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Monday, January 17, 2022

Adventures In Weeding


Library collection development, weeding library collections, library collection maintenance,

During the time between when I accepted my current position and when I actually began I corresponded with the adult services manager a couple of times to get a feel for things and know what to expect. In one email they told me of some meetings and things I would be attending the first week, and then suggested I would want to get started assessing my collections.

I was a little surprised at this, as I had expected programming to be the top priority. But once I started looking at the collection, I realized why! The collection had been very neglected and mismanaged, and the deeper I got into it, the more I realized how bad it was. Many really old books on the shelf, lots of materials that had not circulated in the last 5 years or more, very little new material, almost no diversity, and a very obvious bias for one particular religious point of view. 

It seems that my predecessor (and those before her) never weeded anything unless it was absolutely falling apart and irreparable, only bought new material when it was specifically requested by patrons or represented their own evangelical POV, and never replaced ancient copies of still popular classics with newer editions/reprints with contemporary cover art. Which brings us to today's nomination for the "Shelf of Shame".

I present to you this ancient copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's By the Shores of Silver Lake. Though Wilder has been heavily criticized of late and her books have fallen out of favor among critics and many librarians, they are still popular among young readers. The whole series definitely has a place in my collection, but not in this condition! And sadly, this is pretty representative of what I'm finding in all the classic series.

As you can see, this copy is very old and in very poor condition: jacket is missing, pages are yellowed and dirty, it has been written in, moisture damaged, and clearly at some point someone decided to use it as a coaster. I believe this copy to be the 1953 edition, based on the illustrations by Garth Williams, which first appeared that year, and the publisher listed as Harper & Brothers, which changed to Harper & Row in 1962.

What is really interesting is that it bears the stamps of a different library in another county, and the state Library Extension Division, which only existed as that entity at that address from 1957 to 1962. I believe this book was first acquired by the state division around 1957, then provided to the regional library listed which was at some point absorbed by the currently existing county library. Somehow, it must have been weeded from there and ended up being added to my library's collection in 1995, and being 42 years old at that point it must have already been in poor condition. 

So I have two burning questions, (1) Why was a 42-year old copy that had been weeded by one library added to our collection in the first place, and (2) Why, oh, WHY did no librarian in the last 25 years ever think to replace it? It's not like it has ever gone out of print, and much of the damage looks to be very old, not recent. I realize that years ago the library may not have had the funding to replace things as often as I'd like, but come on, to have such an old, nasty copy on your shelves for that long?? I know there has been enough money in the budget to replace such items in recent history at least.

People, we have to do better than this! I get why someone might hold onto it for a personal collection, but this has no place in a public or school library where we supposedly want kids to check out books and read them. If you want books to circulate, you can't have your shelves filled with old, worn, faded, gross, ugly books. Not only is a child highly unlikely to pick a book of the shelf to check out if it looks like it came from great-grammy's basement, it brings the whole collection down, much as an old, run-down house brings down the property values of every other house in the neighborhood.

Sadly, though this book is the oldest I have found so far, I have found many that date back at least to the 1970s that still have original cover art from the 1950s or earlier, maybe not in quite as bad of a condition as this book, but close. And big surprise, they don't circulate well, even titles that I know are still fairly relevant and popular in other libraries. Needless to say, I've already ordered replacement copies for this book, and the whole series, along with several other classic series. 

Now, repeat after me, "No more old, ugly books!"

What has been the worst offender you have weeded from your collection?

Friday, January 7, 2022

PSA - Weeding: It's Not Just for Gardens!


Collection development, collection maintenance, weeding books

If you've followed my blog, know me from the various library-related Facebook groups, or know me IRL, you may have picked up on some of my soapbox issues: reading levels, "one right way" thinking, people presenting penguins as Arctic animals, reading levels, snowflakes that are anything but 6-sided, library school, reading levels...  Well, I've discovered a new one - collection maintenance and development!

Let me just start by saying, if you are ever going to work in a library, but especially if you are ever going to manage a library or children's department, PLEASE get properly educated and trained in collection maintenance and development!!!!!! Whether it's by a formal course, workshops, webinars, or self-education, and even if you don't think you will ever be in charge of a collection. You never know, you might be some day, and even if not, all library staff should have some understanding of the principles and best practices.

I was very fortunate to have had a good collection development course in library school (one of the few useful classes I took) and I strongly feel that it should be a required course in all MLIS programs, but sadly too many do not. And I was even more fortunate to work with some excellent children's librarians and observe (and participate in) good collection maintenance and development in practice for several years in the library system where I started out. I just kind of took it for granted and thought that's how it was in most libraries.

I have since discovered that it is not, and good collection maintenance and development may even be the exception rather than the rule. At the last library I worked, I was shocked at how many books that were just falling apart were still in circulation, how many missing materials were never replaced even when still in demand and available, how many incomplete series, and how items were weeded strictly based on some report with unknown criteria, without ever being reviewed by a librarian! 

I then moved to my current library and position as a youth services manager and found I had inherited a neglected and fairly stagnant collection. There are so many old books that haven't circulated in 5 or more years on the shelves, so many ancient copies of still popular classics with horribly dated, faded cover art and brown pages that weren't circulating, series gaps. Non-fiction books more than 10 years old with misinformation and disproven theories. Very few picture books or early readers that were less than 10-20 years old! Very little diversity, and an overwhelming amount of materials reflecting one particular belief system. Shelving certain materials in sections for audiences older than the items are intended for. The deeper I get into it, the more appalled I become.

I've found books in poor condition that have been in the collection for over 40 years, during which time not one single librarian ever thought to remove them and replace with a new copy for still popular titles, or something else for others. My predecessor apparently was one that fetishized books and could not bear to ever get rid of books unless they were just absolutely falling apart and irreparable. They also didn't seem to see a need to add new or diverse materials unless specifically requested by a patron, and indulged their own biases. 
I've been inspired to start a "Shelf of Shame" and collect some of the most egregious offenders to use as examples of what *not* to do!

It's one thing to hold onto old books in your own personal collection, but not in a public or school library when you have the budget to replace them (and we do!). We want the books to circulate! But few kids are going to want to check out a book that looks like it came from grammy's (or great-grammy's) attic! You need a vibrant, carefully curated collection of attractive, relevant books in good condition that kids will WANT to check out! Popular titles, new books, books that provide both mirrors and windows; books needed for both leisure reading and school assignments. Yes, some classics are still popular and should be kept in the collection, but not the same copy your grandmother may have checked out out as a child! They need to be replaced every so often with new editions or reprints with new, contemporary cover art. Nothing screams "this book is old-fashioned and boring" like a faded cover with dated art from the 1950s.

If you haven't learned the "CREW' methods or "MUSTIE" standards, I strongly encourage you to do so! They are very helpful, and provide guidelines and criteria for continuous review and for each type of material. What I really like about the CREW method is that while it does provide specific criteria, it also allows for some tweaking based on your library and community, and professional judgment. Learn all about it and download the manual Here. And of course, you must have a well-crafted collection development policy in place to guide you in both weeding and selection.

I definitely have my work cut out for me, and it will probably be 2-3 years before I get the youth collections where I want them, but it will be something I and the community can be proud of. I am so grateful to those who trained and taught me the importance of continuous review, having a well-curated, vibrant collection; and how to do so!

Coming soon, "Adventures In Weeding" with examples of some of the worst offenders I find as I begin overhauling my collection, and explanations of why they are bad, what should have been done, and what I did to remedy it.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Reflecting on 2021 & Looking Ahead to 2022


Time for my annual reflection on the past year and setting goals for the year ahead. 2021 didn't quite turn out to be the return to normal that many had hoped, but it was a less tumultuous than 2020. However, that doesn't mean it was without its ups and downs. Personally, it was another year of big changes, but this time it was by choice and on my terms.

2021 began with the library being shut down once again due to a very high number of Covid cases and high rate of transmission, but then reopening at the end of January. Summer brought us a nice reprieve and a glimpse of something reminiscent of normal, before having to take a step back and return to mask requirements as the Delta variant reared its ugly head, with Omicron following closely on its heels.

Professionally speaking, it was quite a challenge having to constantly change gears and adjust programming to the continuously changing situation. I did virtual storytimes, take-home early literacy kits, and hybrid virtual-plus-kit STEM programs in the winter and spring, and thankfully was able to transition to in-person outdoor storytimes and family programs in the summer. It was so wonderful to have real live children at my storytimes again! In the fall I began programming for school-age kids on Fridays, when they were out of school (yeah, it's weird, they only have a 4-day school week) that was usually STEM activities, but sometimes games or a craft. 

As far as professional development, I did a number of webinars, though most were rather ho-hum and stuff I already knew, though I did really like Ryan Dowd's "Kicked Out" webinar which focused on enforcing rules, but how to do so with compassion and using de-escalation techniques.[Personally, I think all public service staff should take this training as I have observed many do not have the skills needed to handle these situations appropriately.] I was supposed to attend our state conference in September, but at the last minute our director decided not to let us go, which was both frustrating and disappointing. I also finally got to do something I've always wanted to do, which was serve on a book award selection committee. (I'll write more about this later once we are done for the year.)

I worked at maintaining a better work-life balance and healthier lifestyle, and did pretty well most of the year, but at the expense of my reading. Between that and working full-time, I read far fewer books than in previous years, which was a bit frustrating. But I found after returning home to accept a new job many of my bad habits have returned, so I am going to have to continue working on that. 
Over the course of the year, it became very clear that the job I had as the sole librarian and assistant manager at a tiny branch in a larger system was not a good fit for many (so many!) reasons, so when a youth services manager position opened up at a library back home that was bigger, but not part of a system, I jumped on the opportunity when it was offered to me. 

Now looking to the year ahead, I think we are in for another year like the last as far as the pandemic is concerned. Cases are rising fast due to the greater transmissibility of the omicron variant, and will peak, then gradually fall. I expect we will have another summer reprieve followed by more variants in the fall. We will have to continue to change gears and adapt. I don't think we will ever see a return to the old normal. The pandemic isn't going to be over any time soon; it will likely drag on and we as a society and as a profession will eventually decide it's just time to move on. Hopefully by that point the virus will have mutated to become much less virulent and truly become more like the seasonal colds and flu.

But I don't know if public libraries will ever get back to the way things were before, certainly not any time soon. The normal flow has been disrupted far too long. People are out of the habit of coming to the library and frustrated by the constant changes, children have gotten older, some people are still avoiding public places. Until we get to a point were we can have some stability and consistency in programming and hours, we can't really begin to regain our place as a vibrant community center; public libraries have been set back 20 years. But, we will keep trying.

Once again, I'm not going to set any really specific goals because things are just too uncertain and constantly changing. I hope to present at a conference for the first time, and have submitted a proposal to our state conference. It is currently scheduled to be in-person, and I really hope that doesn't change, but I wouldn't be surprised if it goes back to virtual again. I'd also love to attend the ALSC Institute this year. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have a lot of collection work ahead of me in my new job, so will be doing a lot of weeding, re-organizing, and buying new materials, and I hope by the end of the year to have made significant improvements and figured out a schedule for ongoing evaluation and maintenance.

I also have summer reading to figure out, and programming in general. It looks like I may have to go back to doing take-home kits for a while, but still need to figure how to accommodate the after school crowd, because those kids are going to be at the library regardless, so we might as well have activities for them. For the most part, this year will be settling into the new job and working towards getting the collection in better shape, making the department more welcoming, and hopefully increasing circulation a little. By next year I hope to see significant improvements, but will probably take 2-3 years to get things where I really want them and get the hang of developing the collection and selecting materials.

I'm not sure what direction my blog is going to take. It started out primarily as a way to both share and have a record of all my storytimes and other programming. But at this point, I've done so many storytimes that I'm now mostly repeating things I've done before and writing them up has become tedious and seems redundant. Also, as a new youth services manager I'm entering a whole new realm of responsibilities, including collection management & development, managing staff, and planning and executing an entire summer reading program myself. So while I will still occasionally write up storytimes that have new themes, new structures, or new materials, I will likely shift to writing more generally about early literacy and other programming, and more about youth services management and philosophy.

Mostly for this year I hope for things to stay calm and continually move forward, even if just baby steps at a time. I'm sure there will still be set-backs, but hopefully not to many! I wish everyone peace and good health in the coming year!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Pajama Storytime

I just started my new job in December, and I felt bad I didn't really get there quite early enough to really plan any special holiday programs or take-home kits, so somewhat at the last minute I decided to at least do a special evening pajama Christmas storytime.

I was a bit ambivalent, because I do have mixed feelings about doing in-person programming indoors right now, but I decided to go ahead because I had a nice big area to spread out. I figured I would keep it very simple and low-key, just a few songs and stories and a treat bag to take home, no Santa to draw large crowds. I know holiday programming is a hot-button issue in our field, but I think it depends on the community. There are libraries I've worked at where Christmas programming was not appropriate and I didn't do it, but for this particular community it makes sense. 

I posted it on the library's Facebook page (yes, I have the power!) and put out signs in the library. I saw that two of the elementary schools and the chamber of commerce shared it as well. I had no idea how many to expect, and went back and forth from being afraid I would have a big crowd and being afraid no one would come. I prepared goody bags for 30 kids, but realistically only expected maybe 10-15 at most.

Normally I start of with a typical "Hello" song, but for this one I used the chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as our hello song:

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
and a Happy New Year!

Then, just to be silly we sang it as Yoda would:

A Merry Christmas we wish you,
A Merry Christmas we wish you,
A Merry Christmas we wish you,
and a New Year Happy!

Then for a little movement we did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with motions:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, 
"Rudolph, with you nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer love him, as they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!"

[I've always thought this was just a fun song and I use it because almost all kids know and love it, but this year it really hit me what a wrong message it sends, that it's only ok to be different when that difference somehow becomes useful to others.]

Then finally we did "Jingle Bells" because I know how much kids love playing with the bells! 

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh.
Over the fields we go, laughing all the way. (Ha, ha ha)
Bells on bobtails ring, making spirits bright.
Oh, what fun to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight! Oh...

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh-hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!

Christmas storytime
For our first book I chose There's an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher. I love this series for how fun, funny, and interactive they are. In this installment, one of Santa's elves is giving us a naughty or nice test to see which list to put us on. Most of the items are easy, BUT elves are tricky so you have to pay attention and be sure you don't get tricked into doing something naughty!

At the end there's a certificate that you could make copies of to hand out and leave for Santa to see you are indeed on the nice list, but I never think about it until it's too late.

Christmas storytime
Next I tried to start calming things down with a quieter book about bedtime, Christmas Eve Good Night by Dough Cushman. It is Christmas Eve at the North Pole, and all the young inhabitants are getting ready for bed, and being tucked in by their mamas and papas. In rhyming couplets the narrator asks how each one would tell their grown-ups "goodnight".

This one is great for some more quiet, gentle interaction as the audience either guesses or reads the sounds or words each one would use, including snowmen, elves, polar bears, reindeer, and more. This book is easy to shorten if needed by skipping spreads, and I did skip two since our last book was going to be longer.

I tried to find a slower, more "lullaby-ish" Christmas song, but everything I came across that fit the tempo and mood was overtly religious; I couldn't find anything more secular. So I settled for an updated version of "Up on the Housetop" that avoids gender stereotyping the gifts that Santa brings that I found on YouTube from Super Simple:

Up On the Housetop

Up on the housetop reindeer pause, 
out jumps good old Santa Claus!
Down through the chimney with lots of toys, 
all for the little ones Christmas joys.

(Chorus):       Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go?                      
Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go?
Up on the housetop, click, click, click.
Down through the chimney with the good St. Nick!

First come the stockings in a row, 
filled with goodies top to toe.
Then to the tree old Santa springs, 
to place the presents that he brings.


Everything delivered from his sack,
Santa has a cookie snack.
Back to his reindeer and the sleigh,
into the night they fly away!


I like this updated version much better, especially as a girl who never really liked dolls herself, and the mother of both a girl who would much rather have trucks and cars or building sets, and a boy who loved his baby Anthony doll.

Finally, we ended with the traditional The Night Before Christmas poem by Clement Moore, using the version illustrated by Jan Brett. It's a bit long, but it has such a nice rhythm that most kids can stay engaged, plus many are already familiar with it. Reading this on Christmas Eve was always a tradition in my house when my kids were little, and along with watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story", it just wouldn't be the same without it.

Christmas storytime
We also posted a video on the library's Facebook page of a staff member dressed as Santa Claus reading a different version of this poem illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson, one with more contemporary illustrations showing a very modern, hi-tech sleigh and very large text that showed nicely on camera for those who couldn't come to storytime (or weren't comfortable doing so), or those who wanted to hear again with a different voice, style, and pictures to keep it interesting.

We ended with another round of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as a good-by song, and I handed out goody bags that contained:
  • Magic Reindeer Food (oats, red & green sugar crystals and a pinch of edible glitter)
  • packet of hot chocolate mix
  • candy cane
  • Christmas-themed self-inking stamp
  • two winter/Christmas bookmarks, one was one they could color

How It Went
Despite being equally afraid I would have either a big crowd or nobody show up, I was relieved to see families start trickling in about 10-15 minutes before we were to begin. I ended up with four families, with 6 adults and 7 kids, for a total of 13 people. While maybe 2-3 more families would have made an ideal size crowd, I was just happy that it wasn't too crowded, but there were enough people to be worth having done it. Also, it was mostly school-aged kids who don't get to come to the regular storytimes anymore, so that made me even more glad I did it. Those that came seemed to really enjoy it and it gave me a chance to meet more of the community, including one of the elementary school librarians.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

New Year, New Job!

I have big news! I've started a new position, and this time I think it could be "the one". 
If you've followed my blog for while you may remember that just after finishing my MLIS in the spring of 2020, I and 100 other part-time staff members were let go from the library system I had worked in for 7 years. After being unexpectedly thrown into an absolutely abysmal job market I ended up relocating across the country in order to find a full-time professional position.

My husband and son stayed behind, waiting to see how I liked things there before we decided whether I was going to come back home when something opened up or we were going to relocate there permanently. As it turned out, though I loved the state I relocated to, I did not like the particular town and the position and library system in general proved not to be a good fit for several reasons. However, I did gain valuable experience as well as insight into what things were really important to me and what I really wanted in my next position, which was to be back in youth services exclusively and preferably not in a large system.

As I approached the one-year mark, I started seriously looking for something else closer to home. This time I could afford to be more choosy, as the market had changed and now I was not only currently employed, but had the advantage of a year of professional experience in a position that included management and some significant accomplishments. I really hoped to get away from large systems and their out-of-touch upper management, layers of bureaucracy, inefficiency, poor communication, and lack of transparency. Much to my delight, a YS manager position unexpectedly opened up back home at a library only 20 minutes from my house, with a surprisingly decent salary!

So just barely over a year later, I made another cross-country move back home and began a new position as the "Youth & Family Services Manager" for a medium-sized (about 22,000 sq ft), single library in a somewhat rural area that serves a small town of 10,000, and overall county population of about 23,000. Though I'm still in the honeymoon period, so far it's been an exciting and refreshing change, and very different from my last job as the sole librarian and assistant branch manager for a tiny (less than 10,000 sq ft) branch in part of a larger system serving an urban population of 120,000, and additional rural population of another 10-20,000, and a relief to be back in an exclusively youth services position.

The first difference I noticed immediately is of course having much more space, so I no longer feel claustrophobic and have room for a decent collection, seating, and play spaces, plus my own program room. Oh, and I also have a whole office of my own, not just a tiny desk shoved into a high traffic area next to the bathroom! But the the other big difference was how much more welcomed I felt by the staff here, and there is an actual onboarding process to support me as I transition into the role, as it does have more responsibility in addition to a whole set of new software and new policies and procedures to learn, and a new community to get to know. No just being dropped into a role with no training, direction, guidance, or support and left to sink or swim. I feel like I'm actually being set up for success this time around.

It has been a bit surreal at first, having people ask how *I* want things done and doing it, being told I can do summer reading however *I* want (and we will definitely NOT be paying kids to just check out books and inflate our circ stats), the director having consultants brought in to meet with me to see what physical changes I might want to make to the youth areas as far as decor, shelving, furniture, lighting, etc., being able to weed and select and develop the collection my way. I even have access to post on the library's Facebook page! I *finally* am no longer just a disposable, anonymous cog in a large, impersonal system; no longer being restricted by and subjected to the whims of centralized control of everything, and can finally do things the way I think they should be done. I have been positively giddy with excitement!

Yes, it will be a lot more responsibility, but also a lot more freedom. Is everything perfect? No. The collection has been severely neglected and allowed to become pretty stagnant and very lacking in diversity. The space, though there is plenty, is not very well-utilized or welcoming. There are some cataloging/shelving practices I don't care for. Teens have been demonized and their needs not adequately provided for. Families aren't coming in as much as I'd like. But, I have the authority to change the things that I don't think work, so I see them as opportunities to make a good library even better, not problems or sources of constant frustration.

And speaking of change, I was amazed to find that the staff here is not only open to change, most of them are eager for it! I was afraid I'd get pushback if I wanted to make any changes, instead I found out they had been hoping I would want to make the changes I've very cautiously hinted at. I was told they had been looking for someone who would be a little more progressive and bring in new ideas and "help get the library into the 21st century". I've really been impressed with the other senior staff so far, they are all not only smart, knowledgeable, and capable, but also flexible, supportive, and encouraging. Plus fun to be around.

I'm trying not to get too excited too soon, but this really feels like a great fit and I'm cautiously optimistic I've found a role I can really grow into and stay in long-term. It will probably have a bit of a learning curve and take me a couple of years to really get the department, collection, and myself where I want, but I am feeling very confident. The challenges I see right now that need addressing are:

  • a very neglected collection that needs weeding, refreshing, updating, more diversity, and a lot of new material

  • physical space that is not well-utilized and needs to made more welcoming with better lighting (this is a high priority!), more efficient shelving, more seating, colorful d├ęcor, and opening up space for a play area

  • designing and planning this year's SRP ASAP!

  • figuring out a way to make the large after school crowd of teens and tweens feel welcome, while also managing their behavior so as not to be disruptive to the entire library, prevent families from using the children's area, or cause safety issues

  • increasing program attendance/participation, increasing library visits, and increasing circulation

  • helping part-time ys staff to understand the full spectrum of their duties and my expectations, and giving them the training, support, guidance, direction and mentorship they need to do so and apparently have not received.

  • working with the rest of the management team to foster a sense of teamwork and co-operation, transparency and communication within the department and among all departments and staff 

As I said, I have been excited by everything I've seen so far, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what a difference I can make over the next year.