Family Science Expo: Nobody Burst My Bubble

I’m what you’d call very “right brain” when it comes to what I’ve always excelled at and found interesting in school. I joke that my sister, a biology major, is my left brain and I’m her right; we’re identical personalities with opposite passions. Because I’ve never had a natural understanding of science, I doubt I would have ever actively sought out STEM programs to volunteer at without Skokie Public Library’s encouragement. For that little push, I’m grateful. Stepping out of my comfort zone to help with the Explore Space event a few months back and the Family Science Expo this last weekend has helped me feel infinitely more confident in my ability to learn and teach something new to a wide range of audiences. I was so proud of how smoothly it ran, I texted my sister afterwards to brag about my baking soda and vinegar-based experiment. She responded “Anything that explodes is enough to entertain a kid.” That’s a pretty formal seal of approval.

After volunteering to help, I was able to find a fun and simple scientific demonstration pretty easily browsing sources other librarians had posted and I created the below visual guide to accompany my station:

Chemical Reaction Visual Guide

I printed out approximately sixty single-sheet copies of the instructions, sans pictures, for kids and parents to take home after the demonstration, along with a balloon of the kids’ choice. Most of the worksheets were gone by the time the event ended and I definitely failed to stop a couple kids from taking… more than one balloon. But overall, my supplies lasted the entire two hours and having Eric there to rinse my bottles after a handful of demonstrations was beyond helpful.

I had more than just Eric’s help, though. About halfway through the event, a couple of our regular junior high patrons came over to watch my demonstration. One of them had to leave early with his family, but the other pulled up a seat and watched me run through my spiel a couple times before asking if he could help. Soon, he knew the questions, hints, and answers I prepared for participants almost better than I did. While I cleaned up the remnants of one demonstration, he’d set up the next one without question and I began referring to him as my lab assistant when I introduced my station to a new set of participants.

He and I had a really good interaction the previous week in the Junior High Zone, so it was incredibly satisfying to see that relationship solidified outside of my normal hours and away from his group of friends. I’m sure he was primarily bored and looking for something to do when he offered to help, but I’m just so glad he chose to do something productive with me. He even hung back and helped me clean when the event was over and we had a good talk about his involvement with basketball at school. Mid conversation, though, I had to walk away to intervene with an outburst between three other junior high regulars. Luckily, the situation diffused pretty quickly. Two junior high boys had tried messing with a different junior high boy by turning his computer off. He responded by pushing a chair over, but calmed down after we encouraged him to come to a librarian if the two boys tried bothering him again. I had a brief talk with the two boys responsible for the incident and they agreed to back off. They ended up going outside to play, which worked out perfectly considering how much energy they apparently had to waste.

Once everything was calmed down and cleaned up, I chatted with people at the Youth Services desk, said goodbye to my junior high lab assistant, and headed out. Naturally, I got my partner to drive me to the library long before the event started and I found him reading near the swan statues, enjoying that natural sunlight we all raved about during Staff Day. Driving back home I felt a little tired, but more than anything I felt satisfied. I spent a lot of time fretting beforehand over whether I had everything I needed to make my station a success, if the kids were going to like the demonstration I chose, and memorizing enough facts to accurately explain the “why” and “how” of what I was going to show them. But each time I’ve helped lead another program at the library, whether it’s a science expo or a Challenge Accepted hour or a high school council meeting, I get more and more confident in my ability to provide information and services to the community in a natural, proficient way. This experience and practice is exactly what I wanted to get out of interning at Skokie Public Library so, once again, thank you. And more importantly, thank you for always capturing how insane I usually look.

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Thinking Back and Looking Ahead

I spent a few hours today reviewing and editing my forty-page daily log of the shifts I worked this past semester at Skokie Public Library and somehow it feels like both a massive undertaking and a brief moment in time. I flip-flopped between wondering how I found the time to participate in so much and wishing I had more time to train. But speaking with so many different SPL employees and shadowing so many diverse roles really puts into perspective how endless my training could be regardless of how many hours I put in a week, and that’s coming from someone who only every really witnessed the night shift. But I mean it when I say the expertise and passion in SPL staff is palpable.

I’ve brought it up before during our intern reflection meetings, but I really feel as if working with young adults requires more hands-on experience than hypothetical training to build any sort of proficiency. Most library roles are unpredictable, but young adults are a particular kind of lovable/chaotic and I feel much more comfortable working with them in larger groups than I ever have before. When I tell people I’m training and studying to become a young adult librarian I usually brace myself for a sympathetic look or disgusted comment. It’s beyond my understanding why so many people feel adversely about a population they used to occupy, but I never felt that disconnect or aversion from SPL staff. Instead I felt a real supportive appreciation this semester for the work Laurel and Jenny and Denise and Earl and Jarrett all do to include young adults in the larger Skokie community and I’m beyond grateful for that refreshing perspective.

Speaking of refreshing, coming from a very standard for-profit office setting, I was not prepared for such a culturally competent work environment. Not only are there equitable policies and practices in place to uphold a safe staff and library culture, but SPL goes above and beyond an HR Department with your internal Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee staff training. I’m sure some of you remember how rough it is out there on the other said, but to briefly put how significant this is for me into perspective: I’ve been sexually harassed by coworkers at open-bar, no-rules office parties working for a company that very rarely recruits non-white college graduates. And let me tell you, no one gives a f***. I digress, but really witnessing first-hand how actionable equity can be in a work environment has me striving to seek out positions in libraries that share those same values when this is all said and done. I have you guys to thank for setting that bar so high.

More than anything, I’m just appreciative of all the time and effort so many SPL staff members have invested in my training these past few months. As someone who has never worked in a library, I doubt I’d be able to gain such high-level experience anywhere else and I really feel putting this practicum on my resume could be the difference between the dreaded “Thank you for your application, but we’ve decided to go with someone else…” email and landing a job I can be proud of. I don’t know who else can say they’ve managed to plan and implement STEM programming, co-facilitate young adult councils, participate in weekend science expos, and attend their first library conference while still finding time to train on desks in a matter of three or four months, but the expert guidance and planning of SPL staff made that possible for me. I can’t wait to see what I get done next semester, but I hope the time doesn’t fly by this fast.

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Celebrate Space!: Moon Phases, Rocket Ships, and Sunspot Cookies

“You sound like a teacher!” My mom laughed over the phone while I waited on the Jefferson Park blue line stop platform for my train home. It was almost 9:30pm on a Friday and my Lyft from Skokie Public Library had pulled away a few minutes ago. My mom was on vacation with my sister and aunt and she wanted to know what my plans were for the weekend.

Truth be told, I almost felt like a teacher when I explained I’d be spending the night putting the finishing touches on my station project outlining the eight phases of the Moon for SPL’s Celebrate Space program the following day. I had the poster-making skills of a teacher, but couldn’t help feeling a little less qualified than one after having spent a couple hours trying to actually learn about the Moon on NASA’s website. I just knew one of the kids at the library would end up asking me a question I didn’t know the answer to or school me on one of my trivia questions, so I was already practicing my “Let’s look that up.” response.

One of the first lessons I learned from Laurel while shadowing and training to lead Challenge Accepted sessions in the BOOMbox was to not panic when I don’t know the answer to a patron’s question. The more I think about it, that’s a lesson I learn when I shadow on almost any desk: don’t panic. It’s impossible to know everything and there’s no reason librarians should be expected to when one of our jobs is to utilize resources in order to provide the best possible answers to patron questions. I remembered that training while I cut out my Moon trivia flash cards; if someone asks me a question I can’t answer tomorrow, I’ll look it up. I’ve been lucky enough to witness nearly everyone on the YA crew do so seamlessly at least once, pulling out a phone or logging onto a computer in the Lounge and Zone to answer someone’s question. So far, none of the teens have thought less of us for it. I placed the last little cut-out star on my poster and admired the final product. If nothing else, the materials were ready.

I got to the library early on Saturday so I could set my station up and still have time to give my partner a tour of the space. It was raining that day and I felt grateful for the protection of my partner’s car; nearly everything I carried in was made of paper. My station was situated between the study rooms in the youth services area, so I pushed the two tables together to make room for a display and crafting space before picking up the clay Amy ordered for me. My station asked kids to recreate the eight different phases of the Moon using clay and bottle caps like cookie cutters. As they crafted, I would ask them the five following Moon trivia questions, expanding on the answers after everyone had a turn to guess:

  1. What is the average distance in kilometers the Moon travels to orbit Earth? The Moon orbits Earth at an average distance of 382,400 kilometers.
  2. How many days does it take to go from one new Moon to the next? In other words, how long is the lunar month? The lunar month is 29.53 days.
  3. How many times does the Moon circle Earth in the course of a month? During the course of a month, the Moon circles once around the Earth.
  4. Why can we see the Moon? We only see the Moon because sunlight reflects back to us from its surface.
  5. During the lunar month, why does the amount of the Moon we can see change? The half of the Moon facing the Sun is always lit, but the lit side does not always face the Earth. As the Moon circles the Earth, the amount of the lit side of the Moon we see changes and these changes are known as phases of the Moon. 

It made more sense logistically for participants to keep their recreated clay phases at the station rather than take them home, so I created a take-home activity worksheet that helps track the shape of the visible Moon over the course of a week instead. Hopefully watching the Moon closely for seven days will help kids understand how the phases change.

Moon Tracker

My first two participants were elementary school-aged sisters and they were very enthusiastic about making the phases and answering my questions. Because they were the only two there, I was able to have a lot of good one-on-one time talking to them about the project and what they did for Halloween. They told me all about pranks they like to play on each other at home and they were excited to take a worksheet once they were done with the clay. A question I ended up getting more than once was whether participants should bring the worksheet back to the library once they’re done filling it out; I told everyone I’d love to see their completed work.

After the two sisters I started getting larger groups of kids participating at a time. At one point I had so many that they outnumbered the work stations I had available and one or two left to come back later once the crowd thinned out. I tried to clear more space up by taping my Moon phase poster board up on the wall, but I need to remember to over-anticipate interest next time I plan a program.

Overall, the crowd I received was primarily elementary school aged and everyone seemed excited to show me their clay models as they made them. There was a good mix of kids who utilized the bottle caps to create Moons and those who free styled their own. One girl had a great time showing me bigger and bigger Moons as she squished more clay flat between her hands. A couple kids even came over just to show me the stuff they made at other stations. Unfortunately one of the kids couldn’t really understand the project and his mother explained to me that he didn’t speak English. She translated my instructions as best as she could, but he ended up being too shy to stay for long.

About half way through the program, there was a brief lull in participants and my partner jokingly pointed out that the only question kids struggled to answer was the one about distance. He realized before me that most kids didn’t understand what a kilometer was, but they did understand miles so we quickly converted the answer and rewrote the question. After that, kids more easily guessed numbers without asking me to explain what the question meant.

After the lull, a group of four middle schoolers came to the station and started messing around. I was already familiar with them through working the Junior High Zone and pretty quickly had to ask them to leave the station for throwing clay. They ended up renting one of the study rooms nearby and kept loudly coming in and out, disrupting the kids trying to participate in the program. At one point, one of the boys stuck his head out of the study room and told me, jokingly, that he was being bullied by one of the other kids. I had a free moment and took the opportunity to go into the room and ask them what was going on. One of the boys showed me his phone and it turns out three of them were mad at the fourth in the group for making an incredibly mean comment under a YouTube video. I sat down and asked him why he’d say something like that to someone and he tried brushing it off, explaining it was online so it didn’t matter. The other three boys disagreed, saying he was being an internet bully and mentioning people killed themselves over hurtful comments like the one he made. I agreed with them and tried to have a longer talk about it, but more kids started arriving at my station and I had to leave them alone again after a few moments. The kid who made the mean comment wouldn’t look up at us from his phone and eventually stopped answering, but I think he was embarrassed about being called out for his bad behavior. I’m glad his friends understood how inappropriate internet bullying is; hopefully he’ll follow their lead.

After the middle schoolers left, I received very manageable groups of kids. There were about four participating at a time until the program ended and the kids who stayed long enough to hear me repeat the trivia questions to new participants became very excited about already knowing the answers. It became a joke that they had to keep quiet and let new people try to guess.

Eventually it was 4pm and kids stopped coming over, so I packed up my station and headed home. I had a ton of leftover activity worksheets, so I displayed them at the Youth Services Desk where anyone could come up and take one. I left my poster board with the librarians at the desk too thinking it might be useful displayed in the BOOMbox. At the end of the day I was tired, but incredibly satisfied with my station’s success. Almost all of the kids who stopped by took a worksheet even if they didn’t participate with the clay, parents and guardians seemed to have fun helping their kids make the Moons, participants got excited about guessing the answers for my trivia questions, and I got a ton of great experience planning and facilitating library programs. The only thing I wish I had done differently was take more pictures.

Before I left, I talked briefly with Bill about participating in a future horror-themed program. It seems like I’m going to need to stockpile more poster board before my practicum is over.

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Rise Up! Follow-Up: Recommendations

While finishing up my previous blog post reflecting on the Rise Up! conference, I realized I still had some fragments of information left over in my notes. Throughout the Q&As, during the programs, and while chatting with librarians I made sure to make note of any recommendation I was given. The recommendations ranged anywhere from helpful online resources to community organizations to informative books and movies, but they didn’t quite fit into the flow of my reflection so I decided to document them in a brief categorized listicle. I’m hoping I’ll be able to quickly reference this whenever I need help with my own personal career development or maybe the next time I need something for a library program.

Books

Movies/Videos

  • Each One, Reach One: a video project in which teens interview older generations of civil rights activists
  • Race – The Power of an Illusion: a three-part PBS documentary that investigates race in society, history, and science
  • The Interrupters: a documentary about three people who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed
  • 13th: a documentary that explores the intersection of race, justice and mass incarceration in the United States
  • Forgiveness – A Time to Love and a Time to Hate: a multi-part PBS series exploring forgiveness
  • See What I’m Saying – The Deaf Entertainers Documentary: a documentary detailing the lives, trials and tribulations of several successful entertainers — all of whom are deaf.
  • Being 12 – The Year Everything Changes: interviews with middle schoolers from NYC about race and what it’s like to grow up today

Organizations

  • Thriftbooks: a large web-based used book seller, great for donating non-circulating material if you don’t want to just throw them out
  • The If Project – Incarcerated Voices: a collaboration of law enforcement, currently and previously incarcerated adults and community partners focused on intervention, prevention and reduction in incarceration and recidivism
  • Not in Our Town: a movement to stop hate, address bullying, and build safe, inclusive communities for all
  • Our Voices Chicago: an online pledge to promote diversity in your work space
  • Tiger Stripe Publishing: an independent publisher of print and electronic books with the mission of developing high-quality products that celebrate underrepresented people
  • StoryCorps: a non-profit organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs
  • Teen Parent Connection: a nonprofit agency serving teen parents in DuPage County as they navigate the challenges of both parenthood and adolescence
  • PBIS: an organization with the broad purpose of improving the effectiveness, efficiency and equity of schools and other agencies
  • Bella Books: a small press publisher of lesbian literature

Online Resources for Programming

  • Libraries 4 Black Lives: an online resource guide to developing programs and having conversations that ensure libraries are a safe space for black lives
  • Make: DIY projects and ideas for Makers
  • UChicago – Urban Labs: five labs working to address challenges across five key dimensions of urban life (crime, education, health, poverty, and energy and environment)

Blogs

  • Reading While White: a blog of white librarians organized to confront racism in the field of children’s and young adult literature
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ILyAy: First Conference Enthusiasm

I’ve had the weekend to process my time at the ILA Rise Up! conference, but even after that handful of days my head is still spinning from the experience. There were so many in-depth discussions, exciting speakers, and creative programming ideas I had to start writing notes within my notes about what I wanted to tell my partner about when I got home. After I finished up on Friday I did more napping than talking, but that’s besides the point.

Before I get into it, I’d like to extend my gratitude to the people at Skokie Public Library who made it possible for me to attend the conference in the first place. I appreciate every opportunity to learn and grow and it means a lot that the library has so much faith in me that they’re willing to invest financially in my on-going education. Just when I think I have a handle on what it is librarians do day-to-day, my eyes are opened to an entirely new facet of the profession.

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I’m pretty organized when it comes to note-taking so I’m going to break down my experience by day and program.

Tuesday (10/10)

I had the distinct pleasure of starting Tuesday off with my volunteer shift at the registration desks, from 7:00 – 11:00 am, so I missed a lot of the morning programming. I think I lucked out working those desks first because everyone’s main concern was picking up their conference ID. I know my ABC’s pretty well, so digging those out of an alphabetized stack was a pretty gentle introduction to helping run a massive conference. Talking to the other interns later after their shifts on Wednesday and Thursday, it sounds like attendee questions got more complicated with time. I’ll take that first morning shift over having to defer to other people for answers anytime.

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1:30 – 2:45 pm Tween to Teen: Collaboration in Action

The main focus of this program was coming up with programs that suited the more awkward ages of 5th – 8th grade. Oftentimes that population is too young to be with 12th graders, but too old for youth services (birth – 6th grade) so we as YA librarians have to come up with programming that targets and fits their specific age group.

A brief list of programs different libraries have hosted successfully:

  • Battle of the Books
  • The Rithmatist Melee
  • The Margin Project
  • Intro to Robotics: Meet the Ozbots
  • Video Game Club
  • Battle Royale Laser Tag

I could go on, the librarians presenting had a ton of great suggestions and I had to take pictures of some slides to keep up, but my absolute favorite had to be the Margin Project.  The basic idea is a library identifies newer YA titles they have one or two extra of (or they budget buying specific title copies) and clearly label them as part of the Margin Project, creating a display. Junior High patrons are then encouraged to check out and write in those books, indicating in the front page/s who’s taking notes with what color pen. The books can be checked out by library patrons, but it needs to be noted in the catalog that they shouldn’t be lent out to other libraries. Once a Margin Project book is returned, a YA librarian will check to make sure the notes are appropriate and then return the book to the display. The idea is that Junior High patrons will begin talking back and forth in the notes, asking and answering questions or simply noting what they find significant. This kind of project is fun in that it’s almost like a pen pal system, but it also teaches young patrons how to annotate what they read, a skill that becomes more and more necessary as they get older.

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Primarily stressed throughout this program was that YA librarians need to be constantly asking their patrons what they want and like in order to program successfully.

2:45 – 3:45 pm Keepin’ YA Real

This program focused on buying and circulating non-fiction for young adults. Before starting, we were posed the question of whether or not young adults need non-fiction for research or for browsing. We came to the conclusion that there is very little need for a YA-specific non-fiction research collection because more often than not, they use the adult or high-level juvenile non-fiction for research already.

When we talk about a YA non-fiction section, we’re talking about a browsing collection so we need to keep it fresh and get over any weeding apprehension. When weeding YA non-fiction it’s important to look out for any biased worldviews, such as books that display “happy” slaves.

Recommended modern non-fiction books for YA (I apologize if it’s hard to read some titles, I can see them when I enlarge the pictures on my computer):

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The presenters gave a lot of really good examples of how to incorporate non-fiction into YA spaces and programming. For instance, escape rooms can be designed around non-fiction books and spaces can be decorated like scenes from popular non-fiction books. Other ways to push non-fiction books can be through social justice programming: we can partner with schools and community clubs to create events or suggest topics with related non-fiction readings; inspirational displays and reading lists can be made connecting history to current events; memoirs can be suggested as they relate to popular modern-day interests.

Specific programs librarians have hosted successfully related to YA non-fiction include:

  • One Book: Multi-Generational Reading
  • Adulting 101
  • Instructable Craft Day

The Adulting 101 program sounded most interesting to me. The focus can range widely from day-to-day, anywhere from lawn mower maintenance to how to tie a tie, and it feels relevant to modern young adult needs. The focus has shifted so much more towards using new technologies that the more practical skills often go untaught until they’re immediately necessary. How often are young adults taught to change a tire or check a car’s oil? They know how to use 3D printers, but are we making sure they also know how to address and send a letter in the mail? Programs like these are perfect for not only bridging the gap between generations, but also teaching some incredibly useful skills young adults may feel too embarrassed to ask about.

*Side note, some of the Skokie staff were inspired to consider running a slide show promoting non-fiction books in the High School Lounge whenever the TV isn’t being used.

Wednesday (10/11)

9:00 – 10:00 am Bravery Literacy: Libraries Leading and Supporting Tough Community Discussions

To begin, the presenters discussed what it means to be Bravery Literate versus Bravery Illiterate. These skills include:

  • Identifying community concerns
  • Being at the “table” or providing one for discussions
  • Being civil
    • Respect everyone
    • Find common ground
    • Disagree without disrespecting
  • Having conversations over talking at one another
  • Allowing for silence and time to reflect and think on something said
  • Avoiding deflection
  • Understanding one another
    • For example, sometimes personal stories help share experience such as growing up undocumented, etc.

A great way to make sure the conversations you’re having at your library are Bravery Literate is to find and include educators from the community and form partnerships for program facilitation. Bravery means the willingness to learn and we can show our willingness to do that work by seeking out educators.

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A representative from the Elgin Police Department also spoke and, I’m not going to lie, I was a little hesitant to listen at first. I know that’s hypocritical of me to feel after being so motivated to learn about Bravery Literacy, but I do also feel validated in my hesitation to trust police officers considering their constant refusal to work towards eliminating systemic racism. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard, though. I know it’s hard to know how dedicated they truly are to police reform and community engagement in Elgin, but the officer they sent to speak was aligned morally and ethically with most library values.

The police officer stressed ensuring the officers they send to community functions and programs:

  • Have the same understanding and message as the rest of the department
  • Are ready to answer heated questions respectfully and hear the community out
  • Are willing to take a proactive approach to addressing hot topics

Over everything, the police officer asks her department to be:

  • Engaged
  • A partner
  • A listener
  • Proactive
  • The change

* Side note, the police officer also mentioned a program they participate in called Not In Our Town, which is a film series and Q&A that addresses hate in the community. I was very struck by how committed Elgin seems to be to police reform and a healthy relationship with the people their police department serves.

10:15 – 11:15 am Diversity and Diversability: Developing Programming for All

This was the first interactive program I attended and it was a ton of fun! Attendees were all arranged in groups at different circular tables and each table had different craft supplies. To begin, we were asked to reflect on our libraries’ connection to neighboring libraries near and far. From there we were told we’d have a couple minutes to create as many bridges from our table to other tables as possible using only the supplies on our table; we were also allowed to share supplies with other tables. Once we counted up our bridges we were asked to reflect with our table on our direct or indirect connections with other libraries. What resources do libraries have to connect with others?

One of the speakers went on to talk about what a great resource Heritage Committees can be for connecting libraries and their communities with each other. Cultural diversity creates cultural literacy and decreases the “you/them” feeling. It’s great to bring these committees in on events at the library where a majority of the patrons are represented by that heritage, but it’s also good to reach out and connect with people who do not represent your library’s majority. Exposure to other cultures creates a connection with other communities and is key to cultural literacy in patrons and staff.

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A representative of the Chicago Public Library system provided us with a great snapshot of how they plan their diverse programming:

  • Plan for the year
  • Research
  • Discover patron resources
  • Use your collection
  • Collaborate with organizations

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Finally, the last speaker taught us more about programming in a way that represents disability awareness. She gave us this great quote, “Nothing about us without us,” to highlight the importance of including the people you’re programming for in the planning and education process. She also provided us with a list of programming and organization resources.

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1:45 – 2:45 pm What Now?: Diversity, Intellectual Freedom, and Activism

Right off the bat, the speakers for this program stressed the importance of the sliding glass door approach to diversifying programs and collections: looking into the lives of others through books. As we should understand by now, representation matters and everyone deserves to see themselves in stories so we need to make sure we’re ordering and displaying books from a wide variety of experiences.

A good way to enact and encourage diversity is to take opportunities as a librarian to educate through patron interactions and programming. Normalize these kinds of conversations in the library and build relationships with your patrons. Ask questions! If we do something purposefully for long enough it becomes habit. For example:

  • Pull out and display books with diverse authors and characters
  • Create book lists and do book talks with diverse authors and characters

We all need to take personal responsibility in making sure this happens until it’s normal. It’s important to understand, too, that when creating these displays and making recommendations that the diversity piece isn’t the most visible aspect of the book. We need to encourage “every-day diversity” that doesn’t center a story around a person’s race or religion or gender identity etc.

A great metaphor made by a speaker was that the difference between performing diversity versus promoting inclusivity is the same difference between inviting someone to a party versus asking them to dance. We need people to feel welcomed; it doesn’t do anyone any good to “other” people while you’re trying to be inclusive.

TIP: Always make sure you’re assessing the quality of the material before you promote it to ensure it doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes. Think about that when you think about how you book talk. How do we describe the characters? Do we point out race in an unnecessary way (ex: a character is black when they’re black, but just a character when they’re white)? Are we making some material sound “less desirable” by stressing those unnecessary characteristics for patrons who feel unwilling to read more diverse material?

Finally the speakers stressed staying informed on policy when having hard talks with patrons about removing materials they find offensive. Everything is easier when you have policy to back you up rather than fighting on the floor over personal opinions. Consistency and persistence is key and always be willing to apologize and commit to doing better when we get stuff wrong.

3:00 – 4:00 pm DiversiTEA: RISE UP!

I’m going to have to go ahead and fess up about this one: I didn’t really take any notes. The speaker for this program, Dr. Lian Ruan, was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed listening to her talk about the trajectory of her life as a Chinese immigrant navigating the library world, but it felt like such a laid-back presentation that I focused more on connecting with the librarians at my table.

My partner and his family all live in the south suburbs of Chicago, so over the years I’ve become much more familiar with towns like Ford and Chicago Heights, Park Forest, Richton Park, etc. Introducing myself to two of the women at my table, I discovered both of them have worked for decades in the south suburbs, Richton Park specifically, so I had a really excellent time talking to them about the politics of that area.

Ford Heights specifically has for years been one of the poorest towns in the midwest and I really appreciated their perspective on why and how Ford Heights lost its library recently. Unfortunately a lot of people who live there are unable to find work or they make their money under the table, leaving little in taxes to support a library. It was all very heart-breaking, but I really feel good about the time I spent connecting with librarians working in the Chicagoland area, especially considering my connection to a place I’ve never lived. The Richton Park library they work at is only a handful of blocks from my partner’s place, so I’m going to make a point to swing by and say hello.

Thursday (10/12)

9:00 – 10:00 am Keeping the Peace with Teens

As an introduction, the three speakers of this program (shout out to Laurel for being one of them) explained to us what restorative justice means: a relationship-based response to zero-tolerance policy used, in this case, to help teens understand their place in the community.

As a little more background information, the speakers gave Senate Bill 100 as an example of a restorative justice policy that sought to address and mend the school-to-prison pipeline. The IL House and Senate realized that needs weren’t being met at home, that kids were coming to school with trauma, and the school policies needed to be more understanding of that. Essentially, this bill eliminated zero-tolerance policies, which were responsible for the unjust suspension and expulsion of young adults from school.

Restorative justice policies, such as Peace Circles or de-escalation strategies, think about the root cause of a teen’s behavior and impact over the broken rules. These policies create a culture of support in the library, or a more welcoming environment. A couple ways libraries can foster that culture of support are by:

  • Greeting and knowing the teens who frequent the library
  • Hosting after-school activities
  • Knowing the community in order to better know the teens

From there, the speakers talked about the difference between minor and major interventions and what those interventions looks like through a restorative lens.

Minor Intervention: noise, horseplay, mess, etc.

  • Talk privately
  • Ask for their viewpoint
  • Explain the problem
  • Offer a way to repair the damage

Major Intervention: fights, disrespect, repeat offense

  • Schedule a meeting
  • Discuss what we can control
  • Discuss who was impacted
  • Offer a way to repair the damage or allow them to come up with a way

During these interventions we need to make sure we take ten or more seconds of silence to help the teens reflect on what we say or ask, even if it seems awkward at first. Respecting this silence usually results in a genuine answer. A good way to have these talks is by walking and talking. So for instance if an intervention becomes necessary, you could say, “I need you to take a walk with me” to get the teen away from where their friends can hear.

The speakers went on to talk about how we need to rethink success when implementing restorative justice policies. Rethinking what we consider success could sell coworkers on either maintaining or implementing even more restorative policies in the future. Here are some examples of how we can evaluate success:

  • Understand that teen outcome matters
  • Changing versus eliminating behavior
  • Quantitative versus qualitative data
  • Connecting teens to resources

What this comes down to is obtaining buy-in for these policies from the rest of the staff so a standard is upheld. Sometimes this means a culture shift needs to happen in the library. We can make that happen by:

  • Setting new expectations
  • Training coworkers so they understand we’re all responsible for all patrons, even if they don’t want to “deal with” teens
  • Being transparent
  • Hiring staff who are on board with restorative justice

At the end of the day, working with teens means remembering that we’re here to help them become whole, involved, and compassionate. Sometimes a teen’s progress isn’t as obvious when they say or do something hurtful, but in those instances we need to ask them “Have I done something to make you feel like you can’t trust me?”

*Side note, a testimony to how successful and popular this program was should be the fact that the Q&A afterwards went over the program time by more than thirty minutes. And even then, people were still waiting around to talk to the three speakers individually while the next program set up. Laurel killed it!

11:00 – 12:00 pm 12 to 18: Meeting the Distinct Needs of the Early Teen and Late Teen Years

A lot of this panel was discussing the behavioral differences between younger and older teens in order to understand why they act the way they do at the library. This understanding also influences how we react to the teens’ behavior; we’re less likely to overreact about or misinterpret actions when we know where a teen is developmentally and that makes us, as YA librarians, better at our jobs. I also believe making an effort towards mutual understanding helps us frame our interactions in less of a patronizing us/adults versus them/kids dynamic and our tone adjusts as we go. We probably all know by now that coming down on teens from a purely authoritative standpoint isn’t the best way to handle every situation.

The speakers began by giving us an overarching perspective on teen behavior: it is characterized by risk-taking, limit-testing, impulsivity, etc.

Pre-teens focus more on the self, social norms, fitting in, performing for an imaginary audience, separation from parents and movement towards peers. Pre-teens tend to feel more loneliness and experience mood swings. They become very focused on the present.

Late teens are less exclusive with their friend groups and are more willing to compromise. There’s an independence from the family as they obtain more freedoms like drivers’ licenses and become less reliant on their parents day-to-day. Late teens engage in more self-reflection and become capable of long-term thinking.

When thinking about designing programs it’s okay to make them open to everyone, but try to target a specific age group and the teens will filter themselves. Passive programming is always a good idea when programming for teens because it generally has no age.

Collections-wise, try to differentiate by age groups even if you can’t completely separate your young adult section. For instance, try creating age-specific displays and book lists to create the distinction between material. The speakers told us to remember that content is generally more important to consider than reading level when making these distinctions. The first thing you should figure out when determining an audience age group is how old the main character of the book is.

That was the extent of the notes I took for this program. It went on a little longer concerning age-appropriate content, but I didn’t agree entirely with one or two of their opinions on what kinds of books different age groups should and should not read. I lean more towards allowing teens to decide for themselves what they should be reading rather than deciding what’s appropriate for them, but I definitely see how this gets murky when asked specifically for recommendations.

1:45 – 2:45 pm Dealing in Diversity: Proactively Serving Communities Through Authentic Representation

Maybe I’m just learning something new about my note-taking endurance, but I have to fess up about not taking a ton of notes for this program either. Man, I really wear my hands out eating heavy meatball subs for lunch.

That being said, I was enthralled by the speakers for this program, specifically Sonali Dev. She had this very natural, funny way of discussing the serious problems publication companies have with non-white authors and the race/ethnicity of their characters and her delivery really drove the points home. She balanced her negative experiences receiving rejection letters seven years ago, very much related to the fact that her books are Indian romance novels with no room for making one of the main characters white, with the progress she’s seen recently. She praised the positive changes she’s seen over the past decade without allowing anyone to feel like our work making books more diverse was done and a lot of her quick wit came through personal stories she told of standing up to racist publishers.

After Sonali we heard from Todd Stocke, an employee from Sourcebooks, about what publishers can do from their end to make sure diverse materials are making it past their desks and into libraries and stores. He’s been with Sourcebooks from nearly day one, so it was pretty cool listening to him talk about their rise in distribution and popularity, especially considering they’re IL natives from Naperville. He talked a lot about how important it is to tap the talent of local writing groups to give POC and LBGTQ authors the chance and recognition so often afforded white authors, who are judged by different standards of mediocrity. Doing so results in the kind of success we’ve seen in books like The Hate You Give, which has almost single-handedly created a more visible market for genres that tackle modern-day race issues. Overall, it was fascinating to hear about diversity from the publisher’s end and it’s heartening to know publishing companies like Sourcebooks exists because libraries can’t provide patrons with diverse materials if they aren’t being published.

And last but not least, here come’s Skokie’s own Annabelle! Probably one of my favorite things about this conference was seeing so many Skokie employees highlighted in programs, hosting excellent Q&As, and Annabelle was no exception. She spoke about what Skokie’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee is and how it serves the Skokie employees by implementing training, raising awareness, and facilitating discussions. I already understood a lot of her presentation just from grilling Laurel and Mimosa about the EDI Committee so often and attending one of the guided discussions at the library, but it was very cool to see it all laid out for other libraries to implement. One thing Annabelle touched on teaching herself through the EDI Committee was how important it is to make purposeful change to your routine until it becomes habit. For instance, she began changing the font color of books by non-white authors in her collections order forms to ensure it remained diverse. She said that giving herself the intentional visual understanding of how diverse collections orders really were helped make diversifying materials more natural and I think that’s a great first step for everyone who wants to make change in their library.

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(10/13 –  10/15) Weekend Reflection

I know, that was a bit of an information dump but it really feels good to get it out of my chaotic brain and into a more organized format. I joke that my memory isn’t great and I need to write things down if I really want to remember them, so the process of taking these notes in real time and then typing them all out after I’ve had the chance to ruminate has really prevented this experience from becoming a singular blur of great information. Even though it was so condensed, I really feel like I absorbed tips, ideas, and perspectives that’ll follow me not only through this practicum, but also into my practicing library career. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn so much in so little time and I hope I carry the enthusiasm I felt for my first conference into every single one that comes next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Intern Reflection #1

Today was the first time since orientation that I got to see (most of) the other interns again. It was really refreshing to catch up, but it definitely had me wishing I could quit my day job and join in on the early afternoon training they’ve all been attending together. It’s fun to think about being on such different journeys in the same place, at the same time, like we’re all somehow living different parallel realities. The reflection was a great way to hear more about how the other interns’ departments function on a daily basis: what does their day-to-day schedule look like; what projects are they working on; what are their priorities? I really appreciate the opportunity to stay connected with the program as a whole rather than retreating into my own singular experience.

During the reflection Richard asked us a handful of questions that, at first glance, sounded simple enough, but ended up facilitating much larger discussions. What were we learning? Did we feel welcomed by and integrated into the staff? What do we like about the internship and what have been some of the challenges? What is the relationship between the classroom and practice? And how has the internship shaped our aspirations?

Right off the bat we all unanimously agreed that a full school year was necessary for this program. Even knowing we still have three months left of the first semester, everyone, supervisors included, felt we needed to move at a break-neck speed to fit all our training in. But this isn’t necessarily a rushed feeling, more so we feel excited about the endless possibilities for learning and gaining experience. I’m going to go out on a limb and say we all feel this is a unique position to be in, one none of us want to waste.

Beyond that, an answer that resonated with my own experience so far concerned thoughtful tasks versus busy work. The common expectation for interns in a lot of non-library settings is that they’re there to do the mindless tasks paid employees can’t be bothered to do. In contrast, the internship at Skokie Public Library has been incredibly deliberate and thoughtful. We all agreed we felt our tasks were being assigned in order to help us learn and grow and that we aren’t seen as menial task robots; we’re interns with a purpose.

Along with feeling valued as students through our assigned work, I personally feel validation in knowing more and more that I’m on the correct career path. I talked about it a little during our reflection, but the connection I was hoping to see from classroom to practice was the application of values. Every day I work here I feel more and more confident that the values we all learned in class are being applied in a practical, meaningful way in practice. Knowing that has me feeling incredibly hopeful about my own future working in similar departments and I can’t wait to see what other experiences this internship has in store for me.

 

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Late Orientation Reflection

I felt a little incapable of writing this post after orientation last week. I was overwhelmed in the best possible way by a lot of new information and friendly faces, but after taking the time to process the two-day experience I finally feel prepared. Don’t dissect my use of the word “prepared” here because it strictly refers to my ability to write less than 250 words in a quiet office at 8:30pm on a Friday. No, prepared in the larger sense is going to take this entire year to actualize, but after just a few days with the Skokie Public Library staff I know I’m on my way to that sense of being. It’s taken three years of graduate school, but “prepared” is nearly within my reach and I have this internship to thank for that. I don’t want to get ahead of myself because I’ve only just begun (to liiiiiiive, okay sorry), but the practical skills I’ve already learned from just ten hours of shadowing is invaluable. I can tell this is going to be what makes me truly ready to serve a public library and its community and I’m more than prepared to do the work now to ensure that potential is actualized.

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