Thursday, October 30, 2014

If you could tell a class full of library technicians one thing about working in public libraries...

I'm not a library technician, but many of my dear friends are LTs and I love them dearly... and I am going back to teaching them again in January. In the meantime, I am giving a guest lecture on Friday to a room full of them, so I did a Dangerous Thing. I posted on my Facebook wall asking for answers to the following question: If you could tell a class full of library technicians one thing about working in public libraries, what would it be?

Of course, my advice would be copious, but the soundbite bits would be the entire text of this (especially "You are not a format. You are a service [....] Most of your most passionate users will never meet you face to face. Most of your most alienated users will never meet you face to face [....] The user is not “remote.” You, the librarian, are remote, and it is your job to close that gap.").

The responses I received were so diverse, and some were so beautifully written (#17! #36!) and/or hilariously true (#6! #37! #46!), that I wanted them to have a permanent home beyond social media and a PPT. I only made one small change below, moving my favourite of all the submissions to the end.

Here they are, in all their (mostly) unedited glory!
  1. You need to know where the stapler is at all times and you have to be able to politely decline requests for envelopes.
  2. Every now and again, you help someone who changes your life.
  3. Value your people in all their stripes ...
  4. Technician jobs vary A LOT in public libraries. Expect the unexpected. There is a technician job for every personality; from those who like cubicle work to those who like storytelling.
  5. You will need tons of patience because the most annoying people frequent the public library.
  6. Take a plumbing course.
  7. Expect the unexpected.
  8. Never expect to be paid a librarian's salary!
  9. Have patience; patrons are not as familiar with your library's polices or collection as you are
  10. All sorts of people walk through the doors. That’s what makes every day so interesting.
  11. Get involved with your union
  12. Be open to change
  13. Never underestimate the help you provide - you could be changing a life!
  14. Rapid pace of change. I don't work in a public library, but to all library workers/managers/librarians/technicians: be prepared to become obsolete - keep learning everything you can.
  15. Be prepared to learn very private, or very obscure, things about people you barely know.
  16. All of the requirements in a job description are important, but a cheerful attitude toward the "other duties as required" (which can, upon occasion, require gloves) will take you far.
  17. Once in a while you will know with absolute certainty that you made a difference in somebody's life. And that can keep you going through all the - where's the washroom?, can I use the stapler?, make a phone call?, eat my fast food/coke/coffee? Or anything that involves having to wear rubber gloves.
  18. Whenever I get frustrated or fed up, I look up library mission statements. We are out to change the world and that always makes me feel ready to tackle what's next.
  19. You may have to play role of listener to those in the community who don't have anyone else to talk to. That and kids who may pee on the carpet in the toys section. 
  20. For programming: take time to get to know your patrons before you start programming. This may seem obvious but cater to the clientele you have! Don't run programs where only one person comes. Also adults need more programming and will come to it if you provide. So far I have had adults interested in book club, genealogy research, computer lessons, and more! 
  21. Be ready to adapt and change - libraries are never static. And do it with a positive attitude! You will love your chosen career!! 
  22. Get to know publishers reps! They have a wealth of information and can supply you with copious amounts of posters, bookmarks, galleys, stickers, and loads of promo materials. Always have stickers and bookmarks available for children! 
  23. You WILL have to deal with difficult and stressful situations that try your patience. They can bring you down or they can be funny anecdotes, the choice is yours. 
  24. You may never know how important the question is to the person who is asking so always treat each question with respect even if the client you are serving is making you absolutely bonkers. The impact you have can never be underestimated! And what the other person said... get involved in the union. 
  25. Just because high school kids are older children never doubt the simple programs, from decorating for the holidays (dancing zombie hand on circ desk) to just sticking a puzzle on a table - it will make their day. Also, you must become MacGyver when answering question to finding program material. 
  26. Be curious. 
  27. Always have lots of Purell.
  28. The 3 most inaccurate assumptions and questions will be: 1. Oh that must be a quiet, calm place to work? 2. You must get to read a lot at work? 3. You had to go to school for that? Ok, to leave on a positive note: storytimes will make you feel like a rock star! 
  29. 1-Pick your time and place but never be afraid to challenge the status quo. 2- Find a mentor (or many). They truly are invaluable. 
  30. There will be days when it is quiet. Embrace those days because the next day the stupidity of the human race will never cease to amaze you and make you cry. 
  31. There's still time to change your mind! 
  32. The smile on a child's face when you give him or her the perfect book to read 
  33. Be welcoming of everyone. You're being trusted with a question, or several, so put on your Free Information Wizarding Cape and wear it with curiosity, open-mindedness, and pride.
  34. The public library is a big equalizer. Whoever comes through the door is treated equally. 
  35. Your co-workers will be your most valuable resource. 
  36. Everybody has baggage. Don't let the baggage - yours or theirs - get in the way. Do your work with empathy and care. What you do will make a difference in the lives of others - for better or worse you are making an impact. 
  37. You will be amazed by how much time you will spend moving furniture. 
  38. Never judge a question. Answer each one to the best of your ability. What sounds silly or trite may be more important than first thought. Probe to find the real information need. 
  39. Try to forget everything you've learned at school, so you can see the library through your customers' eyes. Anticipate what they will need, and provide it before they ask. Some people will never ask - but you can still answer.
  40. You can be the difference between a patron having a crappy experience or a really awesome one. Try your best - it goes a long way. 
  41. How wonderfully diverse libraries locally are... 
  42. Find out what they actually want as opposed to what they just asked you. 
  43. Always keep up with the latest technology, the impact it has on the public and your place in its introduction and use. What a role libraries play!! 
  44. Don't believe everything your union or association tells you. 
  45. How rewarding it is to see gratitude when you truly help 
  46. Try turning it off and on again. 
  47. The library is located where you start the conversation.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Balletic interlude

I was thinking about grand jetés tonight during yoga for some reason.

To me, they have always been the ultimate expression of perfection in ballet. Forget the pirouette, a silly display of frenetic energy and one-upmanship. The grand jeté is such a thing of beauty, such an expression of joy. They are the only move I find myself still repeating after more years away from ballet (18) than with it (11), sometimes even along the long corridor of the 5th floor at work (too tempting!).

I'm very picky about execution. The best jetés are the ones that almost seem to lift midway through, creating an optical illusion that the dancer has thrown an extra little bit of muscle in there to pull the legs up while suspended in air. A display of tremendous athletic strength (where do you think those giant quads come from?), I so rarely see them these days.

The more common variety is the ballet equivalent of hydroplaning, like a poor unfortunate male dancer I saw last year (company unnamed to protect the innocent) who was in a fight to the finish with gravity: his jetés were condemned to hover unremarkably over the stage for all eternity. It pained me just to watch him.

The grand jeté with a lift is like an unexpected descant in music: this thrilling moment when someone has reached for the impossible and somehow grabbed it.

The past few months have included a mix of both types of jetés, metaphorically speaking. I guess that balances out somehow. Few and far between though they may be, those split-second gravity-defying moments are remarkable, and worth it even if you crash back down to the ground.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

OLA Super Conference 2014

Good morning, fair city

I had the great pleasure last week of attending the Ontario Library Association's Super Conference in Toronto. I was surprised to count on my hands and realise it's been three years since I've been to Super Conference - time flies!

In addition to re-uniting with friends far and wide, agonising over session choices with a highlighter, building my own, type-A personality schedule, and going on a road trip to Hamilton (deets below), I also:
  • Swam (man, I miss swimming in the winter. Just not enough to freeze my hair off).
  • Ate The Gabardine's fabled mac n' cheese (it's worth it!).
  • Didn't read a single page of a book except on the train, where I read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent on the way there, and Margaret Drabble's The Pure Gold Baby (my first Drabble, I'm embarrassed to say) on the way back.
  • Wow, that's pathetic. I didn't even go to any museums. Sigh. But MAC N' CHEESE, guys.
So here's my recap of events at the conference. I was sad to have to miss Saturday's sessions, as we had tickets to Swan Lake in Ottawa (booked a year ago, it's my favourite ballet, yada yada).

FYI some presenters' PPT slides will be on the OLA Super Conference Session Handouts and Materials webpage soon, so check that out, too.
  • "Creating an accessible and inclusive library" with Michele Chittenden from Queen’s University: Michele developed a diversity action plan to assist in better serving all their users and also to address increasing diversity and equity at Queen’s. Her advice: Do an environmental scan of your department and identify barriers. Know your organisation: how many students have an accommodation plan, how many have a disability, how many international students are there, know about the programs of study (new ones) and identify allies and resources who also contribute to advancement of diversity on campus. Michele spoke at length about a great diversity study completed by ARL: many responding libraries had diversity committees but these were often chaired by HR staff in academic libraries/institutions. Inclusion is a thread woven throughout different services: eg. in information literacy, ensure accessible format for screen readers, incorporate video tutorials that have close captioning or are transcripted, ensure tutorials in learning commons are accessible. Adapt to all different learning styles (auditory, etc) when teaching. Michele also highlighted two interesting initiatives Queen's is involved in: Mental health first aid, and the “Positive Space” program. She also recommended the website of the ALA Office for Diversity, especially their “6 elements of successful diversity plan.”
  • I attended the Library Settlement Partnership meeting, organised by Jackie, TPL’s Outreach Librarian, Library Settlement Partnerships. Attendees represented Hamilton, Toronto, Brampton, Windsor, Kitchener and London PLs. Great ideas: 
    • Brampton: Having a Citizenship judge as part of Human Library
    • Windsor: using an Espresso book machine to have newcomer teens write their stories o Hamilton: working with First Book Canada to obtain books free to give away for kids from low socio-economic backgrounds
    • Toronto: working with CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario / Éducation juridique communautaire Ontario).
    • Brampton: Two LSP workers in Brampton go to William Osler Health Center 2x week (they have a table at the entrance with an LSP banner) to give library and settlement info and make membership cards. This has also worked as education for hospital staff about library service. The focus of this outreach was on explaining to newcomers how to not use the emergency department all the time.
  • mk Road Trip: I was fortunate to travel with a group of Canadian librarians to visit the mk LibDispenser® installed at Hamilton’s Valley Park Arena and Recreation Centre. The dispenser, dubbed “Libby,” is located in the lobby of the recreation centre, which also contains the Stoney Creek Branch of HPL. We also visited an mk sorter located at Turner Park Branch. A picture of the kiosk exterior is at right. It was interesting to see how another library system manages changing service needs in busy shared spaces such as community centres. We're mulling over alternative services at OPL a lot these days, and we already have one kiosk (we were the first!). Check out the press about Libby, as she's called, here. Or, you know, you could watch this movie:

  • "Reading Groups For People with Dementia" with Gail Elliot, Gerontologist & Dementia Specialist, DementiAbility Enterprises Inc.: Gail emphasised how reading is an important piece in engaging people with dementia in life. She has seen numerous cases of success with older adults with dementia using an iPad to beep at times to take medications. Don’t always assume that seniors with dementia can’t learn new things. There are thus possibilities for library programs for people with dementia learning how to use computer apps to remember to take meds and other schedule/agenda items. The focus of this presentation was on abilities: abilities are spared in people with dementia. We just need to know how to use them. Procedural memory is spared in dementia, eg. our unconscious habits and overly learned rehearsed behaviours... for example, reading! Gail has written a book about using the Montessori Method with older adults, Montessori Methods for Dementia™ and has also developed both a series of skills workbooks and group reading kits for use with people with dementia. Her goal with this material is to enable people to be as independent as possible, to make meaningful contributions to community, to have high self-esteem, to have meaningful place in their community. Older adults living with dementia respond when meaning and purpose is added to their day: medications do not combat boredom and loneliness, and this is often why residences/facilities see “acting out” behaviour. I was thinking a lot about our Homebound Services during this presentation, trying to think about how we can best provide support for both individuals as their health status changes, and activities coordinators and other retirement home employees as they serve clients with increasing needs. No answers to some tough questions here...
  • "From Managing to Leading: Coaching Strategies for Success" with Kelley Marko, Learning Facilitator, Marko Consulting Services Inc., Rebecca Raven, CEO, Brampton Public Library: This was a fun, interactive session led by new CEO Rebecca and her coaching mentor, Kelley. It was interesting to hear about Kelley’s experiences coaching Rebecca through her career change (20+ years at Hamilton, then moved to Brampton to become CEO). Take-aways:
    • You may be a positional leader but may not exhibit leadership qualities. You can influence without formal authority. 
    •  Coaching is leadership in action – it’s a shift from “problem solver” to “question asker.” 
    • A coach-able moment is a moment in time when a person is open to taking information that might help them get unstuck. 
    • Coaching is the process of assisting others through questions for getting unstuck, aligning to their goals and objectives, and committing to action thorough powerful open-ended discovery questions. 
    •  Coaching is predicated on the assumption that the individual has the ability to get themselves unstuck, and the individual will be accountable for and move forward with addressing their own issues and challenges. 
    •  The person coaching must have faith and a belief in the person – that is key! 
    • We often jump towards interpretation before getting all the info. Ensure your coaching questions are not actually suggesting a solution but helping the “coachee” find their own way.
    • Good coaching questions: What would you like to change? What is missing? Who or what is standing in the way of your ability to achieve your goal? What do you want?
That's all for now! It was a fantastic conference, and I have to say the best parts were hanging out on the trade show floor, making connections and talking about the products that support our work (not to mention a long-overdue reunion with SERAH-MARIE! Now go pre-order this), and getting two see two of my dearest friends who are tragically (for me, not for them) now working in fantastic jobs at other public library systems.