If you know me well at all, you have likely heard me talk about the “Two Ms” that I think are important to the work we do…I usually phrase this as “Maximize with Meaning.” The “maximizing” is often cause for much hard work and is likely to be more obvious: a higher door count, more program attendance, impressive stats. The “meaning” part is generally a bit more allusive…and still it goes deep. Today I had a long moment where I touched on the meaning, and in some way it had shifted and tugged at me and I stand in awe at the very nature of the work that libraries do and the depth we can reach. The short version of the story:
Last week a library user asked to have an appointment with me. I checked my calendar, we made the appointment and I thought that perhaps this was a community member wishing to discuss a concern or perhaps even a local vendor wanting to make sure the Public Library knew about her service. Instead, when I walked out into our administrative office area, I was greeted by a gentleman who wished to share a story of gratitude with me. I sat down beside him and he told me that his homeland is Iran and that he is Muslim. For many years he tried to gain his American citizenship unsuccesfully. He began coming to Boulder Public Library’s public program on citizenship as well as the Conversations in English programs that run throughout the week. He gained both knowledge, confidence and belief in himself. He reached into his small canvas briefcase and brought out a navy blue binder. It was slightly bent on the edges from wear. He opened the binder to show me his certification as an American Citizen. With joy and gratitude in his wise eyes he said “welcome” and “thank you” to me (me, who has been in this wonderful city for only a month). He continued to tell me that one of our strong and dedicated librarians (Laura) who had witnessed his long desire to become an American citizen had written a letter of recommendation for him to receive his citizenship. Our Outreach Librarian Ghada had helped arrange for him opportunities to strengthen his English. He pronounced the library as the very cause for the certificate of American citizenship he held in his hand. I stood in awe and mutual gratitude. This long moment touched on the meaning that we all seek to find in our work as we plow through the paperwork, troubleshoot the new technologies, rally the strong and faint at heart on a daily basis.
As this kind and gentle man put his beloved certificate back in his bag and stood to leave, I was speechless with my heart pounding. “I welcome you and thank this library,” he said. I stood in a moment of meaning so gloriously quiet and deep. This is why we do it.
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How does sentence diagramming and looking into the future of vital libraries and civic organizations connect? Before you read what Kitty Florey says below from her book Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog (all about the flooky practice and history of sentence diagramming and how it affects–or not–our lives today) think about this: Writer’s write. Leaders lead. Visionaries envision. And diagrammers draw diagrams. Which of these do you aspire to be? Which is active? Diagramming (analyzing or dissecting) a practice or an organization or a job doesn’t create any energy or vitality in it. It simply dissects it. The spirit is in the doing. Innovation is doing. Consulting, studying, dissecting is, well, consulting , studying and dissecting. Reading Florey’s book reminds me that dissecting takes away the fluid nature–the very spirit–of language, just like peeling apart the layers of a practice to “make it more innovative” stalls out innovation all together. You can’t create a diagram for innovation. The Ren Gen knows this. Real innovators know this. Diagrammers haven’t caught on to this just yet. Are you diagramming your work, your practices too much? If so, consider being the innovation you’re seeking out instead.
“Among the people I’ve talked to about it, the consensus seems to be that learinng diagramming may have helped us to understand the functions of words, to think more logically about language, and maybe event to write more correclty. But it didn’t help us write well.”
Yesterday was Webkins Day at the Library! This meant a whole bunch of fun, chat and getting to know a group of kids in a very new way. Matthews Branch Library (Thanks, Trish!) here at PLCMC hosted two back-to-back Webkins Club programs for kids. I went with my colleague Emily to check it out. What a wowee moment! I got far more than I bargained for from these programs. One 4th grader, Samantha, became both my guide and teacher through the world of Webkins. All I had to do was ask her if she’d show me how to do something on the Webkins site. Any question I asked, she was able to answer. “How do you chat with friends?” With a slick click on the cell phone icon she showed me. “You can only do ‘dictionary chat'” she informed me and then continued to show me what that looked like. “Oh, look I got mail from my sister!” With a few swift mouse clicks she had opened her mail and responded. We later played a round of Webkins mini-golf. I played as one of her Webkins pets Taylor the Monkey. “You came in second at 7 points,” she told me politely when we finished. She had 22 points. One of the things that was so subtly wonderful about these programs is that they were vibrant and cheerful and filled with learning moments–but they practically ran themselves! Trish would say something like “So, who has found out something new about Webkins games?” The hands would fly up and then a kid would continue on to explain her or his new discovery and then the beat would go on. Kids had a chance to make new buddies–both IRL and in the Webkins world as they would exchange Webkins buddy info at the end of the program. Will Webkins continue to grow? Will this be just another fad that will fade as tastes and technology advance? It doesn’t really matter. Right here, right now we have the opportunity to meet kids (read: our whole community) where they are by reflecting their delights, their fancies–how about even their concerns. It creates connections, makes “our” world and their world collide in meaningful, deeper, and yes, FUN ways. That’s what this Webkins craze and these Webkins Club Days remind me of. Later after the program when I had chatted with staff at Matthews Branch and was getting ready to leave the library with my equally satisifed colleague Emily, Samantha came running up to me to ask me if I’d share my Webkins info with her so that we could be buddies. Imagine my deflation when I had to tell her I didn’t have a Webkins. But I will soon. And Children’s Departments and Libraries everywhere else, spring for the $15-20 to get one for your staff to play with, explore and make some connections with the Samanthas and Evans and Scotties in your own library worlds. You’ll be glad you did!
It’s time for an update on the pencil thing! Way back in February when I voiced my first big phat “why?” about golf pencils and their use in public libraries, we’ve had some shift. I ordered personalized pencils–REAL pencils for PLCMC…enough to replace all the golf pencils that float around (and then into the trash cans) the library system. I’m going to make like a golf pencil and keep this short–sleek black pencils replaced the short stubby ones this summer thoughout the Charlotte region. And we’re hoping they were used and then walked out the door. They are printed with 3 messages: “Where’s The Point: At Your Public Library” “Want To Know Something: Go To Your Public Library” “Reading 20 Minutes A Day Can Change Your Child’s Life”
Please feel free to steal these messages…and pass them around…on real pencils or in any fashion that is handy! Oh, and this has gone a bit viral since my first rant, but just in case you haven’t seen it, someone else decided to question the short pencil…check out the Short Pencil Saga.
One more reason to love public libraries…they can make voting easier. Here’s to counties that allow, and libraries that accept early voting! Tonight I went to my regular polling station to vote (instead of taking advantage of the fact that I could have voted early in the library building I work in every day!). It wasn’t a bad or long experience (of course, it wasn’t a “major” election), but it was at the end of the work day…in a very uninteresting location, not as convenient sd scattered branches throughout the county–not at the Public Library. And there was the time that it took for looking up my precinct and verification (I moved 2 times in the past year!)l. This doesn’t happen with early voting at the Public Library. It should be easy. It should be convenient. It should feel good.
According to the article “Overdue library materials sparking online shutdowns” Waco-McLennan County Library system patrons are now fobidden to use library computers if they have $5 or more in fines on their account. Later in the article someone asks the proverbial question: But what about the children? Why does this has to come up before such an action is questioned. Why isn’t anyone asking the question “Why are our libraries having to survive on fines and fees?” Are they? Are they?