Monday, November 21, 2016

Enter the Public Library: Libraries Provide Only Opportunities for Some in Applying for Jobs

"Get a job!" is the sentiment many have toward those who are perceived to be living off the system of entitlements.  In today's digital world, that is easier said than done.

Those who have not been in the job search arena in the past 10 years may be unaware that most jobs require applications to be submitted via computer, rather than by hand. The lack of a home computer, coupled with possibly insufficient reading and digital literacy skills, put those most in need of a job at a disadvantage.

Enter the public library.  Not only does the library have the digital tools necessary to fill out online applications, we have staff that can help applicants shift through job postings, help construct resumes and cover letters, and fill out the necessary applications.  Patrons needing extra help can Reserve-a-Librarian specifically to work one-on-one with him.

The digital divide, including the equipment, the connections, and the skills to use them, are getting wider.  In order to have a true democracy, all citizens should be equipped with the same basic skills.  Being able to access the job market is one of those skills.  I am thankful public libraries remember their roles as a people's university and are able to help bridge some of the issues confronting our citizens.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

In West Virginia, the Digital Divide Just Got Wider

It will take weeks before a final account is made, but as of now, at least two public libraries in West Virginia are a total loss as a result of the flooding that occurred in the state last weekend.  I am sure when the count is over, several school libraries will be on the casualty list.  What scares me to death is that they won't be replaced.

The southern part of West Virginia is arguably the poorest, and this is the area that received the rainfall that resulted in heavy losses.  Many of the counties in this area did not have school libraries to lose.  Local boards made the tough decisions long ago to cut libraries and library positions in response to dwindling income.  Now, the decision would be easy not to replace damaged school libraries; there were no funds to operate the existing libraries and now there will be none to rebuild.

While I worry deeply about what this means to a profession I fiercely believe in, I worry more about what it means for society.  If knowledge is power, and digital access is our source of knowledge, a lot of students in our state are without the necessary tools to compete economically or scholastically against students from more privileged areas.  By no means are these children receiving an equal education to those in the northern part of the state.  How long can this disparity go unaddressed?
To ignore this issue is to be a willing partner in the oppression of the poor everywhere.

Today Hilda K. Weisburg wrote a post outlining the digital access disparities among affluent communities, the rural, the urban and the tribal.  She noted many key aspects, including poverty (the inability to afford home access) and lack of broadband in remote areas.  Her suggestion, (though certainly she did not suggest that this would solve all our access problems), was to call our legislators and ask them to enact legislation that helps alleviate disparity among school districts via ESSA.  This certainly is good advice, but it needs to go further.

When legislation is crafted, it needs to remove loopholes.  Money cannot be redirected to other purposes.  Kids need libraries and someone to teach them how to evaluate the rhetoric that is tossed about daily.  The essence of the school library in this scheme cannot be bypassed or redefined for the convenience of a district.  The language has to be firm.

Knowledge is power. Libraries exist to bring power to all.  Don't leave these poor communities in the dark.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Over the past few days I run across several instances in my PLN and onsite professional development that stressed that we should build solid relationships with our clients before we try to influence their learning or address their needs.  The first was at a school professional development session, and frankly I made note of the emphasis on relationships only because I thought the idea was rather insulting.  Now, going through my blog feeds, I find that ASCD is calling for submissions about putting relationships first.

Am I the only one who thinks it is appalling that we need to be reminded of the importance of solid human interaction?  Have we as a society degraded so far that we don't understand that human beings come before any agenda?  This is hurtful to think.  I can only hope that I am misreading the extent of concern for developing relationships.

Having positive human relationships with my students and their parents seems natural to me.  I want to work with these people and for these people.  They need to know I care about their children and their families.  I can't imagine not knowing the names of my 500+ students and their parents.  I am thankful that going to the grocery store on Saturdays is going to take three times longer than it should, because I will run into parents and students.  I am glad former parents comprise the majority of my Facebook friends.

I compare this need for relationships with my students and families to my need to see my doctor when ill.  It would be much quicker to see another practitioner, but my doctor knows me.  He knows my husband and kids.  He knows I don't usually whine.  He knows I overwork.  We have a 25+ year relationship with him.  The relationship is more important to me than seeing a specialist.

In our jobs we cannot and will not connect with every client we serve.  But that should be our goal.  And we shouldn't need "experts" to remind us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Little Things

I can't tell you the month or day, but I can tell you the time.  It was open library period before school officially began for the day.  The library was swamped.  One checkout after another.  Kids coming to me asking about particular books, many bypassing the catalog. Five minutes before the bell was to ring the line of students waiting to checkout snaked across the room and through the bookshelves.  I was in panic mode when a student required me to leave the desk to help him, because  I was required to get all these kids in class before the bell rang.

I stepped away from the desk to help the child at the OPAC.  Behind me I heard one of my 5th graders, Garrett, step up to the circulation computer and say, "I'll help whoever is next."  I turned and looked at him.  He was totally engaged and asking the right questions of the student he was helping.  I finished my work with my student, directed him to the proper area, and logged his workstation into management mode.  I turned to the line of students at Garrett's desk and said, "I'll help who is next."  Between Garrett and me, the last students checking out were only about five minutes late for class.

Schedules run schools, and school libraries certainly are subject to the mayhem and order that schedules can create.  Fortunately, with Garrett's help, I was able to focus on what a student needed - in my presence, at that time - with very little disruption of the school schedule.

I don't know if my stopping the assembly line of checkout to help a child made a difference in that child's life, but I do know it made a difference in mine.  I was able to concentrate on the people business which is essential to the success of any library program.  I was able to build on a relationship with a student that needed help.   I will bet my last dollar that child probably asked me for help again.

As Hilda Weisburg noted, with solid relationships in place, students, parents and administrators are likely to continue coming to you when they have a need.  For the most part, building relationships comes natural to me.  There have been times when I have had to work especially hard on a relationship.  Sometimes that happened because the customer and I didn't click.  Sometimes it was because of precedents set by former librarians.

On one of my very first days in the position I have held for almost twenty years, a kindergarten teacher paraded her children through the library and announced, "This is the library.  We aren't allowed in here."  I was speechless.  And I vowed to make her my friend.  By the time she retired we weren't going to the movies together, but we did develop a mutual respect.

I believe one needs to be a people person to be in the information industry, no matter what its form. I have had way too many people tell me enviously that my job is so nice and quiet to believe that everyone who goes into this profession is in it to help people. How can one help a person, deliver a service that requires specific knowledge of that person's needs, if one is unwilling to talk to him or bend a little bit to provide good public service?

These are the things that are remembered: someone knows your name and greets you anytime he sees you, and that someone did something a little extra to make you feel special.  Something little is all it takes to touch someone, to begin a trusted relationship.

My stepping away from a backed up line to help a child find what he wanted should have told that child "You matter." What Garrett did for me when he stepped up to the circulation desk PC and began checking out all those kids was a little thing that helped make an already decent relationship with him that much better.  His stepping up allowed me to make my relationship with the student needing help even stronger.  It told all those waiting in line that they mattered, too.  What I did for him in letting him get away with running the circ desk without explicit permission was a nonverbal statement of trust and gratitude.

On that very hectic morning, everybody but the timekeepers won.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Professionally Speaking

I have spent the past 34 years as a librarian and teacher. During that time I have witnessed, advocated or rebelled against changes in both professions. Mostly, I have been in the forefront of change, as it is the only constant that demands both personal and professional growth.
Lately change has taken three forms: planning a new library media center for my school; implementing adult programs at a public library; and online course design.
The new elementary library will be the culminating piece of 20-plus years at my school. After that facility opens, I plan to retire and focus on course design, adult programming and consulting. In my spare time I plan to do what I cannot do now: advocate fiercely for libraries of all types and the librarians that man them.