Winter Reading has Begun

Photo by JoséDay on Flickr

Cover image Wie leest wie voor? by JoséDay on Flickr.

Last summer, I sort of found myself in charge of a Summer Reading Program at the last minute. It didn’t go so well, as you might imagine. We had great summer learning events, but not a lot of participation in traditional, tracked summer reading.

Since then, I’ve started a new job at a new library, and we’re running a short, low-key winter reading program during the month of January. Originally, it was just a youth services thing, but the adult services department has gotten on board too, making for a great full-library event.

For youth services, we’ve divided up participation into a few categories: Pre-K, K-5, Middle Grade (vaguely grades 5-7), and Teen (vaguely grades 6-12). Obviously, there’s overlap because of the creation of the Middle Grade category. We’ve had success with the creation of a Middle Grade collection and program set, so why not extend it to the reading club? Kids in this age group can choose whether to participate in Kids or Middle Grade (for the 5th and 6th graders) and Teen or Middle Grade (for the 6th & 7th graders). It’s not really about forcing certain categories – it’s more about encouraging kids to read at the age group they enjoy.

Each child/teen gets a welcome bag at registration with a pencil and such – teens have different bags than the kids. Then they take a bingo sheet to fill out. Each space is a type of book to read, and they try to create a bingo of any kind on the card. When they bring it back, they get a ticket for a raffle at the end of the month. There are 4 baskets, each with a target age, although participants can choose any raffle to enter.

Example of a Kids Bingo Sheet:

Kids Week 1 Bingo Sheet: Row 1 Newberry book, New book, Reader's Choice, book in a series, paperback. Row 2: Author whose last name starts with M, Book on CD, Free space, Book published in 2014, Non-fiction book. Row 3 Book with a blue cover, graphic novel, book with more than 100 pages, book of poetry, reader's choice. Row 4, a book that became a movie, book based on a true story, cookbook, mystery book, Caldecott book.
Our week 1 K-5 Winter Reading Club Bingo Sheet.

It’s low key enough to work during a really busy programming season, and it also has pretty low barriers to participation.

This program is exciting to me for a variety of reasons. The biggest one is the tension between traditional summer reading proponents and advocates of other ways of directing and tracking summer learning. This kind of program – super easy to run and participate in – allows people for whom reading clubs are important parts of the library world to get that fix. And it also frees up staff time to develop other facets of summer learning at the library.

Remind me that I talked about all the “free time” this program leaves me toward the end of this month.

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.

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.

Potions and Smoke

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

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…

Cracking under stress by Bernard Goldbach

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.

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.

Long Days and Learning Curves

Most days I’m a lot like my junior high self: when someone asks me how work was and what I did, I shrug and respond, “It was ok, didn’t do much.” This is obviously untrue, but it just seems easier than trying to explain everything. Most days, where do I even start?

Some days, though, something leaps out. There was the day that I got a shy kid to grin for an hour after I helped him search for Thomas the Tank Engine books – and then he pulled a chair up next to mine so we could find more things. There was the time that my very first reference question was explaining to a very nice, very well meaning elderly gentleman that the book in his hand was not “The Secret Garden” (as in the one by Frances Hodgson Burnett) but “My Secret Garden” by Nancy Friday. There was the time that a student ninja rolled across the front of the security post at the academic library I work at to cheer me up by pretending to sneak into the library (while madly waving his ID around for me to see).

There are lots of those really great times. The reasons why I want to do my job.

Then there are the reasons that I remember why I need to do my jobs. They’re the times where I can’t seem to get anything right, or at least where everything seems to be going wrong. They’re the longest days. They are upsetting, perhaps even a little scary. Perhaps they peel away the image I’ve gotten of a community I work in but am not from. And I remember why I want so badly for the library to be a safe, welcoming place for people to learn.

These thoughts are far loftier than what I was thinking as cleaned up blood off the library bathroom floor. Far more focused than writing up my incident report including the words “firearm” “illicit drugs” and “arrests.” And certainly more coherent than when I began to shake several hours later, wondering what was wrong with me as I struggled to pull my thoughts together.

Obviously, my Wednesday this week wasn’t normal, but I learned some things. I was reminded that my assumptions about life weren’t necessarily valid for everyone else’s life. The safety I felt fairly certain of even in a rough neighborhood couldn’t be extended to everyone. That the library had to actually assert itself as a haven to be respected, rather than just expect people to know it. I learned that I can make it through very stressful situations and get things done. That I have really great recall of things said to me when I’m stressed. That going into shock after certain experiences isn’t weakness.

That I never for a second questioned what I was doing there that day, or whether I would come back. I just would.

Helpful Rounding

Our reserves librarian just spent half an hour in the stacks trying to find the books for a professor. The faculty member had helpfully filled out his form, listing not only titles and authors, but call numbers for everything we owned.

Unable to find any of the books, the reserves librarian came back to search for them himself. Apparently the call numbers were too complicated for our faculty member, and he rounded up. On each and every call number, he cut it down to a few decimal places on the second line for us.

Sweet. Misguided. But sweet.