Friday, July 31, 2020

In The Dog House - Flannel Friday

Little dog flannel game, In the dog house flannel game

Most of us know what a big hit the "Little Mouse" flannel game is, and if you're not familiar with it, you should be! I really like to ham it up and the kids absolutely love it and never get tired of it. But, we don't want to overuse it, and if you do themed storytimes it really only fits with themes like colors, hide-and-seek, or stories with mice. Over the last few years I have seen people come up with a lot of great variations on this game, and this is mine.

I wanted an activity to pair with Jan Thomas' book The Doghouse, and this immediately came to mind. This was a relatively quick and easy flannel, since I didn't do a lot of layered pieces, and just added a few quick details with colored sharpies. You can make houses in whatever colors you want, and use however many will fit on your flannel board. I chose to make all the primary and secondary colors, as well as pink and brown. I would not recommend white, as it is often see-thru.

Little dog little dog, in the doghouse

So I hide the dog behind one of the houses, and one by one we look, saying the following rhyme before we check each house:

Little dog, little dog; come out and play!
What color house are you in today?

Are you in the _(color)_ house?

There are a couple of different ways to play it. Sometimes I might just hide the dog randomly behind one of the houses, and let the kids take turns picking which color to check. Other times, I hide him in the very last house, but with another object in front of him. I also make a few other things to hide behind the remaining houses.

We check the houses in order, and I will really ham it up, taking a peak first, building suspense. So we find some of the dogs belongings, and a couple of friends, but not the dog. So when we get to the last house, the kids are sure he has to be there. But I carefully peel the house off, leaving the dog hidden behind the cat, with just his ears, paws, and/or tail peeking out. I will pretend like I don't see him, and have no idea where he could be. Eventually someone will spot him and tell me he's there, but I play dumb and continue to ham it up a bit before finally revealing our little pup.

Do you have a favorite variation on the "Little Mouse" game? I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure others would as well, so tell us about in the comments and share a link!

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Some Insights for Interviewees & Interviewers

Tips for library interviews and hiring managers

So, I have officially started job-hunting after getting my MLIS and losing my paraprofessional job in a mass pandemic-related layoff, which includes experiencing virtual interviews for the first time. In thinking about all the interview experiences I've had past and present, and looking over various questions I've actually gotten or found online, I have a few tips for interviewees, but I have even more insights for interviewers to make the process both less painful for the candidate and more productive and informative for them.

For interviewees, prepare and practice! It is so hard to remember all the things you planned to say when the nerves kick in during the real thing, so practice going over your answers with a friend, in your head, in the mirror, and/or writing them out. You can find tons of great lists of questions online if you look. I spent as much time as I could, but it still wasn't enough. Though I gave decent answers, afterward I realized all the additional things I meant to say and didn't. Also, be sure to spend some time researching the community and the library, and make sure to demonstrate that in the interview.

For me, virtual interviews add whole other layer of anxiety to an already stressful event, with the added technology issues. My first virtual interview was a real struggle, as I could not hear one of the interviewers at all, and had some trouble hearing and clearly understanding the other two. I had to keep asking them to repeat, and had to concentrate so hard to make out the questions that it was mentally exhausting, and really affected my whole performance. I did the best I could, but it did mess with my head and threw me off a little. Here are a few tips:
  • Be familiar with Skype, MS Teams, Zoom, and other popular videoconferencing tools, because you never know what they're going to use or if they will switch platforms on you at the last minute. True Story. (If given a choice, I prefer Teams.)
  • Be prepared for technical difficulties, problems hearing and understanding the interviewers, and be ready to pretend like it isn't stressing you the heck out. Consider investing in a discreet wireless headset to aid with audio.
  • Put a poster or dry erase board up behind the camera where you can see it with key words and points you want to be sure to include in your answers.
  • Put books you can talk about where you can see them to prompt your memory.
  • Have some ephemera from your work: things from programs, flyers, bibliographies, and such handy in case you want to show them.
  • Have water handy to sip.
  • Take time to check lighting and background, and maybe do a little staging.
  • Wear something you feel comfortable and confident in.

I have quite a few tips for interviewers, based on both my experiences and hearing about others' experiences. This is not based on any single interview and is not meant as criticism, but just my insights on how to have a more productive interview from the interviewee's point of view:

  • Please don't use Skype for virtual interviews. MS Teams, Zoom, or Facetime are easier and seem more reliable.
  • If there are multiple people on the panel for a virtual interview, and you are all in the same room with one device, trying to social distance and wearing masks, the poor candidate is going to have a very hard time hearing and understanding you, and be mentally exhausted by the effort. You don't need to be physically together; be in your own spaces and each on your own device, where masks won't be needed and you won't be far from the mic.
  • Provide the candidate with the questions in writing before the interview starts to make sure they understand the question correctly, and minimize the time wasted in having to repeat things.
  • If you are doing virtual interviews for external candidates, you should do them even for internal candidates so that it is an even playing field. They are vastly different experiences.
  • Ask all candidates the same set of core questions to be fair and easier to compare, but also ask each a couple based on their resume and unique skills, experiences, or accomplishments so you are getting a complete picture.
  • For a children's position, please let us do the prepared mini-storytime at the beginning! That is our comfort zone, and will help us warm up and relax before the questions start. And please, help us out and try to play along and respond to prompts as a real audience would.
  • Most interviews consist of about 10 questions, which is really not very many to truly assess a candidate. So make sure every questions counts, and is really getting at what's most important. Ask follow up and clarifying questions.
  • Don't ask why we want the position or want to work there. Come on, we all know how desperate the job market is, and the truth is we need a job, and you have an opening! Don't waste a question fishing for compliments about your library. Yes, I know you want to know that we've done some research, and that we really have a passion for whatever type of work that position will be doing and not just applying for anything and everything, but you can get that from all the other questions, looking at transcripts and prior work experience.
  • Don't ask for our favorite book or author. That really has nothing to do with our ability to do the job. You might think it's a softball question, but for those of us who like and love many books and truly do not have a favorite, this question causes anxiety, and it's just a waste of time. Better to ask about genres, or just something we've read lately, but even then there are much better questions to ask.
  • Instead, what you REALLY need to know is whether we can be effective in providing reader's advisory. And that doesn't mean you give a scenario and expect us to pull the perfect recommendation out of the air. What is better and more relevant is to ask us HOW we would go about finding titles to recommend, not WHAT we would recommend. What tools would we use? Do we have a strategy, an effective process for when we don't just know off the tops of our heads. THAT's the important part!
  • Does the position involve programming? Then ask about the programming we've done, what has been successful, what we are proud of. Also, ask about the programs that didn't quite go as expected. How do we handle it when things don't quite work the way we expected. Also, ask about our programming philosophy - what is the purpose of programming? What are our goals for programs? Is it about the process or the product? Is it academic or experiential? How does programming tie into the collection and other library services? Does our philosophy mesh well with the goals of your library?
  • Definitely ask the usual conflict questions, see how we handle difficult situations. But, don't hold it against the candidate if they have been lucky enough no to have actually had really difficult customers or conflicts with coworkers. Some people are just lucky, or maybe have the skills to prevent it from ever getting to that point. Allow for a "what would you do if" scenario question, rather than insisting on a "tell me about a time" question with a real-life example.
  • Ask about creativity, but understand creativity can be constant and subtle, not always big and bold. Asking for examples of innovation or initiating change for an entry level position really isn't quite fair, as most likely the candidate has been working in lower level positions where they do not have the authority to be innovative or initiate any changes. Allow for hypotheticals.
  • If the position involves collection development, then definitely ask something related to that, such as how they would handle a patron complaining about the content of a children's book. Look for a response that mentions the importance of having and following a well-written collection development policy, in addition to listening and being tactful and showing patron how to file a request for reconsideration. Look for an indication of having had a collection development course (you'd be surprised at how many MLIS programs don't require it) and doing collection development projects. Be sure we understand weeding is a very necessary function to maintain a healthy collection.
  • If none of your questions even touch on diversity in any way, realize that suggests to the candidate that diversity is not a priority there, and that's a red flag. Mirrors, windows, own voices, and diverse POVs are so very important, as is reaching underserved populations, making sure everyone feels welcome, and increasing diversity in the field. There really should be at least one question that touches on one of those.
  • Also, look for candidates that have some formal education or training in child development, an understanding of child behavior, and a genuine desire to work with children and families. Ask a behavior management question to see if their expectations are developmentally appropriate, and that they would have an appropriate and tactful response. Child development knowledge is a necessary competency for children's librarians that not all candidates possess equally (And if you're interested, I know a great research paper coming out in April 2022 that shows this 😉.)
  • If you want someone with new ideas, ask how they stay current and keep up with new trends, what they do for professional development (and would like to do), where do they get ideas for programs. What are some programs they would like to do, but haven't had the chance to do. Do they have ideas for virtual or alternative programming to use while in-person programming is not possible.
  • And assuming you are reading this in 2020 or early 2021, as a former microbiologist I can tell you this pandemic isn't going away any time soon; we will be dealing with this for *at least* another year, possibly more. Definitely ask questions about what role we think libraries play during this time, how can we serve the public's information needs without putting staff and the community at further risk? What can we do besides virtual programming? What lasting impact do we think this pandemic will have on libraries and youth services?
  • Ask the candidate what qualities a children's librarian should have. The response should include genuinely liking and being able to relate to children and families, patience, flexibility, initiative, some level of creativity, a willingness to try new things, tolerance for chaos, and a sense of humor. Those things cannot be taught. Also important is a knowledge of child development, early literacy, and behavior. While it's good to have a knowledge of children's literature, that can be learned on the job.
  • I know the recent trend is to just use the resume to decide who gets interviewed, and base the final decision solely on the interview. Personally, I don't think you necessarily get the best candidate this way. You get the person who is best at interviewing. Use all the information you have to inform your decision. Some people who are great librarians just don't interview as well because of anxiety, and some people who perform really well in interviews turn out to be complete duds at actually doing the job.

If you ask these questions, you really should be able to get a good sense of the candidate's qualifications and genuine interest in the job, and if they've done their research on your library as they should, they will also have enough sense to demonstrate that in their answers.

And finally, good luck to everyone who is dealing with the job-hunting/hiring process in the middle of a pandemic, which has made an already difficult job market 10 times worse, and an already stressful process even more challenging!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

And 2020 Just Keeps Getting Worse....

This is a very difficult post to write, and I had hoped to be making a completely different kind of announcement at this point. I certainly never expected to be saying this, but after working seven years in the same library system, working my way up, investing lots of my own time and money into professional development, earning my MLIS, and trying to build a career, I am suddenly unemployed due to Covid-19 layoffs, and I am devastated.

The last four months have been extremely difficult due to the library closure, not being able to have a graduation ceremony, missing my coworkers and patrons, not being able to do the programs I'd planned, and no prospects for a full-time professional position. And while I was concerned about not being able to find a professional position right away now that I have my nice shiny new MLIS, I never thought I would lose my current paraprofessional position. I thought maybe furloughed for a while, but not to be completely let go, just like that. And it wasn't just me, but at least 100 other part-timers were let go as well, all in one fell, unexpected, swoop.

While I do understand the necessity of reducing staff due to still being closed,and all the restrictions that will be in place when we they finally reopen, the way they did it added insult to injury. All throughout this crisis, I've been singing my system's praises to everyone for how well they have handled it, and put staff and community safety first, being one of the first libraries in the state to close, continuing to pay staff, and staying closed longer; holding it up as an example to others. There never was any hint they were considering mass lay-offs. I greatly appreciate that they paid us for that long, but frankly, I would rather have been furloughed and still have a job to come back to eventually than paid for a while, then fired. Yeah, they call it a lay-off, but that's just semantics. Either way, I'm out of a job. 

The way we all learned we were being let go showed a complete lack of compassion and respect. There was no warning, and we never saw it coming. Rather than letting the supervisors or managers who actually work with us and know us tell us individually, it was sent out in a mass generic e-mail that at first appeared to be just a normal update, starting out talking about starting curbside service and opening one branch, then it was basically, "and oh, by the way, all you part-time people are now unemployed", and sent out at the end of the day of course, so no one can respond. That's just cold and cowardly. To further rub salt in the wound, we were also told none of us would be called back, but we would have to reapply down the road and start all over, competing for a position and starting at base pay.  

I am absolutely devastated and incredibly hurt. Hurt by the way it was handled and devastated by the loss of a job I loved and the career I thought I was building. Though I liked every position I've had in the system and worked with so many great people and learned so much in each one, my most recent position was the one I really and truly loved. I worked with great people, I got to do a wide variety of programs, I loved our patrons and the diverse community. I enjoyed being at work and looked forward to going to work every day. I am just in tears thinking about all of the patrons that I had built relationships with that I'm not going to see again, some of the coworkers I'll probably never see again, some that I'll probably lose touch with even though we say we won't, it's just not the same when you aren't working together anymore. I know the pandemic is ultimately to blame for the situation, but the director and board bear the blame for how it was handled.

So if you're a director or board member reading this, your take-away should be to never, ever forget your decisions have major impact on people's lives. Never forget your employees are human beings, and remember to treat them with compassion and grace, especially when difficult decisions have to be made. Even though it would be easier on you to just send out an e-mail; you need to share that emotional burden and do it in a more personal way. Take time to look at all those names of people whose worlds you are about to turn upside down. Think about who they are, what they've done for the library.  And if you can't picture them or answer that question, you need to do some serious soul-searching about what kind of director you want to be. If you don't know the employee, then let the manager or supervisor who does deliver the news, someone who sees a human being, not a disposable cog, and can be truly empathetic and compassionate.

To my former director and board, you've done some really great things with the library and for the community, and you handled the initial crisis extremely well. However, you really handled this very poorly. I hope the library can recover from the loss of so many great, knowledgeable and experienced people; I hope my career can survive this major setback. I can almost guarantee that when you see my name you have no idea who I am or the things I've done for the library and community. Even if you have a vague idea, I'm sure you don't really know me. Here are some things I want you to know about me before you show me the door:

I am one of the most dependable, dedicated part-time workers you had. I loved my job, and I am very passionate about public libraries and youth services. I just finished my MLIS, which is actually my second masters degree. My first was in microbiology, and my first career was in research. I did work for Dr. Tony Fauci in fact. I grew up on a farm after being a navy brat. I also worked for the navy as a civilian researcher. I was an award-winning professional cake decorator. I once coached a state-champion track team. I just had a paper about my MLIS research project accepted for publication in a scholarly journal. Losing my job is going to mean major upheaval for my family. I love animals and nature. I never outgrew my fascination with dinosaurs. I have presented close to 2000 storytimes in the last 5 years. I serve on the board of my local public library, and though we also had to make the difficult decision to lay-off part-time employees, we gave them 30 days notice and every one of them got a personal phone call (and they will be called back at their same pay, in order of seniority). I will be a great children's librarian for some other library. I am a living, breathing, human being with skills, hopes, dreams, responsibilities, and feelings.

To my former supervisors and managers, you guys were all awesome to work for, and I learned so much from each and every one of you, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with you all. My co-workers are all amazing people, and I will miss you all so much. The library is a great library because of all of you! And to my library kiddos and families, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face, looking at all the little treasures you've given me over the years, thinking of how I will not get to see your smiling faces, receive your pretend cakes and cups of tea, see the look of wonder on your faces when we do cool experiments, hear you laugh when I read a silly story, or help you find just the right book again. And worst of all, I didn't even get to say good-bye.

My treasures, clockwise from the top left: 

  • A card from a boy whose family were regulars saying he missed me because they had come during shifts I wasn't working the last few times.
  • A good-bye card from one of my favorite daycares when I left my outreach position.
  • Scribbled notes from a little boy his mother translated to say "I love the library" and "I love the librarian", which inspired the next one:
  • "Love letters" to the library for library lovers month.
  • A multi-page Thanksgiving card from "8 little turkeys" at one of the daycares I visited.
  • A penny from a little girl at another daycare who insisted she wanted to give me a tip for doing storytime with them.
  • Finally, the most heartbreaking. A bracelet from a little boy at a daycare for Mother's Day. I asked him if he didn't need to give that to his mom, and he said "nah, I have another one". I found out a couple of months later than he had been in foster care and mom wasn't really in the picture (he was later adopted by his foster family). I will treasure that bracelet for ever!!

To all the other library people who have also been left unemployed, the other recent grads facing a near hopeless job market, I see you and I feel your pain.

To the year 2020, enough already! 

And to the corona virus, screw you! Just. Screw. You.