So I’ve just wrapped up my second semester of Library School. It was fun, it was a lot of work, and I’m SO glad I’ve been working in libraries for what will be a decade next month. Pulling from my own widely varied experiences have made studying so relatable.
Among fellow librarians I’ve talked with during this semester it’s agreed: if you’re toying with working in a library someday and want to get the degree GO WORK IN A LIBRARY. Make sure you really like working with the public. ALL of the public, not just what you see on television. (It’s less Desk Set and more Buffy in real life.)
For one of my last assignments I had to create an infographic so I took the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do for years. I made a flow chart about offering basic excellent customer service to our face-to-face patrons. When I was nearly done I had my buddy Sarah Anne take a peek at it since she’s the head of our Circulation Department and she asked for a copy when I was done to hang in her department! It made me realize it may be helpful to folks working in libraries or those who are curious about what those interactions should look like.
I’m frequently told how uncanny it is I can give folks bad news (“No, sir, you can not use the children’s restroom.” “No, sweetheart, you can not hit her in the face with a laptop.”) and they leave happy about it. I firmly believe this can be chalked up to genuinely caring and entering each transaction believing the request I’m about to receive is important and worth my full attention. Folks respond to that. They appreciate feeling heard and important. And I never leave them simply shut down, I provide options. (“No, sir, you can not use the restrooms in the Children’s Department but did you know there are adult restrooms on the 1st and 3rd Floors? I’d be happy to show you where!” “No, sweetheart, you can’t hit her in the face with that laptop. Did you know that the library’s rules say we’re supposed to ask people not to come back for a year if they act violently towards another person? I know you were playing but it’s something to keep in mind. No laptops to the face, no aggressive tickling with spaghetti, no karate chops to your friends’ ponytails.”)
So here, have a peek at my work! (I got a 100%, btw – Woohoo!)
When I was in high school I had an incredible Latin teacher. Liz was intensely dedicated to her students and the art of language. She taught the class in Latin. There were 2 grades: A or F. We were all required to take the National Latin Exam every year (We all always medaled. Seriously. All of us. EVERY time.). We also had summer homework. We would be given a text to translate from Latin to English each summer at our leisure. I loved it. I hated the pressure during the school year but when Summer came I could devote all my focus to the class I loved the most and just read, think and write.
So far, that’s what grad school has been like. Well, sort of. I mean, there’s still a lot of stress from work, home ownership, new marriage, dog, cat, book and a few other monkey wrenches the Universe decided were appropriate for just this moment… But seriously, I have finally reached a point where I’m studying only the thing I’m obsessed with. Can you imagine!? I think about libraries. All. The. Time. But NOW! Now I get to think about libraries and do extra projects about libraries and (here comes the best part…) challenge myself when it comes to what I think I know about libraries.
I’m a weirdo in basically all aspects of my life. I’ve never quite fit into any of the molds I tried on. Snowboarder with no patience for the cool factor. Beat poet enthusiast who can’t stand Ginsberg. Seamstress interested in making intentionally tacky or inappropriate costumes resulting in social discomfort for my friends. Punk Rock lover who does not like Sid Vicious. Loudest librarian in the building interested in adding more loud people who will do weird things with me (Wool felting for cat lovers! ). These are not historically popular niches.
Now HERE are two beat foxes! That is literally one lucky dog.
I like being a weirdo. I’ve gotten comfortable living on the edges of all these colliding identities and library land has actually started encouraging people to work the way I work. I can’t wait to see what cool new versions of weird this experience is going to pull out of me.
I’ve been doing homework for the iSchool for weeks now. Prepping for an intense week long trip where I get to study for 7 days with peers. It feels a lot like when I was 9 and we moved to Maine – “Will they like me? Will I be too weird? Will I make friends?” It also feels like starting a new job – “Will standing up for what I believe in make people angry at me? Will I get to do what I want?” and somewhere sprinkled on the fuzzy edges it feels like falling in love – “I can’t sleep! I want to look nice!”
So I’m finally here and ready. It’s 7:45am and I’ve got on the special outfit I picked out and I tried to make my crazy hair cooperate and it’s my first day of school. I hope that I don’t cry (for any reason) and I hope that I don’t get a tattoo. Even more than that I hope my ideas are good enough. That all this weird has culminated into the kind of person this community will think can make a difference.
Stacie is rad. SUPER rad. I met Stacie last year at Public Library Association (PLA) and we got jazzed on the oddball things we were both creating at our libraries. Soon after we became Facebook and twitter buddies where I learned more about the amazing initiatives she’s involved in which include Outside the Lines (http://getoutsidethelines.org/ – #getOTL) and being one of the minds behind R-Squared – The Risk + Reward Conference (http://rsquaredconference.org/). Seriously, this woman is a prime example of why people from the non-library world NEED to be involved in what we’re all trying to create.
Over the course of our interview (or should I refer to it as more of a conversation which occasionally reached fevered pitches?) we discussed a lot of big ideas.
First we tackled what people in Youth Departments can bring to a leadership role. Her thoughts? Youth librarians have the ability to add whimsy, color, and opportunities for all ages to learn through play. Anythink Director Pam Sandlian Smith was once a youth librarian and during a visit last year from Rebecca Miller, editor of SLJ, Rebecca remarked that Pam had basically turned the whole place into a children’s library. Stacie found that exciting and believes these opportunities for libraries to capture the attention of adults using methods youth librarians already apply – color, marketing, and attention – have the ability to focus on our audiences in a way they aren’t used to receiving. That attention will make youth librarians valuable voices at a leadership table and will keep our public involved in a dialogue we need to stay relevant. She believes we can’t simply rely on the fact that people love us forever, we need to involve them.
We also threw around the idea of not viewing failure as failure. That each experience, be it good or bad, is always an opportunity. Being in a position of innovation she gets asked a lot about failure and never feels she’s giving the answer people are looking for. My question is are we looking for stories of failure to learn how to weather our own? If so, when is moving forward not the answer to encountering failure? We both agree what is important is to recognize the quiet failures, our dying or dead ideas and to throw them away. Holding onto them is maybe the only true form of failure.
There’s far more to our conversation and to Stacie than could ever be captured in 500 words. She’s someone I feel a deep commune with. A fellow library outsider who loves the driving force of libraries and has always been a librarian. We have no piece of paper to prove it, but it drives us from the most deep down punk rock place. It is the only way to stay hardcore and facilitate change from within a system. The best way to create change by actually embodying the change. Becoming the system instead of railing against it.