Always Assume Best Intentions

Having grown up in Skokie, I already grew up loving the library. I remember the renovation in 2001, biking over to checkout books and attend programs as a teen, checking out DVDs to fuel my obsession for Hindi cinema during my days at OCC, and picking up audiobooks as an adult. Approaching the library as a budding information professional gave me a whole new appreciation for SPL as a community.

One of the first ideas that stuck with me during our two-day training was the concept of always assuming best intentions – from coworkers, from community members as a whole, and from patrons. Far from being just lip service, this attitude was pervasive to the entire orientation experience. It is hard to imagine any library being so inclusive and welcoming toward a group of interns. The amount of empowerment I feel at immediately being given the benefit of the doubt is difficult to put into words. Someone who has always experienced the kind of work atmosphere that Skokie provides (a lucky individual indeed), may find it strange that I would be so affected by such a simple idea. However, few work environments place enough value on trusting their employees, which gives them room to think, grow, be brave, and surprise even themselves.

This also shines through in Skokie’s commitment to redefining their strategic plan every three years. Not only this, but the conversation through which this is created every three years seem to be very open to staff input and conversation. I am nearing the end of my coursework through Dominican, and one of the major points made throughout my courses is the idea of the library as a community service (listening first to what the community needs), as a ‘third space,’ and as a constantly adapting profession. SPL truly seems to embody these ideas in a way I had not yet seen in real world libraries. Our mentors seemed just as interested in learning from us and each other as they were in teaching.

This attitude of consistent self-improvement and assumption of good intentions in others lead to a level of ease between all of the interns and mentors that I have never experienced in a work setting before – despite our differences in experience, age, etc. I am overwhelmed by this incredible opportunity, which has already made me feel empowered and excited rather than nervous, and cannot wait to become a better information professional as well as a better listener, collaborator, coworker, and person.

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The Beginning of Community Engagement

So far during this internship I have learned a lot about the Skokie community and how passionate everyone in the library is about it, which is such a great thing. Skokie Library is a very diverse and welcoming part of the Skokie community, and seeing how much the library does to learn and grow to help the community is inspiring. As the Community Engagement Intern I am thrilled to be able to work closely with the Skokie community and see from the libraries standpoint what it takes to be a successful part of it. I am already amazed at all the work and time that goes into learning about the community and its changes. Through the community tour and a meeting that I went to last week it is clear Skokie Library does its research and works hard to improve things for their community. There isn’t an end in sight for them as they focus on the community that supports them and how they can do better to support them. They do this by traveling to local school, and there is a lot of them, to going to different neighborhoods and seeing how their services can be utilized/made more accessible to patrons.

I always knew how important libraries were to communities and vice versa but it is eye opening to see it for myself. I am excited to work in Community Engagement where I know wherever I end up in the library world that this information and experience will help me grow; and hopefully help me improve the community aspect of where ever I end up. Communities and libraries go hand in hand and it is never going to be something that changes. This experience will only help advance me and my career as I move forward and learn more about in the inner and outer workings of library and the inner and outer workings of a community.

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Time Does Fly…

It’s true, especially when you’re having fun.  I have had a lot of fun and learning in my role as the Adult Services Intern.  This internship experience has been amazing and certainly career changing.  If I had doubts about a public libraries career path when I started, those doubts no longer exist.

My life experience has allowed me to view this time from a unique perspective.  I’ve been in enough work settings to know that this experience should not be taken for granted. No one “had to” set up this internship program, agree to be a mentor or trust in me, and the other interns, not to totally screw up.  I have great appreciation for the opportunities that the interns have been given here.

I participated in a broad spectrum of activities, within the Adult Services department and elsewhere in the library, including book discussions, pop-ups, and patron training and programs.  Everyone in this building has been supportive and helpful in finding my way.  I also learned so much from each patron interaction, project, training session, or by simply spending time on service desks with different people.  The realization that the skills I bring to this profession are relevant and will contribute to my future career success is huge, and I would not have the confidence to believe this if I hadn’t participated in this internship.

I’m saddened that the internship is coming to a close.  I’m also hopeful that the stops on my future career path will provide me the opportunities to learn and truly contribute, as I was able to do here.

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Storytime For All

storytime

Over the past few weeks, my storytime outreach has taken me on some wonderful new adventures.  This week alone I’ve visited four different home daycare settings and done storytimes for some adorable babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  Holly and I had a good laugh this Monday after I reported back to her that most of the kids at one of my storytimes seemed cranky and off. Well, Monday was Daylight Savings time.  Also, I scheduled the storytime too close to lunch and nap. I’d never had this as an issue before because I usually do storytimes earlier or later in the day. As a parent, of course I completely understand why the babies and toddlers were off.  Their whole schedule had been shifted thanks to DST. Of course! Note to self and to future storytime interns: don’t schedule storytimes 1) close to DST or 2) too close to lunch or nap. Poor babies! The great thing about this work is that there isn’t any judgement.  I’m just a lady trying to read and sing and dance with little kids. If there are extenuating circumstances, such as some arbitrary clock change that wreaks havoc on most of us, let’s be honest, everything is still going to be ok. I’m very comfortable shifting quickly from one activity to the next and have been able to continue to add to my bag of tricks over the course of my internship.

Working with so many schools and businesses in the community continues to bring me to new experiences each week.  Since my last blog post, I’ve performed three storytimes at MCC Academy, an Islamic school with pre-K through 8th grade, District 68’s Early Childhood Center which offers preschool to special education students and for English language learners ages three through five.  I’ve also been webcast from one classroom at Madison School to another so that kids of all abilities could experience the storytime where they were.  I’ve walked into a classroom ready to perform what I thought was an inclusive storytime only to realize that my repertoire to accommodate a child in a walker or stander is still limited.  Holly and I have talked about “universally designing” storytime so that as many kids as possible can participate fully in all of the physical movements. This has led me to think so much more about how I plan what we will do in storytime as I want to be able to accommodate as many children as possible.  After performing my storytime to two classes at Madison school one morning, I returned to read to the afternoon classes with a visual schedule (see image above for an example of one of the visuals) for those who may benefit from knowing when I’d be transitioning from one activity to the next. I noticed that the classrooms had such transitions and I knew that I could bring in my own.  Honestly, it’s nice to have a visual schedule for myself! Then I don’t forget what comes next after I get a little too crazy dancing the “Winter Pokey” with 25 preschoolers.

Being mindful of our community, I also try to include books in my storytime that are representative of our very diverse community.  I’m grateful to work with such experienced librarians as Holly Jin, who helped me to locate one such item after mentioning to her that I hadn’t come across one in a hurried visit to the board books the previous day.  

cover-my-nose-your-nose

I read the book to a very diverse group of twos and toddlers this morning. When I read about skin, hair and eye colors the kids enthusiastically chimed in when they could identify with what the author had written.  Even at age 2!  When I stood up to leave and a two year old commented that I was “very big,” (at 6’2” I know that ‘big’ means ‘extremely tall’ – I get it).  I referred back to the book and recited “‘I have long legs’ – just like (a character) in the book!”

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Success Story to Share

I wanted to share my library success story because it makes me happy and because we all need to hear success stories.  In January, I started having one-on-one appointments with job seekers. One of my first appointments was with a woman who had requested help with her resume.  She completed her teaching degree a number of years ago, but because of family commitments, never actually worked as a professional teacher. Her goal was to get back into the education field, in efforts to eventually work her way into a full-time teaching position.

The resume she brought to our initial meeting was pretty sparse. Over the years, our job seeker had a number of temporary or part-time jobs, some of which were education or child related.  We talked pre-resume brainstorming and preparation, such as taking an inventory of what teaching related skills and experiences she could identify. We then moved on to different resume formats that might work best to tell her unique story.  Thirty minutes is not a lot of time to completely overhaul the representation of twelve years of your work life, so she left with a lot of homework.

Because she had so much work to do, I was pleasantly surprised when only two days later I received a copy of her revised resume for additional review.  The resume was very well done and I didn’t have a thing to add. To wrap up the story, we continued to email over the next couple of weeks. She got an interview with a local school district and was hired as a substitute teacher.  Hopefully, this is her first step.

My personal take away was that I loved that I was able to use by skills and experiences in a positive way, by helping one of our patrons to reach her goals.  In my past world, my help would have come into play in more negative situations, such as after I’d told an employee (and oftentimes, a friendly colleague) that  they had lost their job, or in trying to covertly nudge an employee along because I knew that it was only a matter of time until they would need an updated resume.

My library-focused takeaway from this exchange, and others that I have had over the last few weeks, is how important this service is to our patrons.  Resumes are completely intimidating for a lot of people, regardless of industry or education and income levels, and most people don’t have trusted, quality options (for free) to assist them.  If the library can help patrons overcome this one hurdle, these individuals will be positioned to move forward towards employment and career success.

 

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The Start of a Digital Journey

For my independent study this semester, I’m working on two digital projects: first, to tell the story of A. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first lady doctor, and second, to digitize and create an online exhibit around Skokie Public Library’s fantastic solar eclipse party from 2017.

The goal of the A. Louise Klehm project on a practical level is to become familiar with Omeka, the content-management tool the library uses to create digital collections. The digital ‘items’ and the metadata surrounding them already exist; it’s now a matter of organizing them into a cohesive and interesting story.  As I’ve been digging into the material and starting to shape the exhibit, here are some things I’ve been learning and thinking that will help drive what comes next.

Message – what’s the big idea? 

First and foremost, what is this about? A helpful way to begin to answer this question is to use the formula, “My story is about X, but it is really about Y.”

“My story is about A. Louise Klehm, Skokie’s first lady doctor, but it’s really about perseverance and resilience, about women breaking barriers in history.”

Audience – who cares?

Knowing who you are speaking to drives organization, design, and storytelling decisions. For example, the likely audiences for this project are:

Community members interested in local history – for them, this is primarily a storytelling mission, so it makes sense to emphasize local ties to places and people and relevance to the current day (common pain points, triumphs). What are the moments of drama?  Let’s shape the story around those(for example moments of conflict or overcoming obstacles), How will it end? In this case, we can end on a high note with an uplifting message.

Students – for example, how can we balance giving them the factual information they need without doing all the work for them? What additional resources can we include to help with further research? How can we incorporate this into what our youth librarians are doing?

Researchers (local/Illinois/country) – this isn’t our main audience, but there may be people interested in specific items as part of a larger context, like 19th century medical equipment (or is it early 20th century? shoot, I’ll have to check) or the history of female physicians. How can we present this information so it is easy to find and rich in needed detail?

Us! – How can we use this in the library? Talking through the project with Jessica and Annabelle, Annabelle suggested launching it for Women’s History Month in March and  thinking about how it could work with youth research projects and/or a Civic Lab presentation. In addition, we should think about how the Virtual Community Engagement department can help get the word out.

Narrative – what themes will guide the story you’re telling?

What will audiences learn? What will they feel? What do we want them to do at the end of all this? I’m in the process of categorizing all the items to help me find emerging themes around which to tell the story.

Design – what’s it gonna look like?

This isn’t just about colors and pictures, it’s about how the content is organized and what major principles will inform decisions. For example, the design principle of, “Show, don’t tell,” may translate into keeping the navigation simple and the text minimal, instead using imagery and interaction to communicate.

What’s next?

Now that I have a handle on the answers to some of these major questions, I am digging into all of the items in the collection in detail and starting to organize them. Thanks to Jessica, I have a articles and papers about Dr. Klehm that I can pull from for the story itself. The ultimate goal is to have this ready to go by the end of February so the library can start to promote it as part of Women’s History Month in March. Lots to do, but it’s fun, so I’m sure time will fly!

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this approach so far, especially around the messaging, intended audiences, and potential for collaboration with others.

 

 

 

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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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