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.

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 Stories Outside of the Books

Today I had the privilege of meeting a woman in her 80s that needed some help with her email account, which she could no longer access on her computer. She came with a stack of notes, and asked me to sit on her right because that was the hearing aid that was currently working. She explained in a heavy accent that she was almost 90, and had only been in the United States for the last 20 years, so please forgive her English and that she might not know technical things. I’ve taught senior computing courses, so none of this surprised me.

Then her first question was to explain the difference between a server and her ISP. Clearly this was not my average tech support tutorial.

We worked through her email issues, stopping to chat along the way. She explained her frustration about being in a place where no one spoke her language, that her entire day was often occupied with trying to figure out what she understood and didn’t understand in English. I told her about my stay in Belgium, and how even as a young woman learning French – so closely related to English – I had struggled to keep up and was frustrated with my lack of communication skills. We agreed that was easy compared to trying it as she had – a refugee from the former Soviet Union.

As the lesson went on, she told me stories about her life that had me completely enraptured. She had come here after an anti-Semitic death threat was written on her door, leaving a life as a physician with only 2 suitcases full of books and nothing else.  “I wrote my memoirs. Only in Russian – it was too hard in English. Sometime, I will come back and show them to you.” She told me about her father, who had been imprisoned by Stalin. How she loved Russia more than she could say – the music, the culture, the literature (and she began to list the great Russian authors with such awe in her voice that it was catching).

She asked me about myself, how I had come to Pittsburgh, why I was here, where my parents were. She said she understood why I was in libraries – this was clearly where my passion was. She told me about her grandchildren – the only reason she has a Facebook account is to message them if it’s their birthday. She then invited me for dinner sometime.

I’ve met a lot of people in libraries. Some are delightful, and others fall into that more generic, more easily loathed term “the public.” (I love people – but the public has that other connotation of… meh. Am I alone in this?) This woman reminded me what I love about public service. That meeting someone at their need isn’t just a one way process. That at the end of the day, I am surrounded by so many awesome  stories – and most of them aren’t in books yet.

(The comic at the top is from Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes and continues to be one of the best things on the internet.)


To Conference or Not to Conference

(Definitely conference)

I recently attended a convention for my state’s library association as a student photographer. It was quite the experience. I got to spend 4 days mingling with the leaders in librarianship, making connections, getting advice, and generally getting to know the real-world state of the profession.

The biggest surprise? That we photographers were the only 3 students at the conference.

I know that conferences can be an expense that just doesn’t seem justifiable when you’re a grad student eating ramen, but they do have value, even if you aren’t presenting.

Speaking of which…

1) If you have something to say, present it.

Poster Session PaLA 2013Whether you have something you think warrants a whole session or if you just want to prep a poster, make it happen. There’s a lot of information in your experience that other people want to know. You can at least ask if the conference organizers will let you (for ALA Annual, you can still apply for poster sessions until January 17, 2014 – look here).

2) If you can provide a service, see if you can trade it.

ALA Display SessionTo get to the Pennsylvania Library Association annual conference, I listened when a little bird told me that they were looking for students to photograph the event. I am, at best, a hobby photographer (I had to borrow my camera from my roommate), but I asked about the requirements, and was brought on board. Just for being willing to ask.

3) Bring business cards. Lots.
And make sure they say you’re a student.

PaLA Bowling This seems like a no-brainer, but I went through 150 in 3 days, and I didn’t get to go to all the networking events I wanted to. And when people saw I was a student, it opened up conversation – “Oh, I went to Pitt!” “When do you graduate?” “What track are you studying?”. I got lots of invitations to visit libraries to see how they do things, and lots of tips and tricks. People feel ok telling a student things they might never tell a colleague. They might even invite you bowling. Go figure.

4) Smile.

Seriously, look like you want to be there. This isn’t a homework assignment – it’s actually kind of fun. There are opportunities to network, sessions to listen to, exhibitors to schmooze… but there are also unexpected moments of fun (check out these snapshots from the Performers’ Showcase at PaLA). Being willing to participate and to have fun can go a long way toward having a positive experience – and making others remember you in a positive light.

Performers Showcase Mickey

Performers Showcase Dancing

Performance Showcase Ill Stylin

Let’s talk about Tumblr

Last week, I wanted to show the programming director at the library I’m interning at some ideas that I’d posted to my tumblr. I like to archive cool ideas, snippets, and more informal thoughts on tumblr, and the quick like/reblog format makes it easy for the community of Tumblarians (yes, that’s a thing) is relatively active in sharing and interacting with each other.

And I couldn’t get to any of it on my work computer.

It was explained to me that due to some of the questionable content on tumblr, the network provider had decided to block the entire site. All tumblrs, no matter how useful, were inaccessible to the library. I was a bit taken aback. Especially since Yahoo! bought tumblr and essentially blacklisted all of the “Adult” sites, tumblr is increasingly dominated by TV gifs, fandoms, and teen rants. And of course tumblarians.

Over at “The Digital Shift,” they’ve figured out the tumblr is the place to be, too, especially for teens:

In the past year, though, it became clear that my teens were no longer on Facebook—or if they were, they weren’t using it to connect with the library. During that time, I searched for ways to invigorate the teen section of our library’s website—to post more content daily and engage more readers. I sought a streamlined, visually exciting site. But the traditional blogging options were hampered by clunky interfaces and an outdated look; I knew that the posts weren’t reaching many patrons, let alone teens.

Enter Tumblr.

Tumblr is known, too, for its fandom bases – Supernatural, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Harry Potter, anime, and (!) books. This makes tumblr even more appealing from a library marketing perspective. Aren’t we trying to get people to embrace their geek? Running an entire ad campaign on “Geek the Library” seems to indicate so. Tumblr is a group of geeks waiting to be shown how the library can fit into their passions.

Want to reach teens? Better yet, want to engage an already-active group of people with easy-to-use, attention-grabbing posts? Use tumblr. (Start with checking out the “tumblarians” tag and explore from there.)

Just make sure it’s not blocked at your library.


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Starring Harry and Katniss as The Millenials – feat. Guns and the Internet

We’ve been talking a lot about generations around school and my libraries lately. In my course on library services for an aging population, we’ve been focusing on Baby Boomers, the Silent Generation, and the GI Generation, for obvious reasons. In my adult services class, the Boomers come up again, pig in the generational python that they are, as well as Gen Xers.

But we talk about the Millennials too. We talk about the Millennials A LOT. Information about Millennials abounds – it seems a new study about how we do things, think about things, use technology, interact with authority, go places and own things is published every day. To paraphrase and adapt what Virginia Woolf said about women in her essay “A Room of One’s Own” – “Have you any notion how many books are written about [Millennials] in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by [older generations]? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?”

Even MTV is in on the studying. MTV, that product of Gen Xers that taught us that Big Brother was a game show rather than a McCarthyism trait, is trying to figure out how to nail down its new market – the youngest Millennials. In their study, they use pop culture to back up their findings. I love this. As an older Millennial, I can understand what they mean through their comparisons to Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen, and the breakdown of why we’re different and what that means for our psychology is actually pretty impressive.

For example, we older Millennials, the “Harry Potters”, were told we were “special” all the time when I was a kid – unique, just like everyone else. Whatever challenges we faced, we would come through it all right. We had endless, magical possibilities and whole worlds opened up to us with the right information. Economic growth seemed endless, college offered real possibility for advancement, and the Internet was going to fix all the world’s problems.

We learned better.

Younger Millennials, the “Katniss Everdeens”, were raised in a very different world. In fact, many people don’t consider this group to be Millennials at all – instead they’re Gen Z. They straddle the Millennial optimism and the rather brusque reality of coming of age in a deep recession and time of war. They are survivalists, and understand technology as a part of the world, rather than an addition to it. There is no magic wand – there is economic struggle, particularly for young people. College is a debt with no guaranteed outcome. There is the continued expanse of Big Brother, but now via social media as well.

One of my professors explained that for those of us whose formative years came after 9/11, the world was formed by guns and the Internet.

What a combination.

See also:

Meet The Millennials – Harry and Katniss | 21st Century Library Blog.