Public Library Programs and Services

How can libraries transform and thrive? Dorothy Stoltz and James Kelly on successful collaboration

How does a library amplify the skills and enthusiasm of its staff while also identifying what the community wants? In their new book Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Community, Dorothy Stoltz and her coauthors Gail Griffith, James Kelly, Muffie Smith, and Lynn Wheeler argue that adhering to a handful of straightforward principles will point the way forward. We spoke with Stoltz, director for community engagement at the Carroll County (MD) Public Library, and Kelly, library director of Frederick Public Libraries (MD), about their prescriptions for library success.

How did the book come together?  What was your starting point?

Dorothy Stoltz: People inside and outside the profession ponder whether libraries are on the verge of becoming extinct.  My experiences at Carroll County Public Library and observations of many other libraries demonstrate the opposite result. However, not all librarians are awake to the kinds of tenets that can nearly guarantee long-term success.  I wanted to pull together a team of colleagues who promote and activate a strong, thriving relationship between their library and their community. The starting point was to write a book that debunks the notion that libraries are coming to an end. A library is not just a wonderful resource, but also a crucial component in any community that values the talents of its individual residents.  A library can thrive only if the community as a whole thrives.  If a community is declining, its library may well be declining, too. Yet the library can be a source for reinvigoration, if it can inspire its citizens. 

James Kelly: Dorothy was part of some truly inspiring work that was taking place at Carroll County Public Library and she was starting to note some trends in libraries across the state of Maryland and nationwide. She invited co-authors to consider questions about our own practice and to share examples. In this way, the book started to take shape.

What are some positive examples from the book of library leaders who have found ways to set the right tone for library staff?

DS: A great exponent of a thriving community was Benjamin Franklin – one of my library heroes – who sought to bring out the best in himself and in others in order to improve the community. Today, we have library leaders such as Felton Thomas, Cleveland Public Library director, who practices the golden rule by treasuring the people he serves and thus discovering that they – no matter their walk of life – in turn use and support CPL. Brian Bannon, commissioner of Chicago Public Library, practices how to make room for creativity and apply enthusiasm through experimentation and patience – striving to help uplift the community a day at a time, a person at a time. This is where Franklin is such a wonderful role model.  This book is something of a wakeup call, to be applied in different ways in different communities, but always with the idea of transformation. Imagine Plato being called in to rescue a library from dullness. What would he do?  Perhaps the library should be declared a “no dullness zone.”

JK: I think the conversation in chapter two about the importance of values is critical for library leaders who want to undertake culture change in their organizations. Strategic plans are important, but they are short term and concerned only with “what we do.” More important than the “what” in my opinion is naming the “how.” Values set the expectation we have for ourselves and for our teams, for the experience we want our internal and external customers to have, for how we will interact with our community partners. Naming and committing to those values is a powerful exercise. Hiring with those values in mind is the quickest way to affect culture change. Values are also the bar to which leadership should hold themselves accountable. As a piano in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimoreleaders, if we live these values, staff see that and that helps us set the tone. If we name those values, but conduct ourselves counter to those values, staff will see it and we erode morale and trust.    

Can you offer a few tips for leading a productive brainstorming session?

DS: Brainstorming is often used to generate a list of ways to solve a problem with the hope to find one workable solution. It may be helpful to up the ante by viewing brainstorming as an act of creativity. Human creativity is not confined to artists, musicians, writers, or inventors. Creative thinking is about challenging our assumptions. It’s important to note that many of us may think of “challenge” as criticism, when it is actually constructive help.  In conducting a brainstorming session, you might consider discussion prompts, such as, how many alternate ways of thinking can be generated?  And, after a promising answer appears, keep asking, “What is possible?” Anyone who enriches a discussion or conversation with wisdom, respect, and dignity is creative. By challenging our assumptions or traditions, we can spark curiosity in ourselves and others in order to find several top-notch solutions. We don’t accept the first encouraging solution, but pay attention to possibility – and thus we can discover an answer far superior than we at first imagined. A library in the role of community anchor can be a great stimulus to creative thinking and activity.

One of your chapters is about taking intelligent risks.  How do you define that?

DS: Librarians are far more experienced in intelligent risk-taking than we might realize. The Latin origin of the word “intelligent” means “the power of discerning.” The Proto-Indo-European origin of the work “risk” means “to leap, climb.” Putting these words together we can define “intelligent risk-taking” as using our ability to discern how to overcome obstacles that seem to be in the way. In other words, we can develop the skill to ask the right questions to prevent short-sightedness and help us think through and understand the book cover for Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Communityobstacles. Each situation requires a different approach and its own set of questions. For example, Bob Kuntz, director of operations and innovation, Carroll County Public Library, asks questions that help staff think through the risks with new and emerging technologies. How might our customers benefit?  Is this a fad or does it have staying power? What should we invest in? What has the best chance of success?

JK: You want to make sure to be aware of the priorities of elected officials. In my experience the alignment of the values of the community, library board, and staff together lay the foundation for taking intelligent risks.  Decisions made which are in alignment with those priorities and values – even if they seem to run counter to traditional views of library service or roles – are intelligent risks to take.  

What’s one of the most persistent barriers to collaboration, and can you give some advice for overcoming it?

JK: One of the most persistent barriers is one that has been with organizations, not just libraries, forever. It has to do with communication and our willingness to actively listen, to be vulnerable, to have honest and direct conversations in a profession where many of us go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. I feel there is strength in vulnerability and when we allow ourselves to build trust, then to be vulnerable and speak directly, the bonds that are built between us are strongest. I believe that our work is about people, not about stuff. Our degree of success, in my opinion, rises and falls commensurate with our ability to connect to coworkers and community members. Teams that can do that, can build something great together.

DS: Many of us have a default tendency or habit of focusing on what is wrong in a situation, but if we tap large or abstract ideas of life, such as respect, discernment, and helpfulness, we can stay in tune with the bigger picture. We can develop a habit and steady attitude of looking for what is right – we don’t ignore problems and challenges, but we try to see the good in people and think about how to correct issues.

Learn more about their book at the ALA Store.

Finding answers to legal questions: an interview with Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson

More people than ever are using the library to obtain legal information and legal research advice, and library staff need to be able to serve these users efficiently and confidently. Veteran law librarians Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson just published an update of Finding the Answers to Legal Questions, their benchmark text. We caught up with them to hear their perspective on what's new in the field and to get some handy reference tips.

About seven years elapsed between the first edition and this new second edition. When it comes to legal information, what do you think have been the biggest changes in the landscape?

It appears to us that all law libraries - academic, government, public - continue to cut back on subscriptions to hard copy resources, so people with limited resources for paid, online research are left more and more out of the information cycle, at least for value-added secondary sources. On the other hand, "free" online sources from the federal and state governments have continued to improve in terms of availability, timeliness, reliability, and to some extent, searchability.

In many ways, a legal reference interview can be one of the trickiest interactions library staff can face. Can you offer some tips that staff can use up front to smooth the way for a successful encounter?

Often people think they have a legal problem, in part resolvable by finding the law, when in fact they don't have a problem for which the law can provide a remedy. Conversely, people often do not recognize that at example of an internet search reult for legal resourcesthe root of a life problem is a legal problem. We think this is particularly true in health care sorts of problems. So the first and perhaps trickiest question is to try to verify that the problem the patron is presenting you with is in fact one that can be researched in the law. Once that question is answered, the sailing should be smoother.

In your book, you make it a point to differentiate legal advice from legal information. Why?

The book is directed, at least in part, to librarians or students soon to be librarians. Traditionally, librarians have been prohibited from providing legal advice. A librarian can lead a patron to the source, but not interpret or advise on how to use that source. Therefore, when helping someone with a legal question, a librarian has to keep in mind the distinction between advice and information. Often, the line is clear. Sometimes, it is not.

Marc Lampson: My position as the Public Services Attorney at a public law library was designed to overcome this conundrum because as both lawyer and librarian I could help people not only find the law but work with them, for instance, in finding appropriate documents or forms and filling them out and telling them how to proceed.

Sometimes library staff will realize during an interview that the patron is going to need assistance that’s beyond the purview of the library, such as finding a lawyer or free legal help. What advice can you offer about connecting a patron to these resources? And how can libraries familiarize themselves with the organizations that exist in their communities?

The safest, surest path is to find out if your county has a bar association. County bar associations, at least in more populated areas, will frequently provide free legal clinics for people and will also provide lawyer referrals. These referrals are fairly reliable because they are not motivated by the organization's profit motive, of which there usually isn't one, because these organizations are usually nonprofits. If the county does not have a robust bar association, the next possibility is the state bar association. There will be one in every state. These will not always have lawyer referral services, but will often have searchable lists of active attorneys, sometimes book cover for inding the Answers to Legal Questions, Second Editionsearchable by legal specialty or legal focus of the attorney or firm. A library can familiarize themselves with these organizations through good online searching, but also a number of the legal services organizations in the community may list various agencies in the area that can provide legal assistance. These organization often maintain a website with "Law Help" in the name, often preceded by the name of the state, e.g., Washington Law Help, or just to be contrary Law Help California. If you cannot locate one of these sites for your state quickly and easily, you can track one down by going to Pro Bono Net..

What are some ways librarians can keep up to date with changes in legal information and sources?

Other librarians, always. And any law library/librarian organizations, local and national. Join them. For example, in Marc's area there is the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS). Nationally, the "big one" is the American Association of Law Libraries. A "standard" in the field is the Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual by Kendall F. Svengalis, available at www.nelawpress.com.

Learn more at the ALA Store.

Ensuring libraries' future through sustainable thinking: an interview with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

For the past several years the library world has been abuzz with the concept of "sustainable thinking." Yes, we all want to help the environment and also ensure that libraries are on board too. But beyond being just a feel-good catchphrase, how does sustainable thinking translate into concrete action? Rebekkah Smith Aldrich explores exactly that in her new book, and in this interview she discusses how many libraries are taking the initiative in areas ranging from community outreach and programming to building design. 

You’ve done quite a bit of writing for various publications, including your regular column for Library Journal, but this is your first book. What was different about doing this kind of long-form piece? What were your biggest challenges?

At first, I thought to myself, no problem, it’s just like writing a series of articles like I do for Library Journal. I did the math, figured out my word count and went for it. But that approach really didn’t work. There is an element of storytelling necessary to make the case, build buy-in and inspire people to keep reading so they are primed for the work ahead.

It took me several tries to find the right “arc” to the story. Each chapter required that I have a plan, that I was purposefully helping the reader walk through the story as it had evolved for me over the past decade. Ensuring I carried the thread throughout the work rather than writing several 800-word essays that might come across as disjoined was important. The work was to balance the enormity of the topic with a call to action that then led the reader to pragmatic steps that library leaders could relate to, regardless of the size of their library. Keeping things simple, well-defined and justified definitely took more time than I had anticipated. 

How did your experience as a founding member of New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative guide your book?

Thanks to the NYLA Sustainability Initiative (NYLA-SI) I have had the opportunity to think out loud and to get honest feedback from my peers. That was incredibly helpful while writing the book. I would throw ideas out VENN DIAGRAM DEPICTING THE DEFINITION OF THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINEthere sometime and get the thumbs up, other times… crickets. That’s when I knew I wasn’t connecting on a particular point. That peer feedback has been invaluable.

The other great thing about the SI is that I get invited to speak on the topic all over the state. I’ve been able to fine tune my talking points and get real time reactions from hundreds of library leaders – directors, staff and trustees. It has also meant that I have a front row seat to what is going on around our state and get first-hand accounts of what’s working, what’s not and what challenges leaders are coming up against. That inspires me to ensure the work I’m doing is as relevant as possible. The theory of this stuff really only gets us so far. If library leaders don’t have examples to draw from, success stories to point to and sparks of inspiration to get them going we can’t accelerate fast enough to meet the challenges that are facing us.

What we routinely hear from library leaders after an introductory workshop is: “What do I do next?” That drove me to stop just pontificating and our committee has really thought through how a library leader would proceed. We are talking about a huge mindset shift for not just individuals but whole institutions. While I have great faith in my colleagues to do this work, we can all use some help and guidance to accelerate the pace of what needs to happen. There is a definitely sense of urgency that is lacking in the profession. If people feel too overwhelmed they will be immobilized. The experience with NYLA-SI has taught me to break it down into bite-sized chunks and develop step-by-step assistance to help library leaders ramp up on the issue.

The NYLA-SI has been a huge reality check for me: even in the face of such a large topic we must keep things simple.  
 
One of the foundational ideas in your book is that the sustainability of libraries, which is extremely dependent on things like community support and visionary leadership, has a close relationship to the sustainability of our planet. Would you briefly explain why you believe the two are so intertwined?

As Rachel Carson famously said in Silent Spring, “Nothing in nature exists alone.” Libraries do not exist alone. Library leaders do not exist alone. We are all connected to the wider world around us. As libraries we need to be embedded, in an authentic and meaningful way, into the lives of those we serve. That means understanding the status of the building blocks of life, that means awareness of the wider world around us. The library is how we translate our desire to be of service to our fellow citizens. We cannot be relevant if we do not understand what people are currently dealing with or facing in the future.

If we are to truly convey to those we serve that we care about their well-being and that we are trusted institution that are good stewards of their trust and tax dollars there needs to be an inherent commitment in our libraries to environmental sustainability. If we are careless with natural resources, if we do not respectfully dispose of unwanted items, if we do not help to educate others of the effects of our actions on the natural world there will not be much left for us to do in a few decades other than disaster response. We will be on the front lines of helping more and more citizens with what may have been preventable problems or issues we should have learned to adapt to.
 
At a time when it seems like many libraries are stuck in a perpetual battle for survival, a yearly fight just to stave off cuts in funding, how do issues like social equity and justice come into play?

It’s tough out there, financially, politically and socially. The only way forward on any of those topics – for both PLATFORM FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY INVESTMENTlibraries and communities – is for libraries to actively co-create communities in which citizens have respect, understanding and empathy for one another.

Funding doesn’t come from a machine, it comes from people. Whether that be from direct taxpayer decisions in the voting booth, municipal governments that allocate a portion of their budget or private donations – people are behind the decisions about library funding.

Library leaders are responsible for not only creating library services and programs that inspire the community to invest in the library, but to work collaboratively with their neighbors to help their community thrive. The coalition building, the partnerships that help realize shared goals in the community – that is what inspires opinion leaders and decision makers to invest scarce tax dollars into our libraries. You can’t only venture out of your library and speak to others when you need something. You need to be genuinely invested in the community’s success and a community cannot be successful if it is not socially equitable.

In the book there is a chapter on what I call the “Three Es of Sustainable Libraries”: Empower, Engage, Energize. These three actions describe how library leaders should approach their work to inspire people inside of the library organization and community members. In twenty years what I have observed is that this attitude in how we interact with others has a fascinating energy exchange – if your work is focused on empowering, engaging and energizing others they, in turn, will do the same for your library. I have found this to be a “secret ingredient” for many of the most successful libraries I have worked with. 

What are some pieces of advice you can offer libraries about more effectively demonstrating and communicating their importance to the communities they serve?

First I believe we need to “walk the walk.” We cannot just tell people we are committed to intellectual freedom, diversity, social responsibility or the other Core Values of Librarianship – we need to “live it.” Our policies and practices should reflect our commitment to these values. How we spend funds on behalf of the community should reflect our commitment to these values. The partnerships, programs and services we create should reflect our commitment to these values.

Examples of this can include simple things, like the food we serve at events – is it healthy? Locally sourced? – to more complicated things like how we operate our facilities or how we build new facilities. Is human health obviously valued in these choices? Are natural resources respectfully utilized? Are we humane to our staff? Do they make a living wage? Do they have access to affordable healthcare? Are our services and programs designed to advance larger community goals? Do our boards of trustees reflect the diversity of the community that we serve? These are just a handful of examples of the non-verbal choices we make that communicate what kind of organization we are.

In traditional communication channels – annual reports to the community, newsletters, social media – it is imperative that we, ourselves, state why we do the things that we do. I feel libraries make too many assumptions about what the community-at-large truly understand about the work that we do. We need to state that we are contributing to economic development by doing x, y, x. We need to clearly articulate our values. If we don’t do it, no one else will. There is no one else but ourselves to blame for our mushy messaging over the past twenty years. We need to get better at this, and fast, if we want to continue to maintain and grow our capacity to be a positive force in the world. That is a major theme of the book and I spend a lot of time delving into this.
 
What are some promising changes in the library world that give you hope for the future?

I see so many awesome things happening in our world right now! A great example is that the fine free debate is finally graduating from a financial issue to a social equity issue. I am so impressed by my book copver for Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain Worldcolleagues who have stood up for their communities to make the case that fines are a barrier to access for children in poverty.

The Living Building Challenge was on the cover of Library Journal last year, that is a huge statement that the library profession is paying attention to the right things. I’m also keeping my eye on Hayward (CA)’s 21st Century Library project; when completed, Hayward’s new library will be among the largest “Zero Net Energy” public buildings in the nation.

The makerspace/breakerspace/repair café movement is so inspiring. I love that we are challenging people of all ages in our communities to learn how things work, to fix their own stuff, to create and invent new things and methods. In the book I talk about how critical it will be for us to inspire people to work together to find community-based solutions so we can adapt in the face of some pretty severe disruptions that are headed our way (and some are already here). We cannot be effective at this unless we cultivate a spirit of innovation and collaborative problem solving. I get seriously annoyed when I hear library leaders that are dismissive of this trend as just the latest “shiny.” This is one of the greatest examples of how libraries empower their communities and future generations. It is one of the best talking points out there of how libraries contribute to sustainable, resilient and, ultimately, regenerative communities.

The number one thing that gives me hope is the spirit and fortitude of my colleagues and the volunteer trustees that govern our libraries. People who keep trying. People who keep innovating. People who keep fighting for the right things on behalf of those we serve. We are all in this together, both in library world and more important, in the big wide world around us. Libraries are critical partners to the success of our communities and it is an exhilarating time to be a part of this work.

Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World is available at the ALA Store

Mary Grace Flaherty on promoting health at the library

As trusted guardians of facts and knowledge, libraries play an important role in providing their communities with accurate health information. Furthermore, as Mary Grace Flaherty writes in her new book, taking the initiative to offer health promotion programming is a valuable form of community outreach, serving community needs while increasing visibility. In this interview we discuss the consumer health movement and how it intersects with public libraries. 

What inspired you to write this book? Why is this topic so important to you?

I started my library career as a reference librarian at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. While I was there, I learned the immeasurable impact of timely, authoritative health information on health care provision and research.  Later in my career, as the director of a small public library in rural Upstate New a drawing that represents the interlocking nature of patient-provider interaction, self-care, health literacy, and health informationYork, I realized the need for accurate health information was just as important in that setting. I also observed during my tenure as director that public libraries have great potential as community partners. I wrote the book to provide resources and templates, and to highlight and promote the role public libraries play in health initiatives.   
 
We were really struck by a figure you quoted in the introduction: nearly half of all Americans are estimated to be functionally illiterate in terms of dealing with health care issues. What’s the consequence of that for libraries?

As information providers and community resources, libraries are uniquely situated to assist patrons with acquiring and evaluating health information resources, and get many opportunities per year to do so. If we consider libraries as organizations that assist with all types of literacy training, the consequences are two-fold. First, libraries can assist through materials provision, by acquiring current materials and assuring resources are kept up-to-date and available in plain language and at reading levels patrons can understand. They can also guide patrons to credible online resources like MedlinePlus. In addition, they can initiate programs to address specific patron health needs, such as signing up for health care.
 
The issue of health care, in general, has been so politicized in the last decade. What advice can you offer libraries who want to serve their communities but encounter objections or resistance?

As with any issue that may engender controversy, libraries should approach health care by first considering their community’s needs. There are many aspects of health and health promotion that are not political; for example, we know that obesity plays a role in diabetes prevalence, and that exercise can help prevent obesity. If the library is situated in a community with a high rate of diabetes among youth, they may consider offering programs that incorporate physical activity for youth. This way, the library can contribute to addressing health concerns in a transparent manner, and positively respond to community challenges.
 
For libraries who are ready to collaborate with community organizations, what are some first steps to take?

The first step is to get out into the community and meet the key players in the health arena. These may book cover for Promoting Individual and Community Health at the Libraryinclude the folks at the local clinic or regional medical center and local governmental agencies, such as the Public Health department and the Recreation and Parks department. The library could host a community forum and invite these key players for an open discussion about addressing pressing health care needs.
 
Which resources would you recommend for staying up to date with developments in health information, and learning about what other libraries are doing across the country?


The National Library of Medicine’s consumer health website, Medlineplus.gov is the best starting place for keeping up to date. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a wide array of free tools. There are a number of well-established initiatives under way, such as WebJunction’s Health Happens in Libraries that provide free resources, and ALA and PLA are also a great place to find support for health programs. 

Learn more about ways to promote individual and community health in Flaherty's book, available through the ALA Store.

LGBTQAI+ books for children and teens: an interview with Christina Dorr and Liz Deskins

There is a rich and varied body of literature for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, asexual/allied and intersexed young people; in fact, within the past decade there has been a veritable explosion of new titles. A new book, LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All, surveys the landscape, not only spotlighting dozens of recommended books but also offering guidance on how to share them with young people. We caught up with authors Christina Dorr and Liz Deskins to talk with them about how their book came together, ways in which reading builds empathy, and some "desert island" picks for their favorite LGBTQAI+ lit. 

So, this is your second book together. What was the genesis of the project? Was anything different about your collaboration this time around?

We are both passionate about human rights issues, and gay rights is a large part of that. It was amazing ALA at 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade; photo by American Librariesserendipity that we were at the ALA Annual conference in San Francisco in 2015 on the day the Supreme Court handed down the ruling making marriage legal for same sex couples. We saw the celebrations in the streets and the Pride Parade, and realized that the time had come to provide a resource that would support and encourage public and school librarians, as well as classroom teachers to provide and share quality LGBTQAI+ literature with their patrons and students. This book was an amazing collaboration, as we both worked on all chapters, adding titles and annotations. Some of the ancillary portions, we divided and conquered.

Why is this topic so personally important to both of you?

This book was truly a labor of love for both of us. We each have someone near and dear to us in the gay community and saw the challenges they faced growing up. In a joyous event last summer, Liz’s son married his partner in a legal marriage. As school librarians we do our best to choose books to be windows and doors for all of our students. We believe in the power of empathy and understanding through good literature, and are hopeful this book will encourage other librarians to make these books available as well.

You’ve mentioned that LGBTQAI+ books act as mirrors and windows—what do you mean by that?

This is a concept put forward by Ohio State University professor emeritus, Rudine Sims Bishop, under which we both studied. She contends that It is so important for children to be able to see themselves in book cover for LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for Allbooks, to know that they are not alone. But it is just as important they read books where they see characters different from themselves. Reading builds empathy and understanding, two qualities worth cultivating.

What advice can you offer libraries that are dealing with community objections to LGBTQAI+ books or outreach? Or who may be self-censoring to avoid potential conflicts?

Our job is not to only promote those books we like or find interesting; our job is to present a whole and balanced curated collection of materials. In this case, the issue is respect and basic human rights for everyone. Sexuality and gender identity are types of diversity, among many, but neither of these are the impetus of for this book, or the books we suggest. Everyone has a right to see themselves in a book, or their family, or their friends. And everyone has the right to be treated with understanding, empathy, and respect. Our book shares quality titles, conversation starters, and other resources that could assist in the defense of the book, if you should need it.

Okay, desert island time! If you could choose only three LGBTQAI+ titles to recommend, what would they be?

Christina’s picks: This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman (for young children), The Best Man by Richard Peck (for middle grade children), and Queer, Here, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager (for teens); Liz’s picks: The Straight Line Wonder by Mem Fox (for young children), The Misfits by James Howe (for middle grade children), and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (for high school).

Learn more about the book at the ALA Store.

Building literacy skills through creative writing: a conversation with AnnMarie Hurtado

Decades of research show that children learn to read through writing. Creative writing in particular encourages children's'imaginations to take flight. In this way, a form of play can also build literacy skills. First-time author AnnMarie Hurtado explains this approach in her new book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to Zebras.

So … your first book! Congrats! What was it like? And what did you find the hardest about the process? How did you stay motivated?

I really loved working with ALA Editions. I would love to write for you again. Jamie Santoro was my acquiring editor and she was a gem, offering a lot of feedback and support throughout the writing. And my hats off to Angela Gwizdala, who has been taking the draft and all my ideas for the handouts, and working with the designers to make everything come together!

I submitted a proposal to ALA Editions in late 2016, and after my proposal for the book was accepted, I dove into the research. I wanted to know all about how creative writing impacts children’s development of reading fluency and overall academic success. The things I learned for the writing of this book have continued to benefit my work at the library to this day. I have tried as often as possible to share those insights with parents who come to the library. I think that’s what kept me motivated, to tell the truth; the feeling that this book needed to be written. The more I read about how reading and writing go hand in hand, the more I sensed I was hitting on something librarians are not told enough in library school. We don’t get a lot of training on how people learn to read, but teachers do, and through organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English I was able to tap into an ocean of materials going back to the 1980s on the connection between reading and writing.

Research was a lot of fun, and it was all-consuming for about two months. I had numerous ILLs and lengthy visits to Pasadena City College Shatford Library. I would say that knowing how to do research and find current and historical information on a topic is a great skill for any writer, and that if you’re a librarian who has considered making the leap into writing and publishing, you should know you already have a strong skill set that will help you, not to mention a supportive community of fellow librarians (like the librarian who helped me at PCC).

The hardest part was probably switching from research mode to writer mode. Jamie often counseled me that the research was great, but I needed to also find my own voice and convey my own insights. Her help was invaluable. I worked hard on it in whatever snatches of time I could find at home, on weekends, in coffee houses, in libraries, and in the break room on my lunch breaks at work. The bulk of the writing took about six months. Having a detailed proposal at the start ensured that I never had writer’s block. It just wasn’t always easy finding time (because I have two small children at home). Fortunately I had supportive family who were able to lend a hand now and then.

How did your work at the Pasadena (California) Public Library inspire this book?

When I started working in the Youth Services department of the Pasadena Central Library five years ago as a children’s librarian, I was putting on writing workshops for tweens using prompts inspired by good middle grade books. Having a young daughter of my own I started to notice a gap in the programs libraries provide to kids as they age out of traditional preschool programs and yet are too young for advanced tween programs like some of the STEAM programs I did or the writing workshops. In many ways children in kindergarten and 1st grade are also a little too young for traditional book clubs or book discussions. The primary grades are difficult to reach because kids are becoming independent readers and writers, and yet the books they are interested in are too hard to read. Instead, craft programs tend to be the afterschool program of choice for public libraries wishing to offer something to early elementary school kids, and it’s not hard to see why—it gives them fine motor skill development while also giving them range to learn and express their creativity.

drawing of creative writing lessonBut when their older siblings were signing up for our tween creative writing workshops, many younger kids and their parents were disappointed that they were considered too young to write stories. They knew what I would soon learn—that they were old enough to make up stories of their own. I realized I needed to develop something that would be more catered to the primary grade student’s growing abilities. I started a creative writing program just for kids 5-8 years old. I’d choose a picture book, print out clip art and coloring pages, and spread the printed images all over the tables, along with scissors, glue, crayon and markers. I bought blank books for kids to make their own stories, which they illustrated with those glued-in clip art printouts. Having the images sometimes helped kids to come up with something fun to write about. It was almost like a craft program about making your own book.

I saw kids who hardly spoke a word of English at our first meeting come every month to draw, cut and paste, and write a few words, and within six months they were writing their own funny sentences in English, inspired by the books we read. I saw boys and girls collaborate on exciting pirate stories the same way I did when I was a kid playing with my sisters. And it struck me that this sort of creative writing program was something that other libraries could benefit from, replicate, and modify, to reach our goal of promoting literacy—Talking, Singing, Playing, Reading, and WRITING.

Yes: one mantra you repeat throughout the book is that children learn to read by writing. At what age do you get kids started? And as librarians and educators, *how* do we start?

I’ll include parents in this as well: as soon as your child can hold a pencil or crayon, start asking them to tell you what they are drawing and helping them to write it down. Ask the child to tell you stories and write the stories down for them. Model writing for them—be an adult who writes and who models for your child how valuable it can be to be able to express something important by scrawling symbols on paper. Then encourage them to write down their own stories and letters without help (these stories will look like illegible scribbles at first). Ask them to read the stories to you. And of course, read, read, read to them often.

One of the researchers and authors whose work was immensely important to me as I was researching this book was Lucy McCormick Calkins, who wrote about how reading and writing develop hand in hand, around the same time in a child’s life. Invented spellings, for example, (writing “pupe” to indicate a puppy) is an important step in the learning process for the development of decoding skills. Just as crawling precedes walking and babbling precedes talking, scribbling and invented spellings indicate a person who is well on their way to becoming truly literate. We can talk about the phonetics of the words but it is very important that we not discourage kids. We are here to help them to appreciate books and add their own ideas to the world of literature, and through that engagement they will develop their ability to read and write, to construct meaning. Kids have to feel that their early efforts at writing are meaningful and fun, just as babies need to feel that their early attempts at communication are giving them connection with their parents. You don’t understand everything your five-month-old is saying, but by pretending you do, you show them that you are listening and you care. Do the same thing with your five-year-old’s writing. That connection is what’s most important for the young child; refinements such as standard spelling will come with practice.

I’m sure some children’s librarians are thinking, gee, kids can get really rambunctious! So when you’re doing a storytime, how do you channel that energy productively into creative writing activities?

It’s certainly a challenge, yes! I recommend involving the kids in a group writing activity or a group brainstorming activity, and letting it be as long and as energetic as possible. Spend at least ten minutes on the group writing (and if you can spend longer that’s great!). Get their ideas flowing. Ask the kids lots of questions. Let them be the experts and you the scribe. Get your pen flying all over the whiteboard to capture their suggestions. If you are enthusiastic and focused, you will help to ignite and focus the children’s enthusiasm. And after they have been focused on the group writing activity for at least ten minutes, they’ll be ready to do some individual writing. The room will not likely be a quiet one—kids will be talking, sharing their ideas, asking you questions. My workshops are usually very noisy, but vibrant!

I also recommend making the writing activity as “crafty” as possible for the kids. Give them supplies to color, cut, glue. Break out the glitter now and then. Kids need to have a variety of activities available, and they need a wide range of artistic expression when illustrating their stories.

When working with older children, how do you vary the approach?

Older kids don’t need quite so many different segments or activities in their workshops—they can focus on writing for a longer time, and they rarely need to do illustrations. But I think the really surprising thing is how much of the approach is actually the same for older kids. Instead of cute blank books I give them legal pads, but many of the writing prompts I give them are similar to what I’d give the younger kids. That might be because I never like to underestimate what younger kids can do.

book cover for 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to ZebrasOlder kids don’t need quite as much help or scaffolding when it comes to generating their stories or writing things down, but the use of a mentor text to center our discussion on the writer’s craft is essentially the same approach with both groups. I always read excerpts from stories at the very beginning—usually from a middle grade novel, but not always. A picture book can be a surprisingly effective mentor text for teaching older kids advanced concepts about writing, such as plot. It’s hard to break down the plot of a novel in a fifteen-minute discussion, but it’s not so hard with a picture book. So several of the picture-book-based writing workshops in my book will actually work quite well even with older kids. For example, one of my workshops uses the picture book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae as the center of a lesson on The Hero’s Journey. Once they make the connection to their favorite hero stories from other books and movies, older kids are generally able to learn the steps and then get to work crafting their own epic plots. I’ve also used the poetry workshops from this book with older kids, and they loved it.

I have an adult friend who has special needs, and every other week we get together to do some creative writing. It gives her practice with her reading and writing skills so that someday she can get her GED. Sometimes I use workshops from this book. She and I are currently writing a very funny story about her and her dog getting in a time machine and ending up on a medieval battlefield. We read books about knights for research and inspiration, and then we take turns writing alternate sentences of the story. It’s an approach I’ve used with kids that seems to be surprisingly effective with my adult friend. Perhaps approaches don’t have to vary quite so much by age or grade level—perhaps at our core, we’re all creative beings who enjoy stretching our imaginations to write something funny and weird and nonsensical every now and then.

Lastly, one chapter in your book is titled “All You Need Is a TERRIBLE Idea” … what’s the idea behind that?

As I was compiling my list of picture books and ideas for writing prompts for my book proposal, I noticed something—many of the really funny picture books I love are about characters doing something silly or foolish, or putting two things together that normally aren’t. And it just started to make sense to me: all you need for a good story is a really terrible idea. Books like that were easy to create writing activities for, because they work on an imaginative sort of logic that prompts multitudes of possibilities. But I also noticed that those silly picture books are intrinsically appealing to kids, and that if you give a kid a book about something that makes no sense, they will be curious to see what happens and will anticipate laughs and fun along the way. Furthermore, if you give a kid a writing prompt that is rooted in nonsense, you free the kid’s imagination to do anything they like with that premise—imagining a parade of snails, for example, or trying to teach an alien how to use the toilet. In the end, the child writer bring herself and her ideas to it, and pretty soon she is creating something she never would have dreamed she’d be creating.

Now, some teachers will prefer to encourage kids to just write about themselves and their experiences, and there is definitely a place for that. But when you have a group of kids who don’t know each other, as we usually do at the public library, you have to tickle their funny bones. It’s the quickest way to their creativity!

Read an excerpt from the book at the ALA Store.

Homelessness and libraries: an interview with Ryan J. Dowd

It may surprise you to hear that staff at public libraries interact with almost as many homeless individuals as staff at shelters do. But as Ryan J. Dowd, who has spent most of his career as Executive Director of a large homeless shelter near Chicago, observes, "Libraries are one of the few places in a community where everyone — homeless and not homeless — are likely to mix." He advocates for an empathy-driven approach to these individuals in his new book The Librarian's Guide to Homelessness.

You open your book by discussing some of the myths surrounding individuals who are homeless. In your view, which myth is the most pervasive and damaging?

I think there are two pervasive myths that contradict each other, and each cause a different type of damage. One myth is that homeless people are nothing like housed people. This “othering” of homeless individuals really allows us to view them as less than human, less than citizens and less than deserving of assistance. The related myth, though, is that homeless individuals are exactly like housed people. That simply isn’t true. A homeless individual has had a lot of different experiences that effects worldview, communication style, etc. If you assume that a homeless individual interacts with the world exactly like you do, then you are completely unable to empathize with the unique circumstances they face.

What is the Homeless Golden Rule and why do you write that it's the most important thing in your book?

The Homeless Golden Rule is that you should treat your homeless patrons no better or worse than any other patron. This is so important because homeless individuals are used to being singled out and treated as “other” (and usually “less than.”). Being singled out (and discriminated against) is a massive trigger for conflict with homeless patrons. Simply not treating homeless patrons discriminatorily removes a massive source of conflict.

When there's a difficult situation to deal with, often one's default is to immediately shift into problem-solving mode rather than taking a moment to empathize. What are a few pieces of advice you would give librarians for confronting difficult situations with empathy?

The first step is to slow down. Talking to an angry patron (homeless or otherwise) is uncomfortable, and so people try to rush the situation in order to get out of it. This is a mistake. Homeless individuals are constantly rushed and ignored, so when you try to rush the conversation, you send a clear message that they are not worthy of your time or attention. This is a trigger that escalates the situation, which—ironically—causes the confrontation to take much longer than if you took a little time to listen. So few people take the time to listen to homeless patrons. When you do that, it really resolves a lot of problems down the line (and saves time!).

Let's say a library patron approaches you to complain about a homeless individual. So now you have two overlapping situations to handle. What do you do? 

The first step is to determine whether the non-homeless patron’s complaint is legitimate. At one library I talked to, the patrons call the police every time a homeless patron even enters the library. That is simply an elitist misunderstanding of the role of the library as the last truly democratic public space in our communities. On the other hand, if the non-homeless patron has a legitimate concern (e.g. sexual comments) then that is a totally different matter. So, basically, if the concern is legitimate, then library staff should address the problematic behavior. If the concern is not legitimate, library staff should do their best to explain the role of libraries in serving everyone across the socio-economic spectrum (easier said than done, of course!).

On a day to day basis, how does librarianship's advocacy role fit in with serving the homeless?

I think that any effective advocacy begins with a relationship. When you take the time to hear the stories—and learn the names—of homeless patrons you immediately become a more effective advocate. The revolution is in the relationship.  

What are some first steps that libraries can take to partner with outside organizations?

Let’s start with the idea of hiring a social worker. I think it is great for libraries to have social workers, but I am totally against libraries hiring social workers. A far better approach is to partner with a local nonprofit to provide the social worker. There are several reasons for this:  1) A social work agency will do a better job hiring a good social worker, 2) A social work agency will do a better job supporting and supervising a social worker, 3) A social worker operating in a sea of librarians will not have adequate moral and technical support; if that person works for another agency, s/he can get advice from co-workers back at the main office.  4) When another agency has staff based in the library, there are more people caring about the library. That is huge.

Learn more about Dowd's book at the ALA Store.

Though fictional, The Public, a new film written and directed by Emilio Estevez, deals with these very real issues. The opening film of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, it stars Taylor Schilling, Alec Baldwin, Jena Malone, and Jeffrey Wright alongside Estevez. It centers on a group of homeless library patrons in Cincinnati. When brutal weather fills the city's emergency shelters to capacity, they refuse to leave the downtown public library at closing time, leading to a standoff. Check out the official trailer below.

Interview: McCook and Bossaller on their updated public librarianship text

For the new third edition of Introduction to Public Librarianship, Kathleen de la Peña McCook decided to bring a new co-author on board, noted public library scholar and advocate Jenny S. Bossaller. In this interview they discuss their collaboration and how the field of public librarianship continues to change.

Name one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you were new to public librarianship.

Kathleen de la Peña McCook: Be engaged and active in community groups--local history, human rights, the Sierra Club especially.
 
Jenny S. Bossaller: When you work in the library, you become the face of the library to the public. Be professional, and treat everyone who walks in the door (and those who don’t) with dignity.
 
photo of Paris-Bourbon County (KY) Public Library. Design by EOP Architects (www.eopa.com), Lexington, KY. Photo by Phebus Photography.Kathleen, you’ve written every previous edition by yourself. But the new one is most definitely a collaboration.

KM: As I put together an Advisory Board I wanted scholars who were community focused. Jenny is that kind of person. Then when she began to respond to the early chapters I sent her for review her insights were so fresh and informed that I knew this would be a better book if she co-edited. I was so happy she agreed and I was right--it is a far better book than I would have done alone.

JB: It was such a privilege to work with Kathleen – I’ve read and admired her work for so many years, and had talked about how incredible it would be to meet her. I was floored when she asked me to be on the Advisory Board.

What was the collaboration like?   

KM: We are both early morning people. We would often have multiple online interactions before either of us had gone to our day jobs. I think the best part is that there was no lag time. We handled each challenge within 48 hours or less.
 
JB: I ended up learning so much from Kathleen – from how to put a book together to how to work with co-authors and a publisher. She was so patient and gracious.

book ocver of Introduction to Public Librarianship, Third EditionIt kind of boggles the mind just to think back to how things have changed since 2011, when the previous edition was published. What do you consider the most important updates in the new edition?

KM: To me the fact that librarians help people to make things is as important as finding things.

JB: I agree! The library has been a place for making for many years, but technologies have really changed what libraries can do with and for the public.
 
Public libraries are certainly more important than ever, and I think everyone agrees that the next generation of LIS professionals is genuinely plugged into that urgency. What are some of the foundational skills that are going to be the most crucial for tomorrow’s graduates?

KM: Empathy, patience, and the attitude that we can help.

JB: I don’t know if this is a recent change, but being able to communicate well with the public, officials, and coworkers is incredibly important and maybe more urgent than ever. Be able to say why the library is important – craft and perfect that elevator speech, and understand the library’s mission. Be a good listener.

Read a sample of the book at the ALA Store.

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

Get the Picture: A Great Hands-On Activity to Celebrate Back-to-school

Whether you work in a school or public library, celebrate the beginning of school year with kids with this great hands-on activity to pair with Mouse Views: What the Class Pet Saw by Bruce McMillan (New York: Holiday House, 1994)!

magicA classroom mouse escapes and takes a tour of the school in this guessing game story.  Close-up, full-color photos show a common classroom item from the mouse’s point of view, and readers must guess what it is.  A turn of the page shows the item in a more conventional view. 

Follow the story with a discussion of the importance of using your eyes and paying attention, then show the kids “mouse-eye” views of items in the library and have them guess what the items are.  In preparation for this activity, take ultra-close-up photos of the items using a digital camera, then either print the pictures or connect the camera to a TV screen to share them with the group.  Then let the children take turns taking close-up pictures of items (with help) and having the others guess what the items are.  This is a wildly popular activity with kids of all ages, and the hands-on component enhances confidence for kids of every ability level.  To extend the activity even further, print the pictures and place them on a bulletin board with the close-ups hanging over the regular views, so that others in the school or library can guess and then lift the top sheet to check their guesses.

Find more great activities for school and public library programming in Kindergarten Magic: Theme Based Lessons for Building Literacy and Library Skills by Kathy MacMillan and Christine Kirker, available now!

Visit Kathy and Christine online at www.storytimestuff.net.

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