In which seniors get taken for a ride (and libraries are involved).

Don’t worry, I mean “taken for a ride” in the literal sense (i.e. in a car) rather than in the figurative sense of “having been cheated or deceived.” In fact, far from being cheated, the senior citizens I’m going to tell you about have been provided a wonderful service, and it’s thanks in part to their local libraries.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m always on the lookout for library programs and services that don’t necessarily have to do with books or even occur inside the library building. I happened upon the New York Library Association‘s eBulletin and this article about the WestSide Express Transportation Service, a volunteer ride-sharing program that’s offered to senior citizens in two communities in Rochester New York.

westsideexpress
Image used with permission from WestSide Express.

How WestSide Express works is that seniors may call to request one ride per week to medical or dental appointments, the bank, the pharmacy, an attorney’s office, government agencies, a senior center, or the library. Dispatchers match seniors with volunteer drivers who then provide the rides needed, free of charge.

What’s really cool about this program, other than that it exists in the first place, is how involved the local public libraries – the Chili Public Library and the Gates Public Library – have been in its creation and maintenance. To be sure, the libraries aren’t doing it alone. They’re working in partnership with local entities such as Lifespan, the Chili Senior Center, Gates Recreation, Dunn Tower Apartments, and a whole host of community churches. But the libraries are playing an important role in helping local senior citizens improve the quality of their lives by facilitating access to transportation in this way.

senior getting out of car
Photo used with permission from WestSide Express.

Beyond the original article, I learned a lot about WestSide Express from Jennifer Freese, Assistant Director of the Chili Public Library. She’s been with the project since the initial discussions began in 2014 in response to the challenge of “seniors being unable to find reliable transportation,” through the official launch in 2015, to what the program has become today. I was very interested to learn about the skills and competencies that she felt a librarian would need to be involved in a project like this. Among them were “effectively running meetings, compromise, delegation, making brochures, invitations [and other promotional material], and reporting” both to Lifespan (the program’s parent organization) and to the library director. Because I hope someday to be a credentialed, innovative librarian, I’m always curious about the proficiencies I should be developing and honing now as a student.

I was also happy to find that this project reinforced what I learned in my IST 613 class on library planning, marketing, and assessment. The people behind WestSide Express got to know their community and identified a specific need. They developed a mission statement and a plan to realize that mission. They successfully market their service in locations where the intended audience is likely to see it. And they conduct an annual assessment to evaluate the success of the program and make refinements as needed.

In short, WestSide Express is an excellent example of libraries thinking outside their own buildings, assessing community needs, and meeting patrons where they are.

OK, now that I’ve shared my example, it’s your turn. Do you know of a library that is doing something similar? What innovative programs or services have you heard about that go above and beyond what people expect from a library? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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In which I discuss pancakes and librarianship.

What do pancakes have to do with librarianship? Admit it, that’s what you’re wondering. I will do my best to explain.

I’m interested in innovative library programs that don’t have to do with books. (Don’t get me wrong, I love books. But I want to spread the message that libraries are more than buildings full of reading materials and are instead vital community spaces about exploration and learning.) In searching for exciting new non-book library services I came across an item in American Libraries magazine about one library’s use of PancakeBot. PancakeBot is a 3D printer for pancakes… you design your pancake, fill the device with batter, and then it “prints” the design onto a hot griddle which cooks the pancake. Pretty cool, huh?

PNKB01BK_PancakeBot_lifestyle
Image shared with permission of PancakeBot.

Yes, that’s really cool, Heather, but again… what does it have to do with librarianship?

In the American Libraries magazine article, I learned that librarian supervisor Alix Freck from the Alachua County Library District in Florida uses PancakeBot to promote culinary literacy and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) learning among youth in the community. “Participants first watch a video of the PancakeBot’s inventor describing his invention process, then explore several different stations in the room… The batter-making station requires participants to follow directions, read instructions, practice fine motor skills, and use math. The next station features laptops with PancakePainter software… in which participants design a pancake” which they then watch print on PancakeBot.

In the case of this library, PancakeBot is being used as a tool for exploration and learning. Not only is it a gateway to investigating STEAM concepts with youth but it can attract patrons to other making opportunities the library has to offer. It is a fascinating and innovative non-book technology that Alachua County Library District has deployed for community engagement and outreach. And that’s what pancakes have to do with librarianship.

pancakebot
Young patrons watching PancakeBot work its magic. Image shared with permission of Alix Freck, Alachua County Library District. Photo credit: Ashley Albinson

 

 

In which I ponder librarianship in the wizarding world – Part 2.

If you’re wondering where this whole “Part 2” business is coming from since you don’t remember Part 1, don’t be alarmed. It all goes back to October 2015 when watching a Harry Potter movie marathon on TV inspired some librarian-ish thoughts. I posted Part 1 (check it out here) and did actually write most of Part 2 back then, as well, but I just realized today that I never finished it. So, here it is, three years later…

Now that I’m looking at the wizarding world through the lens of librarianship, I see the movies, especially Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in a new light. In The Atlas of New Librarianship David Lankes proposes that:

The mission of librarians is to improve society by facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.

Certainly, improving society by facilitating knowledge creation can be accomplished in any number of worthy professions, but I believe it’s a special province of librarians. And who do you think improves wizarding society the most by facilitating knowledge creation in the Hogwarts community? I’ll give you points for answering Professor Lupin or Harry himself. But really the most new-librarianish (yes, it’s a real word, damned spell-check) individual in the story is Hermione Granger, and not because she’s always in the library.

Instead, she:

  • recognizes a need in her community: to learn Defense Against the Dark Arts in practice rather than just in theory.
  • knows the limits of her own knowledge and skills. As clever as she is, she can’t teach her fellow students everything they need or want to know.
  • identifies an appropriate resource (i.e. Harry) who can meet the need of the student community in question.
  • invites members of the community to gather at the Hog’s Head Tavern during a convenient time (i.e. Hogsmeade Weekend) to gauge their interest and provide a basic framework for future group meetings and conversations.

And the rest is history! Hermione is a community-focused facilitator of knowledge creation and the result of her work is the improvement of society in which Dumbledore’s Army kicks some Death Eater arse bottom. Librarians in the Muggle real world should look to Hermione as an example to emulate when trying to engage with their own communities.

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Hermione will forever have my stamp of approval.

In which I hope I would do better.

Know what makes me happy? Stories about librarianship changing lives for the positive.
Know what makes me sad? Stories about libraries falling down on the job.
Of course, I’d prefer to share the former type of story on my blog. My purpose, after all, is to promote all kinds of librarianish goodness that I encounter while pursuing my adventures. But I think it’s also important to remember that librarians make mistakes and examining those mistakes can be a learning experience. So, I’ll share a tale of library failure in the hope that I won’t make the same mistake if I’m ever in a similar situation.

In researching ways that public libraries support the health and wellness needs of their communities, I came across A Pilot Study of Health Information Resource Use in Rural Public Libraries in Upstate New York by Mary Grace Flaherty and Michael E. Luther from 2011. (Unless you have access to the scholarly journal Public Library Quarterly, you’ll probably only be able to see the article’s abstract, but not the full text. Sorry about that, but I’ll do my best to summarize.) I was particularly interested in this study because I live in rural upstate New York and am generally very pleased with the services I receive at my own public libraries. I was expecting to read good things.

53247514 - questions and answers on scrap paper, presentation slide background

In their study, Flaherty and Luther sent recent graduates of a Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science program into 10 libraries to ask the reference question, “Do vaccines cause autism?” The point of this was to discover what kinds of health information resources the library staff would point the questioners towards. What the researchers found was that in only two cases out of 10 did library staff provide material from credible sources that actually addressed the question asked. In eight of the 10 cases, library staff provided material that did not even answer the question. Resources provided were often out of date or non-authoritative, and some were anecdotal and non-scientific materials that warned of the dangers of vaccines, rather than information from current, reputable, medically-based sources.

Think about that for a second… 80% of libraries did not provided resources that addressed the question that was asked. That’s an astounding failure rate. It’s especially concerning if you consider the trust that people place in their libraries when seeking health-related information. According to a Pew Research Center article, “73% of all [people surveyed] ages 16 and over say libraries contribute to people finding the health information they need.” Patrons are relying on library staff to guide them to appropriate resources to answer their health-related questions and (at least in the case of the Flaherty & Luther study) 80% of libraries are letting them down.

I know the sample of size of this study – 10 public libraries – is very small and generalizations cannot be made from it about all public libraries. I know the article reporting on the study is from 2011. Maybe things have changed for the better since then. It’s also worth pointing out that the people asking the questions in this study were library students who presumably knew how to find answers from credible sources on their own. But I’m disappointed to think of all the patrons who may not be getting good information when they visit those eight problematic upstate libraries.

Since I hope someday to work at an upstate New York public library, what lessons will I take away from this situation so that I don’t do what other library staff did?

notebook-2637757_640
Note to self
  • Of course, I’m going to remember that I am a librarian and not a healthcare provider, so I won’t offer medical advice, but point patrons towards reliable resources that can help answer their health-related questions.
  • If I’m the one answering reference questions, I’m going to make damned sure to direct patrons to up-to-date, credible resources. Off the top of my head, I’d probably make MedlinePlus my first stop in directing people to health-related information, since it’s run by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  • It’s probably worth checking out the new Libraries Transform Health Literacy Toolkit from the American Library Association and National Network of Libraries of Medicine. I’d hope this would help me learn about other current, authoritative sources of health information that I could use in my work.
  • I might even pursue a Consumer Health Information Specialization (CHIS) certification offered by the Medical Library Association if I want to be really hardcore in serving the health information needs of my community.
  • If I’m the library director and not the one answering reference questions directly, I’ll develop a library policy regarding answering health questions and encourage and empower my staff to learn which resources are preferable to others for this purpose.

Now that I’ve pontificated for a bit, I’d like to hear from you. Have you ever sought health information from your local public library? Were you happy with the answer you received? What resources do you use when you have a health-related question? How do you know they’re authoritative?

 

In which I resurrect my blog.

It’s been 2 years since I last published a post here. I didn’t mean for it to be so long but I had a massive case of writer’s block, and then got so focused on life and school that I forgot for a while that I even had a blog.

But today I remembered my promise to myself… to chronicle my adventures through library school and beyond, and hopefully to enlighten and amuse some readers on the way.

So, where do things stand right now? I am still at the Syracuse University School of Information Studies (a.k.a. the iSchool) working on my Master’s of Science in Library and Information Science (a.k.a. MS LIS) degree on a part-time basis. I should receive my degree in May 2020.

I also work part-time with Associate Professor of Practice Jill Hurst-Wahl on projects related to the new iSchool Public Library Initiative (more on this later).

I’ve made it through the following classes:
IST 511 – Introduction to the Library and Information Profession
IST 605 – Reference and Information Literacy Services
IST 613 – Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment
IST 618 – Information Policy

And I’m currently taking:
IST 616 – Information Resources: Organization and Access
IST 635 – Collection Development and Access

I’m not sure yet how often I’ll be blogging, but my tentative plan is once a week or so.

Here’s to a fresh start!

In which I have Blogger’s Block.

It’s been about three weeks since I’ve blogged and that’s mostly because I have used up all of my writing ability (and creativity) on class assignments. I’ve had several librarian-ish thoughts, but none that seem to flow easily onto the page… or computer screen, as the case may be.

11785915 - group of blog related 3d words. part of a series.

So, instead I’m popping by with a list of random information that relates to my library school adventures thus far in September. It may not be the scintillating stuff (ha!) my faithful readers are accustomed to, but if the paragraphs won’t come when called, then bullet points will just have to be good enough:

  • I’m taking two classes this semester. They are:
  • The aforementioned Jill Hurst-Wahl is my new faculty mentor, which is a good thing because:
    • she is one of my favorite professors (and I’m not just saying that to kiss up)
    • we get along (when I’m not complaining about the word length restrictions of her assignments)
    • her professional interests are library innovation and copyright, in which I am also interested
    • my previous faculty mentor (with whom I also got along) is now in South Carolina (and it’s not because I was a bad mentee and scared him off). I will share more about the Mystery of the Disappearing Faculty Mentor in a future post.
  • I have renewed my membership in the New York Library Association (NYLA) and will be attending the annual conference in Saratoga in November, which I’m really looking forward to.
  • I’ve also renewed my membership in the American Library Association (ALA) and will be attending the Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta in January.
    • I’m terribly excited about this, too…
    • … especially since I’ll be sharing a room and getting to spend some time with one of my librarian friends.
  • Dr. Carla Hayden’s swearing in as the 14th Librarian of Congress made me extraordinarily happy and excited about the future of librarianship in this country:

That’s all the news I have for now, but I’ll be back once my clever blogging abilities become unblocked.

In which I am aghast at the very idea!

Whilst looking at various library-related stories on Twitter, I happened upon this article which I thought, at first, must be a joke. You see, the piece details the decision, by a public library in Alabama, to begin enforcing an ordinance that could result in jail time for certain patrons with overdue library books.

Jail time?
For overdue library books?
What is this world coming to?
What kind of library director would countenance such a thing?
Is she insane?

To be fair, the full story is a bit more nuanced than its somewhat sensational title of:

Borrowed time: US library to enforce jail sentences for overdue books

After reading the article by The Guardian (my favorite news source from the UK), this story from the News Courier in Athens, Alabama, and this report from WAAY TV in Huntsville, Alabama, it seems that the facts are these:

  • Roughly $200,000 worth of books have not been returned to the Athens-Limestone Public Library.
  • Tossing patrons in jail is not the library’s initial response to overdue books. An email or text, followed by a certified letter giving the patron 10 days to settle the matter, are the library’s first attempts at a resolution.
  • Should those steps prove ineffective, a court summons comes next. An additional fine, and up to 30 days in jail, could be the result of ignoring the court summons.
  • The ordinance that allows for all this has been on the books for some time, but is only now being strictly enforced.
  • The measures above will not apply to children.

Woman's Hands Fettered With Handcuffs

On one hand, I sympathize with the library. $200,000 worth of non-returned books is serious business, and public libraries are not so well funded to be able to ignore the matter.

The library director herself is perhaps not such the hard-ass I first thought her. (And no, that’s not a very charitable thing for me to think about a fellow member of my profession. But I’m being honest… that was my initial assumption. This blog post is, in part, an attempt to see things from her point of view.) She’s quoted in the WAAY TV story as saying, “Our first step is to have a good relationship with our patrons and remind them to bring everything back.” And in the News Courier story, she makes it clear that she’s thinking of the taxpayers and about all of the patrons to whom library resources belong and the library’s responsibility to them.

However, after my first week of classes, in which my classmates and I discussed the Core Values of Librarianship, the idea of jail time for overdue books doesn’t sit comfortably in my mind with the American Library Association’s core value of Social Responsibility and the “contribution that librarianship can make in ameliorating or solving the critical problems of society.”

I know that I’m not a proper, credentialed librarian yet. I’m just a student and willing to admit that I’m inexperienced, and maybe even naive, not yet having worked in the library trenches in a full-time, professional capacity. But surely the threat of jail time (even for a tiny segment of public library patrons) is going to cause more problems in the community than it solves. Will patrons still feel as free to borrow from the library knowing what could happen if they cannot pay their overdue fines?

I confess I have more questions than answers, so I’d like to know… what do you think? I’m interested to hear from everyone: library directors, my librarian friends, fellow students, library staff, or anyone who’s ever forgotten to return an overdue library book. Do you believe that jail time should be the final sanction for extreme cases of non-returned library items? If not, how would you address the problem of $200,000 in missing materials?

In which I am determined to continue blogging.

Yes, I did disappear from blogging for… oh, the past 7 months or so. Not an eternity, but much longer than I would’ve liked. Those months were marked by myriad non-librarian adventures, the details of which I will spare you (which is the first rule of Library Blog, after all.)

Tomorrow, however, begins a new semester at the iSchool and I am ready not just for my classes and my work, but for blogging again. I hope I haven’t lost too many readers in the interim.

Stay tuned for fascinating future posts which may include the following adventures:

  • In which I disclose what classes I am taking this semester
  • In which I reveal the Mystery of the Disappearing Faculty Mentor
  • In which I share what you think of “librarian” (the results of a reader survey from last November!)
  • In which I have some thoughts about intellectual freedom and censorship

Empty tablet pc with books, technology and education

 

In which I receive the gift of an entire library.

My youngest brother Jared has many talents, which include rocking his graduate coursework in applied linguistics, coaching runners, making tasty curry dishes from scratch, and living life as a hard-working, motivated, responsible member of the Millennial generation.* But perhaps my favorite of his qualities is his skill at, and penchant for, drawing imaginary cityscapes in his limited spare time.

He began a new creative project over the holidays and asked me if I’d like my own house in his latest utopia. “Yes, please,” I replied, “And may I have some trees in my yard? And could it be not too close to other houses, but still within easy walking distance of the library and other community spaces?” He promised me it would be, and when he finished, this was the result:

cityscape with arrows
Artwork by my brother Jared. (Arrows added by me.) Shared without asking permission first, because I’m the eldest sibling so I can do things like that. Bossy Big Sister Privilege is a little-known provision of copyright law, as long as you’re sure no one will mind.

The downward arrow points to my cozy house among a delightful copse of deciduous trees.
The rightward arrow points to the library of which I am now mistress. I adore it’s resemblance to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre while being thankful that it’s better protected from the elements. I’m delighted to see a free, public library in the midst of a city that looks so Renaissance-era European (where libraries were generally found at universities or abbeys, but not widely accessible to the general public… and almost never to women who weren’t among the clergy or nobility.)

I firmly believe that a library should be more than just an edifice full of books, and that a librarian’s mission reaches far beyond mere caretaking of printed artifacts. That being said, I’m inordinately charmed by the library building my brother drew for me. I confess that I do imagine it full of rare volumes and new publications, as well as spaces for learning, collaboration, and creativity.

As mistress of this city library, I don’t see myself remaining always within it’s physical confines, but happily venturing out into the community and becoming a person who improves society by facilitating knowledge creation with individuals, groups, and organizations. In the interest of accessibility, I may also advocate for more localized library services and spaces – perhaps a new branch? – for the citizens who live and work across the river. Mobilizing a corps of roving librarians to serve the homebound and residents of outlying areas is also part of my daydream.

What does this flight of fancy have to do with modern-day librarianship in the real world? Only that it’s important (as librarians, librarians-in-training, library staff, and/or library members) as often as we can, and by whatever means necessary, to widen our view beyond a specific library building, to see our larger community with fresh eyes, and to consider how we can serve it better. An imaginary library in an imaginary city can also be a visual reminder to share our mission with others and to discover the interests and talents that community members may wish to share enthusiastically with us.

* I often read and hear criticism of Millennials for being lazy and entitled. While I don’t doubt that this has been some people’s experience with the younger generation, I’m very fortunate that the Millennials I know are focused, productive, thoughtful, and generally society-improving people.

In which I start a new semester and am already swamped.

I faithfully promised myself that I’d post at least once a se’nnight* during the semester, even though this blog is no longer part of a class assignment. Since my first class was last Wednesday morning, I’m hitting “Publish” just in time.

One week into the new semester and I already feel like I’m a week behind. OK, technically, I’m not behind, but am only on-time by a hair’s breadth, and certainly not ahead of schedule. This, in spite of my best organizational and time management efforts. (I even skipped Downton Abbey in favor of studying on Sunday night. Skipped Downton Abbey! Do you see how seriously I take this grad school adventure? Anna and Mr. Bates will have to wait patiently on my DVR until Spring Break.)

3d man with a stack of papers
Surrounded by coursework.

I only have enough time left to report that I’m taking the following interesting classes:
IST 600 – Library Advocacy (my very first online class)
IST 613 – Library Planning, Marketing, and Assessment
IST 614 – Management Principles for Information Professionals

I’ll provide more details on them later, but for now I must get back to work!

*se’nnight = a somewhat archaic English term for seven nights & seven days, or a week. I faithfully promised myself that I would use it in a sentence as often as I thought I could get away with it.