Concurrent Leadership and Advocacy in the School Library

I’ve been reading about leadership and advocacy this week and I got to thinking about how these things in successful school library programs really are concurrent activities. As you behave as a leader in your school library, you become an ambassador for the school community and even the wider local community (or state). When people see enthusiastic programming and a positive welcoming environment, they are more likely to value the work that you do and less likely to offer your position up to the chopping block when budget cuts come around.

For example, I have a colleague who announced that she would be leaving the district at the end of the school year. She has been sharing ideas and resources with the entire district (through the mass email list) all year long. She hasn’t said as much, but I suspect her very visible efforts are a conscious way of demonstrating her and her program’s worth to the district. If the administration values her role, perhaps they won’t decide to have us go down a librarian due to attrition. Nothing is certain, but this kind of program advocacy doesn’t hurt—and the approach is to simply do exemplary work as an instructional leader.

In fact, my principal told me himself that [an instructional leader] was what he needed me to be in his school. I had been cautious in my interactions with staff as the new kid on the block, not wanting to step on toes or make a bad impression, and I told him that I didn’t want to tell anyone how to do their job (at least not while I’m still new). He encouraged me to push the staff to think critically and be someone who sees the big picture. If you are working hard side-by-side with other teachers, the respect and even loyalty is sure to follow.

I’ve actually had the opportunity to see my predecessor in action a few times at conferences. She’s a very dynamic person and dives right into the action. I understand a little better now the kind of leadership that she brings to the table, and to which my principal was alluding. She and I are very different in quite a few ways and I worried a lot at first that I was a disappointment to the staff as her replacement. It’s not that I am not just as dynamic or haven’t already had success in my new role. Some of my hesitation though is due to the humility I have toward the profession—I am not a seasoned veteran in the library and don’t even have my full license yet. It’s hard to proceed with confidence and, yes, leadership when you’re not sure if you’re even “doing it right”!

I have given myself permission to feel out the situation and scramble around in survival mode for now, but it can’t last for too long. Unfortunately, the attitude around the state is that school librarians are optional. A librarian friend of mine works in a district similar to mine that had someone leave and instead of rehiring a librarian, they reassigned a non-librarian teacher to be a tech integrator to fill the role (and my friend has to cover the missing duties). I met some librarians from Milwaukee Public Schools a few months ago—they have something like 12 librarians now for the entire district, covering something like 165 schools. They said that they basically go from school to school and select books. There are similar situations in Sheboygan and Menasha.

This isn’t just happening in Wisconsin—I read a newspaper article earlier this year about Philadelphia Public Schools going from 176 certified librarians in 1990 down to 11. One of the principals there fought back to restore the librarian position at the school saying, “The library was the center of the school program. I just don’t see a library as an extra,” which is amazing—but the advocacy and leadership necessary to preserve school libraries has to also come from the front lines, i.e. the librarians who convince the leaders, community and decision-makers that school libraries are, indeed, not extras.

Multicultural picture books that are nice, but not compelling

This week, I have been examining some Native American picture books, like Wild Berries by Julie Flett. Nice and all, beautiful actually with a rich, authentic, bilingual component…but maybe not compelling. A good “calm” book. Does the average toddler or preschooler go for this stuff? Or do we the adults, the librarians, the teachers appreciate it more? (Children’s books should be for children, right?)

Are we all missing the point? Is there something inherent in these authentic books that seems to make us feel like they might not fit in mainstream culture? Is this an extension of how American culture has made Native Americans “invisible”? What can be done?

Heck if I know!

It makes me sad to think, but I suspect that these books might not be appealing to the “average” child. Improving multicultural awareness is probably best done through exposure, but will these very wonderful artistic, calm books even get a proverbial foot in the door?

Blackhawks logoThe school district for which I work is one of 32 districts in Wisconsin that still have a Native American mascot (the Blackhawks). While we do not use a costumed figure during sporting events nor war cries and tomahawk chops, Blackhawk’s image is widely used on logos. Ironically, the image we use isn’t even him or historically accurate. We were recently challenged and will likely not be making a change in the near future (we have a very important referendum coming in April that we are worried about). There is a fierce attachment to him in the community and a tie to city history, but it’s tough because it’s just not right. The community feels they honor Chief Blackhawk this way, but obviously the Natives do not. There is work to be done if we are to change some hearts.

How to get people to understand? Through culturally authentic picture books? I doubt it. Basic exposure? Some principals I know were telling a story the other day of a Native author and leader that came a few years back to do workshops with kids and share his [modern] life experience. At the end of it all, when the kids were asked, “How does Mr. So-and-So (I’m sorry, I’m blanking on his name) get to work?” “Where does he live?” The answers were “on a horse” and “in a tee-pee” even though the kids were SHOWN evidence to the contrary and got to know him as a REAL PERSON.

Again, this makes me so sad. Apparently, it is so hard for mainstream American culture to see Native Americans as contemporary and relevant. Natives are not invisible, nor extinct, but are often treated as if they are.

Can our books make a difference in our print and literary culture? A nice, but not compelling book probably won’t open a lot of eyes (nor change hearts)… unless there are a lot of them! Write on, Native authors, write on!

(Also, a shout out to the fine people of the Wisconsin Media Lab and TheWays.org Project. THIS is what we need!)

Instructional librarians and a culture of professional development

In my course discussion this week about professional development for information and technology literacy, one of my classmates suggested the importance of maintaining the funding for professional development. She spoke of how much she appreciated the opportunity to attend conferences in her current position and how it sounds idealistic, especially in the public sector, but that she felt it was important anyway.

Just because you spend money on something doesn’t mean that you will get results, BUT dedicating money to something (or not) in a budget DOES show your commitment to that thing. I think my classmate’s suggestion about keeping money available for professional development is a wise one.

Let me offer an example of the consequences:

Due to some of the budget side-effects of Act 10, my school district slashed this kind of professional development funding and it seems we are often told, “No, you may not attend X-conference; we don’t have the budget.” Additionally, the Tech Department has been allocated less money and seems to mainly operate as firefighters, trying to put out “fires” with the network and hardware to keep us running, and they too can’t really devote the resources to serve as instructional leaders either. Which leaves the librarians… As far as I can tell, with the upper levels of support stripped back, it is these professionals left at the front lines to help–and they are rockstars! Unfortunately, it’s probably only at the one-on-one, ad-hoc level, instead of systemic, intentional training. Every time I reach out for their assistance though, I’m met with, “What can I help you with?”

While it is possible to be grass-roots and low-budget, money greases the wheels!

From my humble point of view (because I’m not gong to tell anyone how to do their job), to insure that staff participate in long-term, on-going professional development for info/tech literacy, it’s the LEADERSHIP (principals, administrators, directors) who also must believe in the value of developing their staff. The instructional librarian can advocate for this kind of training on their own, but the leadership has to give them the time of day. (The librarian will probably have to sell it to their administration first.)

To be an instructional leader like this, the librarian has be a good communicator, able to read timing, body language and institutional culture. For example, if the librarian’s position has been viewed as lowly, then the librarian will probably be better off treading lightly and not coming in with a tour de force (lest they want to risk their employment status). Instead of shoving change down people’s throats or condescending them by sharing an unsolicited criticism of what’s wrong with the system, working with people to solve their problems will probably earn more respect.

The other thing I would advise would be to ask questions at all levels and try to find the holes in info lit/tech skills and the perceived needs of the building. This way the librarian can find a place to fit their expertise and leadership and potentially come in and save the day. It takes time!

The best advice I was ever given in my career (and I didn’t know it then, I had to learn the hard way), was that “Changing a school (we could say library) is like turning an ocean liner.” There are a lot of moving parts and things are bigger than just you. Plus, we don’t need to capsize the whole ship.

E-books and E-wolves

E-book sales are rising: Amazon, the largest bookseller in the U.S. has been reporting since 2011 that it sells more e-books than print books. In fact, book readership is also rising, partially because of the spread of e-books. The Pew Research Center published a report in April 2012 that the average e-book reader reads more books a year than the average non-e-book reader.  In the U.K., The Guardian reported in August 2012 that Kindle users there were buying four times as many books as they were before becoming a Kindle-owner. In a more recent Pew study published October 2012, younger readers are actually reading even more than adults. E-books haven’t completely replaced print books in the lives of readers, but usage is growing and we may see them dominate someday soon, given the sale trends in the book market. Regardless, people are starting to agree that we are seeing a true “renaissance of reading.” With change and opportunity, however, come the wolves; in this case, the “digital” wolves.

Librarians, both public and school, have been wise to respond to the popularity of e-reading. Many libraries are experimenting with lending out e-readers pre-loaded with digital books. It is becoming more common for public libraries to subscribe to services like OverDrive, so that patrons can check out e-books from the library for free on their personal e-readers. Similarly, some schools are using Follett Shelf to provide e-book access to students and teachers.

Unfortunately, there is often a sticker-shock attached to the transition to e-books. These are definitely not cheap services—and the Digital Rights Management (DRM) policies of these e-book providers leave consumers at the mercy of the publishers’ whims. On the surface, it appears DRM policies are used to combat piracy so that e-book files will not be set loose to be copied and distributed freely on the Internet. However, DRM is much more powerful than that; it ties e-books to specific distributers and devices. That is, if you buy an Amazon e-book, their intention is that you can only read it on an Amazon device, likewise with Barnes and Noble Nook e-books, etc.

If a library decides to go with a service like OverDrive, they pay for an annual subscription to a finite number of copies. If they stop paying for the subscription, they lose the e-books. A base subscription might cost a school library $4000 a year, with $2000 of that available for selecting the actual e-books. An elementary school librarian that I know in the Madison Metropolitan School District told me that this would represent about 75% of his entire budget for library materials—for most school librarians, this would be a non-option. With Follett, a library purchases the e-books indefinitely for a higher cost than a print book, but with limitations on which books are available or how a book can be accessed. Price inflation and price setting among these publishers and suppliers has meant that the e-book purchasing power for a library is probably shrinking.

Is this simple supply-and-demand, where the publishers and suppliers know that consumers are willing to pay exorbitant prices because of the uniqueness or convenience of the product? Or are they simply taking advantage because no one has stepped in to stop them? Anti-trust laws were put into place at the turn of the century so as to protect consumers from unfair price controls and business practices. While there have been some minor challenges to content providers like Amazon and Apple, it seems that, as far as the law is concerned, digital content is still in its infancy and consumers are not the ones in control. The proverbial wolves are in the henhouse.

When you purchase a DRM e-book, the book is never truly yours. Unlike most purchases, once the money changes hands, the product is not totally in the consumer’s possession; publishers or distributors have control over where and if you can access it. Strings are always attached. Case in point: Media commentator Martin Bekkelund wrote a blog post in October 2012 about an Amazon customer, Linn Jordet Nygaard, whose Kindle was remotely wiped and her entire Kindle library deleted with no proper explanation from Amazon, other than that they reserve this right and that she is hereby black-listed. (Update: after a lot of bad press and general uproar from the web community, Linn’s Kindle library was mysteriously reactivated.) While this has not been my experience with Amazon Customer Service and my Kindle account—I have always found them to be exemplary, fair and honest—it is an important reminder not to take your rights as a consumer for granted. In this case, it’s probably best to think of e-books not as owned, but rented.

What are libraries to do if they want to be fiscally responsible while responding to their patrons’ demands? It seems pretty risky to go all-in and make an investment that could be negated at the whim of a content provider. Furthermore, vendors that provide viable options with a decent amount of content seem to have priced themselves at a level that is out-of-reach for many libraries.

A grassroots movement called ReadersFirst.org is encouraging libraries to band together and advocate for their e-book users. However, it’s high time that we as consumers and taxpayers also band together for our libraries to demand that e-book publishers and suppliers stop taking advantage of our public money and provide a fair service at a fair price. Perhaps the government needs to invoke anti-trust laws against the monopolistic, monopsonistic and oligopolistic behaviors that prey on our library and school budgets.

Join the [Book] Club.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been doing a common reading program since the 2009-2010 school year, when they featured Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. In 2010-2011, they read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and in 2011-2012, Enrique’s Journey. To be honest, even though I’ve been in Madison since 2007, I’ve never had anything to do with it. I love Michael Pollan’s work, but didn’t read that one. I read a preview chapter on my Kindle of Henrietta Lacks, but never followed up. I did read Enrique’s Journey, but after the fact this August, and it came on my radar independently.

This year, they are reading Radioactive by Lauren Redniss. Now that I am more officially attached to the university through library school, I was given a copy through my course this semester. We are using it for a couple course activities, from examining the sources/archives of the research to investigating grants supporting community reading programs such as this one.

For the record, I read it a few weeks ago and it was DELIGHTFUL. Marie and Pierre Curie were incredible and I wish that I had been exposed to more of their life history earlier. The book was a sort of graphic novel and the art was pretty neat. The cyanotypes made the pages look almost transparent and well, the cover glowed in the dark. So cool. I wasn’t able to attend the presentation by Lauren Redniss when she was on campus the other day, but there are lots of other activities all year long that might be interesting.

Sometimes, my church organizes a book group that I participate in. I’ve read books with them about the saints, Ignatian Spirituality and the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul. Always lively discussions, but often too much material in too short a meeting period. The last book they did only met twice (half the book each time) and let’s just say that I only had enough time to read about a third–but I went anyway.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about book clubs and my direct experience with them. What is the appeal? You see, when you CHOOSE to read something and it turns out to be interesting (for the positive or the negative), I think it’s human nature to want to discuss what you’ve learned. While books invoke the imagination within, I think it’s even better to let the ideas out.

I want to start my own.

The idea came up over the summer while I was in a teacher inservice to start some book clubs with the high school kids at the school I work at. It would be so simple, so fun, so perfect. Even my ESL students, who mostly aren’t the greatest or motivated readers [in English], have expressed interest when I’ve told them about how people sometimes go to book clubs and talk about what they’re reading. If they’d be tempted to participate, I KNOW there are avid readers who would also be game.

Ideally, we would do it during the lunch periods (we have three) so that the kids who are hyper-involved with clubs and sports and part0time jobs could participate. If we selected three books, and each book had a group that met during each lunch, we would need 9 staff members to host the groups. Weekly would probably be too frequent and monthly too spread out to keep people engaged, so I think every other week would be best.

I stopped by the local public library to talk to the children’s librarian there. Once we get this rolling, I’m hoping she’ll be a good resource for book selection or even securing copies of the books. There is another English teacher and the school librarian that I work with who’ve expressed interest in making this happen, so I think there is a good chance that it will!

And for the love of reading, getting more kids to read for fun is a very good thing.

A collection for a growing Latino population

I received an assignment to develop a collection for a public library with a growing Latino population. The parameters:

Because there had only been a tiny number of Spanish-speaking patrons in your library to this point you have almost nothing in your collection appropriate for your new patrons. Likewise, because there had been almost no Hispanic patrons in your library, there was almost nothing in your collection representing Hispanic ethnicities or authored from an Hispanic perspective.

The new patrons are about half children and young adults, almost all of whom are in school. They are almost all bilingual, though Spanish is their first language. Working-age adults constitute most of the remainder. Some are bilingual, others speak only a little English. The rest are older adults, almost all of whom speak very little English. The adults have had some formal schooling, though only a tiny portion have a full secondary education or anything beyond. Literacy rates (in Spanish) among adults is quite high.

You have been authorized by your supervisor to use $500 of this year’s collection development budget and $250 in ongoing funds (i.e., yearly expenses extending indefinitely) to expand your collection to help meet the needs of your new patrons.

Here is my attempt to address the situation:

  1. a spreadsheet with my choices of materials
  2. pie and bar graphs showing the proportions and costs of the materials

And here is my explanation/rationale…

Strategy

In order to develop a collection of library materials that would meet the needs of a growing Latino community, I divided my search into several themes: materials that maintain a connection to the Latin American world, materials that support early-childhood reading activities, multicultural material for bilingual youth and materials that address specific adult educational needs. I wanted to be sure to provide services to the Latino community that they may not be able to afford on their own or that could be used for programming to draw these families in. I specifically thought about having the appropriate resources to begin a bilingual or Spanish story-hour. I also wanted to secure cable television access to channels like Univision and Telemundo, so that families could watch soccer matches, telenovelas (soap operas) and Latin American movies in a common, social place like the library.

Because this is a collection for a public library in a community that is still adjusting to the population shift, I wanted the materials I got in English to be useful for both Latino patrons and white patrons. I choose some books that could give Anglo patrons a better understanding of the Latino experience and culture and promote tolerance.

Resources

To decide on a focus for what types of resources to look for, I asked for input from my Latino high school students. I also discussed the topic with the librarian at my school who is always working to improve our Spanish-language and multicultural collection.

As a starting point for children’s literature, I used lists of awards such as the “Pura Belpré Award” and the “Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” I also accessed resources from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC) of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, like their Choices 2012 publication and their “50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know” and “30 Multicultural Books Every Teen Should Know” booklists. I used Follett’s Titlewave website to get information about reading and interest levels on some of the children’s books. Customer reviews and popularity rankings on Amazon.com sometimes were helpful as a starting point to find what Spanish-speakers are reading. This wasn’t a perfect solution though, just because the “sample size” of customers publishing reviews on Spanish language books tends to be smaller than on English books. Fortunately, I do speak Spanish pretty well; otherwise, some of the descriptions would have been a barrier for me trying to figure out what to select.

When I was looking for magazines, I looked for circulation information and “top 10 lists” of Latino magazines. Ratings by HispanicMagazineMonitor published on the Media Economics Group blog were helpful. AllYouCanRead.com pointed me to a few ideas for magazines as well. There weren’t a lot of choices for men’s magazines unfortunately (unless they involved scarcely-clothed women), so most of the magazine subscriptions were for women.

In order to get more information about Latino cable television packages, I called Charter Communications and talked to a representative in the Charter Business department. He helped me draw up the pricing for a cable package at the library that includes 25 channels, ranging from Disney to ESPN Deportes to CNN en Español.

Other Considerations and Values

For the younger children, I decided that it would be best to get children’s books mostly written in Spanish, so that parents could read with them. Young readers would have also access to beginning-level texts in their native language, thus promoting bilingual literacy. I focused on tween and young adult books written in English with Latino multicultural themes. In my experience, Latino teenagers prefer to read young adult literature in English, unless their English proficiency is weak—then they either won’t read or they prefer reading in Spanish. Not surprisingly, they identify more with characters from their own national background (as opposed to exploring the experiences of Latinos from other countries.) They like stories about immigrant experiences or Latino issues (e.g. racism, gangs, poverty, etc.) set in the United States.

For the adults, I mostly searched for Spanish language materials, but I tried to focus on lighter topics, like pop culture and family. I looked for popular magazine subscriptions that would appeal to both men and women. Even though the adults do read well in Spanish, I thought the money was better spent on enhancing their entertainment and family life. Factory shifts are often long and grueling and many of the Latino parents that I know work opposite shifts so that someone can be home for the children at all times. If they are trying to balance time between work and family, I would assume that they are less likely to want to sit down with a novel than to grab a magazine or check out the soccer game on Telemundo in the library lounge. Also, considering the education levels of many of the adults, I chose a GED prep book in Spanish that could be very useful for those who never completed high school.

I chose to use Amazon.com as my primary source for purchasing and pricing, mostly because they currently have the largest Spanish language collection of books, movies, music and magazines all in one spot and free shipping if you purchase in volume, which the library would do. I chose library binding and hardcover books whenever possible, in order to prolong the life of the collection. The prices listed in the spreadsheet are publisher list-price, so someone replicating my plan would not necessarily have to purchase through Amazon.com.

Because this is a budding collection in a library that essentially had not Spanish-language resources before, I thought it was most important to build a foundation of print materials, before seeking movies or music. Also, because children’s books are quick to read, it seemed important to have a ready supply. I had to sacrifice a few reference materials for the adults, such as picture dictionaries and ESL materials, in favor of a well-developed bilingual children’s collection. This children’s collection would be used by both the children and the parents, since the parents could read to their children as a family activity.

Unanswered Questions

It would have been useful for me to know more about the nationalities of these Latinos. Because I didn’t know if they are originally be from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Columbia, Honduras, Cuba, Guatemala, etc., it was hard to target books that they would identify with.

I also assumed that most of the Latinos world be Christian and Catholic, but without knowing for sure, it may have been presumptuous of me to subscribe to the Magnificat religious publication or buy the Bible storybook.

I wasn’t sure what kind of technology resources this library had at its disposal either. I calculated the price of the Latino View cable package as an add-on and assumed that the library already maintained basic monthly cable access. I also assumed that the library had some kind of station that digital magazine issues could be accessed. Without knowing for sure though, these resources may have been wasted.

That’s What I Like About You

I did my undergrad at Marquette University, a Catholic Jesuit school located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While I love Marquette, it was ridiculously expensive, especially considering the value and quality of the flagship public university here. Hindsight’s 20/20, right?

In my experience, the cool thing about a Jesuit university, is that while we were required to take an extensive core curriculum, including significant amounts of theology and philosophy, I never felt like their religious views were being crammed down our throats. In fact, it was more like, “Yes, this is what we [as Catholics] believe, but here are ALL of the points of view. You decide.”

Or, in the words of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities:

Jesuit colleges and universities are places of intellectual integrity, critical inquiry, and mutual respect, where open dialogue characterizes an exciting environment of teaching, research and professional development. The Jesuit ideal of giving serious attention to the profound questions about the meaning of life encourages an openness of mind and heart, and seeks to establish campus communities which support the intellectual growth of all of its members while providing them with opportunities for spiritual growth and development.

All in all, I loved the Jesuit approach to education because it honored my liberty of thought. It’s funny, but it is exactly THAT emphasis on liberty of thought that draws me to Library and Information Studies as well.

Consider this, from the ALA on Collection Development:

Librarians have a professional responsibility to be fair, just, and equitable and to give all library users equal protection in guarding against violation of the library patron’s right to read, view, or listen to materials and resources protected by the First Amendment, no matter what the viewpoint of the author, creator, or selector.

Basically, one of the tenants of librarianship in the United States is intellectual freedom. Between that and an emphasis on privacy protection for patrons, the ALA’s view on intellectual development is right up my alley.

Sink or swim.

When Brian Matthews of Virginia Tech started talking about vacuums and Roombas in his “Think Like a Startup” article, I felt like giving him a big high-five. Because if businesses (or libraries or schools or lots of other places) that want to be successful, this is exactly how to approach forward motion: it’s not just about building better features; it’s about new processes.

Matthews warns of all of the the ways that the traditional academic library could be dismantled by transferring and outsourcing services to other departments of a university. For example:

  • What if the Office of Research managed campuswide electronic database subscriptions and ondemand access to digital scholarly materials?
  • What if the majority of scholarly information becomes open? Libraries would no longer need to acquire and control access to materials.
  • What if local museums oversaw special collections and preservation? (p. 2)

Maybe I don’t love graduate-level academic research enough, but I didn’t really disagree. [Almost] all of his transfers of domain seemed reasonable to me… Yes, this probably confirms that I’m not really cut out to be an academic librarian in a university at this point (or else I would be more protective of them, maybe?). These are, however, examples of how libraries in general are going to be deemed obsolete and no longer valuable as institutions if the stakeholders don’t step forward to find their new roles.

It starts with attitude. And loving your academic library is not enough. You have to ADVOCATE for it.

Allow me to step up on my soap-box [again].

Last Saturday, I completed my first (and only) triathlon in Pardeeville, Wisconsin. It was a sprint triathlon, so don’t be too impressed: I’m no IronMan. The triathlon was purely a Bucket List thing for me. I HATE SWIMMING. Hate it. I don’t swim well. I would rather pick up dog poop. I hate it that much. Did I mention that I hate swimming? Because I really do hate it.

So in my triathlon, I had to swim a quarter-mile. I was a novice, which meant that I was slow and inexperienced when it comes to triathlons, so they basically give you a head start and don’t mix you in with all the rockstars. I guess, usually, they let the novices have about 10 minutes to get going in the water so they can watch attentively for struggling swimmers (like me) and try to protect them from being trampled (or whatever the word for a water stampede would be). The problem for me was that this time, the head start wasn’t really an actual head start, it was the normal three minute spacing they do between all of the age groups. So soon there were like a hundred strong, fast, young men churning toward me and I was faced with a choice: Panic or not? Sink or swim?

Sink-or-swim is more than just a clever saying, as I can attest. It’s real. And sinking is especially unpleasant in real life because you can die. Or be in agony for a couple minutes until some lifeguard hopefully pulls your panicked self out of the water.

By the way, I swam. It was scary and not pretty, but I made it. In our professional life there are so many strategies to handle a sink-or-swim situation, no matter if you work in a school or a library or a business. The choice is simple–you swim. Hard. You choose to work while you’re at work. You choose to perform your job with an eye for improvement and intentionality. Like Matthews said, you think like a start-up.

You do NOT just show up to collect your paycheck. You do NOT just go through the motions. Yes, I’m talking to you, the one standing by the door with your coat on a minute before closing time. What are we, in middle school, waiting for the bell to ring so that we can rush into the hallway and gossip–you know, where the “important” stuff is? I don’t care if you have a kid to pick up from daycare. Your lack of commitment shows. Yes, family comes first, fine, but other people with families still manage to be professionals and not middle-schoolers.

So contribute. Use your brain. Pay attention. Work together. BE FULLY PRESENT.

Can you tell that I am a Millennial? (I guess I was born on the cusp, but close enough…) I think my rants, which stem from the observation of colleagues early on in my career, are pretty typical of the frustrations that young professionals have been experiencing. Ty Kiisel, in his Forbes article, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme–Millennials in the Workplace” said:

For the most part, the millennial generation is responding to the workforce in the way we’ve trained them to—they question, they challenge and they want to do it better. Sure, sometimes it makes their older colleagues a little uncomfortable. We probably want the same level of respect we gave our bosses—back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. With that said, the challenge for business leaders today is harnessing the talent and drive of the younger workforce to create the products and technology that will change the world. As the times, and the workforce changes, we need to reconsider how we lead people and get work done along with it.

When it comes to libraries, as Lisa Kurt, William Kurt and Ann Medaille put it, “Those libraries that do not adapt to Millennials’ expectations about work and play may find that they are unable to retain talented young librarians” (p. 11).

There are a lot of people out there trying to encourage a giant wake-up call to libraries. I think it’s that movement called Library 2.0… We don’t really want libraries to fail and close. We do want to retain talented young librarians.

Motivated by their creative fervor, start-up librarians are an exuberant bunch. Nurture that exuberance. They are a pivotal asset to your library. Their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and experimental nature might be the key to unlocking the “next big thing” at your library. (Jones, K.)

Amen, Kyle Jones. I just think it’s sad that we have to say this kind of stuff out loud. Over and over. I guess there will be a certain point that we might look at a sinking library (or school or business or whatever) and we will have to just shrug our shoulders and say, “We tried to warn you. You could have listened. We were trying to help.”

Personally, I plan on swimming. Even if it’s hard sometimes and I hate it. It’s the best thing for me. And when it’s over, you look back and say, “Yeah! I did that! And I’m kind of proud of myself now too!”

Interrogation of Michael Stephens

Not really an interrogation, but it sounds catchy, right? In light of his guest speaking appearance in my class tomorrow, here’s what I’d like to know from him.

  1. What do you say to the nay-sayers who say that libraries and librarians are passé?
  2. What other industries/business models should we be studying to learn from their successes and/or failures? Are libraries the best models for libraries?
  3. What makes a good library? What makes a good library director? What makes a good librarian?