Karah's #hyperlinkedlibrary Blog

I Want to Do This: Interactive Community Stories

Posted in Uncategorized by on February 24, 2019
The “Local Stories” video included in the Hyperlinked Communities module got me thinking about how great it would be to launch a project like that at my high school.

I am particularly interested in the ideas surrounding the embedded video included in the Hyperlinked Communities module.  After watching the video and doing a little searching for more information about the content, I got to thinking how cool it would be to do something like that as a kind of running installation in the school library with the goal of bringing our community together in new and exciting ways.  Kind of like a Storycorps or Humans of New York or Auckland Humanity Project for my high school.  I love this idea!  We could begin creating a living history of the people who come through our building with whom we spend a significant part of our lives.  I have a colleague who does a Storycorps project with her classes already; it’s possible we collaborate and start by expanding that existing project into something that could become more public and visible to the whole school.  From the Hyperlinked Communities Module notes:

“Peter Block writes in Community: The Structure of Belonging, ‘Communities are human systems given form by conversations that build relatedness.’ Building a relationship between the librarian and the user is a step toward establishing the bonds of community. That’s why we can’t just hide behind our reference desks or our virtual lecterns and hope that students or users listen but leave us alone. Active engagement begins here.”  

But I think this idea could not work without the “conversation” piece; in other words, it would have to be a give and take between students and teacher/librarian-as-coach, otherwise it’s just a few faculty members with an idea they hope students might like. Without the student involvement and, ideally, ownership, there would be no point I don’t think. There would be no engagement.

After reading Palaces for the People last week, I have been able to articulate in new ways my mission as a librarian, and I think I am getting closer to having a good “elevator pitch” about the importance of libraries:  Libraries are the measure of the health of a democracy. A strong community, to draw on Block’s quote, creates and maintains “conversations that build relatedness.” I think it is the librarian’s duty to create and maintain the “bonds of community.”  Providing space for community voices to be heard for no other reason than to tell their story–not to highlight an achievment or an award or some other competitive thing that school too often emphasizes–sends students the message that all voices matter, that all who enter BHS belong.  We have been moving towards that sentiment as a society for a while now. But we also know that kids can tell better than anyone the difference between a catchy slogan weilded out of convenience and an attempt to control, and a sincere attempt at improving their lives.

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts on Other Readings/Viewings from the Module

  • In other news, I think I’m learning how to make my blog more visually appealing!

“Palaces for the People” Review

Posted in Uncategorized by on February 19, 2019

In May of 2007, my parents and grandparents decided to combine households, and my soon-to-be husband and I decided to buy the house my grandparents would vacate.  We had saved for a honeymoon, but cancelled those plans in favor of a small down payment on the house. It was a great little place, a Levittown-like cape with a huge back yard and an inground pool.  The community was sought-after by people commuting to New York for work, as there was a direct train from our town into Manhattan, but being in northern Monmouth county, it still offered the quiet, tree-lined streets of the suburbs with close proximity to the beautiful Jersey Shore.  The house had been maintained well since it was built in 1962, and it would make a great forever home.

But in 2011, we had our first child, a boy, and another baby boy completed our family in 2014.  The next year, as the prospect of enrolling our oldest in the public schools loomed, we found ourselves having second thoughts about the town in which our sons would grow up.  Besides, a move would eliminate our dreaded commute, and offer us peace of mind knowing when our kids were in school, we would be just down the road, a phone call away if they were sick and needed us to pick them up.  Not having to rely on anyone else to help with our kids was a huge relief after years of dealing with unreliable child care greatly complicated by the fact that it was given for free by family. After a long search, we found our home, and the new place felt more like home to us than our old one ever did, despite the fact that we had been happy there.  

So what prompted a move from our home where we’d always assumed we’d stay and raise our family?  From the beginning, when we first moved to the town, we noticed there was not what we thought of as a sense of community.  There was a town center, but it was vintage, at best, and didn’t have the type of vibrancy that made us want to spend any time there.  Plenty of restaurants and businesses resided in nondescript strip malls laid out on main county roads separated by fast food chains. There were huge county parks, but you had to drive to get there, and the one neighborhood green space that had been planned with the prefab houses in the 60s had a crumbling playground that never seemed to attract children.  It was as if all the set pieces of a happy, suburban life had been dropped down in the middle of beautiful open land in rural New Jersey, but something about forming this community didn’t quite take. And when we had children, it really became clear to us: The town did not have what Eric Klinenberg calls strong “social infrastructure.”

I take all this time on my experience because for years I have tried to explain to friends and family why we would move from the suburbs by the shore back to the congestion of northern New Jersey with its high taxes and home prices, but I didn’t have language to describe why I never really felt at home in that setting.  In his 2018 book, Palaces for the People, Klinenberg has offered a way in which to understand both my unease in that community and my comfort in our new one.  He says, “…people with the same interest in social connection, community building, and civic participation have varying opportunities to achieve those things depending on the conditions in the places where they spend time.  The social and physical environment shapes our behaviour in ways we’ve failed to recognize; it helps make us who we are and determines how we live” (13). I think when I had children, it became clear to me that although I could not put my finger on what it was about that community that I did not like, I somehow knew living there would determine my family’s behavior and could possibly affect the lives of my children in ways I was not at all comfortable with.  I had assumed that when we had a family, we would be drawn into the community through them as we frequented local parks and took part in local activities, but I see now my husband and I did not share an “interest in social connection, community building, and civic participation,” with our neighbors, and that having children wasn’t going to change that lack of interest. It had always been there; having children just made it more obvious.

In any case, after adding quite a few titles from the original list provided to my TBR list, I settled on reading Palaces for the People because the subtitle–How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life–speaks not only to my professional passion of librarianship, but also to my experience as a citizen and member of a community.  Klinenberg’s thesis is that shared spaces play a vital role in our democracy, and the social infrastructure that support these spaces has the power to make society better.  Reading this book has helped me understand more fully my lifelong love of libraries; I am not just an avid reader and book lover, I see libraries as a physical manifestation of my core values and beliefs that learning and information is for everybody.  How beautiful is that!? Klinenberg says, “Why have so many public officials and civic leaders failed to recognize the value of libraries and their role in our social infrastructure? Perhaps it’s because the founding principle behind the library–that all people deserve free open access to our shared culture and heritage, which they can use to any end they see fit–is out of sync with the market logic that dominates our time….Their core mission is to help people elevate themselves and improve their situation” (37).  The author’s summary of the library’s founding principle and core mission speak directly to why I went into education in the first place. I believe public school is perhaps the only systemic institution that has the power to democratize, and I have always wanted to be a part of that work.

Libraries are not the only form of social infrastructure Klinenberg discusses, but he says they are “among the most critical forms of social infrastructure that we have” (32).  He also talks about religious centers like churches and synagogues, daycare facilities, parks, and bookstores as vital components of the social infrastructure, and says these “public places and institutions play a pivotal role in the daily lives of our neighborhoods and communities.  On good days they can determine how many opportunities we have for meaningful social interactions [the kind I was interested in securing for my family when we decided to move]. On bad days, especially during crises, they can mean the difference between life and death” (226). Klinenberg examines what happens to communities in the days, weeks, and months following disasters such as heat waves and hurricanes, and finds those with strong social infrastructure fare far better in the aftermath of a crisis despite demographics and geography.  

This book has allowed me to truly zero in on my mission as a librarian, provided me with language I did not previously have about librarianship and my role, and I am just beside myself knowing there is someone out there doing this kind of thinking about social infrastructure.  I feel hopeful in new ways after reading this book, and am so excited to talk about the ways in which it has grown my thinking on the value of libraries. I recommend that everyone read this book, but especially librarians. Klinenberg wrote an opinion piece last September on the subject, if you just want the broad strokes for now.  Great, great stuff.

Some Reflections on the Foundational Readings

Posted in Uncategorized by on February 11, 2019
I have been weeding vigorously since assuming the librarian position in my high school library. This image is from one of the books I weeded this week.

This post is over 800 words.  I know it’s okay, but I value what Dr. Stephens says in the explanation of the blogging bit of the course about, “Part of the challenge in blogging is packing meaning into a few short paragraphs.”  I plan to keep working towards that, but this foundational stuff just felt especially important to flesh out here. What follows are my thoughts as they relate to the foundational readings, my takeaways, and how I have been and plan to use these ideas in my work.

From Buckland (1992):  “Responsible selection of means depends of prior selection of ends.”  In other words, ask “What good does it do?” and, “What sort of good do we most want to achieve within available resources?”  This is the ends. Then ask, “How good is it [at meeting our end goal]?” (On goodness, Buckland says another type lies in the question, “How well is it done?” which has to do with effective management.)  It felt important to me to get a handle on this idea of ends and means, and so I made a list of the ends I am trying to achieve. (I was also thinking about Buckland’s use of “we” and “our” and the problem of isolation I face in my job as a school librarian where it’s just me.  I feel like there are a few allies I have that value and would be interested in working towards a shared vision, but no one that shares my exact position so that these individuals also have naturally competing agendas of their own. In my sixteen years of employment in public education, there have been many frustrations, but chief among them has had to do with what Buckland identifies as effective management and the question of how well are our ends being achieved.  I don’t believe that question is often asked, let alone answered and acted upon by most managers I’ve worked for. Surely it is a big endeavor, but one that has to be undertaken to maintain integrity, I think. But now I just feel hopelessly optimistic.) In my work in the library, I am trying to achieve:

  • A strong sense of community
  • A strong sense of ownership
  • A space that is welcoming to all, for all
  • A collection and services of the highest quality possible to convey the message that our students deserve the best

So how will I achieve these ends?  What are the best means available with which to achieve them?

According to Buckland, I need to ask:  What is the mission of the library? What is the role of the library?  What are the means for providing service? I have a vague sense of what I am trying to achieve as outlined above, but no clear mission that offers clear guidance.  (Something like, “Linking students to resources to enhance the lives of our diverse community,” which is taken from one of the example mission statements in Casey and Savastinuk (2007)).  

And Mathews (2017) reminds me in “Cultivating Complexity” of Ranganathan’s fifth law which states “The library is a growing organism.”  And so, what does the library want to become? What does it need right now? How might it grow in the future?

I think I’ve been moving towards a vision of a library by and for the students.  I think these questions and ideas can help me distill that vision into a mission statement that can guide me and be shared with stakeholders.  Casey and Savastinuk said the mission statement should answer the question: How does the library serve customers? The goal should be to keep current users and reach potential users by empowering them through participatory, user driven services.  This speaks to my vision of a library for and by the students. The authors go on to talk about ways in which to solicit information from both the user as well as the non-user, and I am thinking I could do quick surveys (with the help of my Student Library Advisory) in the cafeteria and in the library at lunchtime on a Chromebook using a Google Form to gather some preliminary data, starting with the simple Net Promoter Score to track “customer delight,” as discussed in Steve Denning’s “Do We Need Libraries?”  This article outlines “Five ‘Right’ Approaches For Libraries” that I can use as a guide to understanding and cultivating Ranganathan’s fifth law, the library as a growing organism.  

These ideas are super exciting, and definately aptly grouped together as “foundational.”  I feel like I’ve got a place from which to start understanding exactly the type of groundwork I’d like to lay down in my library.  

Some miscellaneous thoughts from Mathews (2012) “Facing the Future”:

  • I have been working on a newsletter that highlights the work being done in the library, resources, etc. and realizing I need to “Get it into others’ hands and see what happens.”  It is a “minimum viable product.” Rather than waiting until it is perfect (ha!), get feedback and build it into my next iteration. Scary. Necessary.  
  • Also from Mathews (2012):  If I were still in the classroom, what would I want my library to be doing for me and my students?  “Seize the White Space,” and ask, “What isn’t being done? What opportunities exist to help people in new ways?  How can I empower people by addressing unmet needs?” A travelling bookmobile comes to mind, but how else can I answer these questions?  
  • Partner with Cindy (my friend and crisis center coordinator) to brand the writing tutor volunteers as the “Writing Center”
  • I love this:  “Libraries need to be a cause, a purpose, and the reason you get out of bed and are excited to get to work.” Yes, yes, yes!  “Libraries are about people, not books or technology. It’s about the outcome for patrons interacting with everything we do and offer.”  Yes!
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