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24th April 2009

9:56am: Furloughs, state workers and librarians
I recently attended a free training session offered by the State Department of Labor and the State Library. Essentially, the subject was how librarians can assist the state in providing services while the regular state employees who would provide these services are furloughed. They are being furloughed in order to keep the state running and prevent these workers from losing their jobs. In a rare mood of cooperation, the state, the state library and library association want to make sure that folks who need to file for unemployment can continue to do so using library computers. These three organizations want librarians to learn about how to use the online forms to help people file applications. They would probably also like librarians to learn something about online resources to help the unemployed find other services that they might need. There are a couple of examples of libraries who have done good jobs of creating one-stop websites to help the unemployed at Long Branch (NJ) Public Library Virtual Career Center or the Hennepin County (MN) Library Jobs & Careers center . (I know there are a lot of other excellent sites like this all over the country but these are the ones I'm most familiar with.)

I came away from the presentaiton in the training session feeling really good about being a librarian. One of the things I love about this job is that it offers the opportunity to make a difference in people's lives. Since we already have seen an increase in the number of people coming to our library who need help with using computers for job searches, filling out applications online and filing for unemployment, I was excited to see that we were going to be able to help even more!

Given the current economic climate, some of us librarians are going to find that we need to know how to use these tools for our own job searches. It makes sense to practice by helping others before we need the help ourselves.

4th February 2009

6:28pm: Helping Others
It has been a very long time since I've had the urge to blog but tonight I am enjoying helping a library student set up her own blog, so I thought I'd take a look at mine.

I don't think blogging comes easily to most people. You have to think you have something to say and you have to believe that some where, some one wants to hear what you have to say. I'm not the sort of person who easily believes that anyone wants to hear what I have to say. That doesn't always prevent me from raising my hand and trying to speak - lots of times, I should have kept my hand glued to my chair.

I have to think it is ego that causes me to put my hand up, not having the right answer. In grade school, we believe that having the right answer is really a good thing - we'll get points or a better grade or the teacher will like us or we can impress someone IF we have the right answer. But as adults, we probably ought to ask ourselves "Why is my hand up?". I don't mean literally but why is my figurative hand up? What do I think I have to add to the conversation and why do I think that I should be the one to add it?

Sometimes, we really do have the right answer or, at least we think we have some kind of a useful answer. So we raise our hand and try to jump into the conversation. But sometimes, we are bored or feeling unhappy or unappreciated and that's the wrong time to raise our hand. When I am motivated by those feelings instead of by the desire to be of help to someone else or the desire to move the conversation along towards a solution, that's when I do myself and others a disservice. When my ego gets so out of whack that I can't be silent, I ought to put a bag over my head (figuratively) until the moment passes. Because when my ego is involved, thoughts of others are crowded out and no question I ask or answer I give will be good for me or for them.

My favorite prayer used to be:

"Oh, Lord, keep your arm across my shoulder and your hand over my mouth."

There's a lot to be said for that prayer.

29th April 2008

6:59pm: Market Segmentation in the library
After working with senior citizens and "Boomers" in our library for a few months, it seems to me that segmenting the market of "older library users" by age is not as appropriate as I once thought it was. In our library, we've found that the two groups have similar interests - they would like to have programs focused on their specific needs; they do not read "Westerns"; they enjoy music, movies. computer classes and they like to talk to each other. The big difference seems to be transportation or the lack of it. I have library users who come to programs in the early afternoon but who can't come to programs in the evenings. The reason for that is that, in our area, we have people who do not drive or who can't afford to keep a car. They are reliant on public transportation, even though they are in their fifties. So they can only attend programs during the day. I was struck by this market segment (with/without independent transportation) when the attendees at a program I was finishing up asked if they could create a movie club. They wanted to vote then and there on what type of films (foreign, new, "oldies" and documentaries) and what day of the week the movie club would meet. Since my regular program consists of speakers, demonstrations and one movie a month, I was curious to see what kinds of movies the mixed age group would choose for the movie club. I was surprised when the attendees (ranging in age from 58 to 89) voted to show new movies and foreign films during the movie club time slot and to watch "oldies" and documentaries at the monthly movie. That showed me that the interests of these folks were about the same in spite of the differences in their ages. Later, when I attended a meeting of the advisory board for the senior citizens and "Boomers", I realized that the one thing that the older members of the board wanted more than almost any other service was consistent, low-cost, safe transportation so that they could have the option of attending evening events in the library with the "Boomers". That was quite a revelation to me. Our library has just created and begun handing out a survey - I wonder if we asked any questions about transportation?

29th January 2008

6:23pm: Why do you bother to bring in a speaker if no one on your staff wants to do what they suggest
A library I know recently hosted an event for one of our larger professional organizations. The speaker believed in changing how we deal with the people who come to our libraries. She suggested "Speaking truth to power." She quoted Dr. Cornel West "You cannot lead the people if you do not love the people." She suggested we ask "What can I do for you" instead of "How can I help you" because it is toxic to put people down and suggest that only you can rescue them - she believes there is a place for collaborative learning in the library. I was thrilled! A real spirit booster! In my previous job in a huge corporation, we worried a lot about how the customer was faring and what they thought. Our organizations were defined by whether they were customer-facing or business-facing. So, the next time I was in a civilian-facing role in my library, I tried to remember that it was suggested we eliminate the word "help" and ask what could we do for the people who came to us. I had trouble remembering the new phrase, so I made a sign with a color picture and the words and printed two copies so we could put one up facing the public and have one facing those of us sitting at the desk. We used it all Sunday - no one commented on it. On Monday, it was still there. On Tuesday, I guess it was there. On Wednesday, the head of the union demanded to know who had put that there. On Thursday, it was face-down on the side. On Friday, I took it away. I'll still use the phrase and I will try to remember that, for the most part, the folks who ask me questions want to hear answers in common English usage ("shelves" not "stacks") and that they really do want to know the answer, not get lost in searching (librarians seem to prefer searching, the public definitely prefers finding), and that I don't like being treated like a dope and neither does anyone else.

On another note, the same library installed a security system on Wednesday. On Sunday, it seemed to be going off with every other person who left the library. The circ desk folks were waving them through like it was a counter instead of a device installed so that we don't disappoint yet another reader when we can't find the copies of the latest James Patterson book which the computer says we have but which seems to have walked out of the library on its own. I really am happier when I can find a book that someone is excited about reading and I'd rather be able to make use of our security system so that I can do that than worry about not looking like a cop to some folks.

13th December 2007

10:12am: Reel fulfillment
I'm not much of a fan of self-help books in general but I really enjoyed Reel fulfillment by Maria Grace, Ph.D. Ms. Grace is a therapist who has developed a work book and movie lists designed to help folks overcome their own problems and arrive at solutions for living life with less stress and greater "fulfillment". I love movies and have used them in a somewhat similar fashion in my life. I remember preparing for a particularly difficult presentation by watching "Alien" because it gave me such a feeling of empowerment at a time when I really, really needed it. I'm not sure I buy everything that Ms. Grace suggests - I could have done without so many worksheets because I'm not a worksheet person but others might benefit from them. Ms. Grace does a great job of delving into some specific movies and has wonderful lists of movies in the chapter sections called Reel Fulfillment in Action: Movie Time! Watch a Movie for Fun, Learn a Lesson of Life. If nothing else, it gives librarians a new way to look at movies and to talk about them with patrons. Check it out!

17th November 2007

1:03pm: The Mobile Social Scene
I am stealing this information from a recent USA Today for all of those who may not have seen it. Just when we were being told not to use our cell phones while driving, services who are more interested in money (can you believe it?) than safety have come out with new ways for people to wreck their cars while on their mobile devices.

Check out:

ComVu - www.comvu.com - ComVu's PocketCaster service lets you broadcast streaming video from your phone to family and friends.

Flickr Mobile - flickr.com/photos/mobile - Lets you see pics from palls on a phone. Can tag with ZoneTag prototype from Yahoo Research.

Groover- www.groovr.com - Let's you "shout out" to friends with messages such as "Don't take 287 it's a nightmare!"

InterCasting - www.intercasting.com - Company's Anthem platform brings social networks and blogs (like this one, only updated more frequently), ad networks (what a surprise!) and "mobile content" to wireless carriers who pass along the cost and the service to their consumers

JuiceCaster - www.juicecaster.com - Share cellphone videos and pictures from MySpace, Facebook, Blogger, etc.

Jumbuck - www.jumbuck.com - calls itself a leading developer of "mobile communities"

Loopt - www.loopt.com - Friend-finder services gives you maps and alerts that let you know when a friend is nearby (doesn't say if you have to be "friended" or not so may help with exes as well)

Mig33 - www.mig33.com - Global mobile community features chat rooms, profiles and photo sharing (just what we need, driving and chatting!)

Multiply - www.multiply.com - even better than Mig33 - lets users blog while driving as well as uploading video and photos to a social networking site

Radar - www.radar.net - let's you show your friends what you are doing through pictures (you are doing what while you are driving - bad driver, go to your room!)

Rabble - www.rabble.com - location-based mobile service in test mode

I can't say enough about these excellent new services!
Current Mood: aggravated

31st October 2007

6:04pm: Unintentional humor ? in libraries
I just happened to have attended a giddy (yes, giddy) Adult Services meeting in my library and then I saw The Back Page by Bill Ott in Booklist  for November. The Back Page showed lovely color pictures of "titillating titles" from some very old books. Scouts in Bondage is undoubtedly my favorite! This fit in pretty well with the giddiness of the meeting this morning during which we planned some book displays for the coming months. I hadn't really thought about the impact of putting books on domestic violence on one side of a gondola and books on knitting on the other side but some how my fellow librarians immediately grasped the implications in all their gory glory. We thought we might add landscaping to the gondola and call it a day!

23rd June 2007

3:17pm: Libraries and the homeless or near-homeless

As I sat at one of my jobs today, I listened to a couple talking. He was an older guy with bad teeth, clothes that smelled (even across the room) of cigrette smoke. She was young - anywhere between 14 and 18 but younger than he was. They have some kind of a relationship - maybe he lives with her mother. At first hew as talking about how she might have to go to court and testify about where the Social Security money had gone...what it had been spent on and where the child support had gone. He commented on the folks sitting in the shade of the closed bank. One guy does nothing but drink and play video games. According to OG (Older Guy), the sitter can't think and can't talk. He just drinks all the time. A woman sitting near him is characterized as the bride of Frankenstein. The OG has gotten the young girl a rechargable cell phone. He tells her about how he needs some solar panels because he doesn't have any electricity where he lives. He has to walk through some woods and across an empty lot where someone has excavated to build condos. Then he goes through a hole he made in a fence and crosses a stream to his hideout. OG says he's learned to navigate the creek by Braille in the dark. Now he's talking about cases of beer that he hid behind the A&P and his friend with a prosthetic arm who tried to help him move the beer. The arm broke when he tried to lift the beers. The buddy is a professional panhandler who gets a lot of sympathy for the arm. 

The young girl evidences surprise that OG is so up on technology. He buys a paperback book from our sales rack. He starts over again on a story about how Grandmother is coming up tomorrow around 1PM. They don't have any way to call her because they can't put any more time in their phone because they are out of money until the end of the month or the beginning of next month. OG and his girlfriend and her two daughters leave after an hour on the internet. OG grabs a local paper on his way out and they all leave. Are they going crabbing (something they discussed)? Are they going to navigate the woods in the dark after sitting outside on benches at the beach? The two young girls talk about other libraries they've visited. They like ours because it is quiet and noboby bothers them.

I think this is what the homeless or near-homeless want most of all. A place where nobody bothers them. In previous libraries, I've encountered a family of three living in their car. Mom was enrolled in community college, getting a degree in nursing and hoping to work in a mental ward. She needed access to computers and a printer to do her homework so that she could eventually get a job. The teenage son just wanted to play online games and chat. Dad was the person who talked the most. He liked to explain their situation to people but the role he played in it was unclear, maybe even to himself. They each needed some space. Space between them physically and psychologically, so that the library, with more than one area, was a relief from their living conditions. They each used the computers for school or recreation or to keep in touch with someone they knew. I think it gave them a permanent address to connect with.

At the same library, there was a guy who used to work as a security guard for a bar. He came in when we opened and looked at porn all day, unless you caught him and told him it was inappropriate. He smoked a lot and seemed to have a pretty good vocabulary and a great sense of how to search the internet. He met a woman in a chat room. Since he favored the upstairs computers, it took him a while to find out that she was coming into the library and using the downstairs computers for chat. For a while, he was pretty nice to her ten or eleven year old son. After he was kicked out of his bar job (and free room), he lived in his car. I never knew when the transition took place. After a while, he and his lady parted company. She stopped coming to the library when during his usual hours. I don't know if he ever got another room anywhere. He seemed to mean no real harm to anyone. He only touched one woman in the library that I know of, but I kept my eye on him after that. He said he wanted to go to school to become a paralegal. Like so many folks with his affinity for alcohol, he had probably had lots of experience that he felt he could share with others. 

Sometimes the printers told the homeless or near-homeless story. A letter that someone didn't have ten cents to pay for revealed that someone was practicing a letter to be sent to a judge. No money for bus fare. No place to live. No phone. No way to come plead a cause or make an excuse. Just that many sentences - hard not to read. No names. No dates. I hope it helped the person who got so far as writing up those sentences. Maybe they suddenly remembered someone they could ask for a ride. I hope that's why they left so quickly. I would have been happy to give them the paper for the letter. I was glad we could give them a computer and a printer to use. 

On hot days or cold days, in rain or snow, some folks just want somewhere that is not where they usually are. A library isn't really supposed to be that but if they pick up a book or browse the Internet or send an email, they can find shelter inside and out in a library.

5th June 2007

7:56pm: I've been tagged

I've been tagged.  I was never at all jealous of other bloggers who were playing this tagging game.  But now I'm really excited, like the fat, ugly kid who never gets picked for the team, but I also feel like I've been picked as the target for a dodgeball tournament!  Oh, the pressure!

Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Eight facts/ habits about me:

1. I will always consider myself a visitor to New Jersey - yep, even after 25 years. I will always think of myself as a Texan. Sometimes I even have to think twice when asked the name of my hometown.

2. I never like broccoli until I was an adult and married my dear husband, who was born in San Antonio, Texas. Once when I was a child, I made a sandwich out of broccoli and catsup on whole wheat because I couldn't stand the thought of eating it just by itself (ok, it had butter and salt on it but still...!)

3. I will read almost anything. Even in languages I don't know, if I have nothing else to read.

4. I love Iceland and would like to see what it is like to live there for a year.

5. I love hardware stores in small towns. I like to go in and ask for a "pig fixer".

6. I just learned about Hog Explosions and now I can't even think that phrase without smiling or actually laughing. There is a connection between Hog Explosions and libraries but you have to find that out for yourselves.

7. I think roses are the most beautiful flower in the world but that doesn't mean I'm going to plant any more of them.

8. I think mean people suck and I try only to be mean by accident. There are some people who like being mean or who are habitually mean. Those people really suck!

I tag:

Well, let me work on that.

7:17pm: Professionalism and Librarians

When is it appropriate to raise your voice to a coworker? In my opinion, it is only appropriate when the two of you are speaking privately. I learned this in management 101 in the days when AT&T encouraged almost every employee to take courses in management. Some managers didn't take those courses and they were eventually sent to what everyone called "Charm School".  Managers were told to attend Charm School when their behavior reached the level that caused the company lawyers to fear lawsuits by employees or customers. Did we have folks like that? Of course we did and so does every company from your local McDonald's to Exxon. In some cases it is more obvious than others (think the current administration and Scooter Libby) and in some cases it is harder to spot, but every company and every organization has an employee who ultimately will become a serious liability. 

In my dark past, there was the employee who came to work in short shorts and seemed genuinely surprised when I sent her home to change. She liked to tell me everything she heard from our customers about themselves, the town, other employees, ad nauseum. She also turned out to have a low tolerance for stress and if I wasn't around she would leave me voicemails like #@$%*&! It's about time you turned on this *^%$#() cell phone". I never learned what the emergency was, even after I called her back. (It was not my usual shift and I was at the dog park with my dog. We don't use cell phones in the dog park as a courtesy to dogs and their owners.) Finally, she got so unhinged that she started smoking from the balcony on the second floor of the library during work hours. She didn't want to miss any phone calls so she left the doors open. The smoke wafted down the stair well right into the face of the customer who usually carries her oxygen with her due to her sever breathing problems. Not only did she assault the lungs of this particular customer, she also was seen by that customer who wondered where the smoke was coming from. 

When the customer reported this to me, I just wanted to tear my hair out. I was new in the town. The coworker was new. Heck, even the library was new. So, not only was the coworker breaking local ordinances and state law about smoking in or near public buildings, she was also potentially jeopardizing community relations. I did what I'd been taught. I very quietly asked coworker about smoking. She opened her eyes wide and completely and categorically denied that she was smoking anywhere near the library much less in the library. When the customer joined us later in my office, she admitted that she lied but said that not having me in the library made her feel nervous and so she smoked.

There's more to this story than that, of course and it goes on much longer but basically, I didn't raise my voice to this coworker. I remembered what I'd been taught in management courses that had nothing to do with library school or libraries. Because I'd had a career prior to becoming a librarian, I had experience that guided me in my behavior.

What I wonder about now is, how do librarians who have had no other experience learn management tricks? How do they learn how to handle conflict, tension and emotionally charged issues? And why do they assume that just because someone doesn't have thirty years of library experience that they have no experience at all? Professionalism isn't confined to one professional.

Current Mood: aggravated

23rd May 2007

2:31pm: Two tier Internet: one for the corporations and one for everyone else

Recently, I received an email which contained these lines: "Randall Stephenson has declared War on the Internet. In an interview with Forbes, incoming AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said he wants to see a two-tiered system on the Internet: big business websites in the fast lane, everyone else in a slow lane." 

I can't say I'm surprised. Stephenson is the CEO of a company that, in my opinion, has always believed that it knew that what was best for the country was best for the company and vice versa. I am sure that somewhere, AT&T has suggested to the government that increasing the speed of internet access for corporate America will increase profits for corporate America and we all know that will be good for the government (a huge benefactor of us all) and for America in general. 

My question is: will some libraries or information services qualify as big business? Will some universities qualify as big business? If none of them currently do qualify, will they seek to qualify in some way as big business to provide faster access to their services? I'm thinking of libraries like NYU Bobst Library’s Coles Science Reference Center or OCLC.  Will Elsevier suddenly be able to offer faster access to eBooks via ScienceDirect than anyone else will be able to supply access to science information? 

Not only might we see a two tiered system on the Internet which I imagine will be coupled with government regulation and some price gouging on the part of AT&T but might we actually see some institutions seeking to participate in this system by insisting that they too are big businesses and not the public-spirited providers of information  access that we all still pretend they are? (This applies to libraries and research centers, not to Elsevier - whose motto is "Building insights. Breaking boundaries."

And yet, who is going to stop this? The original email came from Common Cause and was forwarded to me via an academic listserv. Who stands with Common Cause nowadays and who does not stand at all?

Current Mood: pessimistic

6th May 2007

6:18pm: A Warm, Dry Place, NPR and a tragedy in Georgetown

I don't know how I came to choose the name of this blog but I was interested to hear part of the phrase used by Scott Simon on his slot on NPR: Weekend Edition Saturday. Simon was reporting on the fire that destroyed the Georgetown Library in Washington, DC. He was musing on the different people who came there to read and write and think and talk and get out of the rain or snow or heat. Simon spoke eloquently of the people almost all of us have encountered in our libraries: those who may or may not be seeking shelter while they skim the Wall Street Journal or read a new mystery; the folks who can't afford Barnes and Noble or who might be intimidated at Borders but who want to refresh themselves with a good read.  Simon has hit on one of the reasons for communities to keep funding and to continue renovating our public libraries: we don't know who our patrons are - we do know what they deserve.

You can hear Scott Simon's brief and thoughtful piece at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10022956 or by searching http://www.npr.org for "library and georgetown".

Current Mood: contemplative

27th April 2007

11:58am: Book Review: Unstrange Minds: remapping the world of autism

I don't usually intend to put book reviews up on my blog but I was so interested in Unstrange Minds: remapping the world of autism by Roy Richard Grinker, that I feel compelled to talk a little bit about it. After all, NJLA's recent conference included a session on Autism and Libraries. (I did not attend but I understand the principle speaker(s) was a representative from COSAC (Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community - http://www.njcosac.org ). ) 

Grinker is the father of a young girl with autism, Isabel. He is also Director of the George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research and a professor of anthropology.  While being the parent of an autistic child might make Dr. Grinker somewhat biased, his credentials to research and write about autism in other cultures would seem to be excellent.

I admit to having some expectations about Unstrange Minds when I saw the cover "...A father, a Daughter, and a Search for New Answers..." but I was happily surprised to find that the second part of the book focused more on cross-cultural information about the diagnosis and treatment of autism in other cultures, which begins with Chapter 9. Anyone who has read a lot recently about autism will find that they have probably covered much of the information in the earlier chapters (history of autism, difficulty of diagnosis, treatments, etc.) In 2005, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit parts of India, Thailand and Cambodia. One question I asked myself everywhere was "Is there autism here?".  Now I know more about that. 

Dr. Grinker describes the diagnosis, treatment and family lives of individuals with autism in India, South Africa (tribal families), South Korea and (briefly) Peru. He compares these people and the response of their families and cultures to their counterparts in the cultures of ulta-orthodox Jews, Native American tribes, and middle class American families. I don't know if I was really surprised or not at his conclusion that non-Western, rural communities are better able to include people with autism in their social and economic life than are highly industrialized, Western, urban communities. I was surprised at his description of the conclusions of several large-scale World Health Organization studies that indicate that people with psychiatric disorders (including autism, presumably) have the best outcomes in Agra (India), Cali (Columbia) and Ibadan (Nigeria) and the poorest outcomes in Aarhus (Denmark), London and Washington, D.C. Dr, Grinker comments that this pattern was demonstrated as early as the 1930's in comparisons of outcomes in urban and rural America. 

Grinker skillfully interweaves his own experiences with his daughter into his discussion of other cultures. While he acknowledges that we are fortunate to live in the United States, he wonders what the future holds for his child and talks about the benefits of extended families and accepting communities in rural and non-Western cultures. In the United States, planning for and finding long term assistance for disabled or handicapped family members is much more difficult. The decisions facing parents or neurotypical siblings are painful. 

One thing that Grinker's book suggested to me was that parents of children who are mildly impacted or who are at the "high functioning" end of the autism spectrum should begin at a relatively early age to look for "sheltered workshops" outside the box or to plan for their child to live, as much as possible, in a structured community. I'm sure these aren't original ideas but what I'm think is that high functioning children might do well working in specific kinds of jobs in major corporations such as DELL, IBM, AT&T, Microsoft, etc. Jobs which minimize face-to-face social interaction or where the corporate culture (peculiar to specific divisions in many cases) is tolerant of "quirks" or "loners" or where interaction is highly ritualized (ever been to a technical document review?). I think more research needs to be devoted to looking for high functioning autistic spectrum adults who are living successfully on their own so that a model of "success" can be developed to guide parents and schools in looking at possible outcomes. If you include Asperger's syndrome as part of the autism spectrum, then I am sure that many of us recognize behaviors and personalities of adults we know.  A study or series of studies like this could help everyone map a better future for some segment of the autistic population. More information about the elements of other cultures that allow them to absorb autistic individuals more easily would also be very useful. In the meantime, I'm sure that Grinker would agree that parents and families of autistic children should continue to press for more and better specialized facilities to care for their family members according to  their specific level of functioning as that level of functioning changes over time. 

I hope Grinker persists in his research and I also hope that his students will continue to probe for more information about other cultures and autism.

Current Mood: hopeful

26th April 2007

11:20am: More thoughts on Debbie Clement

After coming back from the stimulation of the NJLA conference (New Jersey Library Association), I spoke with a co-worker about our experience at Debbie Clement's pre-conference workshop on music and movement in storytime. My co-worker commented that she loved the pre-conference but seemed to feel that it was more entertainment rather than being storytime, if you see what I mean. Since Debbie performed her songs and danced and demonstrated sign language to go with the songs for about three hours, I can understand my co-worker's feelings. Debbie did entertain us. But we wouldn't be putting on a continuous series of songs, dances, etc. like that for storytime. We'd be doing one or two songs, a book or two and/or a craft. As I thought about it, though, other things struck me that I wanted to mention.

First, Ms. Clement was trying to instill in us an approach to material that might be new for some folks. When I thought of how I'd explain that to others, I pulled a Level 4, I Can Read book out of our poetry section and looked through it. Right away, I found a poem about watermelons - how they start as seeds, you plant them and they grow into sprouts and become vines and then flower and a little melon appears which gets larger. The melon is cut from the vine, taken into the kitchen, put "some place cold" and then cut into pieces to be eaten. Ms. Clement would have us mime tiny seeds, the act of planting the seed, the appearance of the tiny sprout and the growth of a vine, etc. She would have suggested that the vine weave back and forth from left and right in front of the children to cross the midline of the brain and to get them moving as much of their bodies as appropriate in the directions that their eyes will need to follow as they learn to read. There's a refrain to this poem which could be shouted, whispered, spoken or sung, depending on the talents of the presenter in order to get the kids used to following non-verbal directions and inhibiting responses. So there was a lot in what I saw Ms. Clement do that could be adapted to add something to the reading of that poem. Some librarians may do these things naturally but some of us have to be taught.

The other thing I thought about mentioning was that to emulate Ms. Clement, librarians may need to do more preparation than they are used to. Some librarians, of course, do a lot of work for their story hours. To do what Debbie Clement does, will require some time to prepare materials and accessories. Most children's librarians have things like hand puppets but Debbie also uses feather boas, inflatable or toy instruments, odd bits of fabric and tutus to create magical illusions and to help kids pay attention to what she is doing. (The tutu was a thrift shop purchase. It is tan and brown and when Debbie wears it around her face, it becomes a lion's mane.) Debbie also uses laminated one or two word signs to help kids with the response or chorus to some of her songs. (I noticed that the handle to one set of signs was a discarded ping pong paddle.) She also prints and laminates all of the words to some of her songs and illustrates them with photos cut from magazines. These get bound into oversized books for children to look at while she sings. This last bit may be beyond the capabilities of some small libraries but it is worth remembering. I know that I keep my eyes out at garage sales and around my own house for things that can be used in new and different ways and it looks to me as if Debbie does that too. I won't say that props are what it is all about but visual stimulation is part of the story tellers art. Debbie pointed this out when she reminded the audience that there are three types of learners that we all need to keep in mind: the auditory learner, the visual learner and the kinesthetic learner who needs to move their body to absorb and retain information.

Current Mood: content

24th April 2007

6:48pm: NJLA Pre-Conference with Debbie Clements
It isn't often that I come to a librarians' conference and have a spiritual experience. Yet, that's the way I felt after meeting Debbie Clement who presented an NJLA preconference program on adding music and movement to storytime for children. I felt immediately at ease when I entered the room because Debbie and I had on the same plastic shoes (hers were pink, mine were a more subdued shade of green) and she was wearing the black and white striped socks that I had rejected that morning as being too unprofessional! So when Debbie asked if anyone had any questions, I asked her out loud, in front of everybody, if she ever had stage-fright before storytime. Debbie had a chipper answer involving a forgettable quote from Lady Bird Johnson but that was ok too because I'm a genuine Texan and I loved it that she used a Texan's quote. 

Debbie shared some personal information about recent health issues and some more general personal information about growing up in as the daughter in the family of a poor Presbyterian minister who moved often and who loved reading. She talked about books and library ladies she'd known and loved. Debbie talked about how much she liked to sing and play her guitar. Debbie talked about her book and her CDs and her DVD. Debbie talked about how much she loved kids, especially special needs children. And Debbie talked about how she accessorized her story times with colorful clothing, interesting puppets, sign boards with refrains and some inexpensive costume ideas.

But what Debbie did that was even more important was that she showed us how she did what she does - she lead us in songs, in skits, in dancing and yes, almost clowning around. She made us get up out of our chairs and participate and that was the best thing she could have done.  While I don't think I'll be as good as Debbie, I do have some ideas now for inexpensive costumes, colorful clothing, interesting puppets and sign boards. I know how to do the "Higgledy Piggledy" dance that she taught us and I can sing out with the best of the three and four year olds. 

On a more serious note, Debbie took the trouble to explain each song and movement in terms of the impact on the brains, cognitive and motor skills of children. With a background in cognitive psychology and an interest in special education, I really appreciated the research behind what she was demonstrating. It was great to see someone who would explain that call and response songs increased the flow of oxygen to the brain, lent themselves to attention and auditory processing practice and showed children how to remember and repeat and finally, make predictions about word patterns. 

I now have a better appreciation of what it takes to be a really good performer and I think I have a role model too. I bought Debbie's book (with enclosed CD) and one of her CDs with my favorite song on it. I'm sure I'll put them to good use. 

If you want to know more about Debbie and her work, see http://www.rainbowswithinreach.com and http://www.kweezletown.com.
Current Mood: giddy

17th April 2007

9:18am: Normal People Scare Me
"Normal People Scare Me" is the title of a 90 minute feature documentary by 17-year-old autistic film-maker, Taylor Cross. The film explores the struggles faced by individuals on the autistic spectrum and gives a rare inside perspective on how they experience the world and relate to others. It consists largely of interviews conducted by Mr. Cross over a two-year period with over 65
autistic people ranging in age from 9 to 53. 

This documentary is being shown at the Bernards Township Library on April 20th (10 am) and April 30th (7 pm). Registration is required. You can register via email to cdaspectrum@optonline.net

In addition, this wonderful library also offers special needs story times for children as follows:

Spring Fun Story Time for 3-5 year olds: Monday, May 21 from 6:30 - 7:00 PM
Spring Fun Story Time for 6-8 year olds: Thursday, May 24 from 6:30-7:00 PM

Children, adults, and library students are all welcome. Please contact the children's librarian Antonette D'Orazio at dorazio@bernards.org] if you would like to attend. (Parents are welcomed!)

I can't mention often enough how important these opportunities are. Speaking from personal experience only, I can say that parents of special needs children often feel isolated from the rest of society both because of their child's condition/diagnosis and because of the guilt and pain they feel. Sometimes, the very professionals you hope will help you are the ones that hurt you the most, especially if you are perceived as being a social or economic inferior. In plain language, my observation is that the more money you have and the better educated you are, the better you will be treated by professionals. I don't mean that you will get the best appointment slots or you will be seen ahead of other less fortunate parents. What I mean is that I've observed that a parent won't be cursed at or shouted at or reviled, if you have money and education and can afford to see professionals in private practice. And I've observed just the opposite, too. 

This is just another reason why public libraries, particularly in gritty, in-your-face less affluent urban settings need to make this kind of programming available. And they need the rest of the library profession to support them in providing these services. I am sure that there are less affluent parents who are served by the Bernards Township Library. I am also sure that there is a need for programming like this in towns which are Abbott school districts as well as towns in-between on the  socio-economic scale.

3rd April 2007

5:48pm: So here's a new way of making a book

Like most readers, I first encountered pop-up books as a child. I loved them and was fascinated by them. When I had my own children, my older son wanted to learn how to make pop-up books and together we began to read about and experiment with them. This made a fine rainy day occupation for us and resulted in a couple of really creative greeting cards that I still have. 

In library school, I did a technical services internship under the guidance of Ann Montanaro, Rutgers Libraries Technical Services. As I got to know Ann, I found out that she collected pop-up books and had made quite a few. In fact, as I recall, she frequently wore a tiny pop-up book on a chain around her neck. It looked like a bit of very nice jewelry but knowing that it was a pop-up book made it even more precious. 

Now, I don't have anyone to make pop-up books with but I do have some time to explore information available on the web and I found something I'd never seen in terms of handmade books. At the website for the BoneFolder, an ejournal for the bookbinder and book artist, I found flag books! Not only did I find dozens of examples of flag books, I also found directions for making a flag book. The website and information about flag books is at  http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder/BonefolderVol2No1.pdf . See the article "All Shook Up: interplay of image and text in the flag book structure" by Karen Hanmer for an eye-popping way of mixing images and print. Flag books are books that are created to allow the reader to see a panoramic spread combining image and text when fully opened. When the book is only partially opened, the reader sees layers of complementary or contrasting images and text. If the read page by page, the text and images are disjointed and fragmentary. 

My first response to some of the pictures of partially opened flag books was that some reminded me of pop-up books and some reminded me of the soaring arcs of the Opera House in Sydney, Australia. If you look at the pdf. and scroll to Ms. Hanmer's article, you will see what I am talking about for yourself. 

Instructions for making a flag book can be found at http://www.sdmart.org/pix/flagbook.pdf .

Current Mood: excited
5:25pm: By comparison
Now that I've seen the wonderful blogs created by some of my fellow librarians, I have to come clean. I wanted to take the Tech Challenge sponsored by CJRLC to learn new skills that I might otherwise not have tried. I work two great jobs at two wonderful but very different libraries. I work part-time in an academic library and I work part-time in a large public library in their youth and adult services. Each library has plenty of people blogging. So my blog isn't affiliated with either of those libraries and doesn't focus on what's going on in "my" library. This made it a little difficult to decide how best to start out my blog. It may cause confusion to anyone who has just looked at the other library blogs on the CJRLC website and then looks at my blog.  I have a responsibility to both my employers to be as professional as possible, but I also have some freedom to "make it up as I go along." So, I've chosen to blog about topics that interest me and that are somewhat relevant to libraries and librarianship. It has occurred to me that I am serving in the "long tail" and have been for years. Since I am used to job assignments changing fairly rapidly from my previous experience with a large corporation, I appreciate that working part-time, working as a "temp", or as a substitute librarian is not something that everyone would enjoy but it seems to be working for me at the moment. After spending time with librarians who are on a more traditional career arc, I see being comfortable with shifting jobs as putting me more in the "long tail" than in the mainstream. (If I may mix metaphors...) On the other hand, I know that there are lots of librarians out there who also work part-time, "temp" or as substitutes. I hope we can all find opportunities whatever our choices.

16th March 2007

5:49pm: Autism, the library and me

I'm really excited because I just received an email containing a link to a new website for Spanish-speaking families who are impacted by autism. The email described the site: "This site was created by families for families and has information in Spanish about AUTISM. They are developing a chat room and forum area. A dad of a 15-yr-old will moderate the chats & forums. A
mom of a 21-yr-old will moderate educational issues. Two doctors from Mexico will answer questions about AUTISM. A great advocate will help answer questions about IEP & Faith Based inquiries. A section about FOOD & SUPPLEMENTS is being developed."  The site is called Manitas por Autismo. The URL is www.manitasporautismo.com/ . The website has elements that are familiar to all of us who know autistic children: the letter from a mother describing how she felt when one of her children was diagnosed, notices of activities in different parts of New Jersey and links to agencies in New Jersey which provide services to autistic children and their families. Something new was the directory of agencies in Spanish-speaking countries with links to those agency websites. 

I am happy to see this information being made available. I'm sure that almost every librarian has met their "special" patrons and their parents. I've been privileged to get to know two autistic boys and their familes very well. I'm a founding member of a parents' support group in my town and am on the board of directors of a very fine out-of-district placement school for children with special needs. I've seen autistic children in every library in which I've ever worked. Their parents need all the information and support we can give them.

In particular, I remember the poignant comment of one mother who said "I just want a time and a place where I can feel that my child is just like everyone else's child, if only for a few minutes." I think that libraries are in a unique position to offer this to parents of autistic children. Lap-sits, story hour, crafts, short movies or cartoons are all opportunities for parents of special needs children to experience momentary relief for the on-going stress of their own internal monologue: "My child is different. My child will never be like other children. I will never know what it is like to have a child like other children." I don't believe that giving autistic children these opportunities is encouraging denial or presenting parents with an escape. What adapted activities have done, in my experience, is to show parents things they can do with their children; to allow parents a chance to spend time with other parents in similar situations and to give parents a time and place in which they and their children are accepted without reservations. 

Current Mood: thoughtful

9th March 2007

11:12am: Summer Camp advice and librarians

An insert in a local newspaper reminded me that summer camp search season is upon us. This is the time of year when many middle-class families begin looking for a place to put their kids during the summer so that they don't have to pay for extra childcare or go through the process of finding a "baby-sitter" for their pre-teen offspring. As I recall from my own personal experience, parents usually start by asking their children what they'd like to do during the summer, as if the kids will spontaneously decide to get a degree in nuclear phsyics at a college that provides transportation for little genuises. After the kids say that they want to stay home and play video games or go to the beach all summer, the parents begin asking other parents for suggestions about camps. Often, it seemed to me that the camps other parents suggested emphasized things that my children had already shown they didn't like. Or, upon inspection, there was something about these camps that I didn't like. At one camp I visited, for example, I overheard a female pre-teen CIT talking with a male pre-teen CIT about watching the five year olds getting undressed for swimming and offering to show him how she did it. That was the end of that camp for me, even though my kids had gone there for a two week session the previous year. As my kids got older, it became less and less likely that I could cajole them into attending camps they were already skeptical about and more and more likely that I would spend the summers worrying myself sick about the teenage girls I had to hire to take care of them while I worked. I searched the internet for camps that might appeal but I never thought of going to the local library and asking them for suggestions. The reason why is pretty simple. I was convinced that libraries dealt only in books, movies and tape recordings - not information! 

Now, my degree is from a program that calls itself a "communication, information and library" studies program. I think the communication students were in the journalism program and the librarians-to-be were in the library program but I was never entirely sure if we were all in the information program or not. Why not? Because there are only so many hours in a day, days in a year and years that folks have to devote to getting a degree and if you want to be a librarian, you'd better select a course of study that will help you become the type of librarian you want to be...and that course of study didn't seem to include much information some how. That doesn't mean that we weren't taught how to search databases or to use the internet. That doesn't mean that we weren't taught what the standard reference resources were. What it did mean was that I don't think we were encouraged to listen to the information flowing around us and to look at newsletters, newspapers, notices on the bulletin boards (now listservs) at work and follow up on and think about those sources of information. Reference librarians used to keep up vertical files with all sorts of miscellaneous information in them - this type of "environmental" information that surrounded us. I don't believe that there are many librarians that keep vertical files like this any more. I certainly hope that's not so. I suspect that these vertical files are being preserved in a sense and that information transmitted via email and listservs and blogs. It would be a shame to lose the information from our environments, which when combined with knowledge of our patrons allows us to offer information and informed opinions about where to find or how to find good summer camp(s) (among other things.)

As for my children, I found their best camp online. I have to share about this camp because it is not widely advertised and because I loved it, the children loved it and when they came back to school in the fall, their teachers loved it. It is an academic and music summer program in Louisiana called the Governor's Program for Gifted Children. One reason it is not well-known outside the area is that it starts early for kids in states outside of the south. I never had any difficulty with persuading our school district in New Jersey to allow the children to take final exams early and leave before the official end of the school year so that they could attend this program. Another reason it may not be so well-known is that it is a seven week program which means that your kids are gone almost all summer, except for a brief break for the Fourth of July holiday. For some families from outside of Louisiana, this might pose a problem. The children stayed with families of the kids they went to GPGC with and had a great time. What did my children do at GPGC? They did math and science experiments such as building a trebochet. They participated in student government and were paid for their efforts. (GPGC operates on a token economy basis - kids are given an allowance based on homework completion, class participation, etc.) Students participated in chorus . Some brought their own instruments and took cello or even electric guitar lessons. Everyone had a hand in creating the summer musical and drama, either using their acting/singing abilities or learning how to use tools to build sets. This great "camp" is still in operation. Summer 2007 is their 49th summer.  The website for GPGC is http://www.gpgc.org.  Check it out!

And keep the information flowing:)

Current Mood: relieved

6th March 2007

7:29pm: You say "Scrotum" I say "Scrodem" Let's call the whole thing off

For a more appropriate look at this issue, see The New Yorker, March 12, 2007, Shouts and Murmurs column titled "Inappropriate" by Paul Rudnick on page 47. 

'Nuff said"!

Current Mood: bouncy
5:11pm: What I'm reading now
Right now, I'm reading Wordplaygrounds by John S. O'Connor. I didn't choose this book, it was chosen for me but I am enjoying it so much that I felt compelled to mention it. One of the ideas that O'Connor has for encouraging students to write poetry is to start a word chain which becomes a poem as it is lengthened. Students are asked to begin with a seed word and then each student in the group adds a second word which is associated in their minds with the word before it. The only rules are that there must be a connection between the two words that the student can explain to the rest of the group and that the group as a whole must find that connection understandable. 

I've never tried to teach anyone how to write poetry but if I had a YA or young tween group with time on their hands and no planned activity, this is one that I would propose. I'd add music, pizza, sodas, maybe popcorn and some apples and/or carrots and then let them rip. I might even make it an IPOD shuffle night and split the kids into two groups and have them read their poems to each other. If I was in a building with wall space, I might even have someone write the poem(s) on one of those large sheets of paper and then post it in the YA area.

Do I think this activity would "work"? I don't know. I think it would depend on how well the group knew me and how well they knew each other...like so many other ideas, the notion of actually getting YA groups to write poetry is more a matter of trust and comfort level than anything else.

2nd March 2007

11:10am: *storm over the word "Scrotum" and what is Durango, CO really like?

I'd been reading with some amusement about the *storm over the use of the word, scrotum, in a recently published, well-reviewed children's book. Yesterday, while I was separating the YA titles from the Juvenile titles at my hometown library, I chanced to see yet another article and discovered that the librarian who pulled the book from her shelves is in Durango, CO. I immediately got on the 'net to my sister who owns a bookstore in Durango - The Bookcase, Inc. and who also happens to be the editor of an online newspaper for the Durango area. Surely she could shed some light on what kind of a town Durango is. What follows is what she told me in an emailed response.

"While I do not know the librarian in Durango who objects to the proper use of the proper word to describe a portion of a male dog's genitalia, I do know some things about Durango. It is a fascinating community. Colorado is a "red" state in the new speak of political commentary. McCarthy must be rolling to hear such a term used in reference to conservative political values. Durango and La Plata county are considered to be a bastion of liberal thought and action. Probably because we have the only public liberal arts college in the state up on a hill that overlooks the rest of the city. Since we have no local national television station, most of our news comes from our nearest neighbor, New Mexico. The Eastern slope which is the home of Denver and Colorado Springs and a megalopolis virtually ignores our existence. Except for a continuing fundamentalist Christian presence, we
barely exist on the state map. We have a stretch of four lane highway, no freeways, no overpasses and no exits. Most of us like it that way. We have made the national news at least once before. One of the citizens decided to paint his home a beautiful shade of afternoon sunset pink and added a copper roof to complete the picture of a southwest sunset. CNN carried the story of
the people's objections to these colors atop a ridge overlooking the city. Since I am not a friend or even an acquaintance of the librarian in question, I can only comment as a parent and a substitute teacher. I disagree with the position that I have read in the stories about this woman. Children aren't injured by the proper use of words. They are damaged far more often by the improper use of words."

There you have it, folks. Now, I wonder - how did this story make national news?

Current Mood: curious
8:23am: Response to Radio Host Judy Franco at 101.5

According to an email I received yesterday forwarded by Connie Paul from New Jersey State Librarian, Norma Blake, "You may have heard the radio broadcast yesterday on station 101.5, the “Dennis and Judi Show” about libraries. Host Judi Franco led a discussion about why libraries are useless and stated that it made much more sense to just go to a bookstore and buy what you need, rather than go to a library.  It was gratifying to hear many library users call in to champion their local library.  Pat Tumulty, NJLA Executive Director, also called the station and did a masterful job defending libraries and librarians. It is gratifying for all of us to know that since 1989, yearly library visits have increased from 15 million to 41 million."

Connie, who is the Executive Director of the Central Jersey Regional Library Cooperative (CJRLC), asked "How valuable are libraries?  I would like to ask you to have your customers e-mail Judi Franco at dj@nj1015.com and let her know how important libraries are to them." 

I responded to Judy and forwarded the request for a response to folks involved in my former library. Here is my response:

I opened a library in a town where many people couldn't afford to buy books for themselves; where people sometimes had to wait for their disability checks to arrive before they could pay their library fines; where having a car was a luxury many couldn't afford and the nearest Barnes and Noble was at an incredibly busy highway intersection that many couldn't or wouldn't walk to. Even if my former library customers could have afforded to buy a book, they might have been overwhelmed by the number of choices at a big book store and they came to trust my opinion as their librarian as to what book they might enjoy reading next. I didn't dictate what they should read but I helped them by selecting books specifically to suit the reading tastes of customers. I also took time to understand what their needs for information were by listening to and remembering their questions. That helped me select non-fiction that would enable my customers to deal with issues in their own lives, such as landlord disputes, custody rights of grandparents, health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Being aware of what they felt they needed to know helped me be able to point
my customers toward databases supplied free by consortia or government so that they could get accurate, factual information instead of opinions or paid ads found by using online search engines. The library hosted programs
to encourage children to read out loud to canine companions. The library hosted adult literacy tutors and made customers aware of the variety of formats in which resources were available to assist them with their language
skills. The library allowed people of the community to contribute as volunteers toward enhancing the lives of their community members. This opportunity seemed to reward both the volunteers and those who benefitted
from their efforts in ways that no one could have anticipated. Community building as a result of the interaction of folks who might not otherwise have met seemed to be taking place. As a librarian, I made a difference. The library made a difference. Together, the library and the librarian provided just-in-time, accurate information, custom-tailored reading experiences, and opportunities for different segments of a community to come together and interact that touched many more lives than just those of the immediate participants. In the end, I think that's why libraries are important - they
act as catalysts for change that ripple through a community in new and important ways. "

I might have added that I saw teenagers being respected for the first time in their lives by people who didn't live in their town. I saw pre-teens get valuable experience volunteering in the library and slightly younger kids being thrilled to be given a book catalog and asked to make selections for themselves and other kids their age. We couldn't buy all those books but we showed the kids what was out there and we invited them to be part of the book selection process! 

I don't want to make it sound like everything was all sweetness and light - there were some dark spots in the picture but the elements that make being a librarian such a wonderful career were all there. No one can change anyone else except themselves but one library and one librarian can show folks possibilities that they may never have imagined either by sharing interesting and entertaining fiction or fact. We can't know the all the results of what we do but we can see some payoff almost at once when a customer brings back a book or exclaims in excitement at something found on a website.

Current Mood: energetic

27th February 2007

8:22pm: Reading Tim O'Reilly's What is Web 2.0?
Well, I am feeling pretty lame. As I read this I recall my first computer (mid '70's) and my introduction to programming in BASIC and using email for the first time. Much later, I remember being confronted with GOOGLE and saying to myself - how is user interface ever going to attract anyone - there's nothing to look at here - no "eye candy" - just empty space. Now, of course, I am so used to GOOGLE that I can't imagine why I ever used anything else - although I do use lots of other search engines depending on what I'm searching for. 

One of the things that worries me about O'Reilly's artice is all that trust in the user. I remember going down to Houston to see how some customers were adapting to a new user interface on a multiline telephone system. One of the features we were really proud of was called HFAI - Hands-Free-Answer-on-Intercom. Essentially, it meant that if you got an intercom call, you could press a button and answer the call without taking the handset (receiver) off the hook. We thought folks would really appreciate this since it meant that they could talk to their receptionist or someone in the back office without having to stop writing or whatever they were doing. At one place that had had our system for about a month, we asked the boss how he liked this feature.  His response was that it worked just great. We asked for a demo and he yelled to his front desk employee to call him. Front Desk called and the boss yelled back through the paper-thin walls - "Whatchew wanna know, Richie?" .
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