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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Learning well with others

A group of geese is a gaggle. A group of cats is a clowder. A group of sharks is a shiver.  So what do you call a group of collection-development librarians?  Last Friday, Annabelle invited me to Schaumburg Township District Library to sit in on a collection-development librarian networking meeting. It was beneficial to hear about the real-world issues librarians encounter, and I learned so much just by listening. I would advise students (in particular those like me who don’t have a lot of experience working in libraries) to see if there’s a way to attend networking meetings in their areas of interest, because hearing from practicing librarians helps make manifest the things we learn in class.

The meeting started off with a good and frank discussion of efforts to introduce and measure equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in collections. Annabelle began by talking about her efforts at Skokie (if you saw her panel about this topic at ILA, you know the gist; if not, I’ve got a blog post about it in the hopper). One of the larger points of discussion was how to make a good faith effort to diversify collections when the demographics of a library is mostly homogenous and the current interest level is low. One of the responses that resonated most was that even in homogenous communities, it is important to know each others’ stories. (On a related note, if you haven’t heard, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, I highly recommend it.) A point was made that, ‘it’s not going out,’ is not a good enough reason for not including diverse materials – active promotion is the next step. Commit. Make an effort. Try different things and see what happens. Be creative – librarians are good at this!  Some ideas that were brought up: Include diverse books in storytimes. Incorporate diverse materials into programs and readers advisory. Create adult reading challenges like, ‘read outside your comfort zone’ or ‘travels to…’ various places. As a librarian, consume diverse books and media so they become an organic part of your conversations. When selecting, don’t forget genres and independent presses. I am sure I am forgetting other good ideas, but if this is what comes up from just 20 minutes of discussion, plenty of inspiration is out there.

We didn’t talk about this on Friday, but I would bet that incorporating EDI into strategic plans (like at SPL!) makes a huge difference. There are certainly things individual staff members can do to promote diverse collections, but it is inevitably a tougher road without official support. On the other hand, if there is resistance, it may help to start small. Taking a lesson from my past experience, especially when user experience was a fairly new field, it was often challenging to try to convince companies that investing in it was a worthwhile long-term strategy – it not only takes time and money, it often requires a big shift in culture. Building up small, measurable successes over time, combined with visibility, transparency, and sustained advocacy, can provide proof of value in the long run. (Confession: this did not always work – resistance to change is a powerful thing, especially when the resistance comes from the top.)  

Back at the meeting, the group moved on to discussions of hot spots (how do you get people to return them? how long do you lend them out?), board games (good idea? if so, how do you keep the pieces together?), tips for streamlining the process to make items ‘shelf-ready,’ and experiences with Vox books, My Media Mall, Canopy, RB Digital, and Great Courses. Again, hearing both positive and negative direct experiences with these platforms/products/services was invaluable. Because the Collection Management class at Dominican gave me a solid understanding of the responsibilities and processes and vocabulary in this area, I was able to listen to the details of this discussion without having tons of questions about the basic lingo. Onward and upward!

I can’t think of a smooth way to end this post, so here’s a photo of the Trickster Native American Arts Gallery, which I drove by on my way out of the library and had to go check out (it was cool):

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Skokie Welcomes Everyone – Including Library Interns

Hello – my name is Meredith. I’m one of the two new excited (and highly excitable) Access Services interns who will be here at Skokie Public Library through the fall and spring as I work toward my MLIS degree from Dominican University.  I’ve just been through a whirlwind two days of internship orientation, and from the moment our cohort of interns was greeted at the door with a bags of SPL swag from our mentors, through the van tour through the streets of Skokie where we learned more about the community we’ll be serving, it has been a welcoming, thoughtful, and thought-provoking experience.

It has been quite interesting to learn more about my fellow interns and the varied paths we have all taken to arrive here. I have a background in user experience, and as part of my MLIS program, I am working toward a Digital Curation certificate, so I am really looking forward to learning all the ins and outs of Access Services with Annabelle, Lindsay, and the rest of the Access Services group. I’ve been through classes that cover metadata (glorious metadata), collection development, and the impact of technology on libraries, but they all feel a bit unconnected at the moment, so I am really looking forward to learning how it all fits together in the real world. I am also looking forward to desk time in various areas of the library that will give me hands-on experience with Skokie folks. In general, I appreciate the flexible approach to the internship program and the cohort model – I have already learned so much just from the formal and informal conversations we’ve had in the last two days. I also appreciate that everyone I’ve met here so far understands the importance of knowing the best places to eat. I hope to also learn how to resize images in WordPress to make them smaller. Talk soon!

access services

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