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.

Learning, Teaching, and Teen Mentors

Now that we’re actually in range of decent New Year’s resolution-making, I’ve been thinking. I actually started my first set of resolutions (reading more diverse books) last night – but more on that later. I also was thinking about what I want to learn this year, and what I want to share with others.

I asked that question of my Teen Advisory Board at the meeting just before Christmas. We were sitting there, decorating cookies (well, some were just unabashedly shoveling sprinkles into their mouths), and I asked what they were good at that they could share with others. It took some prompting – most of my teens didn’t seem to think that their skills were anything to call home about. But one of them managed to come up with accounting – accounting! – and figured she might be able to help middle school kids with math, or high schoolers with creating a balanced budget. It was a great start, and pretty soon the rest of the group had their own skills to bring up – baking, video games,  painting… the list went on.

Then I asked another question – What do you want to learn that you’re not sure how to start? This was a hard one for them too. We talked through this one based on the other question. Some of the teens really wanted to learn to bake, or how to design video games. A few even acknowledged that it would be a good idea to learn how to budget, since they’re old enough to get their first jobs.

Once the ball was rolling, we started to hear some more – robots! applying for college! dancing! It turned into a great discussion about how we could shape our programming going forward by allowing the older teens to mentor and teach the middle graders.

We can’t start that til this summer, at least not officially, since the Winter/Spring schedule is already released. But it’s a good path to be on.

Reading Resolutions

So I’m a little early on this post, but there’s Christmas music blaring over the intercom and it puts me in the year-end mindset. There’s been a lot happening in the world, and in my life, this year. I’ve made some big changes (graduating, moving, starting a new job), but I’m trying to think about the ways I can make next year even bigger, even better.

So, I’ll be blunt: I’m going to shamelessly steal from all of you. Library folk internet-wide have been posting AMAZING programming ideas, library philosophy, and book suggestions. And I feel like a David that’s forgotten his slingshot in a matchup with Goliath. WHERE DO YOU ALL GET THESE AMAZING IDEAS?

For instance, I read about a really amazing Etsy workshop for teens today. That’s baller. Or how about this crazy cool library blog that should make all public library blogs jealous from my home state? Or the people who accomplished reading lists that make me think.

50 books by POC. 50 books about LGBTQ characters. 50 books in translation. Books with non-Western style illustrations. Books with narrators with less privilege than me. With different viewpoints than me. With different ideas than I could ever think of. That’s what you’re all reading, and it blows my mind.

I read an old Slate article (which is the owner of the beautiful header image) about reading a book a day all year. I’ve decided to layout some more modest goals for myself, since I know I have trouble getting outside of my reading bubble, which is a problem. So let’s mix it up. In 2015 I will:

– Read 25 teen/middle grade books by POC.

– Read 50 picture books written/illustrated by POC

– Read 25 books with LGBTQ protagonists

– Read 25 books in translation.

In complete honesty, this is more than I’ve read for pleasure since before I started grad school (gasp!). But I’m not stopping there.

– Listen to 25 books on CD (any length)

– Design an app (which means learning how to build an app)

– Update my blog more often (this probably means I’ll be linking it up to tumblr, because I love some tumblr and I’ve gotten away from it)

What do you think? Worthy aspirations? Suggestions or tweaks? What are your reading resolutions, if you’ve gotten that far?


Mud Painting, or How do I use this chocolate pudding before it goes bad?

I do biweekly visits to a local after school program that has about 12 kids, grades K-6. While there, I read a couple stories and do an activity. In the past, we’ve done things like build rockets out of pipe insulator and duct tape and a rocket launcher out of PVC pipe as well as a version of the marshmallow challenge (complete with faux-earthquake). I try to stick to solid all-ages activities, while still teaching them some STEM concepts.

Today was a bit more arts and crafts, although I think the kids loved it. We had been cleaning out the kids supplies, and discovered some pudding cups that had a month left on them. A coworker mentioned mud painting, and the idea was born.

I read The Pigeon Needs a Bath by Mo Willems. The kids had almost all heard of Mo Willems and his pigeon, so there was an understanding of how the book worked. It’s just interactive enough to get them to really settle into the story, and isn’t so simple that the older kids zone out.

I did a quick follow up with Harry the Dirty Dog, which the older kids politely sat through while the younger kids really got into it. They were really upset when Harry’s family didn’t recognize him. Overall, a decent storytime for a large age range.

But then I revealed the activity. So much happiness.

I laid out a big tablecloth on the floor for the kids and handed out sheets of white construction paper. Then each kid got a chocolate pudding cup.

I told them it was finger painting, and that they weren’t allowed to touch their clothes or each other, or in fact anything other than their paper. Surprisingly, they listened, and we only had one dollop on the carpet (it was a really old carpet, so I was told it was fine).

There was a thin line between using the pudding to paint and using it to eat. In the end, we handed out LOTS of paper towels and spoons so they could finish up.

I’ll be in for a special Halloween program there next week for Halloween, which will be pretty science-y, so it was a nice change up to do some art with them.

The picture isn’t mine (I never remember to take pictures), and was done with paintbrushes and actual mud by the wonderful ladies over at Sunflower Storytime.

Mud Painting
Mud Painting

Music and Movement – Revamped

I’ve gotten a crash course this week in running children’s programming, and so far it seems to be going ok. I’ve gotta hand it to all the children’s librarians I’ve worked with in the past though – this stuff can be exhausting! I just finished up a Music and Movement storytime, and while I didn’t run out of breath, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t close.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about why we do storytimes lately, and what we should expect from the littlest patrons. That background was something I missed in library school, since I didn’t focus on children and youth. It’s been helpful as I plan more programs though. Today’s Music and Movement was a lot more structured than the one I ran two weeks ago, and I’ve found a few rhymes that will help the kids stick with me as we learn about rhythm and movement. The previous librarian focused a lot on music appreciation. I may tie into that at some point, but while the kids and I are just getting settled in, we’re focusing on dance and how to coordinate their bodies. Things like the chicken dance are silly but fun, while doing the Bees Knees dance (where you put your hands on your knees, then cross them as your bring your knees together, uncrossing them as you bring your knees straight again) was beyond my group. Hey – it’s a really coordination heavy move, and they were confused even by what I was demonstrating to them.

I also gave the parents a handout with the rhymes on them, along with little bits of information about what we were doing. It let them sing along when their kids couldn’t, and also gave them a heads up about why rhythm is important, even to literacy. Using rhythm sticks to tap along to rhymes as well as songs allows kids to hear the rhythm of speech, breaking words into syllables and sentences into pieces. This is helpful when they learn to read, because it allows them to tackle one part of the sentence at a time.

No one registered for the program today, but I had 3 drop ins, which was just about the right amount for testing things out. I borrowed heavily from the internet. Thanks, children’s librarians of the web! Especially Jbrary. I’ve tried to cite sources when I pulled them directly from the web. Lots of things are just received knowledge, though, so if you see I missed someone, let me know!

Music and Movement 9/18/2014 – Intro to Rhythm Sticks

Entry Music: From Classical Clubhouse Dance AlongLes Patineurs by Waldteufel (7:48)

This song title translates to “The Skaters,” and you can imagine figure skaters sailing along or doing great leaps into the air depending on the movement in the song. While the kids won’t know this the first week, it can be a great way to get them thinking about how music can tell a story without words. Today the song started a little late, since I didn’t think anyone was coming, but the kids liked pretending they were ice skating for the first minute or two of the song.

Explain as parents and children come in that the music will go through a lot of changes. See if the children can move the way the music does (soft and slow, big and dramatic, etc.) If this doesn’t happen right away, that’s fine. The kids will hear this piece a lot over the next few weeks. After the waltz, there’s a big dramatic finish with violins and cellos. 

Welcome song: This is the Way We Wave Hello

Once we got everyone settled down from their ice skating adventure, I introduced myself. One of the children had seen me before, but the others were new, and only remembered the librarian who ran the program before me. They were a weensy bit skeptical of me at first, but it seemed to go away as the program went on.

Tune: Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush

This is the way we wave hello, wave hello, wave hello
This is the way we wave hello – hello, hello, hello!

This is the way we clap hello…
This is the way we whisper hello…
This is the way we tap hello…

Via Story Time Secrets.

Rhythm Sticks

Since this is our first time with rhythm sticks, I’ll pull 2 out to show everyone how to use them. I’ve avoided a lot of things that encourage partner play today, because our attendance is usually young toddler. Parents are encouraged to help young children tap, but not to take over. Children will naturally tap the sticks together – and then tap them on everything else. Watch them carefully, and if the sticks become too much, cut short this section.

Once the sticks are passed out, give everyone a moment to get used to them. For some kids, they’ll be unwieldy, so it may take a long minute to adjust. Once we’re all settled in. Try to get them to tap slowly together, then up high, down low, quickly…

The first song is set to the same tune as the hello song. Since this is all new to the kids, this will help them learn it the first few weeks.

This is the Way We Tap Our Sticks

To the tune of Mulberry Bush:

This is the way we tap our sticks, tap our sticks, tap our sticks
This is the way we tap our sticks so early in the morning!
This is the way we rub our sticks, rub our sticks, rub our sticks
This is the way we rub our sticks so early in the morning!
This is the way we tap our knees, tap our knees, tap our knees
This is the way we tap our knees so early in the morning!

Via Read Sing Play.

I lost my place in this song at one point, but the kids didn’t miss a beat. Thank goodness for familiar melodies!

Tap Your Sticks

Tap your sticks in the air with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks on the floor with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks in the air with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks on the floor with a 1-2-3

Tap your sticks to the left with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks to the right with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks to the left with a 1-2-3
Tap your sticks to the right with a 1-2-3

(I got this rhyme from Hap Palmer’s Rhythms on Parade CD.  Check out this YouTube clip)

Via Anne’s Library Life.

I did this one as a chant, because the music wasn’t familiar with everyone and I didn’t have the CD. I may get it though, because the music video in the link provided by Anne makes me think it will be a worthy addition.

Rhythm Stick Bingo

There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o!
B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O, B-I-N-G-O
and Bingo was his name-o!

(we tapped our sticks for the B-I-N-G-O part)

Via Anne’s Library Life.

They loved this one! Everyone knew the Bingo song, and tapping slow during the sentence and quicker while we spelled Bingo seemed to be  favorite. We did this one twice.



Ok, I’ll admit, Jbrary saved my life here. They have a great page of scarf songs that I borrowed heavily from. And they come with videos!

We Wave Our Scarves Together

To the tune of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”

We wave our scarves together, we wave our scarves together
We wave our scarves together, because it’s fun to do.
Spoken: We wave them up high (in a high voice)
We wave them down low (in a low voice)
We wave them in the middle (in a normal voice)
Sing: Because it’s fun to do.

We throw our scarves together…

Another song we did twice because the kids were loving it. The voice modulation when we did things high and when we did things low was fun for everyone.

One Bright Scarf: To the tune of “Bouncing up and down” or “Michael Finnegan”

One bright scarf waiting for the wind to blow (bounce the scarf in front of you)
Wiggle it high and wiggle it low (wiggle it above your head, then near the floor)
Shake it fast and shake it slow (fast then slow)
(Hide the scarf behind your back, under your knee, etc.)
Where did it go?

So… I couldn’t get my head around this melody, so we did this as a rhyme again. The kids didn’t care, and the parents probably just think I’m tone deaf. I’m not, but something’s gotta give, apparently. We turned this into a hiding game, where the kids would hide their scarves, then immediately come to look for mine. I tucked it into my pocket once, and they pulled it out when they found it, to the delight of everyone.

Dancing with Scarves

Each child got a second scarf here, and we danced to Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” for a few minutes. We played with different ways to move so the scarf would float or fly or look like wings. The girls loved this. The boy, again, not so much. We may try something with the toddler trucks for him in a couple weeks to see if it encourages him to move.

Zoom Zoom Zoom

Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going very soon
If you want to take a trip
Hop on board my rocket ship
Zoom Zoom Zoom, we’re going to the moon
In 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Blastoff!

We do this song in Baby and Toddler Storytimes, too, so this was a nice carryover. Jbrary has this song, but we always do it with scarves, letting our scarves be rockets for us, flying them across the sky and blasting them off after the countdown. With an older group that’s payting attention, we do a second blastoff with a 10 second countdown.

Coordination and Dancing

This was a free form bit. I put on a Kidz Bop CD at the recommendation of a previous librarian, but my kids weren’t really into free movement, so I made up some coordination challenges for them. We danced like chickens and shook our hands left and right and tapped our toes. They followed along wonderfully, but the song wasn’t anything they cared about. I might use something else next time.

Goodbye Song: If you’re happy and you know it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands!

If you’re happy and you know it, wave goodbye
If you’re happy and you know it, wave goodbye
If you’re happy and you know it, and you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it, wave goodbye!


I was pretty nervous after this, but the parents were very supportive. One of them, the one who had come during the previous librarian’s time here, had driven a fair distance to get here, but said it was completely worth it and she would come again next time. That made me feel so much better about it. We’ll work with rhythm sticks again next time, so the kids get a chance to get used to them. Overall, a good time was had by all.

Music and Movement – Bees, Elephants, and Bean Bags

My very first solo children’s program at the library!

Age Group: Preschool/Pre K (Toddlers and babies are also welcome and can benefit, though not all activities will be within their developmental range)

Length of Program: 30-45 minutes

Description: In this program young children will learn delightful songs, dances, musical language and activities to enhance developmental concepts such as keeping a steady beat, timing, coordination, listening, literacy, motor skills, language skills, and much more.

Recommended Materials:

  • Shakers (one for each child)
  • Bean Bag Activities & Coordination Skills by Georgianna Liccione Stewart
  • Classical Clubhouse: Dance Along
  • KIDZ BOP (I used Volume 24)


Welcome – 5 minutes

This was my first program, and the first time that most of the parents had seen me, so I took the time to introduce myself to the parents and the children, which helped with a couple of the shyer kids.

Warm up – 5 minutes

Action Rhyme: Tall as a Tree
Tall as a tree,
Wide as a house,
Thin as a pin,
Small as a mouse!
Credit: Ellyn Brancato (Though I’m not sure where she got it from)

We did this one about 6 times. Each time, a few more stragglers came in, so the kids who were already there enjoyed showing the newcomers how to do the rhyme. No one was quite ready to repeat it with me this time, but we’ll do it again next week, too. They really got into this one and the Move Like Different Animals rhyme below.

Song:  Bumble Bee, Bumble Bee
(To the rhythm of “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear…”)
(Use your finger as a bumblebee to do each movement)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing all around. (Move your finger slowly in front of you)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing on the ground. (Move your finger slowly close to the ground)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing up so high. (Move your finger slowly by the top of your head)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing in the sky. (Move your finger quickly as high as you can reach)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing past your toes. (Move your finger quickly close to the ground)

Bumblebee, Bumblebee
Buzzing on your nose. (Move your finger to your nose)

Credit: AnnesLibraryLife with movements added by me

I had a bumblebee glove puppet that I used for this, which the kids liked watching. We only did this one twice, since it seemed to lose them a little bit.

Rhyme: Move like different animals

I can stretch like a kitten
I can hop like a frog
I can swim like a turtle
I can shake like a dog
I can sway like a snake
I can flap like a bat
I can reach like a monkey
I can move like that!

Credit: Mel’s Desk

Since this one was the transition from the stretches to the idea of moving like an animal, we spent a little extra time on this one. Unsolicited, some of the kids suggested other animals that might perform the same actions – Hop like a bunny was a popular suggestion, as was Flap like a bird. That association really helped with the discussion about what other animals might have similar dances in the Move to Music section.

Move to Music – 20 minutes

Explain the piece of music to the children – that it was inspired by the way animals move. Encourage the children to move like the animal would during the music. You should move along too!

Classical Clubhouse: Dance Along CD – Saint-Saens, The Elephant (Carnival of the Animals) – 1:20

Are there other animals that might move like this music sounds?

Classical Clubhouse: Dance Along CD – Rimsky-Korsakov, Flight of the Bumblebee (The Tale of Tsar Saltan) – 1:22

What animal is this? How does a bumblebee move?

How does the music sound different? Fast or slow? Low or high? Soft or loud?

Pass out the shakers and listen to the Flight of the Bumblebee again, pretending that the shakers are bees flying around.

This section went really well. The more energetic kids tended to prefer the Flight of the Bumblebee, while a few of the quieter kids preferred The Elephant. I don’t know whether that dichotomy would hold up outside my group, but it was an interesting observation. The parents seemed to like the inclusion of classical music here, so we might use other sections in future Music and Movement sessi0ns.

Bean Bag Activities – 15 minutes

Get out 1 beanbag and have everyone sit in a circle

Bean Bag Activities & Coordination Skills CD – Pass the Bean Bag (Slow and Fast) – 2:30

Have the children each take 1 beanbag

Practice balancing the beanbag on various body parts (nose, head, elbow, foot)

Put the beanbags away, use a goodbye song if necessary.

I’ll admit that this isn’t the order I did it in – it’s the order I wish I had done it in. I was having one of those nerves-get-the-best-of-you moments, and accidentally had each of the kids take a beanbag first – it was really hard to get them to put them back while I kept mine out. They were really creative about how to balance the beanbags though. They were pretty silly at this point, and we tried balancing it on our elbows, knees, feet, toes, ears… you name it, they wanted to try it.

Freeze Dance – 5-10 minutes

Pick a selection of songs from a favorite recent Kidz Bop CD.  Explain that we dance when the music is playing, but freeze like an icicle when the music ends. Start the music and dance along with the kids, then pause it so they freeze. (No one gets out in this game.)

I wish I had a 3 CD changer (or an MP3 player to create a playlist) in order to make the transitions between CDs easier. I lost a lot of attention even in the few moments it took me to change the CD. While they were into this dance party, they weren’t really into the freeze part. We’ll keep trying.


A few more notes:

Since this was my first program (and my second day), a lot of the kids were unsure of me, and I think it was a little clear that I was unsure of myself. I was the only Youth Services staff member in today, so there wasn’t any backup, which was both a blessing and a curse. The kids learned to engage with me, and several of them stayed after and got books from me or asked me about the train set, which was nice after the initial shyness. The next one is in 2 weeks, so I’ll have a bit more time to prepare for it.

Overall, I think it went very well, despite my nervousness. Kids are very forgiving of flaws as long as you own up to being silly, and parents are understanding as long as you’re engaging with their children. I’ll look into creating a custom CD or bringing speakers I can plug into my phone for an MP3 playlist.  Also – don’t wear long jeans for this program. I was a sweaty mess.

No, the ALSA hasn’t defrauded us all

I’ve been seeing claims of ALS fraud for a bit, from various websites. (a nonprofit evaluation site) shows that 72.4% goes to “programs” which, according to the ALSA’s 2013 finanicial statement, include research incentives (around 28% of the total), patient services (19%) and public education (32%), and is rated 4/4 stars for being transparent and efficient with its revenue. The IRS Form 990 for 2013 shows that more was given out in research grants than all salaries and benefits combined.

 In fact, if you’re curious, basically everything the ALS spent money on for the last 3 years is available via IRS documents here. Guidestar is a great resource for any nonprofit’s financial documents, including a lot of libraries. I’ve been using it as an interview preparation tool lately. But back to the point.

No matter what you think about the challenge, before you click share on the accusations that we’ve been hoaxed by donating the ALS. They’ve been clear on what they do with the money, and have a pretty good reputation for revenue efficiency.

Maker Camp, Part 1

Summer came, and I started scrambling. Summer Reading Program! Final semester! Finishing my internship! ALA Annual! Maker Camp!  Now, summer is over (or nearly – kids started back to school today in a lot of Pittsburgh), and I’m taking a brief moment to figure out what exactly I did this summer, and how I did it.

There’s only so much time in a week, as obvious as that sounds. But when lots of projects compete with each other for those limited hours, and all of the projects are worthwhile on their own, tough cuts have to be made. I was in charge of Summer Reading, with all its attendant programs, paperwork, and promotion, as well as a kindergarten prep class, and Maker Camp. But I was lucky. The director completely had my back and was willing to cover things. A friend of mine with only slightly less on her plate agreed to teach the kindergarten prep storytimes, and we managed to find her a stipend for doing so. Summer Reading Program ended up being a lot of front end work (marketing, organizing programs, etc.), which cooled down over the semester.

Which leaves Maker Camp. I’ll call this one my darling project, since I signed the library up for it. And getting a box of really cool maker swag goes a long way toward boosting any flagging interest in the program. The first box looked a lot like this, with t-shirts and such for the kids:
Via Play Make Share Studio, 2013

The second box had SO MUCH STUFF. Here’s the official list:

Maker Screen Shot


The LEDs and coin cell battieres were the big ones for us. We used those in about 4 different projects. The Arduino was cool, but we never really got to use it – our camp was too short every day, and the kids came in with no programming background. We had a Hummingbird Robotics Kit donated to us, though, and used CREATE Visual Programmer to build some basic robots with the kids. That was by far the favorite program. It was quick, easy to set up, and allowed the kids to exercise complete autonomy once they learned the programming tool. I’d like to step it up to Scratch or Snap next time, but we had mostly 9-12 year olds (the camp is generally for 13+), so this was at least a great introduction to the hardware of robots and the concept of programming logic.

Here’s the Hummingbird Kit:


And here’s a couple videos of the kids making things with it:

The library will be launching Maker Mondays this fall, and I’m excited to see what the library staff does with all of the amazing tools we got. Several of the pieces in the Hummingbird broke from heavy kid usage, but can totally be soldered back together, creating a really nice learning opportunity for both staff (who are brand new to this making thing) and some of the kids.

More thoughts and projects from Maker Camp to come!

A Visit to MakeShop: Learning for Libraries

I took a class on makerspaces during this last semester of my MLIS. It’s been great – we played with some of the “toys” used in makerspaces to get us familiar with them, but also talked about the grants used to fund most spaces, as well as the goals of a makerspace and why they fit in with libraries. Part of the course was to visit a local makerspace and record our impressions, observations, and thoughts on how what we saw could be adapted for library use.

I visited the MakeShop in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh in the afternoon. I had visited previously after hours, during a maker educator’s session, but had never seen it in active use. I noticed immediately that children were actively engaging in the most basic activities – pre-built electricity and block units, while they required some encouragement to attempt some of the more unfamiliar activities, such as stop-motion photography. I came soon after their new “Maker Story Time” ended for the day, and was able to ask the staff, some of whom also work at libraries and/or have their MLIS degrees, about the way they put the program together.

They follow a basic storytime format – book followed by activity – using several books on one theme to segue into a pre-arranged set of activities. Unlike many storytime crafts, the intention of the maker activity is to allow children to self-direct the actual creation process, providing a clear origin (the book and related discussion), but no formal goal. When discussing this with staff members, they emphasized the importance of letting the children pick out what they think are the important parts of the story, which is contextualized by the activity set up behind them.

They also discussed the importance of a transformable space. Everything inside MakeShop is modular, allowing them to transform an active workspace into a storytime area (complete with rug!) with relative ease, then transition back. This is true of both the open area of the space, which includes several of their exhibit tables and their loom, as well as the interior space, which can be closed off using massive doors. This is where the tools are stored, away from children’s hands when they are not being supervised.

The necessity of supervision was another aspect of makerspaces that came to mind. Children in the museum are required to have an adult with them, which is not always a luxury that public libraries have, and is a struggle I have encountered when doing maker programming with children and teens already. The idea of signed waivers was mentioned, but no specifics were mentioned, as neither myself nor the MakeShop staff were well-versed in the legal implications of a parent-signed waiver. One of the staff members, who had previously worked at CLP Labs, mentioned that the Labs program occasionally sent home waivers to permit maker activities for the entire year, but didn’t know the specifics.

The most important thing, both from the interactions I witnessed and from staff testimony, is that staff in the makerspace require a very specific type of personality – a blend of on-their-feet creativity, a skilled background, the ability to teach (which is not inherent), and a willingness to participate in maker ideas themselves. When I was discussing the idea of iteration as it applied to the permanent activities, the importance of iteration in all things was brought up. Not only a tool for exhibits in the MakeShop, iterative design is used by staff to create basically everything in the space, from hardware to curriculum. Libraries, in their rush to participate in the buzzword-heavy wave of maker culture, are often susceptible to the age-old library adage that the collection makes the library. While the collection may be shifted from books to tools in makerspaces, there is still a temptation to always have the best, brightest, and shiniest, whether or not they are the most helpful. 3D Printers come to mind for both myself and MakeShop staff when this was brought up. (For the record, no one in the MakeShop thought a 3D Printer was particularly useful for makerspaces, especially those aimed at general public use and encouragement of design thinking).

While the reluctance of granting organizations to fund staff positions has been discussed, I wonder if the most important tool in a makerspace arsenal is a passionate maker educator that can communicate the importance of the thought process and the freedom to fail. Machines and supplies can allow for the removal of design constraints in free-use spaces, but are not usually in themselves inspiring or instructional. My takeaway from the MakeShop is that engagement is a human feature, not an aspect of machines. Learning is a constant process, and as the MakeShop staff said to me several times: “Never finished. Always working.” The “build it and they will come” idea that many libraries seem to have about all collections, makerspaces included, needs to be updated and humanized. Human interaction with a library educator will increase relevance of any program or collection more effectively than any number of tools.

The Value of Mentorships

There’s been a lot of discussion about mentors and mentoring programs around ALA lately, or at least I’ve picked up on more recently. As I’m about to graduate (pending the last few assignments), I’ve had the chance to think about the many people who have been my mentors over my short library career. They have been people who have been genuinely invested in my success, no matter what definition of success was used. Even before I knew I wanted to be a librarian for the rest of my life, I was lucky to have people in my workplace that were open and honest about the challenges of their work and how I could deal with the challenges in my own work and education.

I started as an “apprentice-track” page, as I call it. While I was officially a shelver, we had several long-term pages with high library aspirations, and management at our library was gracious enough to let us get our feet wet. Things like cataloging theory were explained to me in practical terms, I was allowed to participate in the logistics of setting up and running children’s programming, and I learned to understand the basics of collection development, even going so far as to contribute to weeding. All of the staff took care of us, but there are a few, thinking back, that were clearly mentors in my life, and I continue to touch base with them as I continue my career.

I went through a few jobs where I felt disconnected and disoriented, and while the lack of a mentor connection in those jobs cannot be entirely to blame, I wonder if it contributed to it. There was no one to go to when I encountered problems except formal meetings with my manager, which were stilted, and worse, on the record. It made it hard to admit to struggles I was having and ask for advice when I always felt like such an admission would lead to the chopping block.

My most successful professional mentorship came about by an accident of circumstance. The library where I interned this year hired the director after I was onboard – about 6 weeks after. I had settled in, knew some things, and had plans already set for the year. But early on she made it a point to be open with me about what she did and where she wanted the library to go. She was then open to ideas from me about various small contributions (or big ones, like the website). We both knew that the library would be unable to hire me at the end of my year, and so a more open relationship developed than would normally be ok from a boss. The work of being a director in a small library was often discussed, from writing reports to memorial books, to hiring and firing procedures. We talked about the stress of coming into a place where everyone else had been there longer, where patterns were already ingrained, and what happens when not everyone is on board with an idea.

We’ve had a lot of discussions, often informally on lunch hour or after work for coffee or dinner. There was never any declaration that she was my mentor, but I certainly know where to go when I need to discuss work, especially now during my uncertain transition from academia to job hunting. She’s in my corner – and that’s the kind of mentorship that I have benefited from all along.

I can’t say that those without mentors can’t make it – they can, and many have. But mentorships have had such a huge impact on me that I have to recommend finding someone doing what you’re doing and striking up a conversation. I’ve learned so much that has bridged the gap being theory and practice. Mentorships don’t have to be formal, they just have to be real.

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?