Friday, January 24, 2020

The Truth About Library School, Part 3 - What Needs to Change

The Truth About Library School, How LIS Needs to Change, What's wrong with library school

In Part 1 of this series, I summarized my experience with library school and gave some things to consider when thinking about library school and selecting a program, and in Part 2 I gave some tips for surviving and getting the most out of library school. In this third and final installment I would like to talk about some of the things that I think need to change.

Some of these things may be specific to online programs or my program, or may apply to higher ed in general, but all are based on my experiences as an MLIS student and discussions with other students. As always, others may have different views based on their experiences.
  1. DISCUSSION POSTS - Please, can we just drop the charade that discussion posts in any way replace a live classroom discussion or enhance learning and get rid of them? Seriously! They are a complete waste of time and serve no purpose, as indicated by the number of memes floating around about them. And if programs are going to insist on having them, the instructors should at least take part in the discussion as well, and give interesting, controversial topics that will really invite discussion and differing opinions.

    1. FEEDBACK - If I am going to all the time and effort to do quality work on projects and papers, I would like at least a sentence or two of genuine feedback that shows the professor actually read it. I don't want someone to be nit-picky, but I also don't like feeling like I wasted my time trying to do high-quality work when it seems like the professor just gave everybody a 100 without even reading them (in one class, everyone got 100 on everything, even on some assignments they didn't do!). If you take off points, I want to know why, specifically.

    2. RESPONSIVENESS - Many instructors need to do a much better job of maintaining a presence in the class and responding to students' questions in a timely manner, especially as assignment deadlines approach. In most cases, I think it is reasonable to expect an answer within 24 hours, 48 at the most. Going a week or more without checking in and forcing students to turn in assignments without ever getting answers to questions is not acceptable. Grade assignments in a reasonable amount of time. Get the first assignment graded as soon as possible so students know your expectations. Getting grades back within a week is ideal, within two weeks is understandable, but beyond that is unacceptable.

    3. PROFESSIONALISM - Instructors and programs need to be held to a higher standard of pedagogical professionalism. Ghosting on classes, not responding to or giving snarky responses to students' questions, being extremely disorganized, inconsistent and contradictory instructions and due dates, making major changes in assignments after they've been given, not updating course content, taking weeks to grade assignments, and telling students they should be happy with whatever they get because they pay lower tuition than at other schools are all examples of unprofessional behavior I have experienced. Part of the argument for requiring an MLIS is to learn professionalism and ethics, so then shouldn't the faculty be modeling professionalism in everything they do? (This is not to imply all faculty are unprofessional by any means, but I had too many that were).

    4. TENURE - The ONLY thing I learned in my nightmare of a cataloging class is why tenure should be abolished. The instructor was a total disaster, and was MIA for 80-90% of the course, forgetting to upload material for weeks, then dumping it all on us at once, when it was too late to be helpful for the assignments, not answering questions, taking weeks to grade things, sometimes not at all. According to students in a prior term, they ended up just giving everyone an A for the class because he never turned in final grades. And this behavior had gone on for years, but when students complained, the chair would just throw her hands up and said there was nothing she could do because he had tenure. Tenure protects the lazy, incompetent, and unprofessional.

    5. OVERSIGHT & ACCOUNTABILITY - There needs to be much more oversight and accountability for faculty, especially in online programs. The online environment seems to encourage complacency and downright unethical and unprofessional behavior in some instructors. Department heads and administrators need to pay more attention to what is going on, take student complaints and reviews seriously, and hold faculty accountable for their actions. Don't make excuses for them, don't imply students don't have the right to expect professional behavior because they pay lower tuition, don't just throw your hands up and say there's nothing you can do. There is always something you can do, even if it comes down to stepping in and taking over, or at least facilitating, the class yourself. Don't leave your students twisting in the wind once you've gotten their money.

    6. PRACTICAL ASSIGNMENTS - Please give assignments that help expand practical skills and knowledge that translate to real-life library work, not busywork. And in order to do that, the faculty needs to be in-touch with modern libraries of all types. If you are going to be teaching students that will be working in public libraries, then you need to have an understanding of what public librarianship is really like. Yes, teach theory as well, but practical assignments are much more engaging and useful in the long run.

    7. PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE - MLS programs need to include more opportunities for practical experiences and do more to facilitate those experiences, especially for those who will be working in public libraries. Research is great, and I admit I enjoyed my research methods class and project, but the reality is that the vast majority of public librarians, particularly children's librarians, do not have the time nor opportunity to do research, even if they would like to. Research methods is very important for academics, but public librarians would be much better served with doing a co-op or practicum. Not everyone already works in a library, and students need to gain practical experience to be competitive on the job market. It should not be possible for a new graduate to start a position as a new children's librarian without ever having any real experience with children, but it is. LIS relies much too heavily on the assumption they come into the field already having that experience, but that's not always true.

    8. PUBLIC LIBRARIANSHIP & YOUTH SERVICES - Faculty need to be more in touch with today's public libraries and do more to prepare future public librarians for the realities of serving the public, especially in youth services. Youth services classes need to be taught by someone with significant experience working in youth services in a public library setting, and they need to stay in touch with modern trends and give assignments that relate to the services and programs children's librarians will be expected to do.

      Reader's advisory is a big part of a children's librarian's job, so instead of making students write boring book summaries and reviews, the time would be better spent having them put together themed bibliographies on different topics, or targeted for specific audiences; give them RA scenarios to come up with book suggestions for. Forget the book trailers and fancy libguides; children's librarians don't have time for such things in real life, and patrons have little interest in them.

      Library programming is another huge part of a children's librarian's job, sometimes it is the whole job, and library programs are NOT like classroom lessons. Keep in touch with what the current trends are in library programs, have students observe and critique several different programs for different ages. There is a lot more than storytime going on in today's public library! The expectations for program design assignments need to be realistic, developmentally appropriate, and appropriate for a library setting. Don't tell students to plan an hour-long program for toddlers! Don't expect a program plan to be like a classroom lesson plan.

      And finally, remember that children's librarians have to be prepared to work with children and are expected to have knowledge of child development and be able to apply it to designing and delivering library programs and services (ALSC, 2015). However, LIS programs often don't do enough to support this competency. A course in child development should be allowed to count as an elective towards an LIS degree for those in who have never had one, and practical experience should be integrated into the youth services curriculum.

    9. STOP FLOODING THE MARKET - There needs to be fewer programs, and they need to stop being so greedy and accepting so many students. Online MLS programs have proliferated since ALA's big push for the "professionalization" of the field, and are churning out way more degreed librarians that the job market can support. The idea of an upcoming "librarian shortage" is a myth that has been tossed around for at least 20 years. People are having to wait longer to retire, and when they do, their positions are often eliminated or replaced with a part-time paraprofessional.

    10. DROP THE MLS REQUIREMENT - An expensive graduate degree should not be required for an entry level position in a low-paying field. Yes, academic librarians may need it, managers and department heads maybe, directors definitely, but for an entry level children's librarian in a public library making $35,000? I would like to see an alternate path to librarianship for public libraries, particularly youth services, perhaps modeled after the teaching field. Some kind of additional coursework, perhaps a 5th year program, that would be at the undergraduate tuition rate and be more practical and job-oriented, and include practical experience. Teachers can get a full-time job with benefits with a bachelor's degree, so that they have a steady income, health insurance, and are putting into retirement first. Then they can work on getting a master's degree. I think this would be a better avenue for public librarianship that would reduce the amount of student loan debt and increase diversity in the field, which is desperately needed. Recognize those performing librarian duties as librarians with appropriate pay, then give a pay bump if they get an MLS, and require the MLS for advancement.
    Well, this last installment was largely cathartic for me, but I hope it is at least somewhat interesting to others, and I'd love to hear your thoughts!

    And in case you missed either of the first two articles in this series:

    Wednesday, January 22, 2020

    The Truth About Library School, Part 2: Survival

    How to Survive Library School, Tips for library school, hack library school

    In Part 1 of this series I described my library school experience and gave some tips about things to do and consider when thinking about going to library school and selecting a program. If you've decided to take the plunge, here are some tips for surviving and getting the most out of the library school experience. Standard disclaimer: this is based on my experience and perspectives; your mileage may vary.
    1. DON'T go into debt for library school. I said it before, but it's worth repeating.

    2. DO manage your expectations, especially if you've always enjoyed and thrived in academic environments and especially if you'll be in an online learning environment for the first time; library school is just different. It is better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

    3. DO take it easy in the beginning. If it's been a while since you've been in school and/or your first time with an online program it can be a big adjustment, so you may just want to take one class the first semester. Also you won't be out as much money if you decide library school isn't for you after all, as several in my admission class did.

    4. DON'T overload yourself. Library school is a distance race, not a sprint; it's all about endurance. Be realistic about yourself and your energy level, ability to handle stress and multiple spinning plates, family obligations, etc. Everyone is different. I only took one class most semesters, and though I managed the two semesters that I took two classes, I couldn't do it every term. Many people took two classes each semester, and I knew of some that took three and did fine. But there were also others who took on too much, burned out, and had to take a semester or two off.

    5. DO get to know other students and build not only a support group, but a network of professional contacts. Yes, that is a challenge in an online environment, but it's possible, and necessary. After suffering in isolation for the first two semesters, I started occasionally messaging a few of people I had done group projects with, then found out about a support group some of the students had formed on Facebook, and it made a world of difference! Being able to discuss different classes, instructors, and assignments was incredibly helpful, and having a safe place to vent with people who understood was such a relief. I don't know if I would have made it without this wonderful group, and many people formed long-standing friendships as a result of the group.

    6. DO be vigilant about organization and time-management. Be sure to read the requirements of upcoming assignments well in advance so you can plan your time, anticipate obstacles, and ask questions in time to get answers. Work ahead when possible. Put all the deadlines on your calendar, whether it's a physical paper planner, wall calendar, online, or in your phone. Whatever works for you. Just don't get behind. Start working from the first week of class! The first half of the semester tends to be slow, so take advantage and work ahead so that you don't find yourself in such a time crunch at the end.

    7. DON'T bother trying to read all of the assigned and supplemental reading. It takes too much time, the articles are often dated and not really that helpful, and it just isn't a good investment of your time. DO learn to skim quickly and pull out a quote or two to cite in the stupid discussion posts, and only read the articles that are really worthwhile or interesting to you.

    8. DO try to get high grades in the beginning of the semester, so you can afford to relax at the end. Often I found I needed as little as 50-60% on the final assignment to get an "A" in the class. And though I still tried to do quality work, it took the pressure off and I didn't have to obsess about every little detail or instruction I wasn't sure I understood correctly. And guess what; I always got A's on them anyway. While there are some exceptions, in general I have found that instructors grade harder at the beginning, but easier over the course of the semester as they get more loaded down and have less time.

    9. DON'T waste money buying new copies of all the textbooks. Few people find them useful or worth keeping around after the class ends. Rent them or buy used whenever possible. Also, don't buy the APA manual or other writing guides unless you later find you really need them. The APA style website & blog and the Purdue OWL site are more useful and faster than using the print manual (the OWL site is good for other styles as well). I've never once opened the other writing handbook I was told to purchase. It's also not a bad idea to verify the textbooks and edition with the instructor before buying; my entire admission class got burned by being told to buy the wrong book for the Foundations class. We were not amused.

    10. DO use your assignments to add to your knowledge and skills, and to network with other librarians and libraries. If you find you struggle with reader's advisory in a certain area, then use an assignment to put together a themed bibliography. If you've never worked with a certain age group, use a programming assignment to plan a program for that age. If you have to interview a librarian, it might be easy and convenient to interview someone you work with, but you'll be better off if you interview someone from a different library, especially in another system. That way you not only make new contacts that may come in handy when job-hunting, you'll get a different perspective. If you anticipate an opening may be coming up in a nearby library, use that library for your community/library analysis or strategic plan assignment, and you'll be better prepared for an eventual interview. Write papers on topics that interest you, and that you can use in an interview. Sometimes you may be in a time crunch and have to do what's convenient and easiest, but when you can, push yourself to go outside your library and comfort zone.

    11. DO get practical experience. As I said in Part 1, it helps to actually be working in a library before you commit to library school, and it makes some of the assignments easier. But it is also very difficult to be competitive on the job market if you just have a degree, but no practical experience. Get a job, volunteer, get an internship, do a semester working in a library for credit (sometimes called a practicum, fieldwork, co-op, or internship). Even if you already work in a library, I would highly recommend getting some practical experience in a different library, preferable doing something different than your regular job. Not only does this broaden your knowledge and skills, it also exposes you to different management styles, philosophies, and types of libraries. And again, it helps you make those valuable contacts. I was not able to do this for various reasons, and it's one thing I really regret. It would've been FAR more useful that the boring, waste of time public libraries class I took.

    12. DON'T feel like you have to lock yourself into a specific track. Take what interests you, fits in with your career goals, and complements the knowledge and skills you already have. For example, though I know I want to be a children's librarian, I did not follow the youth services track exactly because I felt one of the required classes would not be very useful to me, and since most librarians need to wear many hats, I wanted to be a little more well-rounded. So while I took mostly youth services related courses, I also took an adult services course, which I found to be a great complement to the youth services programming class.

    13. DO cut yourself some slack. Sometimes you have to take the easiest path to getting the assignment done, or put forth the minimal effort that will still get an A or B. And sometimes you may have to be happy with a B. Again, it's about endurance and just making it through to get the degree and expanding your skill set and knowledge. I've been told time and time again, nobody cares what grades you got in library school, just that you have the piece of paper. 
    If you have more tips for prospective MLS students, add them in the comments!

    Up next in my third and final article in this series, "The Truth About Library School, Part 3: What Needs to Change".

    Monday, January 20, 2020

    The Truth About Library School

    library school, what is library school like, should I go to library school, the truth about library school

    Thinking about library school?

    I am a member of several library-related online groups, and I frequently see people posting questions about library school: What's it like? How hard is it? Should I go? Is it worth it? What school should I go to? Now, neither I nor anyone else can tell you whether you should go to library school or which school is best for you, but as a recent grad I can share my experiences and give a few tips.

    But first let me tell you a little about me, so you can understand my perspective. I have always been a good student, enjoyed school, and craved intellectual stimulation. I have a prior graduate degree in another field, and thoroughly enjoyed that experience. My undergraduate degree included teacher certification, so I was also trained in teaching methods, philosophy, and ethics, and have teaching experience; therefore I have very high expectations of instructors, and very little tolerance for laziness, disorganization, and unprofessional behavior. As you might have guessed, I am interested in public librarianship, focusing on youth services, and I entered library school with a fairly good understanding of public library practice, theory, and ethics from prior work experience and self-education.

    And one final note, let me preface everything with a disclaimer that this is all based on my experiences with my online program filtered through my expectations, and others may have vastly different opinions based on their own experiences and perspectives, and all are equally valid. I do hope some who went to traditional in-person, brick-and-mortar programs will chime in about how their experience compares, but this is my truth. 

    Library school for me has been mostly a bunch of busywork. It is not difficult, but it is very time-consuming, and I found it extremely frustrating having to spend so much time doing busywork that I got little out of, but took my time away from other things that would be much more beneficial. Yes, there were a few decent projects, and I like writing research papers when I'm interested in the topic, but the weekly discussion posts were such a mind-numbing waste of time in most cases, and a couple of projects were so egregiously laborious and impractical that they were utterly soul-sucking.

    I personally have found the online environment very unsatisfying (though convenient) and I think it tends to encourage complacency among the faculty. I had instructors who were absent from the course practically the whole semester, as though they had completely forgotten they were supposed to be teaching a class. Others weren't as bad, but might ghost for a week or two and generally be very slow about answering questions and getting grades back, or just seemed to have little interest in teaching. Some course content had not been updated in years so that we were reading 10-20 year old articles about technology and the "latest trends" that were completely outdated.

    I think that online programs are more about making money for the school than anything, and the proliferation of them has not been a good thing for the field overall. However, one cannot dispute how incredibly convenient they are, particularly to working students and those who do not live near a school with an accredited program. And to be fair, I did have some good instructors who really seemed to care about the students and teaching, some decent classes, and a few projects I enjoyed. But to paraphrase Scarlett O'Hara, "As God is my witness, I'll never write a discussion post again!"

    I won't say I learned nothing from library school, but I will say it was probably the most inefficient way possible to learn what I did, and I have learned so much more from working in the field and talking with other library people. I also feel like ALA's big push for the "professionalization" of librarians and requiring an expensive graduate degree for entry into a low-paying field with an over-saturated job market has resulted in a bunch of over-educated, under-employed, and indebted librarians who cannot find positions making a living wage. But that's a whole other discussion, and probably a moot point as it's not likely to change.

    If you're thinking about library school, here are some things you should do and consider before making up your mind and selecting a program:
    1. DON'T go into debt for a library degree. In this job market it just isn't worth it, especially if you already have debt from your undergrad degree. Just don't do it. Most employers don't care where you went to school as long as it's ALA-accredited, and I find it hard to believe a $50,000 degree is really that much better than a $20,000 one, so look for one you can afford. Take one class at a time if necessary. Look for scholarships from your library, state associations, national associations, and the school. Find a job that offers tuition assistance.

    2. WORK in a library for a while first to see if that's really what you want to do before investing the time and expense of a graduate degree. I can't emphasize this enough; so many people go into librarianship without a realistic expectation of what it is like, particularly in public libraries. Also, many of the assignments in library school can be difficult to do if you don't already work in a library. As a bonus, you might get tuition assistance, especially if you get a job in an academic library.

    3. TALK to librarians in different positions in different types of libraries about what their job is really like, the program they went to, and the directions they see librarianship going. This can help you decide not only about the field in general, but also which direction you may want to go in. Academic? Special? Archives? Public? Youth Services? Wine? (Yes, there really is such a thing!)

    4. COMPARE different programs. Scour their websites, read the course offerings and syllabi, research the faculty, talk to current students and recent grads. Compare the required core courses for each. Look at which programs have more classes in your area of interest, and look for programs with faculty that have significant, real-world work experience in that area, preferably fairly recent. Many faculty are academics, with little to no experience in public libraries and can be very out of touch with public librarianship, especially youth services. Consider your learning style. If you are very disciplined, independent, and seldom need help, an online program may be great, but if you crave interaction, prefer real instruction, need structure, or like one-on-one assistance, an online program may not work for you.

    5. DON'T just consider tuition. While I most definitely do not recommend paying the ridiculously high tuition for supposedly top tier schools, I also would not recommend just going for the cheapest. It might be worth it to pay a *little* more for a school that is a better fit for the type of librarian you want to be, your learning style, schedule, or one that offers additional opportunities or benefits that others may not. Sometimes you get what you pay for.

    6. RESEARCH the job market. Spoiler Alert - It sucks! Between the proliferation of online library schools, people having to wait longer to retire, and the trend to eliminate those full-time professional positions when vacated and replace them with part-time positions, the market is over-saturated and extremely competitive, especially if you are geographically restricted. Those who are willing and able to relocate often have a less difficult time finding a job.

    7. CONSIDER that everyone has different perceptions based on their individual expectations, priorities, and experiences; even of the same program. I was very disappointed with mine, but other students loved it, or at least liked it. It is the least expensive, no GRE required, no tests, it is not particularly difficult, and most people get A's. Some students lucked into having better instructors and avoided the couple of really awful ones I had. Some were more accustomed to the online environment. Some may have had less library knowledge and experience going in so they feel like they learned a lot, and the program is better suited for academic librarianship than public. So, take everything with a grain of salt and probe a little more into WHY people feel the way they feel about their programs.

    8. BUT, also consider that people may be reluctant to say anything bad about the program in which they are enrolled or from which they received their degree for fear it will reflect badly on them if the program gets a negative reputation. Also, I think once people are done, they are so relieved it is behind them that hindsight is often through rose-colored lenses rather than 20/20, and if one is fortunate enough to get a job they love because of the degree, they are more likely to feel that it was all worth it. I hope to get to that point eventually!
    As I said, everyone has a different experience and perspective, so I'm sure there will be differing opinions. And I really hope there are people who really had good experiences and learned a lot from library school, and that there are some really great programs and instructors out there. But for many, it ends up being a hoop to jump through to get the piece of paper, a means to an end.

    Next, in "The Truth About Library School - Part 2" I'll give some tips for surviving and making the most out of your library school experience, and in Part 3 I'll discuss some things I think need to change in LIS education, especially online programs.

    Wednesday, January 15, 2020

    Soup's On! - Family Storytime

    Soup Storytime, National Soup Month

    I started to do this theme in December, looking for something winter-y besides the usual hibernation and snow themes, but when I discovered January was National Soup Month, I saved it until now. Who doesn't love warm, comfort food like soup in winter, right?

    Well, as luck would have it, we had a freak warm front come through and it was 73 degrees and muggy! Kids were coming to the library in shorts, sundresses, and flip-flops! Oh well, best laid plans and all that. I greeted my attendees with a "Hello" song as I passed out program sheets, then we warmed up with "Hello, Everybody". After that, I introduced myself and the topic, and tried to elicit some responses as to favorite soups, but I had a very shy bunch today. 

    Soup Storytime
    For our first book, I picked a very simple, straightforward book with little text and bright, simple graphics on a white background. Every Color Soup by Jorey Hurley shows the preparation of a pot of vegetable soup, one color at a time. 

    Each page simply has the name of a color, with 1 or 2 ingredients pictured that are that color: purple eggplant, green celery and parsley, etc. It gives the opportunity to identify colors as well as name and count the ingredients. I like that it exposes them to a number of different vegetables, and it also ends with a complete recipe.

    Next, we pretended to make alphabet soup with this song that I actually made up myself. Having a visual to go with with this is a good idea, either a printed alphabet you can point to, or a physical set (foam, plastic, wood) of letters that you can hold up and then put in a pot, which is what I did. I found it would have been helpful to tape the strings of three letters together in advance!

    Soup Storytime, Alphabet Soup Song

    Making Alphabet Soup
    (to the tune of "Farmer In The Dell")

    We're making alphabet soup,
    We're making alphabet soup.
    Stir the pot; soup's getting hot.
    We're making alphabet soup.

    First we'll add an A;
    And then we'll add a B.
    Next we'll add C, D, & E.
    We're making alphabet soup.

    Next we'll add an F,
    And then we'll add a G.
    After that we'll add H, I, & J.
    We're making alphabet soup.

    Then we'll add a K,
    And next we'll add an L.
    After that we'll add M, N, & O.
    We're making alphabet soup.

    Next we'll add a P,
    And then we'll add a Q.
    After that we'll add R, S, & T.
    We're making alphabet soup.

    Then we'll add a U,
    Followed by a V.
    And last we'll add W, X, Y, Z.
    We made alphabet soup!
    SLURP - Yum,Yum!

    Soup StorytimeI next chose a humorous book to read, Duck Soup by Jackie Urbanovic. We first met Max in Duck At The Door after he accidentally missed migration with his flock and spent the winter with Irene and her many other pets. In the sequel, Max's cooking has improved and he is cooking a delicious soup of his own recipe. 

    While he goes out to the garden to get some fresh herbs, his friends come home and upon discovering a feather in the soup but no Max anywhere, assume the worst. Hilarity ensues as they pour the soup in a colander in an attempt to save Max, and panic in horror as they mistake a potato for Max's head, pearl onions for his eyeballs, and carrot slices for his feet. 

    We followed that with a simple song about making soup that gives everyone a chance to name an ingredient (which can sometimes produce some very unexpected responses and unusual soup). Be sure to have everyone stir, taste, and show their muscles!

    Stir The Soup

    Stir, stir, stir the soup.
    Stir it all day long.
    Add some ______;
    Take a taste (slurp).
    Soup will make you strong!

    Soup Storytime
    And finally, another funny book from Jan Thomas, Is That Wise, Pig? Mouse is making soup, and Cow and Pig want to help. Mouse adds one onion, Cow adds two cabbages, and Pig adds three....umbrellas? Then six...galoshes?? Is that wise, Pig? In the end, Pig's odd choices come in handy after all. 

    Kids will love the silliness in this book, as well as Thomas' signature bold, bright, simple illustrations with heavy black outlines. This is also a counting book, as each ingredient is added in increasing numbers, from one to ten.

    We ended with a closing song, and I quickly set-up and explained the optional activities.

    Optional Activity
    I came up with what I thought were three cute and fun soup-related activities that used various literacy skills.

    Soup Storytime, Soup Activities, Soup Early Literacy Activities

    For the first, I put out a bin of play food vegetables and meats, a spoon, ladle, and bowls for them to pretend to make their own soup. I included some suggested prompts, like identifying the ingredients, colors, talking about how and where they grow (dramatic play, vocabulary, background knowledge).

    The second was alphabet soup, with letters taken from some other play sets in a big pot with a ladle, and suggestions to scoop out a ladle-full and identify the letters and their sounds (letter and phonological awareness), name words that began with those letters, and try to make words with the letters you got (print awareness).

    And finally, "pom-pom soup" with pom-poms to pick up with tongs (fine motor, pre-writing skills) and put into bowls of the corresponding colors (pre-math and science skills).

    How It Went 
    I had a pretty good turnout and overall it went pretty well. The kids liked the books, especially the last two humorous books. Duck Soup was just a little long for some of them, but Is That Wise, Pig? was just right; I've never had that one fail to be a hit.

    The crowd was a little lukewarm about the songs, and much to my disappointment, almost no one stuck around for the activities, and the few that did didn't really use them the way I had intended. I was actually pretty pleased with myself for coming up with them, and it was kinda hard not to take it personally when they really weren't used. It seems no matter what I do for an after-storytime activity, I get very little participation.

    It could just be that my ideas aren't as great as I think they are, but I have the feeling that the weekend crowd is just very different. I really have the sense they just want to get in, hear a couple of stories, and get out; they aren't interested in singing songs, doing rhymes, literacy tips, or doing crafts or activities. I also get a strong sense that parents that come on the weekend just want to have a lazy Saturday morning and don't want to do any "work" with their child, but just want to sit and chill while the child plays by themselves or with other kids. 

    And I totally get that. I just haven't figured out how to work with it, and still meet my system's requirement for having a craft or activity afterward, without wasting time and materials and feeling frustrated at the lack of participation. The challenges of a Saturday storytime....

    Wednesday, January 8, 2020

    It's A Gas! - STEM Program

    Elephant's Toothpaste experiment, baking soda and vinegar experiments, STEM experiments for kids,

    This program was all about gasses, and how we can use the properties of gasses to make things pop, fizz, foam, bubble, squeal, and move!

    Ages: 5-10 (ideal age range would be 8-12)

    Time: 1 hour (could've used an extra 15-30 minutes)

    Number: 15 (I actually had a total of 20 kids, but younger siblings were only allowed to observe, and a couple of families opted to share one set-up to accommodate late-comers.)

    Budget: About $40 (I had some supplies left over, and you could reduce cost by having participants work in pairs)

    I started off with a discussion of the three phases of matter. I used ice, water, and steam to demonstrate how solids maintain their shape and volume, while liquids maintain their volume but take the shape of the container they are in, and gases will change shape and volume and expand to fill whatever space they're in.

    (Each of these represents 4 oz of liquid water)

    I explained how molecules in a solid have very little energy, like me in the morning, so they just kinda sit there and don't move around, but when you add energy the molecules move around a little, and when you add even more energy they go all over the place, just like a bunch of over-sugared, over-excited kids, a metaphor they found amusing. I told them that we were going to do some activities that show how the expansive property of gasses can be used to make things pop, squeal, fizz, bubble, and move.

    • 30 16-ounce plastic bottles 
    • 15 12 ounce plastic bottles with lids
    • 1 gallon distilled vinegar
    • 1 large box baking soda
    • 15 latex balloons
    • 15 packages Pop Rocks candy
    • 1-2 L Sprite
    • 64 oz jug 6% hydrogen peroxide (sold as "20 volume" clear developer in beauty supply stores)
    • dish soap
    • 1 4-oz jar or 15 1/4 oz packets dried yeast (I recommend packets)
    • warm water
    • food coloring
    • measuring spoons (teaspoon & tablespoon)
    • liquid measuring cups
    • funnels
    • dixie cups
    • small plastic cups
    • drinking straws
    • hot glue
    • craft sticks
    • 1"-2" deep trays

    Activity #1 - Inflating a Balloon With CO2

    1. I told the kids to first stretch out the balloon and blow it up, then let air out to loosen it up. I took this opportunity to also discuss how the escaping gas causes the balloon to squeal and fly around if let go.

    2. I gave them each a 16-oz bottle containing 1 cup of distilled vinegar (I pre-dispensed to save time and mess).

    3. They then used a funnel to put 2 teaspoons of baking soda into the balloon, and with a grown-up's help, carefully stretched the balloon over the opening of the bottle, without letting the baking soda come out.

    4. When everyone was ready, they lifted the balloon upright to allow the baking soda to fall into the vinegar, observed the reaction and watched their balloons inflate!

    Inflating a balloon with vinegar and baking soda, baking soda and vinegar experiments for kids

    *Note: You will need to do trial runs with the bottles and balloons you have to see if the amounts of vinegar and baking soda need to be adjusted to be sure the balloon inflates, but does not burst.

    Activity #2 - Pop Rocks

    1. I gave everyone a package of Pop Rocks candy and a small cup of Sprite, and told them they could eat a little of the candy to see what they were like, but to save most of them for our test.

    Pop Rocks experiments, can you mix Pop Rocks with soda, Pop Rocks urban legend

    As they experienced the popping sensation in their mouths, I explained that it is caused as their saliva dissolves the candy and releases the trapped bubbles of compressed CO2 that were bubbled into the liquid candy and trapped as it cooled. 

    2. I then went on to tell them about the old urban legend that if you eat Pop Rocks with a soda, it will produce enough gas to make your stomach explode and kill you, and that we were now going to do an experiment and see if they believed that based on their observations, by pouring the Pop Rocks into the Sprite and observe how much gas is produced, indicated by bubbling.

    3. We discussed what we observed, and they all correctly hypothesized that there was no way enough gas would be produced to cause someone's stomach to blow up. But it was cool to watch the the candy bubble and dance up and down in the soda, kind of like a Pop Rocks lava lamp. They could then drink it if they chose to.

    Activity #3 - Elephant's Toothpaste!

    We did a scaled-down, safer version of the now-popular experiment that results in copious amounts of foam being produced. The professional performers use more highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide than the 3% available at the supermarket or drugstore, sometimes as high as 30%, and potassium iodide as the catalyst. However, it is possible to do a safer version of it with lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and yeast to produce the enzyme catalase to drive the reaction.

    Elephant's toothpaste with kids

    Hydrogen peroxide can be purchased in 6%, 9%, and 12% solutions from beauty supply stores, labeled as "20, 30, or 40 volume CLEAR developer solution" (I have no idea what the numeric volume labels actually refer to). I would only use 3% or 6% for kids to actually handle and use themselves, but if you just want to demo, go for the 12% for greater impact! 

    1. I gave each participant a tray to catch all the foam that would be produced. For safety and time-saving, I pre-measured and dispensed 1/2 cup of 6% hydrogen peroxide into 16-ounce soft-drink bottles (you want a narrow opening) and placed one bottle in the center of each tray. You could save on materials by having kids work together in pairs.

    2. Next, they each measured out 2 teaspoons yeast into a dixie cup, while I gave them each 3 tablespoons of warm water in another cup. When everyone was ready, I instructed them to pour the yeast into the water, and stir with the craft stick until smooth.

    3. While the yeast proofed, they each added 1 tablespoon dish soap to their bottle and swirled to mix, then dripped food coloring in lines down the side of the bottle (this will create the toothpaste-like stripes of color).

    4. When everyone was ready, we gave the yeast one last stir, and quickly poured it in and watched the foam errupt! They were able to feel the warmth of the foam to see that it was an exothermic reaction (with these small concentrations and volumes, the heat dissipates so quickly in the foam that it is safe to touch).

    Kids make elephant's toothpaste, elephant's toothpaste experiment with kids

    *Note: The size and shape of the bottle used will affect the results, as may the yeast and dish soap used, so plan on doing a trial run to see if the amounts need to be adjusted. The ideal bottle is a 16 ounce soft drink bottle with a tapered neck and narrow opening. Using a bottle even slightly larger, such as a 20 ounce soft drink bottle, will require adjustments. The dish soap I had at work was Ajax, but I don't think it worked quite as well as the (possibly more concentrated) Dawn I used in my trial run at home, shown below.

    5. I also did a demo to show them what happens if you don't put the soap in (it bubbles, but doesn't create the dense foam or toothpaste effect), and monitored the temperature, which went from 69 degrees to about 140 degrees (the reaction actually heats to near the boiling point, but at these strengths and volumes, the heat dissipates quickly enough that the thermometer doesn't register the highest temperatures, though the liquid remaining in the bottle is VERY hot).

    I then told them about the bombardier beetle, which uses a this same reaction to spray a hot, noxious fluid from its butt when disturbed, and showed them a video of a large scale experiment using large amounts of very concentrated hydrogen peroxide and powdered potassium iodide to create a huge explosion of foam and steam. While cool to watch, I explained it was actually very reckless and unsafe, and this teacher was very lucky none of the students were burned or otherwise hurt.

    Take-Home Activity - Jet-Propelled Bottle Boats

    I realized a couple of days before the program that I had over-planned and we would not have time to do everything, so I changed this last activity to a take-home activity. I did a demonstration, and gave everyone the bottle-and-straw assembly and instructions to take home where they would provide their own baking soda and vinegar.

    1. Drill or punch a hole in the lid to a 12-ounce plastic bottle (you can use a larger bottle, but will need to increase the amounts of vinegar and baking soda proportionately).

    2. Insert a 2-4" section of drinking straw through the hole (about 1/2"-1" on the "inside" side) and seal with hot glue to make it water-tight.

    3. Pour 1 cup distilled vinegar into the bottle.

    4. Place 2 teaspoons of baking soda on a small piece of paper toweling (about 3"x4") and roll/fold it up burrito-style, being sure the end is folded in so the soda cannot fall out, and that it will fit through the bottle opening.

    5. While standing right next to a tub of water at least 4" deep, carefully insert the baking soda bundle into the bottle, quickly put the lid on and screw tightly shut, give a shake, and immediately place in the water. As the soda and vinegar react, carbon dioxide builds up and forces its way out through the straw, which propels the bottle forward.

    Jet propelled bottle boats, baking soda and vinegar powered boat

    How It Went

    Even with changing the last activity to a take home activity, it still ran over a bit. Everything went well, it just took longer than expected. We had one minor mishap with the balloon inflation when one participant unknowingly made a small tear in the neck of her balloon when placing it on the bottle. When the reaction got going, it began spurting through the tear and making a bit of a mess, but it was more comical than anything.

    I was a little disappointed that almost all of the kids had already experienced Pop Rocks before. I was really hoping the popping action would be a surprise.

    The "Elephant's Toothpaste" was of course the biggest hit. I didn't tell them that's what we were doing, as I wanted it to be a surprise, but some of them had clearly already experienced it and figured it out. We did have one minor issue with the yeast getting really clumpy, which caused a couple of the reactions to not be as dramatic. In my trial runs, I used Fleischman's yeast in the individual packets, but when purchasing for the program I bought store-brand yeast in a jar since I needed such a large quantity, and I thought measuring out two spoonfuls would be easier and less messy than opening and emptying out packets (and it was). So I'm not sure if the yeast was different, or we used too much, or let it proof too long during the program, because my trial runs at home worked perfectly. 

    The bottle boats did not work quite as well as I'd hoped. They sputter and spray a lot, but it doesn't all contribute to propelling the bottle forward, certainly not as dramatically as I'd hoped. It does work, though, just not quite like I expected. There is another method where you put the straw through the bottom of the bottle, rather than the lid, and angle the straw down into the water which would probably work better, but is trickier to load without making a mess.

    elephant's toothpaste, inflating balloons, it's a gas,

    What I'd Do Differently 

    I think if I had it to do again, I'd break it into two separate programs; one with the simpler experiments about gasses, and one just about the "Elephant's Toothpaste" experiment, exploring all the variables to see what effect changing them has, and talking a little more about the reaction going on and how catalysts work, and the catalase enzyme. 

    Did you know catalase is related to aging? Almost all aerobic organisms produce it, and its purpose is to break down the reactive oxygen compounds, like hydrogen peroxide, that are normal by-products of metabolism but cause damage to the cell. Mice who produced twice the normal levels of catalase aged much slower than their counterparts. I wish I had a little extra catalase!

    My biggest take-home message from this would be that while the elephant's toothpaste experiment is easy to do with readily available and safer materials, every little thing (amount and concentration of peroxide, amount and brand of soap used, amount and brand of yeast, amount and temp of water used to activate the yeast, proofing time for yeast, amount and placement of food color, and bottle size and shape) affects the outcome, so be sure to do trial runs with the EXACT materials you plan to use in the program to get the amounts and timing down for the best affect.

    Wednesday, January 1, 2020

    Reflecting On 2019 & Looking Ahead To 2020

    Time for my annual reflection on the past year and setting goals for the year ahead. I had no big changes this year, just continuing with school and getting more settled into the position I transferred to the year before. I have to say that while I liked my previous library positions and definitely learned a lot from them, I love my current position in the children's department of a busy suburban branch! I have great coworkers, and I love being in a diverse community that has a strong reading and library culture. I love that I get to do a little bit of everything, and after a year and a half, I've been able to build relationships with some of our regulars. If only it were a full-time professional position...

    I was able to meet, or make progress toward, most of the goals I had set for 2019I completed four more courses toward my MLIS, which leaves me with just ONE class left! I was able to get experience with a wide variety of programs, including baby and toddler storytimes, school-age art programs, and family craft programs in addition to my regular family storytime and school-age STEM programming, and picked up a monthly outreach visit. I also helped with a few of our big party-type programs, and did some of the passive programs, displays, and bulletin boards.

    I continue to work on developing my reader's advisory skills, and as much as I enjoy programming, planning is still sometimes a struggle. I had fully intended on attending the state conference, but after I saw the schedule I realized that there really weren't any sessions that would be worthwhile for me, so I decided to save my money and go to a bigger conference this year.

    My goals for 2020 are mainly more of the same, except for one big change:
    • Complete the final course for my MLIS and graduate (finally!) in May!
    • Continue to gain as much experience as possible with different types of programs and youth librarianship in general.
    • Attend the national PLA conference in February.
    • Following graduation, work on regaining some work/life balance.
    • Get a full-time, professional children's librarian position (this is probably more of a 5-year goal).

    That last one is going to be the most difficult by far, and is the least under my control since I have to wait around for something to open up before I can even apply, and I don't think the odds of that happening are very good. The really frustrating part is that during the time I was working on my MLIS no less than SIX children's librarian positions have come and gone, which is unheard of for my relatively small system of 6 libraries, but I could not apply for them because I hadn't completed my degree. I fear that after such a period of active turnover we are probably heading into a long dry spell, plus the current trend seems to be to eliminate vacated lower level positions to create more management positions.

    There are several other libraries relatively close by in surrounding counties, but they are all very small and almost never have vacancies for librarian-level positions. So I will most likely have to eventually start looking at relocating, which means I'll have to start working on pinpointing areas I might want to move to, and convincing my significant other that we need to start putting money into fixing our house & yard up in preparation for putting it on the market in a couple of years.

    I'm excited about finally graduating and being done with school and not having to waste so much of my time on ridiculous busywork, but I am already stressing about the job prospects. I knew going in the job market was rough, and I would most likely have to leave to find a full-time librarian position, but now that the time is fast approaching, I'm getting a little anxious about the whole thing. I really love my current job, and don't really want to leave, but the reality is I cannot afford to keep working part-time much longer.

    Soooooooo..... If you know of any upcoming openings for children's librarians, let me know! 

    Especially if they are in an area with mild winters, within an hour of the coast, low to moderate cost of living, and in a well-funded library with great staff, good management, and a supportive community. I know, I'm asking for a lot. But if I'm going to dream, might as well dream big!