Sunday, January 30, 2022

Research Has *FINALLY* Been Published!

If you've been following this blog for a while, or if you are/were a member of either the Storytime Underground or ALATT Facebook groups, you might recall that I did a research project concerning children's librarians and child development knowledge, and you might have even participated in it. To help jog your memory, I distributed the survey about a month before the pandemic hit, on this blog and in the aforementioned groups.

I am happy to announce my research paper has *finally* been published! It was originally slated to be published 9 months ago, but got bumped because apparently the new editors accepted more articles than the publisher would allow, mistakenly thinking since the journal is entirely digital now that they could expand it a little. I didn't know if it would ever be published at that point, then last week out of the blue I received my complimentary copy of the issue it had just been published in.

Coming two years after I did the initial research, it's a bit anticlimactic, but I'm still proud of the accomplishment. It's certainly not perfect, I was very rushed at the beginning and could have created a better survey instrument given a little more time, but I do think the results are meaningful, and wanted to share them with other children's librarians, particularly those who may have been participants. The link below was provided to me by the publisher and will allow up to 25 complimentary digital view-only copies; it will not allow you to download or print:

However, if you are able to access it through a database, such as EBSCO or Academic Search Premier, you can both print and download. The abstract is available on the journal website without a subscription. I've also heard that sometimes if you contact the author directly, they might send you a copy of the whole paper 😉. 

It's no wonder change is so slow; it's ridiculous in this day and age that it takes TWO YEARS to get research results published, and that it is still inaccessible to so many. I definitely think it's time for traditional publishing of scholarly works to fall by the wayside in favor of something more efficient and more accessible! 

Sunday, January 23, 2022

So You Want to Be On a Book Award Committee?

Book awards, literature awards, picture book awards committee,

With it being awards season, you may be wondering what it's like being on a book award selection committee and how one gets to be part of it all. Or, you might be thinking you could surely do a better job of selecting books that were both "distinguished" AND would actually appeal to the children they're supposedly written for (yes, I'm looking at you, Newbery and Caldecott). 

I've wanted to serve on a book award committee for a few years, and after first applying and being rejected by the Cybil awards [given by youth literature bloggers], I finally found an opportunity with the Bell awards, an award given by a state-level organization focused specifically on early literacy. 
The Bell awards are for picture books that uniquely support and/or model the five early literacy practices of read, write, sing, talk, and play. I felt I was well-qualified for this, and that it would be a great opportunity to see all the best new picture books and meet other like-minded librarians in my state.

The Bell awards work have a rather unique selection process. First, anyone can suggest a book for consideration, then committee members assigned to a given practice decide which books suggested for that practice fit the criteria and are worthy of nomination. Generally 10-15 are nominated for each practice, and the committee then meets as a whole to discuss and debate the nominees and narrow it down to 5 finalists for each practice. The finalists are put to a vote by the general membership and public, as well as a separate vote by the committee members. After polling has closed, the committee meets one last time to compare and discuss the results of both polls, and select a winner for each category.

So what was my experience like? Well, not quite what I expected. I thought it would be a great way to familiarize myself with some of the best new picture books that year, and it was, but it wasn't easy finding the books. I also thought it would be a good way to network and get to know other librarians in my state who were as passionate about early literacy and picturebooks as I was, but due to Covid making all of our meetings virtual, I really didn't feel like I got to know any of the other committee members. I thought it would be a fun experience, and it was rewarding, but it was also a lot of work, and there were some frustrations and difficulties I had not foreseen.

To start with, I had a great deal of difficulty getting my hands on all of the suggested books for the practice I was assigned to, and then for all those nominated across all practices, which I hadn't expected. Publishers will send you free copies for the big national awards, but for the lesser known awards you are on your own in finding them. I had to go into the big meeting to pick the finalists without having been able to get my hands on at least a third of the nominees. I also thought I would be able to do some of the work "on the clock" since it is service to the profession, but the library where I worked at the time was so grossly understaffed that wasn't possible, and I felt I just wasn't able to put the time and effort into it that I should have. Then, to further complicate things, I ended up leaving that library and moving across the country for a better opportunity the week before the big meeting to select the finalists.

I thought it would be fun discussing all the books, but to be honest, it was mostly frustrating. As with any group of people, there are always one or two personalities that seem to dominate the conversation. I often felt talked over and had a hard time getting a chance to say what I wanted to say, and sometimes just gave up. I think this was made a lot worse by being virtual rather than in person, and the meeting set-up did not have a "raise hand" option. It seemed that sometimes one or two members would keep circling back and pushing for re-vote after re-vote, until they wore enough people down to get the outcome they wanted. The meeting to choose the finalists lasted an entire day and was just exhausting.

Fortunately, by the time we met to choose the winners I had been able to get all of the books except for one, and had time to carefully consider them and pick my top choices. Luckily that meeting was much shorter! In most cases the popular vote and the committee vote were fairly similar, but there were differences. I had expected that if both polls had the same book in first place, then that would be it and we would only have to discuss the ones that were different, or if the first and second places were very close. But we actually discussed and re-voted on all of them, and in at least one instance the book ultimately named the winner was not the one that had gotten the most votes in the original polls.

Though NONE of my top choices ended up winning, I was okay with the final slate of winners and most of them were my second choices. In truth, all of the finalists were great books and sometimes it was splitting hairs to choose one over another. In fact, all the nominees were great books, some were just better suited for toddlers and preschoolers, or were more unique in some way. You can see all the finalists here, with the winners being announced around the middle of February, but you can see all the past winners now. One thing I really like about these awards is that a few activities that support early literacy skills are provided for each of the five winning books.

Did I find the experience worthwhile? Yes, despite some frustrations and it not being exactly what I expected, it was a worthwhile, rewarding experience. Would I do it again? Maybe not this particular award, since I'm no longer in that state (living/working in the state is not a requirement, but being in significantly different time zones makes it more inconvenient for me), and maybe not right away, but yes, after I've had a break and gotten settled into my new job and have the collection and programming where I want them and things can be in person, I would love to serve on another book award committee in the future, maybe something for middle-grade literature next time.

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 off 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!