Tag Archives: staff

Winter: Stuff and Things

For me and many of my colleagues, the winter months are dominated by One Book One Town – I’ve been a co-chair of our community reading initiative for eight of the past 10 years and as it’s our big anniversary season, things have been extra-intense in the best way. We have chosen two titles (Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston) to celebrate the power of reading and the primacy of story in our culture and lives. Our signature event, where we bring our author to town, has been postponed due to Snowpocalypse Stella (currently beating a military tattoo of hail on the roof of my apartment) so this OBOT is going to stretch on a bit longer than normal.

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Overused, but whatever, it’s how the Northeast feels today

But teen events and outreach and other duties continue, so the winter seems to pass in a blaze of activity, speeding away from me and leaving little time to write. So here is a quick update. I hope to go back and detail most of this stuff, but, like my television-watching habits, there tends to only be time to move forward and never a chance to go back and pick up what I have missed. (For example, I know I’d love Battlestar Galactica. I know it is never going to happen.)

Anyway:

Our winter sessions of the Getting Ready for College series kicked off with our annual Summer Jumpstart event (about courses, camps, internships and other things to do during those hazy days that help students stand out during the super-stressful admissions season), presented by one of our high school Career and College counselors, Alice. She’s one of my favorite people in town, a frequent program-planning partner and a great ally in spreading the word about library services to teens and parents. We run 4-5 GRFC sessions each season on all sorts of ‘post-high school/college-bound’ topics  and while they tend to be ‘adult-heavy’ in terms of attendance (even the test prep ones, which will always bewilder me…) this one had about an even split between teens arriving independently and adults. Like all our speakers in this series, Alice presents her work pro bono, sharing her expertise with the community for free and helping those who might be unable to afford or access the ‘college-counselor-for-hire’ market and the essential information it provides to navigate this increasingly complicated process.

Just a few days after our awesome all-ages Hamilton event, I once again collaborated with our local University, this time with a teaching librarian, Matthew, for an all-ages take on the ‘Fake News’ phenomenon. It was another wonderful extension of a community partnership I’ve been nurturing for some time, since we see a lot of college students at our public library, particularly around exam times. We set a fast-paced program called ‘Trust or Truthiness,’ where we addressed some of the underlying psychology of how ‘alternative facts’ can spread (confirmation biases and the anchoring effect), who benefits from false information, why it’s important to seek out and find the sources which both present the news you need which strive to do so in a professional, verifiable fashion, and how to spot clickbait, with video tutorials from the wonderful Checkology curriculum by the News Literarcy Project. Matthew and I made a great team, passing the ‘presentational baton’ easily between each other, and attendees, which included teens, teachers and adults, had very positive reactions (though some adults were slightly put-out that we wouldn’t just ‘tell them what to look at’ in terms of ‘good news sites.’ We continually stressed that being a participant in a democracy means that we, as citizens, are going to have to do a little work for it now and then) so we know it was a success. I’ve been advocating for more of these ‘mixed’ programs for teens and adults together so I’m glad to have another great example of how engaged young people can bring their intellect, experience, and perspective to the community conversation. Our library is just getting started on this topic and I feel like we can’t address it, or highlight the library’s role in combating it, enough.

Our third Escape Room series was also a huge success…so far. We lost two days of sessions due to snow. I accept that I brought this upon myself when I designed an original game called ‘Escape the Arctic’ for a February run. I kind of adore some of the new puzzles I created for this game, and I’ll certainly write more about them once it is all well and truly done. One of the highlights of this third new game was that I was able to invite local librarians to come and play, creating a nice impromptu workshop on game design, which was valuable for me, with more conference presentations and teaching gigs at the State Library planned for 2017. We are going to run make-up sessions for the registered families and teens who lost their time due to the bad weather (of course, as I write this, it is blizzarding outside, with more snow to come on Sunday.) I have promised that next Winter’s session will be some variation on the theme of ‘Escape the Tropics.’

My favorite moment of the games thus far: A player yelling at his team that someone lost a key…that was in his hand. We’ve all been there, friend!

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A nice thing: I was featured in our local paper due to the continued popularity of the Escape Room manual. (I need to edit/refine that…someday…soon.)

Our monthly Service Saturday drop-in volunteer program continues. We are just about through the super-intense ‘confirmation season’ where teens who need hours for their religious obligations flood the library. We hit an all-time high of 28 individual volunteers in one six-hour day. Last year we furnished over 500 hours to local teens and we are on-track to crush that previous record. This is one of the most essential services (no pun intended) that we provide our teen community, and while it leaves me with not a drop of energy at the end of the day, I’m proud that our library can be responsive to the needs of young people. And it just keeps growing…

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Action shot of Service Saturday

Our first big One Book One Town program was the revival of an oldie-but-goodie: Reader’s Theatre! (I love getting to dredge up those old stage skills from my college days.) We’ve done several of these based on previous OBOT titles but this time it was different: An experiential show where the audience toured the library, encountering actors in different spots and nooks all around the building. We used A Child of Books as our jumping-off point, and each performer read a selection from a classic title featured in that amazing picture book or a beloved folktale. (I got to read my favorite, The Crane Wife.)

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I was violently ill that whole weekend, but it was still a dream come true. And feathers!

What made this Readers Theatre truly remarkable was the incredible set and prop design by one of our Children’s librarians, the astoundingly-talented Kristina (who is also the person who brought A Child of Books to OBOT for consideration, because she gets it. I’m so glad that she’s part of the committee.) I’m still in awe of the work she did to bring these stories to life in the most evocative ways. Our cast, made up of library staff, adult, and teen community members, all got to play their parts in the incredible landscapes Kristina not only created, but put up in the very short window of time between the library’s closing and the after-hours event. She’s a true marvel, that one. The family audience enjoyed the show and many learned some new stories from around the world along the way. It was a great kickoff to OBOT season and a dynamic celebration of a pitch-perfect picture book.

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For Alice’s Adventures…

What’s next? Working with one of our high schools to refine their ‘Summer Symposium’ program (which I will certainly be detailing soon, as it’s another incredible library/school collaboration), Jen’s ninth-annual Peeps diorama contest at our Branch Teen Center, at least two (maybe SIX?!) all-day-marathon book-talking/outreach sessions at the high schools, more Librarians on Loan visits to facilitate private book club discussions, GRFC sessions on test prep, admissions, financial planning and performing arts admissions, some with fantastic presenters I have been working with for eight years now (wow!), and Fandom Madness IV, with teens taking on even more responsibility in designing and executing this beloved event.

Oh, and the One Book One Town signature event with several hundred people at the University Arts Center.

Oh, and vacation…to SCOTLAND! Bucket list level stuff for me.

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The view from my back deck, about halfway through the storm

But really, what’s next is shoveling. All the shoveling.

UPDATE: How did I forget our third-annual How to Win Your Oscar Pool program! It’s one of my favorite non-teen programs of the year, where my colleague, the brilliant Philip and I ‘Siskel & Ebert’ our way through the year in film, sharing information on how to make predictions and giving our own opinions on what should win. I think I love it because we get to share our expertise (although this is relative, at least for me when co-presenting with our library A/V guru!) and passion and be all snarky for the audience, which really seems to get a kick out of it. This year was great fun, but not as contentious as usual because, for once, we were in agreement about the best film of the year…and well…what do you know…?!

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Just an excuse to feature Moonlight again…

 

OBOTery

When I talk about teen librarians, I often bring up the idea that we are ‘all-arounders’ – many of us have the skills to work all over the library and a working knowledge of other aspects of public librarianship in our buildings, so that we can better serve young people. On any given day I might help a high school student with research for a project, then turn around and provide readers advisory for a fourth-grader looking for more challenging books to read. (I have thoughts on that for some other time.) I love when I get to pitch in on other desks – I can’t walk past a ringing phone or a line of people waiting for assistance, so I usually find myself ‘jumping in’ several times a day.

A side effect of this is that my colleagues get to know what I do better, in terms of service to teens. (It also means if they know I’m around but not on the floor, when teens are mostly in school, they’ll track me down for RA or tech help. I love that too.) Anyone who works in a public library should have an idea of how to engage and assist anyone, of any age, they might encounter in the community. Advocating for the needs and rights of teens is one of the most important things I do in my job. For me, that means helping my colleagues understand what’s going on in my department and in teen culture, modeling good strategies for supporting young people and knowing that the needs of all patron groups have to be considerately balanced. (It’s my job to push for teens, but you can’t change hearts and minds if you’re a bulldozer who only sees the validity of your own personal perspective on public service, or anything, really.)

Being an ‘all-arounder’ means some of my ‘other duties as assigned’ lead me to work and projects throughout the library. I love this, too. I am currently the staff lead on our interdepartmental Collections team which has been tasked to assess and improve how we order, arrange, and display our materials, as part of our ongoing strategic plan. I have regular hours on the adult Reference desk. I create and lead programs for tweens, which is technically (but fuzzily) under the purview of our Children’s department, and every now and again I find myself presenting to adults (including discussions and classes on the history of and/or training in social media, my beloved ‘How to Pick Your Oscar Pool’ talking head/yelling match with our fantastic film librarian, and my upcoming History of LGBTQIA+ YA literature, which I should be working on right now. Yeah.)

My most favorite ‘other duty’, though, is co-chairing our community reading program, One Book One Town (or, OBOT.) In fact, it is one of my favorite work things, period.

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The goal of our version of this program is to get the town reading the same book at the same time, in the hopes of inspiring a community conversation. I’ve been privileged to be a part of OBOT since it began in 2006, and to have been helping to lead the initiative for eight of our ten years. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long but looking at that image of all of our past titles, I guess it really has been.

I can, and could, and might write more about our process on this blog in the future, but for now, I’ll keep it brief: We only pick contemporary books, published in the current calendar year (since we present our event in the winter months, that means our 2017 book would have been published in 2016) and we insist that the author or authors come to town and speak at our big ‘signature event.’ For most people in our community, our choices are surprises – they are not classics, best-sellers or book club favorites, although a few have gone on to be some or all of those things. Some of our titles are challenging. Some are downright confrontational in their content or point-of-view. The only thing they have in common is that they get people talking with family, friends, and neighbors, which is our ultimate goal.

My favorite thing about my favorite thing is that we don’t look at OBOT as a default adult event that sometimes includes young people, but as a community event. That means we are careful to make the program (if not always our book choices) accessible to as many people as possible in town. (Finding one book for literally everyone in a community is impossible. There is no such thing. Understanding this, we take a longer view: We choose something radically different in style, tone, genre and/or age range, than the years before. Eventually, over time, everyone will find a book ‘for them’ in the ever-growing pile of past OBOTs, or so we hope)

We’ve chosen some fantastic youth titles, and in the years our books have featured decidedly adult content, we’ve reached out to younger readers and their families with companion titles, school visits and programming on themes presented in the book. Also, we’ve never told anyone a book is not ‘for them,’ though we have suggested that parents read the book first to determine if the book should be shared with their kids.

Young people are (or should be) a valued and vibrant part of their communities and society as a whole. This is an easy idea to agree with, but it’s not always explicitly practiced. I will never be able to take a break from advocating vociferously (and judiciously, I hope) for teens in the library and in the town. This ‘fight’ will never be over. There will always be more people to convince and cajole. There will always be some who think young people have less intrinsic value than adults because they don’t pay taxes, because they don’t vote, because they are inexperienced, because they are (sometimes) emotional and (sometimes) changeable, because they aren’t worth spending time and/or resources on since they are about to leave the community anyway, because if ‘I survived my adolescence without (whatever)’ they can too…and on and on (These are all things that I have been told over the years.)

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Our ‘Whaaat?’ faces show what it feels like to run OBOT

For OBOT, I still sometimes have to remind people to keep our kid and teen readers in the picture – my fellow co-chairs (how have I not spoken about these two miraculous ladies yet! They are two of my favorite people on the planet. In addition to being consummate professionals, they are wonderful, patient friends. I know I take advantage of their grace, and I am grateful for their presence in my life in and out of work, daily.) and some of our team do so as a matter of course, but it will never be universally accepted by everyone. There will always be some people who consider a community project to be ‘for adults’ as a matter of course. Those of us who understand the power of including young people as equal participants in such things will have to keep on restating our case.

When people from other libraries ask about OBOT, or when we present on it, the best piece of advice I can give is to make sure you have a few youth services staffers involved in the selection process.  Of course, I’m biased here, but I think youth staff have an advantage, in certain ways, over ‘adult-stuff-only’ readers. When we select materials as part of our work duties, we evaluate content and formats that (mostly) are not meant to appeal primarily to us, as adults. We make determinations on quality and popularity using criteria outside of own idiosyncratic tastes. In my experience, I’ve found it can be challenging for some grown-ups to assess the strengths of works that are somewhere outside their own individual preferences. The best readers advisors and selectors can, of course, but not every librarian, and not every purchaser, has this ability. (I am convinced it can be learned and that is why reading and viewing widely is so important.) It’s something that, unless one is confronted by it in a situation like this or another group-based selection process, one might not really think  about.

Some people criticize youth books as reading ‘too juvenile’ or ‘too young’ for a community-wide choice. I find that to be an inarticulate (and irritating) way of dismissing titles, an assumed shorthand for ‘not good enough,’ an indication that they think books for youth need to clear some extremely high bar in terms of ‘quality’ (they must be revolutionary or utterly original, or  word-for-word, literarily perfect) to really be worthy of OBOT – metrics that are not consistent with those used to consider ‘adult’ titles. It is an assumption that adult stories are just naturally higher quality, merit more serious discussion, and automatically have more clout, or gravitas, or whatever. For them, ‘Adult’ is more estimable than ‘Youth.’ A lot of people feel this way and I completely understand why. It’s one of our society’s default postures, and it exists to such a degree that many people don’t pay attention to this very real bias against youth and ‘kid stuff.’ If they do notice, it feels innocuous enough to make my point of view read as obnoxious or overblown. 

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If you think ‘kid’ stuff doesn’t have the power to change your life…

I’m still (always) learning, but I have done my best to be a good ambassador for the concerns and interests of young people no matter where I go. I can’t help noting that our biggest successes – not just in terms of attendance or circulation, but the lasting positive effects of OBOTs-past – how readers talk about the  books and events for months and years after they end – happen when we choose inclusive books that young  people and families can share together. (The work of changing hearts and minds will never, ever be over. I’ve learned not to take it personally, but to always consider new methods and/or phraseology to help people understand where I’m coming from, and to meditate on the words of Dave Eggers:)

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Always this. It’s just the way it is. It’s okay. In fact, it’s amazing.

Last year’s OBOT was a dream: I nominated a book I knew the committee would never go for – I just wanted everyone to read it because it altered my perception of the world. It was wildly different than anything we’d ever looked at, let alone chosen. It was confrontational. It (on its surface, at least) would be more resonant with people who were not part of our established audiences, and it would definitely make some of our readers more than a little uncomfortable.

What did I know? I got to introduce Jon Ronson to the readers of Fairfield. It was one of the best days of my career.

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In a state of disbelief: He was right behind me, backstage. This was really happening!

(I often get to do the author introduction at our signature event. It’s nerve-wracking to spend the day racing to get ‘the show’ ready, only to turn and address a crowd of 600 or 700 people, wearing a fancy dress. But I love utilizing my theatrical background, not just in terms of performance but technical stuff like direction, lighting, and house management. See, Mom and Dad! It was a good decision to double-major!)

Our upcoming event is shaping up to be a dream as well, literally: For our tenth anniversary, we co-chairs (our fifth year doing this as a team) hoped to find an inclusive, celebratory book, specifically about REDACTED. We didn’t have a specific title in mind – it didn’t exactly exist, at least within of our parameter of extreme currency, but we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if…’ It was a long and stressful (and slightly anarchic) selection process where nothing leapt out at us. Then, right at the end of our usual timeline for making a choice, it appeared: Something that is pretty much exactly what we had dreamed of as we closed out last year’s event. As of this week, it looks like we’re just about set, so it’s on: OBOT10 in 2017.

Let’s go!

UPDATE: It’s Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston! Two Books One Town, with our first picture book as an ‘Official Selection’ and not a ‘companion’ title.