Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Perfection Myth

Image from Indexed

I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist (there is a reason that I ask Ms. T to make all my storytime props - I know she'll take her time and do a better job than I would!). But I do take my work pretty seriously, and as a manager I really try to stay on top of things so that I can help my staff stay on top of things. I try to have my ducks in a row when it comes to scheduling and communicating and touching base with everyone about upcoming programs.

But sometimes I make mistakes.

I recently blogged about the new challenge of becoming a "Youth Services" department and the changes that has necessitated. We now have two desk schedules and lots more programs to keep up with. I now have additional staff to touch base with and coordinate with. We were promised an additional part-time Youth Services clerk, but that has yet to materialize (I am crossing my fingers for January....!).

And all this has meant that sometimes we don't have desk coverage. And sometimes that's just because we don't have the staff, and sometimes it's because I've missed something. A program didn't make it onto the schedule. I didn't realize how long an outreach visit would actually take.

There was a time that I would beat myself up for these mistakes, but I have come to learn that they happen. We readjust. We make notes for next time. We move on.

I am very lucky to have an extremely supportive and capable staff who are willing to change things around and help cover as needed. I can count on one hand the number of times that an organizational mishap has actually affected the people that we serve. (Although that happens occasionally, too! And guess what, people usually understand!)

As a manager, I think the best reaction when these mixups occur is to own it if it's your mistake. Let your staff know that you, too, are human. Be willing to laugh about it, apologize for it, and help cover what needs to be covered. If it's someone else's mistake, remember that it's probably not that big a deal. Address it once you're no longer annoyed and with a proactive mindset - what could be changed to avoid mistakes like this in the future?

The image in this post has been taped to my computer monitor at work since I started my job here six years ago. As a person in my first managerial position, I really put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything right. It's taken me until now, but as I accept this new challenge of managing additional staff and getting to know a new patron base, I have realized that everything's not going to be perfect right away. There's a learning curve here and that's okay.

And I know that one day this will all seem routine and I can go back to feeling on top of things once again.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Becoming "Youth Services"

There have been changes afoot in my library.

New Teen Scene!
Back in April, our Reference Services and Circulation/Media departments undertook a big move. They moved all the media materials (DVDs, CDs, etc.) and public computers upstairs and moved the Teen Scene downstairs. Basically, these sections flip-flopped in order to create a teen area that is MUCH bigger, allows the space for teens to talk and hang out, has teen-only computers (that we can actually enforce), is close to the Children's Room while still being a completely separate area, and has its own reference desk.

I LOVE our new teen area.

In June, we merged Teen and Children's Services to create the Youth Services Department, which I am now supervising (previously I was only supervising the Children's staff). It was a move that makes sense for us, although I know some librarians would argue for keeping Teen part of adult services or making Teen its own department.

Teens can actually make noise here!
The staff employed in Children's are a good fit to serve as back up and support for our teen librarians. Because the teen area is across the hall from Children's, it's easier for us to help patrons and work hours on the desk than it would be to bring someone down from Reference. Our middle schools have students in grades 5th-8th, so Children's and Teen were working together to serve them with booktalking visits anyway. We also work together on our Summer Reading Club offerings. It was a natural evolution to merge our areas of the library and all work together serving our young people.

It's been a very positive change, but it hasn't always been easy. We had to carve out office space for our teen librarians (previously their only work stations were at the public desk, which is just not super feasible for some kinds of work). We are now covering two desks with no additional staff, which means that everyone is working a lot more desk hours (including me! I am not used to this!). We're trying to make evening and weekend scheduling as fair as possible (hard to do with no additional staff), so everyone is working extra evenings and weekends for the time being.

Luckily, I have amazing, hardworking, talented staff. They have faced this challenge head-on with me and everyone has been extremely positive and flexible as we've made these changes.

Teen Reference Desk!

I have worked hard to get our Children's staff comfortable with working in the teen area. I brought in a trainer from our State Library to do a workshop on teen behavior and another trainer to do a Reference workshop. (Teens' projects can be a lot more involved than elementary projects!) We have been consciously scheduling "Children's" staff to work the teen desk so that everyone becomes familiar with where things are located and starts to feel more comfortable interacting with and helping teen patrons.

It's been a learning curve for patrons, too. For the most part, patrons LOVE our new teen area like I do, but we do have occasional complaints about the adult computers being moved upstairs. We have been fighting the good fight for our teens to have this dedicated space.

(I just want to tell all the adults that adults get the WHOLE WORLD, so they need to respect that we have carved out this one room just for teens!)

Students-only computers!
Adults are, of course, welcome to browse and use the teen collection and check out teen materials. They are restricted from setting up shop in the teen area (unless they are working with or supervising a teen, i.e. tutors or parents) and they are not allowed to use the teen computers.

Slowly but surely I am getting used to supervising additional staff (I am now supervising our Youth Services page, too), trying to figure out our crazy schedule, and making notes of changes we need to make, supplies we need to purchase and procedures we need to work out. I know it's difficult to change supervisors and that I manage a department differently from our Reference supervisor, so it's a new experience for all of us.

It has been a lot of work. It has taken a lot of my time and energy to take on this new challenge, but it is so, so worth it. Youth Services for the win!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jump Back Paul

Jump Back Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Sally Derby, illustrated by Sean Qualls. Grades 4-7. Candlewick Press, September 2015. 128 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.


Paul Laurence Dunbar was a poet. Now, when you think about poetry, you might think about strict rules for rhymes, for the number of syllables you have. You probably think about something that doesn't really sound like something anyone would actually ever just SAY or THINK.

That's where Paul's poetry was different. He wrote the way people actually talked. And his poems were not meant for you to sit quietly and read and study, they were meant to be PERFORMED! In fact, if you sit down and look at one of Paul's poems, you might find that the words look strange - they're not spelled right, they sometimes don't look like words at all.

[Do we have a very brave soul who would volunteer to read one of his poems? I'm putting you on the spot!]

But if you read it exactly as the letters spell out, you'll see that it sounds like someone just talking, the way people actually spoke.

Paul's poems captured a way of life, reading them is like getting a look back in time to how things were in his day. This book includes many of his poems, bringing a little bit of Paul's world to life. His father was born into slavery and escaped on the Underground Railroad. He left when Paul was a little boy and his mother worked night and day to support herself and her young children.

This is a great book for anyone who likes to learn about real people in history or who has a love of words like Paul Dunbar did.

My thoughts: 

Told in a conversational tone, this biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar is fascinating. I knew absolutely nothing about him when I picked up this book and had never read any of his poetry (although I did find that I was a little familiar with some of it once I started reading). The tone of the book makes for a really pleasant reading experience, like you're sitting down with your grandmother who's telling you about this interesting man she knows.

That same conversational tone can be a little tricky when it comes to nonfiction. There are several places where the author says "I imagine Paul felt like this..." or similar, which I'm not sure really can be grounded in historical fact. However, it didn't bother me enough to truly detract from the book.

I imagine that the audiobook of this title, narrated by one of my favorites Bahni Turpin, will be amazing. Many of the poems included in the book are written in dialect and all the poetry in the book lends itself to being read aloud.

Back matter includes a timeline, source notes, and a selected bibliography.

If for nothing else than exposing kids to Dunbar's poetry and life, this is a very worthy addition to library and classroom shelves. I am looking forward to sharing it in booktalks this year!


Those looking for more biographies of wordsmiths might enjoy Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess or The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Bryant.

For those interested in the lives of African Americans after the Civil War, I would suggest The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch by Chris Barton or (fictional) Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reading Wildly: Contemporary Fiction

This month for Reading Wildly, we read contemporary fiction. You may also call this realistic fiction, but we specify contemporary because we're talking about books set in the present day, not historical fiction. 

To kick off our discussion, we talked about the article "One Tough Cookie" by Carey E. Hagan, the Field Notes column from the September/October 2011 Horn Book Magazine. In this article, Hagan discusses her difficulties in getting boys to check out books that are perceived as "girl books". 

My staff had a lot to say about this article. We talked about how it was difficult to get not only boys but parents of boys to take home books about girls (sometimes, not always!). We talked about how dangerous this is - to encourage boys to check out and read solely books about boys is to tell them that the lives of girls are not something they have to care about or value.

We shared some strategies for combating this mindset. First and foremost, we must be cognizant that it's good to present boys and girls with books about both boys and girls. We, as gatekeepers, need to check that we're not booktalking a book as "for girls" or "for boys". Instead of emphasizing the gender of the characters, talk about what the characters do or what's exciting, funny, or interesting about the book. Solicit impromptu book reviews from young readers and file those away so that you can tell young readers "I know a boy who read that book and he said it was cool." etc. 

Just as we should be including diverse books in what we're booktalking and suggesting, we need to include books featuring protagonists of both genres. 

Here's what we read: 
For our October meeting, we'll be reading scary stories (and slightly scary stories!) and reading the article "Are Goosebumps Real Literature?" by Leslie Anne Perry and Rebecca Butler from Language Arts, October 1997. 

What scary books would you recommend for us to check out? 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Yes, One Thing at a Time

Janssen Bradshaw of the lovely blog Everyday Reading wrote this post yesterday about taking one thing at a time and I have been thinking about it ever since. Since I read that post, I have been noticing all of the tasks that get in the way of all the other tasks throughout my day. I am definitely guilty of starting something and noticing something else that needs doing and switching gears way too often.

Right now, I'm moving into a new house and planning a wedding, in addition to, y'know, working full time. As I type this, I have five tabs open on my browser. One is Janssen's post so I could link it, but I also have GoodReads, my email, and Facebook open.

I often feel like I should be available, like I should have my email open constantly and be willing to stop what I'm doing and work on everything all at once. And really, is that the most productive way to tackle projects? Is it the most pleasant?

Because feeling like I'm constantly in the middle of a thousand little things is actually not the most pleasant feeling, now that I stop and think about it.

I can definitely slow down and be more purposeful about my tasks throughout the day. My bullet journal is a great tool in this endeavor because I can always jot down tasks as I think of them and then tackle them later instead of in the middle of whatever I'm currently doing.

Maybe I'll actually finish a blog post instead of having ten drafts in various stages (or mostly in my head, truthfully)...

So, here's to slowing down a bit. And taking it "one thing at a time".

(PS: Nine months in and I am still going strong with the bullet journal! I am now on my second notebook and my awesome fiance and my mom have bought me tons of colorful washi tape! I love it!)

Monday, September 14, 2015

Enormous Smallness

Enormous Smallness: A Story of E.E. Cummings by Matthew Burgess, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo. Grades 3 and up. Enchanted Lion Books, April 2015. Unpaged. Review copy provided by my local library.

Booktalk:  When you look out your window, what do you see? 

When E.E. Cummings looked out his window, he saw all the small things that make up our beautiful world. He saw them and he noticed them and he wrote about them in ways that no one had ever written before.  

He's now one of the most famous American poets, but E.E. (Edward Estlin) Cummings wrote his first poem when he was three years old: 

"Oh, my little birdie, oh
With his little
Toe toe toe" 

His mother started writing down the poems he came up with in a book that she called "Estlin's Original Poems." 

As E.E. grew up and wrote more and more poems, he wanted to write in NEW ways. He played around with punctuation, he used lowercase letters where he should have used capitals. E.E. "wanted his reader's eyes to be on tiptoes". Some people thought it was too strange, but some people thought it was wonderful. 

This is a book for lovers of words. 

My thoughts: 

This spry little book will find a good home in poetry units for kids of all ages. I bet every kid who reads e.e. cummings is curious about what the e's stand for and why they're small. This book illuminates the life of a famous American poet. 

The illustrations pair very nicely with the text, featuring natural tones in browns and greens to reflect E.E.'s love of the outside world. Text is incorporated into the mixed-media illustrations for subtle effects that are reminiscent of the world of Melissa Sweet (one of my favorite illustrators!). A blue oceanic map is cut into ocean waves as E.E. sets off for France during WWI. Stamped text shows up in tree branches and puddles, evoking how E.E. saw poems in everything around him. 

The poems chosen as examples represent different styles and illustrate how E.E.'s poems were different from many other poets. They definitely keep the reader's eyes "on tiptoe" and will inspire kids who dig it to seek out more. 

A timeline includes significant dates in E.E.'s life. 


Lovers of words should also check out the following picture book biographies: 

Jump Back, Paul: The Life and Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar by Sally Derby, illustrated by Sean Qualls. 

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jennifer Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Hired Girl

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz. Grades 6-10. Candlewick Press, September 2015. 400 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.

What it's about: 

Sick of the demands and abuse her father heaps on her after her mother passes away, fourteen-year-old Joan runs away from the family farm to seek work as a hired girl in Baltimore. The year is 1911 and Joan ends up with a position in a society house. She's determined to take advantage of the city with all its cultural opportunities; her mother always wanted her to become a schoolteacher. But life in the city and life as a hired girl is much more overwhelming than Joan anticipated.

Inspired by the author's grandmother's journals, this is a rich story about turn-of-the-century society, religion, romance, and more.

My thoughts:

Oh, I loved this book, but with its early-1900s setting and plucky girl heroine, it was pretty much made for me. That's my favorite period to read about and the book reminded me of a couple of my all-time favorite books.

The beauty of this book is that it's written simply, but it delves into many complex issues without getting too weighed down by them. I completely bought Joan's voice and it really felt like I could have been reading someone's diary. The realistic voice immersed me in the story and I found myself not wanting to put the book down.

Joan is a little flighty, quite taken with all the new clothing she can buy now that she has a salary, but she's also a religious girl. Her quest to join the Catholic Church (her mother was Catholic) is sometimes at odds with the reform Judaism practiced in her master's home. Joan ends up learning quite a lot about both religions and dealing with conflicting feelings. This, also, speaks to the realistic nature of the book, as religious questions are something a lot of 14-year-old girls deal with.

I appreciated the glimpse into a 1911 Jewish household and really came to love every character in the book. Supporting characters are just as engaging as Joan herself and they're finely and completely drawn.

Overall, I just loved it and I would love to read more and more about Joan's adventures in Baltimore.


Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster. This is an all-time favorite of mine, a classic that was written around the same time that The Hired Girl is set. It also features a plucky, intelligent heroine who longs to be educated and the book follows Judy's journey to college.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. This is ANOTHER all-time favorite of mine (you can see why I feel that The Hired Girl was designed for me). Mattie Gokey's story about taking care of her family while longing to go continue her education hits many of the same notes as Joan's.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Check Out Our Felt Stories on the @ALSCBlog

Today, I'm over at the ALSC Blog, posting about our circulating felt stories that we check out to teachers. Please head over there and check it out!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Hello, September

Goodbye, August. Hello, September.

Next week, our regular programming starts back up. It's been a nice "break", but I'll be glad to get back into my storytime routine and see the kids again!

While patrons see the month of August as a break time, we youth librarians know that it's really a time for getting planning and projects done. Here are some of the tasks I accomplished this August:

  • Okay, I did take a week of vacation in early August, my first extended time off since before my Newbery meetings in February. 
  • I planned the fall session of baby storytime, including selecting, pulling, and labeling books, finding new rhymes and songs, and putting together all of the handouts. 
  • I scheduled approximately eleven billion booktalking visits for the fall semester. 
  • I learned that no, we would not be getting an additional part time person to help us cover and I would have to patch the schedule together as best I could to staff two desks now and all of this additional programming that we're doing. 
  • I met with all my staff to touch base about their annual goals (and, in the case of my new teen people, set them). 
  • I weeded the first third of the 500s, which is slow going because you have to look pretty carefully at that science info to make sure you're providing kids with accurate and current information. 
  • I held two staff meetings - our regular department meeting, which included a debrief of the Summer Reading Club and was the first time we were all meeting together as the Youth Services Department, and our monthly Reading Wildly meeting. 
  • I scheduled, arranged coverage for, or attended two staff training workshops - one on teen development (since we're now the Youth Services Department, which includes teens!) and one on reference interviews/skills/resources. 
  • I presented a keynote speech and a breakout session at this year's CYPD Conference. 
In addition to all of these work accomplishments, the Fiance and I bought a house this August! So, we have been painting, painting, painting, and starting to sort through all our stuff in preparation for a move. Exciting!!!

So, next week, it's back to routine. It's back to baby storytime, afterschool visits, and lots of booktalking (although I took pains this year to spread the booktalking load a little more evenly, so it's not going to be quite as intense this year). I'm ready!