Voting: Information is Power!

Election season in the U.S. is dragging along. I feel like we’re always in a perpetual election cycle. All the news channels have that incessant election countdown box: 20 days, 19 days, 18 days…

Make it stop!

This year, staff at the library where I work at have been trained by the city clerk’s office to register voters. This has been an amazing civic experience. I work with college students; many are first-time voters.

There’s something different about this election year (understatement, much?).

We have registered so many more voters this time around. As soon as I would sit back down at my desk, a student worker would come and get me to register a new voter. Not a complaint, by the way! We ended up setting up a registration table in our lobby for the first time…one new voter after another!

One potential voter walked by and said:

I don’t know who to vote for. I don’t like politics. Who are you voting for?

My first reaction:

Really, I thought:

How could you not know? Based on the issues that are important to you, isn’t there a candidate that interests you?

But not everyone is tied into all the issues. And politics can be a downright turnoff for most people.

The first thing I did, was keep my mouth shut (as hard as it might be!). I’m not telling people on the job who I’m voting for. Politics, like religion, is your own personal business.

I just told the person:

I’m not going to share my personal political opinion because in this situation I’m not here to advocate. I’m here to simply provide information. 

I provided the person with a link to our Election/Voting libguide:

Election/Voting LibGuide

Election/Voting LibGuide

Then I directed the person to a few sites that might help them figure things out:

As much as I would like to bring voters over to my side, that’s not part of my job in this scenario. I can, however, give them the tools to make an educated decision.

Young voters, in particular, get derided for lack of knowledge. I’m guilty of thinking like that too. But throughout our voter registration drive I’ve seen many interested and engaged young people. It makes me feel better the future.

And I need something to feel good about in this election.

Seattle: Seattle Public Library

Travel on the Side

Why did I visit a library on my vacation? Well, I am a librarian, of course!

If I see a library, I like to pop in and check it out. The Seattle Public Library Central Library is an architectural wonder. Soaring high, lots of glass, shiny escalators, natural light.

Are there books? Yes! But for me, a library is all about people. Lots of library patrons were on the computers researching, getting job help, reading, studying, and socializing.

One of the cool things I saw was near one of the circulation desks. Above was a monitor featuring a map of keywords of recently returned books.

Seattle Public Library Seattle Public Library

Travel tip: When you’re on vacation, a visit to the local public library is a good way to get restaurant recommendations and tips for “non-touristy” sites. Librarians are there to help…and they know EVERYTHING!

Below are some more photos. For the…

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You Do What? Re-working a Librarian “Career Day” Presentation

A group of 15-year old high school students from a nearby city have been visiting my college campus periodically since the 4th grade. They’re part of a pre-college program that prepares students to be the first in the their family to attend a four-year university.

This year, students have been focusing on careers. I was asked to give a 50-minute presentation on: My Life as a Librarian.

What???? I immediately panicked. How would I make a presentation about librarianship interesting to high schoolers? Was it even worth it to participate?

Making Connections

The quick answer: Yes, it was worth participating! I knew I wasn’t going to make mini-librarians out of anyone…nor should I even try. Plus, I’m dubious of pigeon-holing anyone into a specific career so young (says me who changed his college major three times!). What I thought was more important was:

  • Seeing how high school students perceive libraries/librarians
  • Getting that perception to be something positive
  • Making students comfortable with the idea of the academic library and what we have to offer

My Plan

Instead of going through the usual:

  • this is what a librarian does…
  • this is how much they make…
  • these are the requirements for the job…

…because, let’s face it: BORING… I decided instead to pull out a few “fun” things and do some hands-on activities.

Team-based Activity

After welcoming the students to the library, we went into the Library Classroom and I introduced myself. I avoided rattling off my list of job duties because I had arranged for something more interactive. Our classroom has three interactive whiteboards. I split the students into three teams. Each whiteboard had this question:

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

What do you think of when you hear the word librarian?

Students brainstormed with their team members and used the touchscreen technology to record their answers. Here is where librarian stereotypes come into play. Students mentioned words like: books, old lady, mean, shhhh!, glasses, and checking in books.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

When you hear the word librarian, list 5 things you think of.

Then I asked the question:

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

What do you think a librarian does?

What do you think a librarian does?

Again, we got stereotypical remarks such as reading, checking in/shelving books, etc…

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.

List 5 things you think a librarian does.


Library/Librarian Stereotypes

From there, we had a quick little discussion about some of these stereotypes. I mentioned that I hadn’t shushed anyone but had been shushed myself–which brought out some smiles and laughter from the students. I also explained that our student workers are the ones who usually check out and shelve books. I even admitted that I don’t get to read as much as I like and I definitely don’t read on the job (for fun anyway!).

Each team had a teacher, chaperone, or one of our college students seated with the students to give some guidance. I got some great answers this way: develop programs, teach students, etc…

In my role as a reference/instruction librarian, I compared my job to a teacher: helping students find and evaluate information, helping with assignments and projects. That seemed to make the connection.

Because many stereotypes were brought up, I shared this slide of: What Librarians Do that I grabbed from the library at Otis College of Art and Design. Side note: when searching for images of “what people think a librarian does” most search results include the “sexy/naughty librarian” stereotype which may not be appropriate for all age levels. That’s why I liked this image and felt it perfectly encapsulated what librarians do for a high school audience.

"The librarian...What we actually do." Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library

“The librarian…What we actually do.” Image source: Otis College of Art and Design Library.

What I do

Then I touched upon a few of things I do…

I mentioned that everything I do relates back to “stuff” (inspired by a keynote talk from Amy Buckland at the Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference).

What I do as a librarian...

What I do as a librarian…

And to do what I do, I only briefly mentioned educational requirements (yeah, yeah master’s degree)…but more importantly stressed QUALITIES you need: namely curiosity and helpfulness.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Curiosity and helpfulness: good qualities to be a librarian.

Then I segued into a few specific things that might surprise them:

Teaching & Research Assistance

I shared a few examples of research questions that the librarians have helped students with this semester, emphasizing that at a small university the librarians have to know a little bit about a lot things. The takeaway being: It’s OK to ask for help!

Teaching and research assistance

Teaching and research assistance


I briefly discussed books. Yes, books are still important, but they are not our only resource. We have books, e-books, and articles you can access online! To give the students a sense of history, I grabbed the library’s oldest book from Special Collections: a book about ecclesiastical law in Great Britain, published in 1604.

A really old book...1604.

A really old book…1604.

Showing the book to students, I asked:

When do you think this book was published?

Some guessed 1800s, some even said 1900! Nope, 1604! Students thought it was cool to see such an old book. It also helped reinforce the library’s mission: Collecting and providing information, regardless of what the format or delivery method may be.

3D Printing

Then I switched to something a bit more new: 3D printing. I ran through a quick explanation and demo of the 3D printer and let the students pick out something to be printed: In this case, a smiley face. I explained what our faculty and students use it for (science models, action figures, home decor, mechanical pieces) and why it belongs in the library (a place to collaborate and experiment!).

3D printing a smiley face.

3D printing a smiley face.

Because I wanted a free little giveaway, before the session I had printed enough small 3D items (smiley face, Pokemon “squirtle”, Ultimaker robot, Coffin’s cube, #MakeItHappen bracelets, and heart-shaped jewelry) to hand one out to each student.


Lastly, I discussed events that the library hosts: a party to welcome freshmen to campus, therapy dogs during Final Exams, etc… to give students a sense at how social the library is.

Library events...

Library events…

And that’s where we had some more interactive fun… I mentioned about hosting a Nerf tag event and that I needed to check to see if all of the library’s Nerf equipment was still in good working order. I asked:

Would you like to help me test of out the Nerf tag equipment? 

A resounding “YES!” So we had a few moments of Nerf tag in the classroom.


Then I wrapped up with a quick tour of the library and a short reflective exercise:

  • Name one thing you learned about?
  • What was something that surprised you?
  • What do you think about librarians now?

Forgoing the usual, “these are my duties as a librarian” lecture, I focused more on some of the fun, creative, tech stuff, and research activities that I get to participate in. It was less about me, and more about the library. Combining this with some interactive exercises made for a fun experience with these students. No one is going to decide to become a librarian (nor should they at this point), but hopefully they all left feeling that the library is a fun, dynamic, and helpful place.

Children’s Books that Presidential Candidates Need to Read

Children’s books aren’t immune to politics. Many deal with issues that children need to learn about. The Lorax is a good example as a modern fable for protecting the environment. Other books have a left/right divide: In If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is it better to be generous, or are we just “enabling”? Evidently it has generated political discussion.

I was doing some work in our Curriculum Materials Collection, when I pulled this book off the shelf:

The Chickens Build a Wall, by Jean-Francois Dumont. Translated into English and published by Eerdmans in 2013, Dumont tells the story of hedgehog that appeares in the barnyard. Chickens, under the leadership of the rooster, decide to build a wall to keep out other “foreign” and unknown things.

As a read this, I immediately thought of the U.S. presidential campaign–and one candidate in particular, Donald Trump. Then I thought, what about if I assigned children’s books to each of the major presidential candidates?

Here’s my take on it. Some of it humorous, some serious.

Donald Trump, please read:


The Chickens Build a Wall – written and illustrated by Jean-Francois Dumont
Summary: Chicken freak out over an hedgehog. Decide to build a wall.
Why?: Incendiary rhetoric from the candidate.
Lesson: Don’t be xenophobic.


My Mouth is a Volcano – written by Julia Cook, illustrated by Carrie Hartman
Summary: A children’s lesson on not interrupting.
Why?: Candidate never seems to stop talking.
Lesson: Respect others; listen, don’t interrupt.

Hillary Clinton, please read:


Waiting is Not Easy – by Mo Willems
Lesson: Sometimes you just have to wait.
Why?: Candidate was presumed front-runner in 2008. Presumed front-runner in 2016.
Lesson: Duh. Waiting is not easy!


Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib – by Darren Farrell
Summary: A little fib can really escalate.
Why?: Candidate could solve a lot of political and personal issues by simply being truthful and transparent.
Lesson: Honesty is the best policy.

Bernie Sanders, please read:


The Chocolate War – by Robert Cormier
Summary: The pressure one can face when not conforming.
Why?: Candidate stays true to his convictions, but can he compromise when needed to get things done?
Lesson: Taking on the establishment doesn’t always pan out.


The Promise – written by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Laura Carlin
Summary: Young girl snatches an old woman’s purse. The woman asks her to keep a promise of what’s inside. The girl doesn’t find money, but acorns.
Why?: Candidate promises a lot. Results are not often immediate.
Lesson: Deeds, not words.

Ted Cruz, please read:


Charlotte’s Web – written by E.B. White
Summary: Unlikely barnyard friends.
Why?: Patrol Muslim communities? Dissing single moms? Candidate has a serious “empathy” deficit.
Lesson: Be a friend, not a foe.


Each Kindness – written by Jacqueline Woodson
Summary: Rarely do you get a second chance at kindness. So be kind from the start.
Why?: Candidate’s rhetoric seems overly mean.
Lesson: Your actions influence others. Don’t be a bully.

Need more suggestions on children’s books that teach life lessons? Check out:

Working with Students on the Autism Spectrum in an Academic Library

I don’t want to give away too much information on this situation, so I’m changing a few of the things to protect privacy, but here goes…

I was facilitating an information literacy session for a class–a typical first-year gen ed course. My usual plan incorporates a hands-on activity (research worksheet) where students, working in groups, find different information sources on their class topic (books, ebooks, streaming films, newspapers/magazines, scholarly articles). After searching, each group shares how they found the information with their classmates. In total, the session incorporates multiple learning styles (visual, aural, and tactile).

Instead of me doing the talking, I outline what we want to accomplish during the session and point out a couple of things on the library website. Then I let the groups start their work. I walk around and visit each group to make sure they are headed in the right direction.

A group was struggling in interactions with one of their classmates.

  • A student kept asking me question after question. I love when students ask questions in info lit sessions (yes!), but the student was bogged down in technical minutiae — missing the forest through the trees — that sort of thing.
  • The student fixated on answering each question on the research worksheet and was taking very little input from other group members.
  • The student argued with the other students about the answers. The student was concerned that there were multiple avenues for determining a “correct” answer.
  • The student was verbally critical in a raised voice when help was offered to the group (e.g., “Why didn’t you show us how to do this AT THE BEGINNING!”).
  • The student also seemed sidetracked with the settings on the library laptops that were being used by the students.

I realized I *likely* (granted, just an inference on my part) had a student on the autism spectrum in class. No formal indication was communicated to me–nor should it–that is up to the individual. In typical “pro” librarian style, you just need to roll with the situation and be flexible.

My Reaction
As this was happening, I made a mental note to remain calm and supportive. The last thing I want to do to any student is be dismissive, curt, or yell back.

I focused on providing a little more in-depth step-by-step instruction with the student (e.g., “Let’s take a look at your question and see what we can find out.”). However, I did feel like I got behind schedule and the rest of the students were waiting for us to catch up–some were noticeably annoyed. It’s a difficult balancing act that we will see more of at the higher ed level.

I wish I could have facilitated the session more smoothly. I’d be interested in hearing tips and techniques from other librarians. 

Things to Keep in Mind
Individuals on the autism spectrum are all unique, but there are a few general tips to be aware of in regards to the library and information literacy:

  1. Meeting in a new location (like the Library Classroom) may disrupt the student’s routine.
  2. My “there are many ways to find the answer” research worksheet may not be structured enough for someone on the autism spectrum. I could have supplemented it by outlining a step-by-step research strategy on the chalkboard/whiteboard.
  3. Technology in the Library Classroom could be distracting or contribute to sensory overload (I typically use both laptops and touchscreen technology with students).
  4. I usually require students to work in pairs or groups for the research worksheet activity, but should recognize that if a student wishes to work independently, that is an OK option.
  5. Emphasize additional services:
    • Appointments to meet with a librarian if that’s what the student is interested in.
    • Online tutorials and the library’s online chat box that can be accessed from the comfort of home/dorm room, etc… if a face-to-face interaction is not preferred.
    • Quiet spaces are available in the library if that’s the type of space that the student is interested in utilizing.
  6. As a librarian/higher ed professional, I will readily admit to not having a lot of training in the area of working with students on the autism spectrum. Contact your university’s office of disability services to see what further support the library could provide, or to arrange for staff training opportunities.
  7. Remember, *all* students learn differently. Keep in mind the principles of Universal Design for Learning.

Further Reading


Washington DC: Library of Congress

From my travel blog: One of those times when travel and my profession intersect — a visit to the Library of Congress in Washington DC!

Travel on the Side

Arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in Washington DC is the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson building, located across from the US Capitol and next to the Supreme Court.

I was in Washington, DC for a short trip–I had been once in elementary school and once in high school–but neither time had I been to the Library. Now as a librarian, I had to rectify that with a visit!

The Library of Congress functions as the de facto national library of the United States, although its main mission is to serve as a research library for the US Congress. It also serves as the legal deposit for materials published in the United States.

Originally housed in the US Capitol building, the expanding collection of the Library of Congress moved to what is now known as the Thomas Jefferson building in 1897–built specifically for the library.

The Thomas Jefferson building

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A Meandering Post About Starting My 2nd Masters

Haven’t posted in awhile…time, time, time…you’ll see why below…

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 5.45.43 PM

When I started my first academic librarian job in 2003, it was stressed upon me that I needed a 2nd master’s degree. Then that requirement was mysteriously dropped at my workplace. I happily slummed it for the next decade-plus with “just” my MLS (my high school-educated parents were damn proud of that master’s degree…even more so than me).

Unlike some people with a detailed career plan, I’ve meandered from here to there–mostly focused on the position and location.

I’ve never worked at a research institution, nor have I been an in-depth subject expert. My bachelor’s degree is in history, but that was an afterthought and I don’t feel any strong connection to it. So for my interests (YMMV!), the 2nd master’s didn’t matter as much. Never had any academic librarians question it career-wise, but I’m sure I avoided any institutions where a 2nd master’s was required.

However, in the back of my mind, I thought: If the right opportunity would present itself, I would go back and earn that 2nd master’s. But I had a couple of big stipulations:

  1. The degree needed to be in a field that interested me.
  2. I wasn’t willing to pay tuition or take out loans.

For the people who say “you can’t put a price on educationUmm, yes, you can. It’s called your tuition bill. Despite working in higher ed, I had never worked at an institution that offered tuition remission to employees for grad programs.

Now at my current workplace, I have that opportunity and I’m taking advantage of it. I’ve started a master of education in adult and continuing education.

Since becoming a librarian, my specialty has been in information literacy: How do students seek and evaluate information? How do students learn? What barriers prevent them from learning? I also watch students make that transition from high school to college (and become adults in the process)–not to mention non-traditional students with their diverse needs. All of this is a good match for adult and continuing education.

So I’m back in class…formally. First time since 2002 when there was no Facebook, YouTube, or smartphones. I will admit to being intimidated. Do students still take notes on paper? Do I bring my iPad? The answer is yes to both questions.

This semester, I’m taking 2 classes: “Foundations of Adult Education” and “Teaching and Learning Across the Lifespan.” Because this is an education program, the focus has been PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE, whereas I felt my MLS focused on CONTENT, CONTENT, CONTENT. In my mind, librarianship should ultimately be the merger of the two.

Thinking back, as someone who has always been a public-facing librarian, I wish I had had more content on educational theory, instructional techniques, group dynamics, and organizational leadership–something that went beyond the two basic classes I took in library school: “Education of Information Users” and “Management and Administration of Libraries.” Although I’ve always kept up professional development-wise: reading articles, attending & presenting at conferences, participating in webinars – I feel like my M.Ed. program is helping to fill in some holes I had. And the course materials? I knew it was good stuff when I saw “information literacy” being bandied about early on in one of my textbooks. Music to my ears!

So I’m going to see if they can teach an old dog new tricks (research says yes, by the way🙂 ). As a result, I may not be posting here as regularly as I had in the past. Time to hit the books!