Reflection Post 2: Libraries are feeding the mind and the body.

I am continuously amazed by all of the ways that libraries are engaging with the community and building relationships. Two of the topics from the modules, food and art, really stuck in my brain, mostly because they currently relate to the library I work at and the community. My branch is small but well used. Poverty, homelessness, and unemployment are major issues that affect the community, and the library is always trying to find ways to alleviate them.

Food

As you might imagine, there is a lack of access to healthy food in my community. Food is a basic necessity that no one should worry about not having, and as Mike Zuehlke says “Food is one of those things that we all share—across cultures, races, economic, or educational level. Few things promote gathering and interaction as well as a shared meal” (Kim, 2014). Libraries are always looking for ways to get people to gather and interact, and food seems like a spectacular way to do that.

Unfortunately, my branch is too small to have a kitchen like the Meadowridge Branch Library. There are, however, plenty of other ways to incorporate food into our programs or services. Over the summer, a nonprofit came to my library and put on two food literacy programs. Kids and their families learned how to read a recipe, practices (plastic) knife skills, and made (really delicious) salads and dressings. I was surprised that it was actually one of our most popular programs this summer, but it made sense. The program was hands on and fun yet also practical. We were providing something people need AND want, which is something we usually struggle to find.

Art

I first learned of The Idea Box in one my of previous classes, but now I view it a little differently, as a piece of the hyperlinked library. By providing a space and materials, people can use their experiences, feelings, and creativity to share and connect with others. I like that this could be done with others or even in solitary. I enjoyed so many of the themes that I do not think I could pick a favorite. I greatly appreciate the way this program incorporates art in many of the themes. So often, art is one of the first subjects eliminated in schools and is generally valued less in our society. There was (and still is) disagreement about art being a part of STEM and changing the acronym to STEAM. However, many of us know the importance of art and there is plenty of research out there that supports it, especially in early childhood development and for individuals with special needs or autism.

In the libraries I have worked at and visited as a patron, art is not a top priority. I can understand that reading and literacy are regarded as most important, and there are many other worthy causes as well. While art could certainly play into them, libraries often do not have enough time, money, staff, or energy to incorporate more art. However, in most of my experience when art is offered, it is popular and well received. Recently, my library had a paint night for adults. The program was full and many people (kids, teens, AND adults) who saw the program wanted to do it too. When I was talking to one young girl who was maybe 8 years old about why she wanted to paint, she said she’s never painted before, not at school or at home. She mentioned she’s done other things like coloring but never painting. Perhaps it is because painting is messy or too expensive, but I was sad that she never has and maybe never will paint. This made me consider how libraries can help fill this gap, especially since there aren’t many options for people to learn or practice art for cheap or free in a welcoming environment.

There are many barriers to accessing both art and food, and I believe that libraries can help lessen or remove them. We are going beyond helping patrons find and consume information to helping them produce and create it. I think libraries are in an ideal position to continue to build relationships and engage with people by feeding their minds and their bodies.

References

Kim, S. (2014). …and the kitchen sink.

Oak Park Public Library. (n.d.). IdeaBox Collections.

Oak Park Public Library (2017). The Idea Box.

Context Book Report – Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives by Tim Harford

I will admit that I chose to read Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives by Tim Harford because I tend to be a messy person. My stuff can often be found in piles on random surfaces throughout my house. I remember always being this way, even when I was a child. Attempts to clean my room were almost pointless, and I’ve only gotten somewhat better at it as an adult. My hope was that this book was going to praise these habits. Well, the book focuses mostly on the benefits of mental disruption or being forced to work in a different way. There are some sections that highlight having a messy desk or an unorganized inbox. While this book did not justify all of messy ways, I did gain some valuable insights and will not fret too much over my desk.

Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform our Lives by Time Harford

Harford used anecdotes to illustrate various ways that ‘messy’ can have positive outcomes in nine various areas: creativity, collaboration, workplaces, improvisation, winning, incentives, automation, resilience, and life. The book begins with a story about Keith Jarrett, a jazz pianist, who requested a specific piano for his performances. The Opera House had the wrong piano, and it was in such poor shape that it was considered unplayable. At first, he refused to play if the Opera House could not get him what he needed, but then he decided to go through with the performance anyways. The defective piano forced him to change his methods, and it turned out to be one of his best performances. I could see this technique being useful in libraries because often we have limited resources. By being forced to use what is on hand, this could lead to a creative solution that is better than what was originally planned.

I was interested and relieved to read the ‘Life’ section that covered organizing files and emails, which suggested that these practices are generally a waste of time. For email, it is quicker to use the search box to find what is needed than to click through organized folders. Instead of constantly determining where to put emails and moving them into folders, it is better to spend that time on something else. For paper files, those who diligently filed away papers saved everything and rarely used any of it again. Harford mentions a few filing techniques that some people have found effective, including the simple pile of papers on the desk. This method means that the most important or frequently used papers are on top and easily accessible. While I will not be tossing out all my files, I will be reevaluating my current work practices!

The Noguchi Filing System

Source: http://synthstuff.com/mt/archives/2005/10/the-noguchi-fil.html

 

The Pile Filing System

Source: my desk

 

Time management was also briefly mentioned in the ‘Life’ section of the book. Harford wrote about a study done on undergraduate students that looked at the difference between daily plans, monthly plans, and no plans for studying and homework. The researchers thought the daily planners would be the most successful but were surprised to learn that the monthly planners did much better than daily planners. It was theorized that daily planning took too much time, effort, and motivation for the students, especially when things did not go as planned and goals had to be adjusted constantly. Alternatively, monthly plans allowed students to have broad goals which did not require changing when something unexpected happened. Harford concluded that “[d]aily plans are tidy, but life is messy” (2016, p. 243). This concept resonated with me in relation to my personal life as well as my job. There have been so many times that my daily plans at work have been interrupted by an incident in the library, someone calling in sick, a program not going as planned, or an unexpected meeting. It would be exhausting to create a plan every day that I felt the need to follow only to have it interrupted almost daily. Having a monthly, or perhaps weekly, plan will allow for those unexpected changes, but it does require planning a little further in advance.

My main take away from the book is that one should not strive to be tidy for the sake of being tidy, especially if that is not how one normally functions. People have varying preferences for how they like their spaces set up, how they like to organize their files, and what methods work best for them. What is crucial is that we let people decide. By giving people autonomy, we allow them to create spaces in which they feel comfortable. We spend so much of our time at work, and that space needs to reflect us. The areas in which we should push people out of their comfort zones have to do mostly with ways of thinking. Harford mentions musicians and other famous figures who used improvisation or other techniques to break out of their routines. Martin Luther King Jr. spent hours each week preparing his Sunday sermons, but his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was a work of improvisation. Musicians Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt created the Oblique Strategies cards that had challenging tasks or phrases designed to disrupt the thoughts of musicians and help break creative blocks.

Oblique Strategies

  • Remember those quiet evenings
  • Change instrument roles
  • Use ‘unqualified’ people
  • Breathe more deeply
  • What are you really thinking about just now?
  • Use an unacceptable color
  • Tape your mouth
  • Bridges -build -burn
  • Get your neck massaged
  • Only a part, not the whole

Source: http://stoney.sb.org/eno/oblique.html

Now more than ever, with technology advances, Web 2.0, and community demands, library workers need to start thinking differently in order for libraries to stay relevant. This was clear in many of our class readings. In Think like a startup, Brian Mathews discussed how we need to change the way we think dramatically and not just “find new ways of doing the same old thing” (p. 12). This is not an easy task that can be done overnight. However, we could easily incorporate some of the techniques or strategies that were mentioned above in an upcoming meeting or brainstorming session. Additionally, many libraries have begun moving in the right direction of becoming more participatory. This has not been easy either. Many libraries start out with good intentions by asking community members what they want from libraries. However,  Aaron Schmidt (2016) notes that this puts an unreasonable burden on people to determine what libraries should be offering. Instead, he suggests libraries use a different approach and ask people about their lives then use that information to create services that interest them. All of these techniques are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what libraries could be doing differently. There are no shortage of ideas, but first, we must realize that library work is certainly not tidy, and we need to learn to embrace messy rather than fight it.

 

References

Harford, T. (2016). Messy: The power of disorder to transform our lives. New York: Riverhead Books.

Mathews, B. (2012). Think like a startup. Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/18649/Think%20like%20a%20STARTUP.pdf?sequence=1

Schmidt, A. (2016). Asking the Right Questions.

Now is not the time to find new ways of doing the same old thing.

Throughout the readings and videos from the first weeks of class, change was a theme that kept popping up and catching my attention. Casey & Savastinuk (2007) mentioned change frequently, focusing on how libraries can use it to improve. Brian Mathews (2012) discussed how libraries need to move beyond basic change and think more like startups. These were my favorite readings that got me thinking about what we do in libraries and how change needs to be a bigger part of that. Change is something people generally do not enjoy, but it can rarely be avoided. Many struggle through it, fight it, or try to ignore it. I have always felt that supervisors in particular need to be skilled at leading employees through change, but that can be hard to do. I tend to like routine because it makes it easier for me to organize, plan, and make sure things get done. However, I also strongly believe we (myself, employees, libraries, etc.) can always find ways to do things better, which usually requires change.

Source: http://www.savagechickens.com/2007/12/nickels-and-dimes.html

Since I’m relatively new at my job, I am currently focusing on learning more about the community my library is serving and trying to gain an overall understanding of how things work. My next steps will be to improve the services and programs we provide, which will certainly require change in some form. Casey & Savastinuk (2007) recommend using consistent and purposeful change and continual evaluation. Doing this requires a lot of effort and buy in from all staff, but I think it is exactly what libraries need to be doing to stay relevant and keep up with the demand of our communities.

Through my work experience, I have found that evaluation tends to come at a few specific times: once a year, at the end of a season, or when there is an internal or external force that requires it (lack of funding, change in priorities, etc.). By having evaluations only at these times, they can become routine and lack value, or they frighten employees because this means making hard choices to get rid of things. If evaluation and change become a natural and consistent part of the process (but not simply routine), those feelings could likely be avoided. I think libraries are great at evaluating, and we love collecting data. However, we need to be using that to move forward, not just look back.

Main takeaways from the readings:

  • Incorporate change and evaluation making it part of the process.
  • Evaluate all services on a regular basis.
  • Nothing is sacred.
  • Get feedback from patrons AND staff.
  • Make it easy for them to submit suggestions without fear of rejection or being ignored.
  • Ask the tough questions: Does the library change enough? Does the library consistently offer the services that library users (or potential users) want?
  • Do not change things simply for the sake of change.
  • Do not be afraid of failing. Include it in the process.
  • “Now is not the time to find new ways of doing the same old thing” (Mathews, 2012, p. 12).

 

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30022596@N06/3202532497/

References

Introduction

Hi everyone! My name is Michelle Brown, and I am about 3/4 of the way done with the MLIS program. I’m doing the full time work part time school thing, so it’s taking me a little longer than I planned. I’ve been trying to focus on classes that teach things I won’t learn on the job. I’m hoping this class will give me some tools or expose me to ideas that I can use to navigate the ever changing technology and library fields. I’m interested in how libraries are evolving as community spaces and what I can do to help advocate for libraries as essential parts of our communities.

Over the summer, I was hired as a Library Supervisor at the Sacramento Public Library. I run a small neighborhood branch in North Sacramento. It’s only been three months, but I love it! I supervise 1 full time and 2 part time Library Assistants as well as two Shelvers. There are no other staff (Librarians, Circ Supervisor, etc.), so I get to wear many hats and do lots of everything. Previously, I worked at the Roseville Public Library and the Humboldt County Library. I want to continue working in public libraries, but I don’t have a next step planned yet. I think I’ll be happy with where I am for at least a while.

For my bachelor’s degree, I studied Studio Art at Humboldt State University. I learned many different kinds of art but focused mostly on photography and painting. In my spare time, I enjoy art, yoga, camping, and of course reading. I like picture books because I actually have the time to finish them!