Reference Anxiety

Reference, to be quite frank, terrifies me. I hate not knowing the answer, and even more so trying to find information on a subject that I don’t fully understand. Every time I shadow on the reference desk it seems to go from empty to extremely busy and I inevitably end up flying by the seat of my pants.

However, when I think back to when I first started doing reader’s advisory work I felt much the same kind of anxiety. Any situation in which you’re helping someone who is [sometimes not-so] patiently waiting for an answer or a suggestion can be fraught with uncertainty and pressure – even more so when you feel you are not experienced or prepared enough to answer this question.

I have a decent amount of desk experience doing reader’s advisory and ready reference, and even some finding non-fiction resources, but almost always for children. Adults, however, know exactly what they are looking for (whether or not it’s something you have in the catalog) and can be very unforgiving about a lack of access to said resource. On top of this is the feeling that I am constantly in someone’s way or creating a more difficult situation for an employee to deal with than they otherwise would have had were I not present.

This also makes me very aware of the challenges faced by the staff when trying to combine two desks into one. While I may be there to specifically train for reference skills and learn how to be a better researcher, a large amount of the questions I’ve had to field (and forward on) are tech related. Of course, the patrons look at the Info desk and do not see any differentiation between job titles or expectations, nor do they realize I am intern. All they see is someone who is available to help them and all I see is someone who needs my help – and feeling like I am unable/unequipped to immediately and effectively do so is beyond frustrating to me.

At the end of today’s shadowing shift I feel completely overwhelmed, but I know this discomfort will allow me to grow and challenge myself to become more comfortable with an important skill for my profession.

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End of Year Wrap-Up

In a thought process that will surprise no one who has spent time with me, I was having a hard time wrapping up my semester – both for the blog, as well as for Lynnanne and my semester paper for Kate. I was feeling as if I hadn’t done very much, so I forced myself to make a list of the major things I would want to reflect upon for the end of this semester and calendar year.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend some excellent programs that have made me think about future programming ideas and shown me the myriad of program types the library offers. The ESL cafe and Career Action Group were both observational opportunities that really seemed to be making a serious individual difference to our patrons.

Skokie also provided me with some excellent opportunities to attend events outside of the library. Most notably the ILA Annual Conference in Peoria, but also a book discussion about The Leavers through the ARRT. I have now joined both ILA and ARRT and hope to further my involvement with both communities. Today I have also gotten to attend a book group meeting in the morning, discuss my observations about the differences between adult and children’s book groups with Lynnanne, and finalize and schedule my own book group meeting for April.

I have also gotten to learn more deeply about the library as a whole, attending a board meeting earlier this month, riding the bookmobile and attending the EDI training with Corie Wallace which was excellent and thought-provoking.

I have gotten the opportunity to do a lot of asynchronous Reader’s Advisory work through Bookmatch/Screenmatch and making lists (one of which was featured on the main Skokie website and shared by SPL on Facebook! A nerd dream come true). I have worked on data collection for a couple of different AS initiatives and helped assess some reference websites for art appraisal.

I have also learned a lot about what makes a meeting effective. I have been really struggling with a poorly organized committee at one of my jobs and it has really been calming to see that running a meeting is a skill that should be continuously re-examined and honed. Seeing Lynnanne come up with new ideas for use in the Adult Services meetings really embodies the idea of a growth mindset that is pervasive at SPL. These are also concepts that have been illustrated in the Innovation Spaces meetings I have gotten to attend, the Lunch & Learn sessions, and all of our Dominican-Skokie reflection sessions. Within these meetings, articles and concepts are often brought up and sent around to further provoke thought and discussion. Today’s Innovation Spaces meeting will include discussion of an article Mimosa brought up in a previous Innovation Spaces meeting.

I also was able to meet with the team I am working with for my next semester project and I am so excited to delve deeply into creating a Youth Services Bookmatch system. Working with such a talented group of people on this project will teach me a great deal and having to manage the timeline/meetings/etc as well will teach me powerful lessons in leadership and teamwork.

 

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Storytime, Storytime, Storytime

The amount of storytimes I have been able to perform just in this semester alone have taught me so much. They have taught me how to work a room, how to redirect children, how to adapt to any situation that might arise, and they have taught me a lot about myself. The way I handle situations, the way my mind works when I am in a state on uncertainty, how I navigate finding the right door at a school (I go to the wrong door a lot). Just being able to roll with it has been an important part of this position.

My mantra as a youth librarian is, “children will be children.” You can plan and you may have an idea of what is going to happen but children are unpredictable. They are curious and learning and they know how to keep you on your toes; which I think is what makes them so fun. My storytimes have been a lot of unpredictable moments and my reactions to situations have given myself a lot to reflect on. It has been hard to think of responses on the spot sometimes, trying to make them comprehensive for children while also trying to make them positive.

Some of my stortyime moments:

During my first preschool storytime and my last story, a child scooted all the way up from the back of rug and right up to the front of my feet. While in the middle of the story I feel my laces start to pull apart, without trying to lose much focus I slightly look down. The child that had scooted up towards my feet was untying my shoe laces and playing with them. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the situation but I knew the best thing to do was to stay focused and continue like nothing was happening. I kept on reading the story and he played with shoes up until the end, it was his way of listening and is now my favorite story to tell.

That child wasn’t the only who loved my shoes. I had another one do the same thing a week or so after that, so I have stopped wearing shoes with laces to storytines. However, not even a week after that choice, a child came up to my shoes during a story and just sat there and poked them the entire time. This was never something I had excepted, but they are moments of curiosity and is something I try not to disrupt if I can help it.

Children will also tell it like it is. One of the songs during my stortime is the “Baby Shark Song,” that all the kids know. To save time I cut out a few of the verses and very quickly learned that was NOT a good idea. For my first three storytimes I got called out for leaving out “grandpa shark” and “that’s the end.” I have learned, we do the full song now.

Every child is different, every class is different, every storytime is different. I have had children run up and take all my felt fish off the felt board while doing a rhyme. I have had children try to take away the shark puppet from me. I have children tell me they want no more songs. Children who have refused to stand up for songs, children who just want to talk, and children who want to do nothing at all. It has been amusing to navigate on all these situations and reflect on them later. Thinking of what I did in the moment and what I would do differently if the situation arose again.  Taking the time to come up with a script or action for all the different seniors.

I am also not in my own space which changes my reactions. I am going to different classrooms where the space is the teacher’s and I am just a guest. I would handle situations differently if I was in my own storytime room, or even if I was doing a storytime with parents involved. Each setting displays its own challenges, situations, and solutions. The space, classroom size, and teacher’s involvement all have an element into how situations are handled. In my storytime last week I asked the class if they were ready and the teacher jumped right in and said, “No we are not. We are waiting for (said child) to sit.” I followed the teachers instructions and did not start until she told me to. In other cases I have had teachers not get involved at all, leaving me to configure my role as an authority figure that the children will listen to as well.

The biggest challenge is not knowing how a situation is going to be until you are in it and teaching yourself to adjust and adapt to every moment as it comes. My storytime script as changed a lot. With every storytime I leave I have learned something new to add, change, or take away. I have obtained so much knowledge and valuable experience during the small amount of time I’ve been here and I can’t wait for more opportunities that will come in the upcoming semester. Being able to place myself right in the middle of the Skokie community has been overwhelmingly rewarding and has given me a whole knew outlook on early literacy.

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Thoughts on my time here so far…

It’s amazing to me that the first semester is almost over.  There have been so many ways that I have seen this place and the people who work here make a difference in patron’s lives.  The thoughtful programming that is offered, the personal interactions with patrons and the enthusiasm for the work that is done here is inspiring.  It’s so much fun to be sitting at the desk and watch young adults interact with the librarians that they’ve known since they attended story time, or parents come in and show pictures and tell stories of their kids that had been using the library their whole lives.  This semester I’ve had the chance to learn about many aspects of librarianship, from collection management to reader’s advisory to working with partners in the community to provide services.

Looking forward to next semester, I’d like to become more active in engaging with patrons through story times, helping to plan for the picture book reorganization project as well as by spending more time at the desk, which has been a tremendous learning experience.   I feel like the past few months have shown me how much I didn’t know about being a librarian, but also how much is possible in this field. There are so many opportunities to be creative and also to advocate for the things and people you care about.  I’m looking forward to the experiences that next semester will bring.

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The Meaning of Being Fearless

I received my first hug from one of the patrons in the JHZ today, so it feels like a fitting place to begin my final post of the semester. Between trying to learn everyone’s names and getting absolutely schooled in Uno by a group of vivacious girls (and lovely YA staff), the weeks have passed by without much pause.

I want to take a moment to truly celebrate the incredible people that work at Skokie Public Library. Being great at what you do and loving what you do are two entirely different things. Everyone that I have had the pleasure of encountering/working beside unequivocally fall into both categories.

Being a YA librarian is no easy feat. Day in and day out I see YA staff striving to spark the kinds of conversations and thoughtful dialog each young adult they interact with will carry weightlessly, but consciously, with them. I see them asking, seeking, and researching ways to help the patrons that are a little harder to reach. I see librarians being fearless, and I think that is a grand takeaway for me. As Katy mentioned in her notes from ILA, you have to treat each patron as an individual, because they are. No two are the same.

My time at SPL so far has been dedicated to learning and finding my bearings within the library, specifically in the junior high and teen spaces. During my second semester, I hope to take a more actionable approach. Helping to facilitate Under the Covers with Laurel and sitting in on Write Stuff, a program run by Mandy, have been great. I hope to take what I have learned from both programs and perhaps create a sister program that merges the two. I also hope to take cues from Jenny’s special knack of coming up with spontaneous activities and pop-up programming for the junior high and teen spaces. For the many moments I have sat observantly by while YA staff have implemented and wholly embraced behavioral interventions and I-ESCAPE, I hope to be a part of that, too.

Half way into this internship and I can say undoubtedly that I am truly getting invaluable experience. I can confidently say that yes, I still want to be a YA librarian. And like the people here, I hope to not only love what I do, but to one day be great at it, too.

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EDI, White Privilege, and Librarianship

This is a topic that has been on my mind almost constantly since I began work on my MLIS, and more prominently lately.

Last week I read White Fragility by Robin Diangelo. It’s a fantastically well-written book and something I’d consider required reading for all white people. Yesterday I attended the EDI training with Corie Wallace (where I once again realized just how many gaps I have in my knowledge). Today I read “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McInstosh after Lynnanne mentioned it during a discussion we had this morning.

I genuinely believe that EDI and confronting my own (and others’) white privilege is the single most important part of librarianship. Librarianship is vastly populated by white women. To say that I feel a natural comfort level in an around library spaces and communities is an understatement. While much of this is due to a shared interest, there is a large (often unacknowledged) part of this that is due to the fact that, generally, the entire crowd looks like me.

One of my best friends is my same age as me, has worked in libraries for 4+ years more than me, is in library school, and has many of the same interests as me. She actively reads and researches library culture and news as I do. She is hard-working, intelligent, and actively and passionately involved in what she does. However, her experience in working in libraries differs from mine constantly because she is black. Her authority and knowledge is questioned in ways mine never is (even though for 1.5 years she was my boss) by coworkers, employees, patrons, and our bosses. When she and I attend library conferences she is frequently one of only a few POC in the room. When the library started facing considerable scrutiny about racial equity she was continuously approached by senior staff members and asked about when she was planning on starting library school (something she was seldom, if ever, asked about in the preceding 5 years of her employment).

In my position at Evanston Public Library I work significantly with children. I lead weekly storytimes and provide additional programming for kids. In September, I hosted an enthusiastic, adorable, and very diverse group of 2nd graders from the local elementary school. For the last couple of months I’ve had kids continuously see me and yell “You read us Library Lion!!” or check out one of the books I “book talked” to the group. It’s been very heartwarming and incredibly professionally and emotionally fulfilling. (Great book, by the way).

At the beginning of this month, I had a distraught parent (a regular and one of the chaperones for the aforementioned library visit) come to me with a book list and a request for any materials she could use to talk about race with her child. As I was helping her, she let me know that the principal had sent home a note to every parent after a string of racially charged incidents had occurred at the school. It immediately hit me that some of the adorable, funny second graders I had hosted two months prior may have been subjected to horrifying language unacceptable in any space. They may have been made to feel unwelcome and unsafe in spaces that should assure both welcome and safety.

I was horrified. I was angry. But most importantly, I was energized. I spent the next two hours stripping down my current book displays and putting up new ones with a focus on talking about race. I asked the parent to give my email address to the principal and had her forward the reading lists to me. I put together a list of books my library did not currently own that addressed this subject and suggested them to my boss for purchase.

As library workers, what can we do to combat racism and increase equity? So much. We can consistently work to make our collections as diverse as possible – reflecting the diverse populations we serve. We can proud accessible and diverse programming. We can choose our storytime books with intent: showcasing diverse cultures, religions, skin colors, abilities, and neurodiversity. We can work to ensure our workplaces are welcoming and safe for diverse individuals as both patrons and employees. We can hold others in our personal lives or our professional spaces accountable when they display ignorance or intolerance. We can question and assess our own actions in every patron interaction. Perhaps most importantly, we can work everyday to further understand our own privileges and internalized biases.

Opportunities like yesterday’s EDI training are pivotal to offer again and again and again. Equity cannot be achieved in a 3 hour training session, but it can be combated by continuous work to ask ourselves and our communities difficult questions that challenge our beliefs and open our minds.

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ILA 2018

Last week I got the fantastic experience of attending ILA as an intern. I absolutely love library conferences and have attended Reaching Forward and ALA in the past couple of years – every time with my best friend who is also pursuing her MLIS.

Being without my conference buddy was something I was anxious about, but it ended up being a really valuable experience. Logically, when you go to a conference with someone, you’re going to spend time talking to them and not networking. Additionally, the smaller atmosphere of ILA (versus ALA) and the social events made it much easier to feel comfortable talking to people.

An added (and surprising) benefit of being at ILA was getting the chance to network with coworkers from Northbrook Public Library. I have been shelving there for almost a year, but don’t have a lot of opportunities in which I get to talk to the desk staff there. Getting the chance to talk more in depth about librarianship with these people I already know was very valuable.

Because I was an intern through ILA I worked the registration desk on Thursday morning. Getting to work with ILA staff gave me the opportunity to meet some of ILA’s organizers as well as several presenters.

I also have never been to campus for Dominican (I have done all of my coursework online), so this internship, the mixer event on Tuesday, their booth in the exhibition hall, and meeting Diane Foote (who is now the ILA Exective Director and previously worked for Dominican) actually provided me with more of an opportunity to feel connected to Dominican than I have been able to experience prior to this fall.

A couple of great organizations I’m looking forward to exploring further as I continue my career are iREADARRT, and the various ILA forums. I’m also looking forward to assisting at ILA next year, as they invited us to come back as Intern Leaders.

I’ve attached my session notes as well, in case anyone is interested. This kind of professional development opportunity is such an invigorating experience and gave me tons of ideas to use at all of the library locations I work for! For my fellow interns, I found the session about landing the job you want to be a pretty helpful refresher.

My ILA session notes!

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