Writing By Tony

“Overflow,” short story in the anthology Seeking Its Own Level
Provisions from Blue Fifth Review
Peppers from Revolution John Magazine

Snap: Future Proofing Your Library  from Library Journal


Fun Precedes Function: Fostering a Creative Workplace in the Public Library

From Urban Library Journal

 Library 2.0 – Let the Kids (and Kids’ Staff) Play Too!

From ALSConnect,  June 2008

Since Michael Casey coined the phrase Library 2.0 less than two years ago much of the thinking of the library world has shifted toward this magnetizing concept. Transformations of Library 2.0 such as Helene Blowers’ rapid and far-reaching Learning 2.0 initiative continue this shift. Many 2.0-minded librarians have not only changed the way they think about what they offer to their users, they now challenge the very way they approach their jobs each day. The truth is that it doesn’t take a techno genius to help move your library forward in the 2.0 universe. The wave has already started—you only have to be willing to ride it (and get a little wet during the process).

My key question is “Where is Youth Services in the 2.0 mix?”

Wait a minute, you say! We have National Teen Tech Week in March and many libraries are now blogging and even offering IM reference services. True, true. The realm of teen and adult library services are generally embracing of new technologies and rise up to meet the requests for trainings and programs regarding technology trends. Several years ago I worked with the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County’s (PLCMC) Web Services to build the first completely online teen summer reading club, then called “Train Your Brain.” Teens latched on to this new way of managing a traditional program without blinking a virtual eye. This program was soon adapted by PLCMC to support the adult summer reading program as well. Once again, no major hitches.

But what about children’s services? Ah, that’s what I’m getting at. That’s where the line was drawn back then. The year was 2000 and it was determined that kids and their parents simply weren’t ready to “let go of the paper” to embrace a new way of handling the mundane tasks of registering and logging time spent reading during the summer months. The summer reading theme that year was going to be an obvious hit: Mission READ! We worked extra hard to create some terrific Web pages that were built around the slick graphics and theme. Despite the effort to straddle the fence between the traditional paper reading records and a virtual enhancement to our literacy effort, the paper won out. The Web pages were hardly hit upon that summer though the reading program buzzed along its usual path.

Even now as we have masses of kids discovering virtual communities through the savvy connections of commercial ventures such as Webkins, using Wikipedia to research their fourth grade social studies subjects, and creating networks via their favorite Web sites (Disney!), the world of children’s library programs and services is still not the experimental ground for technology exploration we thought it would be half a decade ago.

I don’t believe in “blaming” staff for not being more savvy with incorporating technology into their services and programs. In fact, most of the children’s staff I know and work with each day are quite tech savvy—in their personal lives. The encouragement to bring technology into their library is often just not there—at least not in full force the way it is in teen and adult services. Children’s librarians are some of the most outgoing and engaged individuals in the library world. Anyone who thinks that we are still simply a bandit crew of book lovers with easy access to puppets and a penchant for doing the hokey pokey hasn’t visited a busy children’s department in a while. Children’s librarians can do more and reach further in the realm of technology—especially when they are given the encouragement and resources to do so. How do we create an environment that entices children’s library staff to incorporate technology into their offerings? I’d like to suggest four ideas that can help trip the tech switch:

1. Get curious about technology. You can start simply by experimenting with the programs on your computer that you’ve wondered about but never tried. Ask your co-workers and users what their favorite Web sites are. Visit those sites—even if you don’t have the faintest interest in handmade retail items or pro wrestling. You can learn much about the types of interfaces and information that appeal to folks by lurking in the virtual places they visit. Ask staff to play with cameras, iPods, laptops, and gaming equipment to figure it out. Say these words again and again: if it breaks, we can get another one. I have found that this small statement relieves quite a bit of anxiety about using new and/or expensive items.

2. Create a commitment to staying in the know. You don’t have to be a technology expert (I’m certainly not), but there are many ways to stay up on trends as well as what is emerging by keeping your eyes peeled and your bookmarks (or even better, RSS feeds) fresh. At least weekly, check out what some of the sharpest thinkers have to say about technology as well as edgier library practices. Make your weekly virtual treks to Library Bytes (www.librarybytes.com), Tame the Web (www.tametheweb.com), Librarian in Black (www.librarianinblack.net), and Mommy Librarian (www.mommylibrarian.com). To go deeper, follow their links into the labyrinth of Library 2.0. If you are a supervisor or manager, share what you’re finding with your staff by making “technology learning” a standing agenda item in your meetings.

3. Take the personal into the professional. Sounds pretty heavy and high-minded? I’ll make it simple: if you have all your favorite CDs and songs loaded on your iPod at home, why are you still using a CD player during your storytimes? Recently, we were able to provide 30 GB iPods and speaker stations to all of our branch locations to use for programs—either to support or as a catalyst for workshops. It only took a suggestion for many PLCMC youth staff to begin this process—and with some great results. “Using the iPod during storytime was an odd feeling at first,” Emily Little says, “but I was able to create my own playlists, mix them up and have them all at my fingertips. It is quicker, offers more options, and easier than lugging in an old-school boombox.”

In our personal lives, we create blogs to celebrate everything from our summer vacations to our current hobbies. Take this common and effective practice into your library branch or department. It’s a wonderful venue to share group thought processes, a place to stash interesting photos from programs and events as well as a great way to log issues or information on the latest rush on research subjects to help part-time staff stay in the loop.

4. Put your resources behind your commitment. Yes, by “resources” I mean money. A good rule of thumb to use when deciding on how to spend your program funds is to ask yourself the question: What will have the most long-term impact? You could have a local performer come visit your library branch for two sessions that equals a cost of, say, $350. You could use that same money to purchase two digital cameras. Or an iPod. Or a combination of the two. Think of the many program opportunities and practical applications these items could have (long after the juggler has left the building). Jason Hyatt, PLCMC education coordinator, suggests having a pre- or post-holiday How-To-Use-The-iPod-I-Just-Bought-My-Kid program for adults. And yes, kids love to take pictures. You can build a whole program around a couple of digital cameras. Set kids or teens loose in your building with a series of idea-starters (how about: “take a picture of the most comfortable—or uncomfortable—place in this building”). Let them snap away. Bring them back together. Download the pictures. Write witty captions for each. Repeat.

Saying “yes” to being a tech-savvy librarian doesn’t mean you have to become the next big thing in the blogosphere or that your life will now be controlled by the keyboard or clickwheel. It does mean that you create the room to grow, learn, and move into a changing world that involves the users and staff you work with in new and possibly extraordinary ways. Along with these extraordinary ways come some really useful practical side-effects. It’s time to get curious.–Tony Tallent

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