Meh on ALA?

This is the first of two posts about the American Library Association. The next post – scheduled for next week – will discuss the costs of membership in the organization.

I took this photo at ALA Midwinter in Dallas - 2012.

I took this photo at ALA Midwinter in Dallas – 2012.

The first thing I need to admit: I’m not the best of ALA members. Well, it’s not that I’m bad…it’s just that I’m sometimes not a member.

My ALA Track Record
I started out my career 12 years ago with so much idealism that I’m pretty sure I made the other veteran librarians sick. I felt like you *had* to belong to ALA to be a good librarian. I don’t anymore. There are many ways to contribute in your own community, in your state and region, or even with your own initiatives that can all fall outside of ALA.

I then moved to being a member of ALA for one year and then not renewing the next. One year on…one year off. Repeat cycle. On the “on” years, I might attend a conference.

Then the institution I was working at re-did its evaluation process for librarians, placing a greater emphasis on “service to the profession” (something I was not opposed to by the way–it’s a good thing). So then it was back into ALA for several years where I did some committee work and tried to find places where I belonged inside the myriad divisions, roundtables, etc…–which I wasn’t always successful at doing.

Now at my current job, professional service is encouraged, but not required. We have 6 full-time librarians. This year, besides me, only one other librarian belongs to ALA–but we all do the encouraged “service to the profession” stuff. The last few years I’ve done more with my state association, so I’ve gone back to being the “occasional” ALA member.

The Hard Part
I’m not exactly sure what would get me to be a continuous member. Cheaper membership? Well, that’s a given…but I know that’s not happening. I’ll talk more about that in my next post. Side note: Where are these seemingly “mythical” libraries that pay for their employees’ memberships? Never worked at one.

It’s not that I don’t like ALA. They work on big and important initiatives and they have a dedicated and hardworking staff. However, sometimes I feel like there is this disconnect: it is the American LIBRARY Association after all, and not the American LIBRARIAN Association. Disagree if you’d like.

And yep…You get what you put into your membership: I’m not serving on committees now. And I know I don’t have the patience for deliberative bodies like ALA Council (vitally important, just not my cup o’ noodles).

My only connection is through the twice weekly email newsletters and notifications about expensive workshops my library cannot afford. Heck, I don’t even need to be a member to follow association news–I can track it on Twitter. I can also get helpful open-access articles (like C&RL News, etc) for free. During conferences, you can follow posts on Twitter (check out the #alamw15 hashtag) – as one of the #alaleftbehind.

So with 50,000 members, most of whom don’t serve on committees or even attend conferences, I guess my question is: What’s keeping them as members? Is it general goodwill?

My ALA membership will be coming up for renewal. It will probably be an “off” year for me. Maybe even several years. I’ll re-up at some point. I hate to think I have a deficit of goodwill–but that alone won’t make me renew my membership. And I’m not jaded about the profession either: I enjoy my current job. It’s both creative and technical, collaborative and independent, with a lot of variety. I guess I just feel like I don’t have a need to belong to ALA. Is that bad? I dunno. But I still feel like a heel.

 

A Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights

Let’s face it: Job hunting is a grind. Oftentimes a soul-sucking grind. But once you get that invitation to interview, you feel great. Here is where the library, as the hiring organization, needs to put its best foot forward and make the experience for job candidates a positive one.

I’m not mollycoddling here. This isn’t about bringing your mom or dad to an interview (please don’t!) or sending the interview questions to the interviewee in advance (umm, no…I want to see how you think on your feet!). This is about having a set of protocols, a little common sense, and some human decency.

Below are ten tips that I’m calling the Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights that should be afforded to all job candidates.

1. The library will give you lead time in preparing a presentation
Many job candidates are required to give a presentation (short lecture, teaching demo, storytime, etc.) at an interview. When the offer to interview is extended, please provide the topic (or if it’s “open-ended” then say so) and the time limit of the presentation. A couple of times when interviewing, I was given a topic only 2-3 days in advance. Give people time to prepare!

2. The library will give you a schedule
When inviting a job candidate to interview, send them the schedule in advance (even if it’s a draft schedule at first). Include the names (or groups) of the people they will be meeting with and the length of time for each meeting.

3. The library will plan a humane schedule
This relates to #1 and #2. Can we not schedule a presentation immediately after lunch? There’s nothing like trying to eat a meal knowing that you’re going to have to give the “show of your life” immediately thereafter. I know it’s hard to get people together to watch a presentation, but I always appreciated it when these things are scheduled before lunch.

4. The library will provide reimbursements
What is reimbursable? Be upfront with job candidates. For overnight stays, is the library booking the hotel? For long distance visits, is the library booking transportation? Or is this the responsibility of the job candidate? What about things like gas mileage or airport parking? Provide a list of what will be covered. Remind the job candidate to bring along (or send) any applicable receipts.

5. The library will provide info on hotels/dining
Related to #4. If it’s an overnight visit, where is the job candidate staying? I remember being dropped off at a hotel by a potential future co-worker in the middle of nowhere. I was on my own for dinner. No car. Nothing walkable. The only thing I could get was a pizza delivered. Some welcome! Invite the job candidate out to dinner. Beforehand, give job candidates a few options for dinner (may have dietary restrictions) and let them pick.

6. The library will give you salary info
I know many institutions (or more likely the library’s parent organization) do not post salaries in job ads, but please provide this info during the interview day whether it’s the minimum salary, a salary range, etc. I know there will be some that will say, “well then the job candidate can’t negotiate if the salary is on the table!” Well…this isn’t the business world and the ability to negotiate for several thousands of dollars generally does not apply to most library positions. So be upfront!

7. The library will be prepared
The job candidate is prepared for the interview day. The library staff should be prepared to interview the job candidate. Have notes in order and questions to ask. Also KNOW which person is being interviewed and don’t call the person by another job candidate’s name.

8. The library will have a good attitude
Yes, the library might be interviewing 3 or 4 people in a row. At least act like this is a fresh and new experience and not a chore to get through.

9. The library will keep matters confidential
Example: If the job candidate marked “you may not contact my current supervisor” on HR forms, then the library needs to follow it! This happened to me. After marking the form to not contact my current supervisor, the library director then asked to contact my supervisor. I had 3 good references (my immediate former supervisor at my workplace, a current co-worker, and a former co-worker). I said no. I didn’t want my supervisor to know I was looking for greener pastures. It was an awkward situation.

10. The library will provide a follow-up in a timely manner
Make sure candidates know the length for the decision-making process. Also ask job candidates how they prefer to be notified (phone, email). I know from an HR standpoint, many things cannot be disclosed. However, you can still say “the library is in the decision-making stage and you can expect to hear from us within the month” or whatever. Once I didn’t receive a “this position has been filled” letter until 6 months after the interview! We can do better.

What else would you add? Leave a comment!

You’ve Come Along Way Baby? Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Picture Books

I’ve been doing a shifting project in the curriculum/children’s lit collection I manage at my academic library.

Every now and then I come across a little “gem” like this: I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl – written by Whitney Darrow, Jr. and published in 1970.

What’s it about? It goes through a series of things boys do vs. what girls do. Here are a few screen shots:

I'm Glad I'm a Boy! I'm Glad I'm a Girl

I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl

Boys are doctors. Girls are nurses.

Boys are doctors. Girls are nurses.

Boys are policemen. Girls are metermaids.

Boys are policemen. Girls are metermaids.

Boys can eat. Girls can cook.

Boys can eat. Girls can cook.

Boys fix things. Girls need things fixed.

Boys fix things. Girls need things fixed.

Boys invent things. Girls use what boys invent.

Boys invent things. Girls use what boys invent.

I'm glad you're a girl! I'm glad you're a boy!

I’m glad you’re a girl! I’m glad you’re a boy!

We need each other.

We need each other.

Have you fallen out of your seat yet? Turns out this has been a popular little book. Brain Pickings provides an excellent overview, as does Bustle. So it this “for real”? Well…the author, Whitney Darrow, Jr., was a satirical cartoonist for The New Yorker, so *probably* not.

I tried locating reviews from the time period, but hit the wall with the usual ownership v. access problem with libraries (Most of our print indexes, bound volumes, and microfilm are gone. Our full-text access for what we have doesn’t go back far enough for the usual book review sources). I did a search in the Google Newspaper Archive and came across an article that was published in a series of newspapers in 1974: Children’s Book Changes Proceed – which discusses sexism in children’s literature.

A more recent take, “Planning Literacy Environments for Diverse Preschoolers” (Young Exceptional Children, 15(3), 2012) appears to take the book at face value and labels it as blatantly sexist.

Gender Stereotyping in Children’s Picture Books:

So is I’m Glad I’m a Boy! I’m Glad I’m a Girl! staying in the collection of my academic library? Yes. A lot of the education classes discuss gender stereotyping. Even as satire, this can be a useful tool (see Teaching Children’s Literature: It’s Critical). Does it belong in the children’s collection of a public library? Probably not. What do you think?

Escape to Your Happy Place: De-Stressing on the Job

According to Forbes (and hey, aren’t they just “experts” on libraries!), librarian is #8 on the list of “Least Stressful Jobs of 2014” (info via CareerCast).

Well, who can blame them? We just read books all day, don’t we? Ummmm, no.

Hmm…Guess they’re not dealing with budget cuts, anti-tax crusaders, soiled diapers on the story time floor, skyrocketing e-journal costs, new information literacy standards, and irate patrons.

I count myself as one of the lucky ones. As primarily an instruction/reference librarian in an academic library, I’m usually not the one that has to lobby campus administration or deal with library fines. But frustration and stress can still bubble over: never-ending meetings, red tape, lack of resources, that thorn-in-your-side [patron, co-worker, professor, student…fill in the blank], the constant “do more with less” mantra, or worse yet…a toxic work environment.

Although it’s no “cure all,” sometimes you need to take a minute to de-stress, relax, or have a laugh. Escape to your happy place for a bit. Here are a few things I like to do:

1. Take a walk
Get up from your desk! Leave the building. Breathe in some fresh air. Librarians (for the most part) sit too much and that’s not good for your health.

Step outdoors of my library and there’s a beautiful college campus.

Step outdoors of my library and there’s a beautiful college campus.

2. Karma Cleanser
I guess this would count as “aromatherapy“? At one library I used to work at, we kept a bottle of some sort of herbal spray. Everyone called it “Karma Cleanser.” After a bad patron encounter, we would spray it around the desk to “take the ick away.” It smelled good and made us feel better. Also gave us a little laugh.

3. Live Vicariously
As a faithful public servant, you often have to bite your tongue. But what if you didn’t? There are times when I wish I could yell and shout like Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm. Watching a YouTube video of her “best of” moments puts me in a good mood. Warning: NSFW (crude language, body shaming, etc… the usual Curb stuff).

 

4. Relaxing Photos
Are you following the U.S. Department of the Interior on Instagram? You should be. Mountain vistas, beautiful valleys, ocean views…You’ll be transported to a peaceful environment, if for a few seconds.

U.S. Department of the Interior on Instagram

U.S. Department of the Interior on Instagram

5. Cute Animals
Not ashamed to admit it: When I need cheering up, a cute animal will do. My go to sites are Buzzfeed Animals, Cute Overload, and Attack of the Cute among others.

homearly

What tips do you have? Feel free to share!

My co-worker's stress ball collection. She handles library fines.

My co-worker’s stress ball collection. She handles library fines.

 

Update: My Rant on Little Free Libraries

When I wrote my rant about Little Free Libraries, you would have thought I was criticizing apple pie and baseball. For the record, I love apple pie but can’t stand baseball (the game is long and my attention span is not). I was called everything from an “elitist prick” to a child hater to being against literacy.

Do I stand by my thoughts on Little Free Libraries?…for the most part. But here are a few points I want to refine.

1. Engagement with Your Local Public Library
If people spent the amount of time they devote to Little Free Libraries and used that time to lobby for their local public libraries, THAT would be a good thing. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but citizen action is good.

2. Library “Deserts”
You’ve heard of “food deserts“? The same thing applies to people who live in urban and rural areas that don’t have easy access to a public library. This is an opportunity for public libraries to partner with groups to sponsor Little Free Libraries with materials that people in those communities would be interested (e.g., let’s NOT go down to the local used “book barn” and pick up dusty copies of all old books) in reading.

3. Go Where Needed
This is related to above. If public libraries don’t want to partner on this, then think about where your LFL might be most needed. I’ll be blunt (warning: mini-rant ahead!): I get that you like to read. And you want to put something cute in your front yard. But ask yourself this: If you live in a predominantly homogenous, middle to upper class neighborhood with low unemployment, good schools, and easy access to a library, is your LFL helping that many people out? Why not partner with people in other neighborhoods who might benefit more? Step out of your comfort zone.

4. But I Still Want a Little Free Library!
No one is stopping you (for the most part; see below). But instead of just throwing a bunch of books in the box (which is mostly the depressing feel I get when I visit one), think about what might interest people in your neighborhood. Or maybe do a “theme” LFL and promote in your city. Maybe you can be the LFL for sci-fi or fantasy YA lit or Christian lit in your community.

5. Tear Down this LFL? No.
Should a 9-year old boy have to beg city council to keep his Little Free Library open? No, of course not! I’m generally a “reliable liberal” (or whatever that category was on the Pew survey). However, when it comes to my property, I take a decidedly libertarian bent. Put up all the LFLs on your property that you want!

So yeah, Little Free Libraries are fun. They can create excitement and collaboration in the community. It’s just not a catch-all solution to things like access and funding of brick-and-mortar libraries and the services they provide. And they shouldn’t be. They’re a different animal.

 

 

“Why the hell would I want to leave the library?” – The Library on “Orange is the New Black”

Oh Orange is the New Black: why do you release all of your episodes in the summer?

I will stay indoors on a perfectly beautiful summer weekend and watch all of the episodes. Last year I binge watched season one of the hit Netflix series. Now I’m doing the same with season two. Whether it can be true to “real” prison life is up for debate. What is does have is good writing, great acting, and a showcase for actresses that are unfortunately not often featured in mainstream Hollywood roles.

Naturally, as a librarian, I’ve been tied to some of the scenes involving the prison library and reading. There’s a Tumblr devoted to the books shown in various scenes–even Buzzfeed and Entertainment Weekly have picked up on it.

On the series, the characters Taystee and Poussey, two of my favorites, are shown working in the prison library–usually shelving books.

Taystee and Poussey in the prison library - Orange is the New Black

Taystee and Poussey in the prison library – Orange is the New Black

Taystee loves Harry Potter. Hates Ulysses. I could picture her delivering great “story times” in a library. Poussey strikes me as more of an academic–possibly using a research library to write her own treatise on literature, music, or post Cold War Germany.

Is it sad I want a subplot where either Taystee or Poussey decide to pursue a MLS degree?

Occasionally, as a librarian, you’ll find some “errors” with the prison library. In the screen cap below (featuring Daya and Bennett), you’ll see that the Dewey call number signs don’t reference which *side* of the shelf the call number range falls on. Is Is “550-559″ on the left side or right side? Or do I walk down the row and continue around? Quibble, quibble.

Daya & Bennett in the prison library

Daya & Bennett in the prison library

In season two (mild spoiler ahead), the villainous Vee (shown below on the right) recruits Taystee (on the left) to give up her library job to start selling contraband tobacco.

Taystee responds:

Why the hell would I want to leave the library? It’s the best job here!

Vee counters:

Books do not pay the rent. Books do not ‘bourguignon’ the beef.

And there you have it – summed up in one exchange – everything you need to know about library work. It’s a great job, but not always the most lucrative of careers.

Who knew you’d end up getting library career lessons from Orange is the New Black?

Library Wisdom from Taystee and Vee - Orange is the New Black

Library Wisdom from Taystee and Vee – Orange is the New Black

A Little Rant on Little Free Libraries (aka probably an unpopular post)

Update to my post – 16 July 2014

Within a two mile radius of my little corner of Brookfield, Wisconsin there are four Little Free Libraries. I like the concept: People sharing books. People creating a collection. People encouraging reading. Targeting under-served areas/people. Those are good things. But it’s not a library. And I feel guilty and elitist for saying it. I mean, how could you not love this?

little free libraries. A Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr user davidsilver: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/11783413894/

little free libraries. A Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr user davidsilver: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/11783413894/

There are, of course, benefits to the little free libraries movement. Lane Wilkinson discusses this in his What can we learn from DIY libraries post and Tara Murray writes about it in her post, Truly DIY Libraries.

Do I feel like a little free library is seriously encroaching on a “real” library’s mission and objectives? No.

But here’s what I do worry about: the general public’s perception and the lumping together of little free libraries and actual “real” public libraries.

“Hey look, any volunteer can create a library!”

“Why do we need trained professionals when an 17-year old Eagle Scout has put together such a nice library?”

“Why do we need our tax money to go to something that can be done for FREE?”

“With these Little Free Libraries, we can just cut grants to libraries and use that money elsewhere.” (oh wait, that’s already being proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan.)

A library is not a wooden box. Above all, a library is:

  • a place both physical and virtual
  • a place to get help
  • a place to get information
  • a place to collaborate
  • a place to learn
  • a place to socialize

A handcrafted box of books – no matter how lovely (and many are!) – is not a library. It’s an open bookdrop. A library is more than just that.