Lessons from 1 Year in the South

Some of these are funny but true and others are simply heartbreaking and true. I present them in no particular order:

1. Take Care of Your Hair

Women here take care of their hair. They get it cut, they dye it, they curl it and do it before going places. There’s an importance placed on looks that I will never really be concerned with but there’s something about their hair, man. It’s like putting on a jaunty hat without actually wearing one. I’ve come to realize that even if I’m never going to be the kind of lady who wears makeup and heels daily I would like to look like I’ve got my shit together. So getting a good haircut seemed the natural way to go. I have a do that is progressively getting weirder as I work with my new stylist (Right now I’m somewhere between Ramona Flowers and Carol Channing…) I really like this part of adulthood and hope I can make my hair a natural extension of my style (A struggle that anyone with curly hair will relate to).


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2. IHOP is a Young Woman’s Game

Food down here is not like in the north. Well, maybe a little like growing up in Downeast Maine, where everything seemed to be fried and no one counted calories or even servings most of the time. But fast food is a totally different game. As a kid we never really ate fast food. We would have a kind of biannual outing to the big city of Calais, Maine where we would run errands and then stop at Burger King for junk food. I developed great eating habits and blah, blah, blah, but it’s always been a source of entertainment to friends all the different kinds of fast food I’ve NEVER tried. I’ve made a kind of junk food bucket list that has expanded exponentially since moving to the South. A few months ago Karl and I ventured out for errands and i saw the blue glowing beacon of IHOP in the distance. I made him stop, erupting into a fit of giggles that lasted throughout our meal and until we got into the car. Then I thought I would die. I developed a food baby that would not budge. I was so uncomfortable and not even a fart would pass. This feeling lasted well into the night and I awoke the next day with a new found appreciation for water, fresh vegetables and life in general. I shall not darken that glowing blue doorway again.

3. People Talk About Race Here a Lot

Race is still very much identified as a divide here. That’s super obvious to most people and I even thought I knew that before I moved here but living inside those distinctions as a white woman was something I sort of didn’t see coming. I am perceived in a very new way and I don’t know what to think of that yet. Maybe I never will.

4. We Aren’t Listening to One Another

I sort of have these very sad glimpses of the public I serve from time to time. It’s happened at each library I’ve worked at where a divisive issue is in our face (rich & poor, educated & uneducated, any color & any other color, really any us vs. them you can think of) but all we think about is our own side of the story. If all the marching and anger from places like Ferguson is to mean anything we need to take action where it matters most- by talking to one another and voting to make change. Otherwise protests will only continue to open eyes (to what they choose to see), not doors.

5. I’m Not Normal

What a crazy, privileged, fortunate year I’ve had. Between writing the book, getting married, getting my first paid speaking gig where my library career began, moving to one of the greatest libraries in the world and then getting a promotion I have been insanely fortunate. (More on all of that later, I swear…) It’s beginning to dawn on me that while I am crazy lucky to have built a career almost entirely upon play I also put a LOT of work into it and owe a lot of my success to being me. Stubborn, competitive, risky old me.

Raised by the Library…

I hear a lot about folks who claim they were “raised in the library”. This always seems super cool to me since I definitely was not raised in my library.

I have some VERY vivid memories about the libraries of my youth. I can smell the smells, remember the way the weight of the book(s!) felt in my little hands as I walked out the door and into the sunshine. There are even some cool residual details from after library trips that are burned in my brain, as if there was pixie dust from those buildings that permeated the space time continuum and an event’s mere proximity to a library visit also made it special.

On my first trip to a Public Library I checked out Roald Dahl’s The Witches from a library in New Jersey. I went home and climbed a cherry tree in full bloom in our front yard and read until I was scared I’d finish the book and have the story end.

When we moved to Maine I quietly stalked the shelves of our small Library and found a small blue tome, the kind that had it’s title written in gold on its spine. (The kind of book you can call a freakin’ tome and mean it!) Inside there were little poems about mermaids and shipwrecks, cresting waves and the lonely pitch of ships in the fog. I would sneak back to that shelf for “my book” many times. As an adult I’m putting off calling and being “that patron” who asks for “the small blue book in the 811’s with a nautical focus”. I shudder at both the reality that I must do this or I will simply die and the empathy I will feel for the person on the other end of that phone call. Especially when I’ll ask in vain if they know “what happened to it?” when it will surely be long removed from the collection…

A lot of us have stories like these and I love meeting other librarians and hearing their renditions of this story but I never got to say I was “raised by my library”. It’s silly to be envious of this claim but sometimes I am. Like I’m not core enough for my job because I didn’t have that immersion. Is it possible that this is on par with Jewish Guilt or Catholic Guilt? If so, I’m devoted to the art form…

However, right now I’m sitting in an airport on the way to my wedding. I’ve spent the day attending a training for women on leadership because of the generosity of our Friends. I was given gifts and hugs all day by staff and then driven to the airport by a patron. On the way here the most fabulous 12 year old ever told me I was the coolest person in the world when I described what my wedding would be like. Then he asked me to plan his wedding when the time comes.

I’ve been gifted with a handmade Christmas wreath from a Kindergarten class, a Robert Frost quote translated into gorgeous oil pastel art from a senator’s husband, a 5 pack (FIVE!) of custom made cd’s when I left VT from a teenager, the consideration, time, love and conversation from the entire staff of my first library after heartbreak, lessons in foreign languages from kids whose language was the only constant in their lives as fleeing refugees, the volunteer efforts from friends as I ventured into unchartered Library territory and made them stay up all night with dozens of teenagers, and now with the freedom to explore the boundaries of my profession to depths I never dreamed possible… and all while they ask for info on my wedding registry…

I may not have been raised by my library as a child but as a human and an adult I have been raised by my libraries. And I am so lucky.

Quiet Like Kittens.

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I get really busy and neglect this blog from time to time.  I have a good feeling when this happens because it means I’m working more than writing about working though…

Here’s a little found cuteness to make up for it!

 

OMG, There’s Gonna’ be a Book…

Today is such a mixed up kind of day. Recently I lost one of my favorite fathers from library world to a terrible motorcycle accident. Yesterday morning one of the kids (now 20) from my first library also passed away from a motorcycle accident. Geez…

There are some incredible things afoot in my world so I didn’t imagine writing this post would feel so bittersweet.

I’ve been waiting a really long time to announce that I’m writing a book with the amazing folks at ABC-CLIO Libraries Unlimited. I am STOKED. I am so incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with such a great group of people on a topic that is my absolute favorite thing to talk about ever- Progressive Programming for Tweens and Teens. It’s going to cover a lot of what folks have a tendency to ask me about: Lego Club, my Teen Volunteer Program, the 3D’s of 3D Printing and a LOT more. I’m writing it from the perspective of a “non-librarian” and my goal is to create something accessible for stay-at-home moms, kick ass nannies, teachers, and anyone working with kids who wants to try something new that’s grounded in experience.

I’ve been helping my incredible coworkers present at a variety of conferences lately and barreling down the road to the various conferences I’ve had a lot of time to think. (Well, in between laughing at how hilarious they all are…) Some of these really sad things are coming on the heels of these other great things (like I’m getting married in two weeks!) and it mirrors perfectly what I’m trying so hard to achieve in work right now – balance. Balance between the warm body work and the brain work I do, between addressing the inappropriate behavior of kids and rewarding their great antics, and between following my own message of staying inspiredand getting shit done.

 

 

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Library Rocks Yo!

Recently I set up what might be the easiest anti-program of all- a large sheet of blank paper with the word Doodle written across it in a bouncy, bubbly script. It was doodled upon for days and as I went over to clean it up when it was full I found this scrolled across one area. It’s great to see a simple program work but even better to find validation literally written across it at its conclusion. Yay!

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My First Week in Chattanooga

If there’s anything I’ve learned from realistic tween fiction it’s that being the new girl can be hard.  Really hard. Roving bullies, countless social faux pas, missing friends and family, it’s really just a wasteland strewn with mortification and terror.  Growing up I never exactly “fit in”.  My clothes were different, my hairstyles were different, my sense of humor was different and the things I liked to do for fun were really different. (If you’ve just moved to a new town I do NOT recommend jumping straight into imaginary downhill skiing on your roller-skates in front of the cool kids.)  When we moved to Maine I was nine and I had all of the aforementioned things going for me.  It was like walking straight into one of those novels except there was no turning the page when things got too hard to read.  I couldn’t finish the book and be glad I wasn’t in some other girl’s shoes.  I embraced the strange though.  I liked standing out as a societal rebel, I took pleasure in scaring the other kids with my sense of humor and while my lack of friends bothered me I didn’t want to compromise who I was.  After about a year of this I found Rachel, another outsider, and we took solace in one another’s company. All of a sudden the world with bullies didn’t exist anymore, all that was real was the world we created for ourselves.

Some folks have been asking what my first week has been like since joining the 2nd Floor of the Chattanooga Public Library. There’s interest about having gaming equipment for teens available all day (even if teens are skipping school), there are questions about letting kids have access to expensive equipment like our 3D printer, there is wonder about the fact that we have 14,000 sq feet for JUST ages 8-18, and there are questions about what we’ve got up our sleeves, what big, crazy things we want to do next.

The fancy equipment is wonderful to have right off the bat, but it’s not the best part.  I’ve always pushed to get games in my previous libraries and the responsibilities libraries have to reflecting our communities and bridging gaps makes it easy to justify the need for 3D printers or maker spaces in grant funding if you can’t find room for it in your budgets.  

We have lots of space to grow, be noisy and even run around if we want to which is incredible but it’s also not the best part.  This week we had the room to create music and a gigantic 20 foot jellyfish at the same time.  When the kids excitement led them to get rambunctious they were encouraged to run, no, stampede to the other end of our floor to get drinks of water and burn it off.  I know space is hard to come by for many libraries but even at my first library when we didn’t have enough space to run around we could go outside to burn off energy.  At my last library when we needed to burn energy we occasionally just let the kids be kids and run if needed.  There can be creative ways to deal with small spaces and locations that don’t have the great outdoors at your disposal.

The best part about working in the Chattanooga Public Library and specifically on the 2nd Floor is being in a building filled with people like me.  People who have also had their programming ideas received with raised eyebrows, people who might not look like other librarians and certainly don’t talk like them.  It’s like I’ve found a hive of Rachels and we’re just getting started in creating those big, crazy programs everyone is waiting to hear about.  I am supported, I am inspired, I am encouraged and I am flourishing.  That’s what it’s like to work here.