New Year, New Opportunities

I returned to my internship earlier this week after spending the last two weeks on my holiday “vacation”.  It was a very much needed and appreciated break, as it allowed me to not only  participate in holiday celebrations and spend time with family, but also to relax and reflect on the past semester and plan for this new semester.  As we’ve discussed since the beginning of the internship, one of the great things about being at the Skokie Public Library, is that we are able to be here for the full academic year and actually put what we’re learning in practice.

I reflected on my experiences since late August, which I feel have been considerable and diverse.  I learned that each shift. on each of the four service desks, can be a completely new experience from the time before.  Overall, I noted where I feel most comfortable and areas that I felt could use a bit more attention.  I thought that there would be more of the latter, but when I really thought about it, I realized that I felt pretty confident working in most areas.  I took the time to break apart some of my current “roadblocks” and it dawned on me that I’m not concerned about the actual experience, but more about if I’ll be able to use the correct systems or process.  What is she talking about?  Well, I feel confident in making a book recommendation at the Readers Services desk, but need to gain confidence that I’m completing the hold or ILL request correctly for the patron.  Or, I’m not intimidated about teaching a tech class, but am intimidated about knowing how to use the computer lab at the SPL.  This realization made me feel pretty good about my current world, as learning the system or process is very achievable. It just takes time.

My reflection time also allowed me to take stock in the transferable skills I have and review how I can use these skills, in conjunction to what I’ve learned through the internship, to help shape this semester.  I have the goals of getting more hands-on with what is going on with the SPL, the Skokie community and the community of librarians.  I’m looking to take a more active role in outreach this semester and already have a number of activities in the works to support this goal.  My list is pretty long, but I’m very excited about it. I feel like there are some very substantive activities, such as leading a book discussion or training class and going to more industry-focused networking groups.

Thanks again to all of those at the Skokie Public Library who are contributing to my learning and are supporting me in having this huge range of experiences.

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Thinking Back and Looking Ahead

I spent a few hours today reviewing and editing my forty-page daily log of the shifts I worked this past semester at Skokie Public Library and somehow it feels like both a massive undertaking and a brief moment in time. I flip-flopped between wondering how I found the time to participate in so much and wishing I had more time to train. But speaking with so many different SPL employees and shadowing so many diverse roles really puts into perspective how endless my training could be regardless of how many hours I put in a week, and that’s coming from someone who only every really witnessed the night shift. But I mean it when I say the expertise and passion in SPL staff is palpable.

I’ve brought it up before during our intern reflection meetings, but I really feel as if working with young adults requires more hands-on experience than hypothetical training to build any sort of proficiency. Most library roles are unpredictable, but young adults are a particular kind of lovable/chaotic and I feel much more comfortable working with them in larger groups than I ever have before. When I tell people I’m training and studying to become a young adult librarian I usually brace myself for a sympathetic look or disgusted comment. It’s beyond my understanding why so many people feel adversely about a population they used to occupy, but I never felt that disconnect or aversion from SPL staff. Instead I felt a real supportive appreciation this semester for the work Laurel and Jenny and Denise and Earl and Jarrett all do to include young adults in the larger Skokie community and I’m beyond grateful for that refreshing perspective.

Speaking of refreshing, coming from a very standard for-profit office setting, I was not prepared for such a culturally competent work environment. Not only are there equitable policies and practices in place to uphold a safe staff and library culture, but SPL goes above and beyond an HR Department with your internal Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee staff training. I’m sure some of you remember how rough it is out there on the other said, but to briefly put how significant this is for me into perspective: I’ve been sexually harassed by coworkers at open-bar, no-rules office parties working for a company that very rarely recruits non-white college graduates. And let me tell you, no one gives a f***. I digress, but really witnessing first-hand how actionable equity can be in a work environment has me striving to seek out positions in libraries that share those same values when this is all said and done. I have you guys to thank for setting that bar so high.

More than anything, I’m just appreciative of all the time and effort so many SPL staff members have invested in my training these past few months. As someone who has never worked in a library, I doubt I’d be able to gain such high-level experience anywhere else and I really feel putting this practicum on my resume could be the difference between the dreaded “Thank you for your application, but we’ve decided to go with someone else…” email and landing a job I can be proud of. I don’t know who else can say they’ve managed to plan and implement STEM programming, co-facilitate young adult councils, participate in weekend science expos, and attend their first library conference while still finding time to train on desks in a matter of three or four months, but the expert guidance and planning of SPL staff made that possible for me. I can’t wait to see what I get done next semester, but I hope the time doesn’t fly by this fast.

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The Secret Sauce

I was reading my undergraduate alumni magazine and had to click on the article titled, “What’s the Secret Sauce in a Great Internship?”.  The brief answer, look for the “triple X”:  exposure, exploration and experience.  Well check, check and check. I think I’m getting all of those things during my internship here at the Skokie Public Library.

This has been most evident in the areas of exposure and experience.  My time at SPL to date has exposed me, or at least given me a brief introduction, to most areas of the library and library operations.  On a very basic level, and one that I think I share with our intern cohort, is simply understanding the library “social norms”  and ways of communication.   I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a number of staff trainings covering the various reference resources used in the library, and have been able to put into context when and how these resources would be used to support the needs of the patron.  It’s also been great to learn more about the Harwood Institute and turning outward and community engagement. Lastly, I’m very interested in diversity, equity and inclusion in libraries (and everywhere else) and have enjoyed being included in the Word of the Month discussions and the diversity and cultural competence training.  My only frustration in this area is that I’m not here every day to participate in all of the sessions.

The experiences have also been many and I continue to add to the list.  Shadowing, and now actually participating, on the service desks has given me great experience in a  “real world” setting, but also has helped to build my confidence in my abilities.  I may still be figuring out procedurally how things are done, but I’m still able to help the patron.  Participating in book discussions has been amazing.  I’ve shadowed an adult book discussion and the Next Chapter book discussion (my favorite) and soaked in every minute.  I’m looking forward to shadowing the Talking Books discussion in a couple of weeks.  I’ve also experienced the great customer service focus here at SPL, including working the desks and call center and throughout my interactions at the library in general.  I think this philosophy and “vibe” is very evident in the building.  For example, when I explain to patrons that I’m an intern and it may take me a bit longer to find their answer, many of them have offered support and wished me luck in my career.  Thanks!

My journey into exploration has begun, and now that I have the basics down, I anticipate doing much more exploration through the rest of the school year.  I’d like to reach out and learn even more about different areas of the library, and continue to learn ways where my past experience and skills can be transformed and utilized.  I may be the only Intern who wants to learn more about the budget and budgeting process, but now’s my time so I want to take it!  I’d like to explore possible next steps for the bikemobile project. other community engagement initiatives, and training/learning opportunities.  So many areas to explore is a good thing, but it will keep me busy, all while developing my all around skills as a future librarian.

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Place / Space / Home / Community

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https://www.bing.com/search?q=community+definition&FORM=EDGENA

I’ve let too much time go in between blog posts so now I have lots to say.  Part of the reason is that my family moved in October to a new community after living for 13 years in Oak Park.  I spent much of October getting settled and reflecting on what it means to be part of a community.  What a perfect question to reflect on for a Community Engagement intern.

On October 25th, along with members of the SPL management team, many of us in the Community Engagement department went to a Harwood Institute workshop at Evanston Public Library.  What’s the Harwood Institute?  In a nutshell (and from their website), “The Harwood Institute teaches, coaches and inspires individuals and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.”  The workshop was led by Cindy Fesemyer, Director of the Columbus Public Library in Columbus, Wisconsin.  Ms. Fesemyer spoke succinctly about how she came into the small town of Columbus as an outsider (from Madison) and has used Harwood tools to turn outward to the community in order to discover what it is that those who live and work there really want for their community.  Hearing her process over the past couple years at Columbus Public Library was very inspirational and a great example of how the Harwood tools are effective in fostering community engagement.

The event was a great place to network with fellow community engagement librarians and library directors and it was a pleasure to go through some exercises on how we can begin to turn outward in our communities with like-minded colleagues.  I found myself thinking about my move, our new community and the important role that our new library plays for our family.  The library is my safety net in my new community, somewhere that I know I can go with my family and immediately feel included and familiar.  We have already visited twice in 3 weeks and are planning on attending programming in the month of November.

On November 1st, I attended a session of the ESL cafe held in the Radmacher Room where I found over twenty patrons in attendance.  They were from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Mexico, Ecuador, Nigeria, Romania, Taiwan, Syria and Iran- among others. Most of the students in the cafe were in their 50s – 70s but there were also a couple of women in their 20s and 30s and it was heartening to see them all together sharing the same purpose.

The structure of the meeting was for the students to introduce themselves by name, country of birth and how long they had been in Skokie.  Some shared additional information- usually something completely endearing, such as the Nigerian gentleman who said he was here to visit his daughter (yet found himself at SPL in the ESL cafe!).  After introductions, the patrons would pose a question to their neighbor.  Some questions were, “What is your favorite holiday in the U.S.?” or “What do you like to do on the weekend?”  Another student asked her neighbor “What do you like to cook?”  It was so fun to hear the answers and to begin to get to know the participants through their replies.  Some had better English speaking skills than others, some needed help translating and responding and it was nice to see them help each other, intuitively grouped together by language (not always by culture).

After the introductions and warm up questions, we broke into smaller groups discussions that were facilitated by volunteers from the ELL parent center.  In these small groups, we took turns talking about a theme.  The first centered around making friends with questions such as “How do you meet new people?” and “How can you make new friends?”  One of the women in my small group is a recent widow and she talked about how hard it has been to get out of her home since her husband died.  Another woman in my group was from Syria.  She has only been in Skokie for a short time and speaks Syrian, Arabic and Kurdish.  She is at the very beginning stages of learning English and told us that how she passes her day with her Syrian friend.  They cook, go to church, go to Walmart and then come home to cook and do it all over again the next day.  She smiled and laughed as she told us her routine.  I felt very humbled sitting in a small group with women from around the world, telling me in a second, third or fourth language what they are doing to meet people in Skokie, their second, third, fourth or who knows what number home.  While I have been grieving the community we left behind and slowly opening up to a new community, I had everything to learn from these cafe goers.  It was a transformative exercise for me.

I have also had the great pleasure of going to a couple daycare centers to read stories, sing songs and champion our library to toddlers and preschoolers throughout the community.  Even as young as 2 and 3 years old, these younger learners recognize our library and love to share what they enjoy most when they come to visit.  I have really had fun finding my rhythm (in storytelling and in singing songs in front of a crowd) and bringing happiness in stories, songs and movements to toddlers and preschoolers.  Reading stories to children and hearing what they love about the library is an amazing feeling.

On November 4th I took part in a family event called “Celebrate Space.”  The purpose of the event was to do just that- as well as to teach kids, teens and adults something new about space through hands on activities and crafts.  I signed up for the event what feels like 87 weeks ago, but according to my email archives it was only September 12th.  Aside, this event title reminded me of “Space is the place” by Sun Ra, a film I’ve been meaning to watch for about 22 years.

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Coming into the library on a Saturday was new to me as I work during the day, Tuesday and Wednesday.  I enjoyed meeting patrons at my galaxy pinwheel station, where we cut, punched holes and assembled pinwheels to resemble one of the pinwheel galaxies that loom 21 million light years away.  The craft was a fun way to get to interact with patrons and to see the beautiful faces of our youngest.  It was also an exercise in planning for youth programs.  Amy K. and Amy H. were great mentors in getting this off the ground, and I learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work for a massive audience.  I’m not sure if I would do this exact activity again as the construction of the pinwheel was very delicate and maybe too advanced for younger kids.  Lesson learned!

As I drive away from my new community and toward my academic year adoptive city of Skokie, I reflect on the meaning of community and how I will serve SPL patrons during each shift.   Even if it’s not home, and even though it might be 1 light year away from my new home,  I find ways to reflect as well as look outward on the meaning of community daily, and feel that perhaps my current situation has made me more aware of just how special a place a library can be to the community.

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Celebrate Space!: Moon Phases, Rocket Ships, and Sunspot Cookies

“You sound like a teacher!” My mom laughed over the phone while I waited on the Jefferson Park blue line stop platform for my train home. It was almost 9:30pm on a Friday and my Lyft from Skokie Public Library had pulled away a few minutes ago. My mom was on vacation with my sister and aunt and she wanted to know what my plans were for the weekend.

Truth be told, I almost felt like a teacher when I explained I’d be spending the night putting the finishing touches on my station project outlining the eight phases of the Moon for SPL’s Celebrate Space program the following day. I had the poster-making skills of a teacher, but couldn’t help feeling a little less qualified than one after having spent a couple hours trying to actually learn about the Moon on NASA’s website. I just knew one of the kids at the library would end up asking me a question I didn’t know the answer to or school me on one of my trivia questions, so I was already practicing my “Let’s look that up.” response.

One of the first lessons I learned from Laurel while shadowing and training to lead Challenge Accepted sessions in the BOOMbox was to not panic when I don’t know the answer to a patron’s question. The more I think about it, that’s a lesson I learn when I shadow on almost any desk: don’t panic. It’s impossible to know everything and there’s no reason librarians should be expected to when one of our jobs is to utilize resources in order to provide the best possible answers to patron questions. I remembered that training while I cut out my Moon trivia flash cards; if someone asks me a question I can’t answer tomorrow, I’ll look it up. I’ve been lucky enough to witness nearly everyone on the YA crew do so seamlessly at least once, pulling out a phone or logging onto a computer in the Lounge and Zone to answer someone’s question. So far, none of the teens have thought less of us for it. I placed the last little cut-out star on my poster and admired the final product. If nothing else, the materials were ready.

I got to the library early on Saturday so I could set my station up and still have time to give my partner a tour of the space. It was raining that day and I felt grateful for the protection of my partner’s car; nearly everything I carried in was made of paper. My station was situated between the study rooms in the youth services area, so I pushed the two tables together to make room for a display and crafting space before picking up the clay Amy ordered for me. My station asked kids to recreate the eight different phases of the Moon using clay and bottle caps like cookie cutters. As they crafted, I would ask them the five following Moon trivia questions, expanding on the answers after everyone had a turn to guess:

  1. What is the average distance in kilometers the Moon travels to orbit Earth? The Moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 382,400 kilometers.
  2. How many days does it take to go from one new Moon to the next? In other words, how long is the lunar month? The lunar month is 29.53 days.
  3. How many times does the Moon circle Earth in the course of a month? During the course of a month, the Moon circles once around the Earth.
  4. Why can we see the Moon? We only see the Moon because sunlight reflects back to us from its surface.
  5. During the lunar month, why does the amount of the Moon we can see change? The half of the Moon facing the Sun is always lit, but the lit side does not always face the Earth. As the Moon circles the Earth, the amount of the lit side of the Moon we see changes and these changes are known as phases of the Moon. 

It made more sense logistically for participants to keep their recreated clay phases at the station rather than take them home, so I created a take-home activity worksheet that helps track the shape of the visible Moon over the course of a week instead. Hopefully watching the Moon closely for seven days will help kids understand how the phases change.

Moon Tracker

My first two participants were elementary school-aged sisters and they were very enthusiastic about making the phases and answering my questions. Because they were the only two there, I was able to have a lot of good one-on-one time talking to them about the project and what they did for Halloween. They told me all about pranks they like to play on each other at home and they were excited to take a worksheet once they were done with the clay. A question I ended up getting more than once was whether participants should bring the worksheet back to the library once they’re done filling it out; I told everyone I’d love to see their completed work.

After the two sisters I started getting larger groups of kids participating at a time. At one point I had so many that they outnumbered the work stations I had available and one or two left to come back later once the crowd thinned out. I tried to clear more space up by taping my Moon phase poster board up on the wall, but I need to remember to over-anticipate interest next time I plan a program.

Overall, the crowd I received was primarily elementary school aged and everyone seemed excited to show me their clay models as they made them. There was a good mix of kids who utilized the bottle caps to create Moons and those who free styled their own. One girl had a great time showing me bigger and bigger Moons as she squished more clay flat between her hands. A couple kids even came over just to show me the stuff they made at other stations. Unfortunately one of the kids couldn’t really understand the project and his mother explained to me that he didn’t speak English. She translated my instructions as best as she could, but he ended up being too shy to stay for long.

About half way through the program, there was a brief lull in participants and my partner jokingly pointed out that the only question kids struggled to answer was the one about distance. He realized before me that most kids didn’t understand what a kilometer was, but they did understand miles so we quickly converted the answer and rewrote the question. After that, kids more easily guessed numbers without asking me to explain what the question meant.

After the lull, a group of four middle schoolers came to the station and started messing around. I was already familiar with them through working the Junior High Zone and pretty quickly had to ask them to leave the station for throwing clay. They ended up renting one of the study rooms nearby and kept loudly coming in and out, disrupting the kids trying to participate in the program. At one point, one of the boys stuck his head out of the study room and told me, jokingly, that he was being bullied by one of the other kids. I had a free moment and took the opportunity to go into the room and ask them what was going on. One of the boys showed me his phone and it turns out three of them were mad at the fourth in the group for making an incredibly mean comment under a YouTube video. I sat down and asked him why he’d say something like that to someone and he tried brushing it off, explaining it was online so it didn’t matter. The other three boys disagreed, saying he was being an internet bully and mentioning people killed themselves over hurtful comments like the one he made. I agreed with them and tried to have a longer talk about it, but more kids started arriving at my station and I had to leave them alone again after a few moments. The kid who made the mean comment wouldn’t look up at us from his phone and eventually stopped answering, but I think he was embarrassed about being called out for his bad behavior. I’m glad his friends understood how inappropriate internet bullying is; hopefully he’ll follow their lead.

After the middle schoolers left, I received very manageable groups of kids. There were about four participating at a time until the program ended and the kids who stayed long enough to hear me repeat the trivia questions to new participants became very excited about already knowing the answers. It became a joke that they had to keep quiet and let new people try to guess.

Eventually it was 4pm and kids stopped coming over, so I packed up my station and headed home. I had a ton of leftover activity worksheets, so I displayed them at the Youth Services Desk where anyone could come up and take one. I left my poster board with the librarians at the desk too thinking it might be useful displayed in the BOOMbox. At the end of the day I was tired, but incredibly satisfied with my station’s success. Almost all of the kids who stopped by took a worksheet even if they didn’t participate with the clay, parents and guardians seemed to have fun helping their kids make the Moons, participants got excited about guessing the answers for my trivia questions, and I got a ton of great experience planning and facilitating library programs. The only thing I wish I had done differently was take more pictures.

Before I left, I talked briefly with Bill about participating in a future horror-themed program. It seems like I’m going to need to stockpile more poster board before my practicum is over.

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Learning well with others

A group of geese is a gaggle. A group of cats is a clowder. A group of sharks is a shiver.  So what do you call a group of collection-development librarians?  Last Friday, Annabelle invited me to Schaumburg Township District Library to sit in on a collection-development librarian networking meeting. It was beneficial to hear about the real-world issues librarians encounter, and I learned so much just by listening. I would advise students (in particular those like me who don’t have a lot of experience working in libraries) to see if there’s a way to attend networking meetings in their areas of interest, because hearing from practicing librarians helps make manifest the things we learn in class.

The meeting started off with a good and frank discussion of efforts to introduce and measure equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in collections. Annabelle began by talking about her efforts at Skokie (if you saw her panel about this topic at ILA, you know the gist; if not, I’ve got a blog post about it in the hopper). One of the larger points of discussion was how to make a good faith effort to diversify collections when the demographics of a library is mostly homogenous and the current interest level is low. One of the responses that resonated most was that even in homogenous communities, it is important to know each others’ stories. (On a related note, if you haven’t heard, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, I highly recommend it.) A point was made that, ‘it’s not going out,’ is not a good enough reason for not including diverse materials – active promotion is the next step. Commit. Make an effort. Try different things and see what happens. Be creative – librarians are good at this!  Some ideas that were brought up: Include diverse books in storytimes. Incorporate diverse materials into programs and readers advisory. Create adult reading challenges like, ‘read outside your comfort zone’ or ‘travels to…’ various places. As a librarian, consume diverse books and media so they become an organic part of your conversations. When selecting, don’t forget genres and independent presses. I am sure I am forgetting other good ideas, but if this is what comes up from just 20 minutes of discussion, plenty of inspiration is out there.

We didn’t talk about this on Friday, but I would bet that incorporating EDI into strategic plans (like at SPL!) makes a huge difference. There are certainly things individual staff members can do to promote diverse collections, but it is inevitably a tougher road without official support. On the other hand, if there is resistance, it may help to start small. Taking a lesson from my past experience, especially when user experience was a fairly new field, it was often challenging to try to convince companies that investing in it was a worthwhile long-term strategy – it not only takes time and money, it often requires a big shift in culture. Building up small, measurable successes over time, combined with visibility, transparency, and sustained advocacy, can provide proof of value in the long run. (Confession: this did not always work – resistance to change is a powerful thing, especially when the resistance comes from the top.)  

Back at the meeting, the group moved on to discussions of hot spots (how do you get people to return them? how long do you lend them out?), board games (good idea? if so, how do you keep the pieces together?), tips for streamlining the process to make items ‘shelf-ready,’ and experiences with Vox books, My Media Mall, Canopy, RB Digital, and Great Courses. Again, hearing both positive and negative direct experiences with these platforms/products/services was invaluable. Because the Collection Management class at Dominican gave me a solid understanding of the responsibilities and processes and vocabulary in this area, I was able to listen to the details of this discussion without having tons of questions about the basic lingo. Onward and upward!

I can’t think of a smooth way to end this post, so here’s a photo of the Trickster Native American Arts Gallery, which I drove by on my way out of the library and had to go check out (it was cool):

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