land that had been in his family for generations, told her that if the ICOD and other organisations (Christian groups, Rabbis for Human Rights) hadn't helped him, he wouldn't believe in God. Carter eventually decided that she would simply have to write something about these people herself, and she came to change some of her earlier views. She also mentioned working with the Tamar Institute, who recently won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (I noted it while blogging for Librarian Activist!), saying without them she would not have seen what she saw, and subsequently changed her views.

Whew. The emotional bar had been set pretty high, but Allan Stratton raised it again, talking about how "we all share the same human heart," and talking about the importance of emotional literacy, literature as a bridge across divides, and particularly about YA literature as coming at a point in people's lives in which the stakes are high and readers are vulnerable. He observed that "all of us in this room (writers, publishers, librarians) have devoted ourselves to a field as real as it gets."

CLA Annual Conference Day 2: core services, omnipresence, and two librarians move me to tears

Despite the timeline of these posts, this post is about cool stuff that happened Saturday, day 2 of CLA, pre-book awards (that's going to be my next post) and pre-pub crawl (blogged here).

Joe Janes was the opening keynote for the conference. Since I was @ the hospitality desk, I missed parts of his session (namely, the beginning and end!) but caught some meat in the middle. When I came in, he was talking about how we are not going to be a print-dominated institution until the end of time. He riffed a bit about changes in our culture (evolution of blogging, microblogging, and texting), including a great interpretive dance onstage about avoiding texters on campus (since they don't look up to avoid stepping on you). He talked about all this information being put out there, little pieces of people, tendrils, sometimes shallow but sometimes more than shallow (I liked the tendrils analogy).

He also observed that libraries need to be "somewhere and everywhere" - physical presence is important, but wherever people are, we must be available, positioned and ready to support/assist/participate on their terms. We should be visible, present in all the places they are, and we should be thinking about online spaces or any other new frontiers as just new neighbourhoods. If our users moved to a new part of town, we would go there - online spaces are no different.

I went to a great session about Brampton's core services review. It's being done on the same cycle as their strategic plan, and was intended to work as a way to foster understanding of libraries as a value to the community, to reach out to target groups (youth and the multicultural community - 57% of residents are members of a visible minority), and to address concerns addressed (via focus group!) that the library was attempting to be all things to all people, resulting in substandard service. What I thought was interesting about the presentation was the emphasis they placed on identifying duplicated services and locating partnerships. This sounds obvious, but it isn't. Two things they eventually IDd as a gray services (for further evaluation) and subsequently removed from their list of core services were their employment service centre and their local history collection (the latter surprised me, but the former made a lot of sense to me - not that we don't get asked about employment services, but should it really be one of our core services? Are other groups/orgs in the community doing it better? Brampton's criteria included finding out whether another organisation was offering the same service, during the same hours, within 5K of the main branch).

Re. core service review process: Brampton's team (including reps from management, coordinators, supervisors, Info staff, circ staff and marketing & communications dept.) listed all services, defined them, ranked them, tested the evaluation process, analysed results, and then refined definitions and developed core services listing. They identified 182 services (!) including 31 types of collections and materials, 10 types of reference and RA, 8 types of circ, and 19 types of outreach. They looked at how these services fit in with their mission and goals, how they supported customer and community needs, and the services' efficiency and effectiveness.

As you can see, the criteria used were pretty objective, but the biggest issue faced by the committee was still fear: fear from staff that the committee had a personal vendetta against a certain service or group of services. I think they had an excellent approach to dealing with gray services that made it seem less "personal" (it wasn't personal at all, but...): non-core services were assigned to an established team for immediate exit strategy preparation, core services with poor ratings were sent for further review, and identified gray services were modified or sent for exit strategy prep., and any new services set up after the review were to use criteria from the review for consideration. Smart. Final inspirational quote: "Developing a core service review has encouraged us to engage our community in the strategic planning process."

One of the best sessions I attended at the conference was a session later on Day 2 called "Changing libraries, changing neighbourhoods," with two librarians from Halifax (Halifax North and Sackville). Halifax North neighbourhood is an urban neighbourhood where 90% of the kids visiting the branch are African Nova Scotian. The two speakers opened by talking a lot about their two communities: demographics and economics, mostly, which was very interesting. People settle in Halifax North because it's affordable, walkable and they want to be integrated in the multicultural environment of the area. The HN branch's staff has tried various ways to engage with the youth in the community, and the pendulum has swung one way (do your homework! Be quiet!) and the other way (getting to know their names, chatting with them - building relationships that Darla observed made it easier to engage them in reading). HN received funding from the Crime Prevention Action Fund (CPAF) to provide programming to the children and youth at the branch. HN used some of the funding to hire three youths to work with younger youth as Youth Ambassadors: they ran book clubs, a focus group called "Growing up black and proud" and a workshop about higher education options. Not only did the YAs get great opportunities to interact with younger youth and act as role models, they also got great job experience and were able to build skills for young adulthood. They were more engaged with the community, and developed leadership abilities. HN also used some funds for extra staff training to work with at-risk youth. One thing they found was that youth in the community responded best to a structured program, rather than a drop-in one (whoops. I used to run most programs @ Rideau as drop-ins...). One great program they talked about was a Youth/Police forum, held during the school day at HN branch, during which youth and police got to ask each other direct questions ("why are you always suspicious of us?") and engage in real conversations. HN also held screenings of the YouTube video, The Story of Stuff, again with teacher cooperation.

Over the past few years, the population of youth and children in HN has been declining overall. In fact, what was happening in some cases was that young families were moving out of lower-income, urban neighbourhoods like HN and moving into "bedrooom communities" such as Sackville. Basically, it was as though a bunch of angry kids were dropped off in Sackville, and the programs and services from HN that had supported them didn't come along for the ride ("I didn't want to move here!" I can just see it. Wait, it was kind of me on a much lesser scale, but rinse and repeat x4). As a result, they were lurking in the library, hogging the computers, and making a general racket.

Sackville used CAP funding to turn their program room into a laptop lab after school (such a brilliant idea, I want to do it!) to get the kids off the public internet PCs, and started working with community health orgs to get them to provide funding for healthy after-school snacks for the kids who came by the branch in the afternoons. Laptops + snax = after-school drop-in program (see, drop-in isn't dead after all!) 2x week! Sackville also started holding open mic nights every two months, averaging 150 kids each time (man, again, I want to do this).

One of the things that Kathleen stressed was to hold community consultations to keep in regular touch with your community's needs. Sackville also hired a community connector to liase with the new Sackville residents, especially the parents of these kids who were coming to the after-school program. This part of the presentation made me tear up repeatedly, as Kathleen told us how regular meetings with about 10 parents were held at a Tim's because about 7 out of the 10 parents were uncomfortable in the library, and with the library in general (sometimes because of fines, etc.) One meeting moved to a local pub after casual conversation revealed that the parent hadn't eaten in two days. In these meetings, parents often identified a lack of parenting support in the community, that they felt helpless with their children's homework, and that they considered the library a safe place for their kids. Kathleen had some truly moving stories, and, coupled with ones about the kids themselves, their development, their growing trust of Sackville staff, and their behaviour, I was in a constant struggle to keep mascara on my eyelashes and off my cheeks. And yes, Sackville's change in direction, and change in attitude, caused some staff turnover at the branch. That angers me just as much as anything else I heard that afternoon, but I also think if you're miserable, or bitter, or against what's going on at work, get the hell out of the way.

The Sackville First Phase Report is here, for those who are still with me. I'll be reading it ASAP. Read also: ALA's Serving the Underserved.

I will blog separately (+photos!) about the evening, which involved more attempts to supress tears, blind dates with fellow BOYA judges, book signings, and pasta on a side plate. Yes, it's the CLA Book Awards reception!


I know, I know. I am working on those Day 2, 3 and 4 posts. Really. Just cut me some slack, since I woke up this morning (awoken the first time by an important phone call that I missed, and the second time by another long-distance ring that I scrambled to answer, thinking it was Important calling back, but it was a telemarketer...) feeling like my body is a crusty old elastic band. The kind you find all hardened and gross in the back of the desk drawer at work. So I'm going for a massage first.

Taking today, tomorrow and Thursday off was the smartest thing I've done in a long time, let me tell you.

Meanwhile, I wrangled some news for you. You can thank me later.

Linking to George, Ninja extraordinaire, above, reminded me of a moment in the Q&A after my talk on Sunday, so I will share that one snippet for now, with the promise of more conference news soon. Someone asked "If you could choose just one blog to follow out of all those you mentioned this afternoon, which would it be?" and went on to say she knew that would be difficult, etc. I immediately replied, no hesitation, Bookninja. It was like that moment in Roman Holiday, my favourite movie ever, when a reporter in a scrum asks Princess Ann which city she liked best on her European tour, and she (ok, after trying to be nice and say each had their own charms, she catches herself and) draws herself up to full regal height and says, "Rome." 'Cause that's just the way it is.