Library person. Geek person. Extrovert person. Person about whom other adjectives apply.

Hobbies and interests include library as centers of community, narrative non-fiction (though strangely not most memoirs), fairy tales, Excel spreadsheets (weird, I know), baking way more than I should ever eat, west coast swing dancing, being a beverage snob, and probably too much Doctor Who. If you enter the world of my social media, you have been warned (pleasantly!).

I currently work as a Youth Services Librarian at a small suburban library, but I’ve done a bit of everything at a smattering of libraries around the Pittsburgh area, including academic and public libraries (check out my résumé for more detail). I think that libraries are centers of community and informal education, and think a lot about how we can measure that outside of program numbers and circulation stats, especially for youth services.

Outside of work, I’m enjoying learning about fine whiskey, good cocktails, and great people.

Find me and say hello in various places on the web at Twitter, Tumblr, and LinkedIn.

PreK Art and Science: Popsicle Stick Symmetry


Symmetrical Drop Butterflies via Splats, Scraps, and Glue Blobs
Symmetrical Drop Butterflies via Splats, Scraps, and Glue Blobs

Murphy, Stuart J. Let’s Fly a Kite. 2000.

“Making Shapes.” Education.com. 2013. http://goo.gl/g3aOx9

Schwake, Susan. “Fold Me a Print.” Art Lab for Little Kids. 2013. p 76.


For the Mirror Demo:

Symmetry mirror

Household objects, some symmetrical, some not

For “Making Shapes” Take Home:

20 craft sticks/child

Markers in assorted colors

For “Fold Me a Print”:

Cover Stock


Poster Paint



Wash Water


1 Day before:

Prepare bags of 20 craft sticks each, along with instructions and one example set. Be ready to do this activity if there is time, but also make it understandable in case it’s a take home activity.

Day of:

Cover work area with newspapers/table cloths. Create an example of the folded print.

Lightly draw a line of symmetry on the card stock, some vertical, some horizontal.

Set up each station with easy access to a palette of paint, a piece of cardstock, and a paintbrush. Children may choose to use their fingers instead. Have hand wipes available if this is the case. Pre-fold some of the card stock for those who can’t quite fold, making it easier for them to get a good symmetrical fold.


Paraphrase Let’s Fly a Kite for the group. Some things are the same on both sides of a line – like the beach blanket, the kite, and the sandwich. What about some other household items? Hold up things like a fork, a mug, and a picture of a pizza. Are they symmetrical? Why? Show them the line of symmetry on each item using the mirror. For non-symmetrical items, have them say what’s wrong (e.g. there’s 2 handles on the mug).

For the activity, have children look for the line of symmetry on their card stock. Ask them to fold it in half. It doesn’t have to be exact, but it should be close, so ask adults to help as necessary. Explain that things that fold in half exactly are symmetrical. Tell them to paint on just one side of their folded line. They can paint any shape they’d like, but after each color, have them fold the paper in half on the line again. After the first print, they will begin to understand that the mirror image of the paint will appear on the other side of the line. They can continue painting until their design is complete.


What is symmetry?

Can you find a line of symmetry?


Children can apply their understanding of color mixing, learned the past 2 weeks, to this paint and print activity. Allowing them to see their painting after each piece of color added gives them insight into the process of symmetrical prints, and to printmaking in general.  Symmetry is an easy-to-demonstrate concept, but sometimes hard to grasp. By allowing them to see symmetry in things they create as well as things in the world around them, children will have a firmer understanding of this basic geometric concept.

Try it!

Have children hold their hands in front of them, thumb to thumb. Ask them if the shape made by their hands is symmetrical.  Show them that when they fold their hands together (palms pressing together), their hands line up perfectly – they are symmetrical, and the line of symmetry was the line between their thumbs. Are there other body parts that are symmetrical? Face? Feet? Ears?

Grinding and gameification

Cover Image via Massively on Joystiq

I’ve been thinking about grinding lately. Grinding in video games, per Wikipedia, “is a term used in video gaming to describe the process of engaging in repetitive tasks during video games.” It’s an issue in gaming, of course, and there are numerous posts about that already. (I fall in the middle on that – some grinding is necessary and even enjoyable, but find a way to make it integrated into the plot. I don’t wanna always be killing 10 more rats.)

But today we had our first meeting for the Teen Summer Reading planning committee, and we had a discussion about gamification. It was a brief discussion centering around our use of bingo boards last year. The bingo boards were not very popular, and we were trying to figure out where to go from there. How did we make it “fun” without the grind?

Now, my two cents on the matter is that while the world is full of fun things, and even fun ways to learn things, the truth of the matter is that eventually you have to grind at least a little. You have to go into a place you might not want to go and do something that feels repetitive to get the experience you need to move on. Once you’re proficient, you can hop into bigger adventures, bigger challenges. Heck, you can even show other people the best way to get around that particular dungeon. But they’ll come to their own grind eventually.

When I started baking, it was boxed brownies. All the time. No variation from the instructions. Dozens of boxes of brownies over the first couple months that I was learning to bake. It wasn’t always fun, but it was nice to see people enjoying the product of my labor. Occasionally I regretted offering to make brownies for an event, but eventually it became no big deal. I could make a decent batch of boxed brownies in my 30 minute lunch from work (true story).

From what I learned making endless brownies, I figured out how my oven worked differently from the test ovens in the recipes, or how to modify it to make it fluffier or denser, how to tell by smell when sugar smells done but not burnt. I could use those skills on cookies, then cakes, then pastries. The skills built on one another, but it started with just a little bit of grinding.

We ask students to study and do homework to gain proficiency. It’s not because we think that homework is so gosh darned fun. It’s because that repetition with tiny variations help them learn. We ask for a certain number of practice hours with a supervising driving before getting a driver’s license.

Sometimes we mix the idea of “paying our dues” in with grinding, and I want to be careful here. Paying dues indicates that you have to start at the bottom for a certain period of time, which is not something I’m necessarily in agreement with. I will, however, agree that that sometimes starting a new skill isn’t always fun – it can have its fair dose of grinding. The important thing is to make the grinding seem relevant. If we want teens (or kids or adults) to learn new skills using the library as a resource, we need to make sure that the boring parts are made incredibly relevant. Just like the level ups you get from killing rats and looting chests let you beat the next boss, skill introductions need to have a visible and important benefit.

They’re going to have to grind. Video game designers need to make it relevant to their game. It’s our jobs as educators to make it relative to the goals of a learner.

Ocarinas, Light Sabers, and Learning Gateways

Cover image via Kotaku. Original owner’s site seems disabled, but if you know it, pass it on so I can credit.

About 2 years ago, a good friend of mine tried to get me into gaming. I was not enthused about the idea. I mean, I barely played Angry Birds. He sat me down in front of his console, put in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and sat down eagerly to watch me play. I was instantly… disenchanted.

Don’t get me wrong. Ocarina of Time is a great game – it’s still my friend’s favorite to this day – but it wasn’t for me. After that defeat, he practically gave up on me, convinced that if Link and Zelda couldn’t make me a gamer, then I was a lost cause.

A few weeks later, he mentioned that he was playing an MMO that I had heard of – Star Wars: The Old Republic – with his friends. Since I still wanted to get on board with some of his interests, and I already loved Star Wars, I figured why not? I created an account. I played a few quests. And then I went and bought KOTOR. Beat that. Twice. Countless hours (and dollars) later, I would say I’ve been turned on to video games.

My friend and I both laugh at the fact that he thought I could never start playing games. The real problem was that I didn’t want to play the same games he did. I still am not likely to ever sit down and play Ocarina of Time, but I do invest a lot of hours into Bethesda and BioWare games, and am branching out into some pretty sweet Indie territory (Gorogoa needs to come out yesterday).

Our problem wasn’t that I couldn’t be interested – it was that we were trying the wrong gateway. He was trying to usher me into games the same way he had been ushered in. While logical and well-intentioned, it just burned me out and made me frustrated.

Instead, I had an eye on the enjoyment other people seemed to experience, and poked around until I found my own way in. Gamers love to find workarounds, hacks, and glitches to get them where they’re going in ways that no one else has ever gone. Maybe I already had that motivation to go my own way (though that doesn’t explain my love of led-by-the-hand BioWare titles).

I know I’ve been guilty of the same well-intentioned error when teaching people new skills an interests. I know how I got interested in making/gaming/baking/books, and I want to show people in the same way. Sometimes this works. Other times though, my enthusiasm for the One True Way of getting involved in something can turn people off, leaving them feeling excluded and frustrated.

I can take a page out of my own book when I’m teaching. If the point of entry I’m most enthusiastic about isn’t working out, let them see the end goal – having fun learning something. Then share a WHOLE BUNCH of ways to get involved, even if they seem like the more boring, more intense, more complicated way. Each person will respond to different gateways. I certainly shouldn’t hold them back from trying each and every door.

New Look, New Stuff

Cover Image:

Happy New Year Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  anyjazz65 

If you read this on my site, you may have noticed that it looks a lot different. I’ve opted to go with the new Twenty Fifteen theme from WordPress, because I really like how clean it feels. I tucked a lot of my old blog posts away in the archive, too, to give the site a fresh start.

I’ve started – and promptly forgotten about – dozens of blogs, tumblrs, LiveJournals, MySpaces, Twitters, and more – each while I tried to figure out just what I wanted to say. Theme blogs didn’t work well for me – my interests vary and change too quickly. I tried personal blogs, but they felt uncomfortably confessional, and I’m no Sylvia Plath. Academic, fandom, library…they’ve come and mostly gone.

This is the first year I’m ostensibly settled. I graduated for what might be the last time, got another new living situation, got a first “real” librarian job, and dug in a little bit to the place I live now. I’ve gained a lot of friends, a few new hobbies, and adjusted my perspectives on a lot of things.

I’ve weirdly become known in my friend group as the library/craft alcohol/fanfic/video game girl. It’s a pretty fair assessment of my time spent, and it didn’t seem reflected in my online persona. There was a time where I wanted to make sure that my “IRL” self wasn’t the same as my online self – after all, it was the Wild West days of the World Wide Web – but I’ve kind of settled into the fact that my identity is what it is. There will probably be more farm ale posts; or a few about my thoughts on fan fiction’s role in developing story telling in young adults; my opinions on the launch hiccups in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and my experiments in making a gosh darn good Last Call. There will be library stuff, book stuff, learning stuff – after all, I haven’t stopped being interested in that either.

The Thor Uproar

I’ve been trying to figure out how best to approach this topic. Much ink, tears, and maybe blood has been spilled on the topic of Marvel’s character updates this week. Some has been helpful and contributed to it, some has been vitriolic and takes away from the discussion. I’m certainly not passionate about either side – I can see the basic point about being concerned about a major character shift such as gender bending, for Thor. But I am curious about the uproar when comic books have been uprooting, altering, and replacing heroes and villains using the same name for decades.

The list of Thor versions within the Earth-616 continuity (the main continuity of Marvel’s opus, and generally the version of events to which all alternate histories and issues are compared) is fairly extensive already:
Red Norvell. 
Beta Ray Bill.
Eric Masterson.
Dargo Ktor.
That doesn’t include the actually alternate versions of Thor.

And then there’s Ms. Marvel, who goes through all sorts of shifts, including the most recent to Muslim New Jersey teenager Kamala Khan (which is a pretty great series). Clearly she’s not tied to one person, or even one side of the fight (Karla Sofen was a super villain sometimes.)

And Captain America. Isaiah Bradley was intended as an alternate version of this, but was eventually rolled into the Earth-616 continuity, where he is a superhero recognized with the African-American community, but unheard of to characters like Wolverine.

Comics have never really been limited, but they have always been hesitant. Much like the call for a female Doctor in the BBC’s Doctor Who series, and the argument against it, it can be hard to separate actual reasons regarding the character/plot, etc from sexism/racism/general curmudgeonry.

I’m just curious as to why this messes with people so much more than any of the other digressions. Is there something about a gender switch that is particularly disturbing?

Even Thor weighs in on the value of anyone who lifts Mjolnir: “When you first spoke to me about your problems, I had doubts…about you. They were quickly erased…when you lifted Mjolnir…for only a man or god worthy — pure of heart and noble of mind — could have done so! … A sacred bond unites all those who have e’er been privileged to wield Mjolnir! A bond which stretches far into infinity!” Sure, he’s talking to Captain America, but the only thing that matters is the purity of heart and nobility of mind when it comes to lifting Mjolnir and wielding the power of Thor.

So, if Thor, as we know and love him, wouldn’t have a problem with it, why should we?


Potions and Smoke

Game of Thrones sort of kind of spoiler alert (for a reference to dialogue only – no plot points).

A couple things happened this week in both TV and the real world that got me thinking.  First, on Game of Thrones, weird red priestess we love to hate Melisandre was talking to Mrs. Stannis Baratheon about humor, lies, and tricking people into being interested in the truth. This is a recap from memory, so forgive the obvious paraphrase:

Mrs. B.: If humor is lies, isn’t it best avoided?

Melisandre: Not always. See these potions? This one, when tossed into a flame, creates a column of smoke a mile high… Some tricks get people’s attention, so that they can see the light. You, Mrs. B, already can look into the light, and need no such tricks.

That bothers Mrs. B. a little. I mean, she’s the most devoted follower of the Red God we’ve seen – she is willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING for what she believes. And the priestess, the one she lets do pretty much what she likes in her personal and political affairs, is now telling her she intentionally tricks people to get them interested. It’s a strange moment to watch as blind faith fights with common sense. Guess which wins.

Pan over to the real world. I was looking at crazy, cool looking demos to do at the library for our Fizz Boom Read! days. One of my friends had posted a picture of his science camp pouring liquid nitrogen over a pool – a strong visual. That video is still private, so here’s something similar:

Note: DON’T JUMP IN THE WATER. People die doing that stuff. Nitrogen will displace the oxygen in the area directly over the water (the cloud) and breathing gets hard, but without the normal signs of asphyxiation. Again, cool to look at, not to swim in.

As I was looking at these demos, considering logistics of whether something like this would even be possible, something I was told came back to me. “You’re not actually teaching them science,” said a well-meaning co-worker. “You’re just wowing them with fireworks.”

It made me wonder. When I do one-off science demos as part of my storytimes or homeschool classes, and don’t dig into them, am I just showing them fireworks? And is there something wrong with “fireworks?”

It made me think about Melisandre, too. Columns of smoke to make the uninterested see something more deeply. To make it interesting when it would otherwise be obscure. To engage them where they are rather than waiting for them to get to me.

Maybe some of them only want the experiments, but there’s no harm in that. There will be a few who see it and ask questions, who will want to know more. They’ll be excited to figure out the why’s and how’s – they’ll learn to ask the right questions and make the right observations.

Maybe the kids can’t all look into the flames and see the truth, but for now, I’m ok with making a column of smoke with a little black powder.


Image By Ralf Johann (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Mama Said…

We’ve all had those days. The ones that start hard, go slowly, and end on a bad note. The kind of days that make us want to curl up with a glass of wine and a commitment never to go back outside again. Customer service seems to leave people with this feeling a lot – a feeling that you’re fighting the tide, that people don’t listen, that something is wrong.

I have those days once in awhile. For me, it usually means I’m tired and overcommitted, and that I haven’t given myself enough time to chill out. My first semester of my MLIS, I was working 4 jobs and taking 12 credits. I was also negotiating space with a new roommate, learning a new neighborhood, and trying to work with a student organization. In short, bad plan. All of those things were good, but I couldn’t say no. I just kept adding new things, and telling myself it would be good for me. In the end though, I had trouble being good for any of them.

Now, I’ve cut it down to 2 part time jobs (one’s an internship), and 4 classes. I’m still busy – I still push it too hard sometimes, and have to remind myself to calm down and back away. I have to remind myself that I’m not essential to the workings of each thing I’m involved in. And while that can be hard to hear, it honestly helps. I got a really great group for my group project that has seriously reaffirmed my belief in teamwork. And I have a roommate who occasionally makes me coffee.

The people around me want to help me, which is huge. But more importantly, I want to help myself. I am learning to take a breath, and maybe even to say no.

Mama may have said there’d be days like this, but I don’t have to sit still and let them happen.

Being Smart and Being Good

I hate running. I don’t get people who love runners’ high (but more power to them). I tried running for a bus once, and I missed it. That’s the kind of attitude I have toward running. It’s been this way pretty much my whole life. I played soccer in middle school, and I dreaded the laps that seemed endless. And it seemed like everyone got done first. Everyone else got done first in gym class trips around the track too. In short, I was slow. And I hated running.  It was a struggle for me, and I didn’t want to try. I wasn’t used to being less than great as an 11 year old.

Turns out, I might not be alone. A few years ago, Carol Dweck did a study of 5th graders and difficult tasks. “She found that bright girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up–and the higher the girls’ IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel.” Why on earth would girls who are so smart give up so easily?

The answer, Dweck theorized, was in how girls view their intelligence. Intelligence wasn’t a continuing challenge, rather, it was a static trait. Capable of self-control earlier than boys, relieved adults often praise girls in terms of “being” verbs – you are smart, are a great student, are clever. All true, but static. There is no effort behind it – it simply is an aspect of themselves. Boys, however, are often treated with more explanantion – “if you settle down, you can learn this,” “if you think about it, you’ll understand.” In short, we are constantly explaining to boys that putting effort into learning will yield different – more desirable – results. We teach them that they are in the process of becoming.

Fast forward 15 years, and these 5th graders are starting their careers. Far fewer women are entering STEM fields than men. Men rise faster in leadership positions than woman. Why?

Perhaps because these women, bright girls of the 5th grade, are still stuck on wanting to “be smart.” The struggle of something just out of their reach makes them question themselves, rather than the problem. Women too often bow out, believing that the struggle to learn makes them “not good enough” rather than simply in a learning process. It can lead to frustration, burnout, and underperformance.

Now, this isn’t the only reason that women don’t pursue technically demanding career paths or leadership positions, but it’s something to consider. In a field like librarianship, where more women work than men, this “being smart” syndrome could affect an entire industry, holding people back from potential innovations and learning opportunities.

Armchair (or Couch-cushion) Travel

I’ve been hosting strangers my entire life. Around the time I was 5, we hosted our first Rotary exchange student, a girl from France who was a talent drawer and mildly creepy (she dressed up as a skeleton for Halloween and scared all the children away from our candy). From there, we had students from Indonesia, Brazil, France, Turkey, Japan, Denmark, Mexico, Italy, Finland, and Australia. In between, we had adult study groups from India (who gave me a bindi to cover an inconveniently-placed chicken pox scar), worship teams from denominational colleges, and kids who had been kicked out of their parents’ houses for one reason or another.

In short, our door was always open, and that gave me the opportunity to experience huge parts of the world I never got to actually see.

On the flip side, I’ve stayed in an Quechua village in the Peruvian Andes with 3 dozen strangers, set up cots in a former Jehovah’s Witness house in Dublin, crashed enough couches to open my own furniture store, and even became a Rotary exchange student myself, relying on 3 families of strangers whose own children were abroad for my room, board, and support for a year.

I was always willing to go somewhere, and have been blessed to have a bed at each place.

Which brings me to Couchsurfing.

Couchsurfing has gone on and off my radar for a few years. I scouted it when I was living in Europe, but never really used it as a service, using other networking methods. When I lived in Ann Arbor, I signed back in and set my status to “Available for Coffee” and got connected with a great person who was just in town for a few months. When I moved to Pittsburgh, I let it slide – I didn’t have a couch and I wasn’t familiar enough with my new city to make it useful.

I’ve hosted 2 couchsurfers this month, both really positive experiences. Sure, it’s work to host, but the rewards have been great. I hosted a student from Australia on a US tour after her internship who took me to places in my own city I had never been, and a woman from very near my hometown on her way to a yoga convention. Each brought a lot of new experiences, great discussion, and a renewed interest in my city. (They also both did my dishes at one point – not necessary, but I won’t argue with perks.)

It’s an opportunity for both host and surfer. If you find yourself curious, check it out here. Register, poke around, and see what’s happening. You might find yourself experiencing the world.

Christmas Party!

It’s been about a week since we ran the Christmas party at the Carnegie Library of Homestead, and it went great!

I was asked to pull together some crafts on a bit of a last minute basis, so I dashed over to Michael’s to pick up some crafty things. Christmas cards were an easy idea, and I picked up a fair amount of cardstock and scrapbooking paper, as well as ribbon, foam sticker letters, and even some dreaded glitter glue. I divided everything in half and put it on two different tables.

I set up a third table with contact paper and tissue paper in order to make ornaments.

Tissue Paper Stained GlassWhile I did something similar to this project from Joyfully Weary, I didn’t have the kids draw shapes and cut them  out. Instead, we just cut out basic shapes (circles, triangles, squares) and stuck them on for abstract design. We put the pieces between two pieces of contact paper and then punched a hole in one side from which to string a ribbon for hanging.

There were stations for competitions like whipped cream towers (who can get it the highest), and pin the carrot nose on the snowman. We also had pizza and snacks for the kids.

I wasn’t around for the library’s Halloween party, so this was my first time. We had required sign up, but that wasn’t necessarily enforced – we have a lot of neighborhood kids that just drop in, so we left it open for them. Basically, that meant we had no idea how many would show up or how old they would be.

The first few kids came in and saw the glitter glue. They immediately set up shop at the card tables and went to town. They cut sparkly paper and made cardstock sparkly. More kids came in and saw the first group, and soon I had 30 kids around the card tables, one or two around the ornament tables – and nobody at any of the other activities. Groups attract more people, and it stayed that way the entire party. I was glad I had gotten enough supplies – we have enough to do Valentine’s Day cards or something similar later this year.

A local girl with an amazing voice (she’s going to be on The X Factor next year, I think) came and sang some songs that got the kids dancing. It was pretty awesome once they got over the “I’m too cool to dance” idea. So there were 10 year olds dancing, with glitter glue. Terror. But really, really cool to see them participating. Some kids (and even some parents!) commented on how nice it was, which was great feedback.

At the end, Santa crept in and distributed some gift books, and the kids dispersed. Overall, it was a good turnout and a lot of fun. If I had to do it again, I’d make sure the rest of the staff was at least a little familiar with what was happening at the craft table so I’m not trying to manage 3 tables and 30 kids. 30 kids with glitter glue. (Which actually wasn’t that bad.)

Wrapping up 2013

Somehow, there are less than two weeks left in the year.

This has crept up on me.

It’s been a big year – I’ve moved, started school, gotten lots of experience at lots of jobs, and started to feel at home somewhere that wasn’t my parents house (this was probably helped along by the fact that my parents moved, too). I’ve broken my first bone, narrowly avoided my first stitches, and continued my love affair/addiction to coffee. I started watching Doctor Who (for shame on waiting so long!), playing video games (Bioware can hide nothing from me now), and learned to build a website. I’ve dreamed about finding a way to move back to Europe, living a normal schedule, and getting a job that pays all the bills.

So now I’m wondering about next year.

I want to finish school, for starters. Though there’s some uncertainty about my financial aid situation for summer, I’ll definitely wrap it up by this fall. The next semester has a lot of great things in store for me, academically. I’m excited to be a guest student in a Syracuse University course called Innovation in Public Libraries. The Fayetteville Fab Lab was a product of this class,  and that kind of thinking is magical. I want to have a Harry Potter moment with that, where I realize that I can do that magic too.

I’m waiting on some light to be shed on a lot of divergent paths, too. I need to decide about interning this summer vs. taking classes, and who and where I would want to intern. I want to GO TO ALL THE CONFERENCES (I love conferences. Weirdly, I love volunteering at conferences. Makes me feel useful.). Sadly, this contrasts with my other goal to PAY ALL THE BILLS. Adulting isn’t for wimps.

I have smaller, simpler goals too: I want to start cooking dinner again, get back into baking, remember how to crochet and cross stitch. I want to write stories like I haven’t since I finished undergrad, and maintain the great friendships I’ve made with a little more gusto. I want to read whole books again, rather than just skimming them for papers. I want to beat DragonAge on something other than easy level.

So, 2014 is a year with a lot on its plate already, and it hasn’t even started yet. Old man 2013 has been busy writing a will, I guess, and 2014 is inheriting a lot. Maybe more than it can handle.

I think it can live up to the challenge.