The Australian Library and Information Association has realised a campaign kit for its members outlining advocacy opportunities for the upcoming federal election. It’s aimed at achieving some admirable goals, both in terms of support of the profession and work of librarians, and in ensuring Australians’ rights to free access to information are upheld. ALIA has previously come out swinging on the issue of internet censorship, partnering with the likes of Google and Yahoo! to release a very sensible statement on the issues surrounding the proposed filter.
That said, it is a little disappointing to see that internet filtering is listed as the eighth of ten lobbying priorities, given that the issue has the potential to be not only broad reaching, but destructive of what we as librarians try to do, and given that it’s been a major promise (or as I prefer to think of it, threat) of the Labor government, with the Liberal unsurprisingly offering no opposition or alternative, and Steven Conroy’s facile comments about not supporting child pornography being given a lot of airtime. Although Labor has wisely shooed the filter to the back of its media blitz for the time being, given its lack of popularity with the public, it will not be forgotten about or rejected any time soon. Now is a great time for librarians, and our industry body, to really take part in discussions about the future of free access to information in Australian society.
The campaign kit is comprehensive and well put together, and I urge library types to take a look at it. ALIA may not always get it right, but the issues they raise are important, and now is the perfect time to raise them.
I’m currently sitting on a couch at SLQ’s The Edge, and had every intention of writing a comprehensive rundown of the 12s-24s@ Your Library conference while it was all still fresh in my mind. I even have my bulgingly full notebook with me. However, several weeks’ worth of sleep deprivation are getting the better of me (although I’m going to try to sleep away as much of the Sydney-LA flight as possible to make up my sleep debt). I am feeling distinctly manky, at least in a mental sense, although the cold I’ve been having an off-and-on affair with for the last few weeks is threatening to settle in, right in time for the long-haul flight to DC. Lovely. So an actual meaty entry about all this will have to wait until I’m in a better mental state to unravel things (not to mention read my own handwriting, which is so appalling that I’ve been accused of writing with my feet in the past).
Presenting and attending the conference were wonderful experiences (and now I think I’ve got a taste for this kind of thing, which would bring the percentage of people in my household who write papers for and present at conferences up to 100%). Leonee and I have met so many wonderful people and had such a good time. It was great to meet new faces, and put faces to names I’d seen on e-lists or heard glowing things about. It was also fantastic to be in an environment with so much enthusiasm and energy for library youth services provision; an absolute blessing, in fact.
There was a reasonable amount of live Tweeting happening (although I didn’t get around to much of it myself); if you’re curious, the hashtag is #12to24. Leonee has also finally bowed down to the pressure to join Twitter; you can find her at @LeoneeAriel.
One of the things I’m planning to do when I get back, along with writing up a report about it all and thinking further about how I can turn what I’ve learned this weekend into concrete planning for my own library service, is to make a page on this website with the collection development information we shared in our presentation. The slides we had were only a small sample of what we use for youth-focused collection development, but several people suggested that it would be a great thing to have easy access to, so I figure it will be good to have it as a working document here for anyone who’s interested, perhaps with a broader focus than our rather Melbourne-centric one. If you’d like to have some input, feel free to contact me via email or twitter.
I jump on a plane tomorrow afternoon, and it looks like I’ll be meeting with the youth services manager of the DC Public Library while I’m in town, which is very exciting. No rest for the wicked(ly nerdy librarian).
One of the things I find embarrassingly exciting about flying overseas is picking which books to take to read on the plane. I’ve got a fair bit of YA on my TBR pile at the moment, including Karen Healey’s debut novel Guardian of the Dead, which I’m ridiculously excited about reading. Expect some further reviews when I get back.
I’m about to head off to Brisbane (well, Logan City via Brisbane) with my colleague with whom I’ve co-authored a paper on engaging urban youth with public libraries. After months of preparation, it seems strange that it’s finally come around, to be quite honest. This is my first conference paper, and also my first time presenting anything like this (although I like to think various public speaking arrangements across the years, and my regular Storytime gig have prepared me somewhat – at least none of the conference delegates are likely to tickle my knees or express affection by drooling on me). Hopefully, however, it won’t be the last, in either case.
Our paper is second up tomorrow morning, the first day of the conference, and I will be bringing my best game face and trying not to talk too fast (quite the challenge as I normally speak at a rate of kilometres per hour at the best of times).
After I get back from the conference, I head off almost immediately to join my husband in Washington DC, where he’s also presenting at a conference, and then we’ll be taking a small holiday in New York City. Posting may be thin on the ground around these parts until we return, but I’ll see how I go.
I’m planning to visit the Library of Congress in DC and the New York Public Library at the very least; there may be some others in there too. I take my duties as a professional nerd very, very seriously.
See you on the other side!
Social capital – a sociological concept which refers to connections within and between social networks – is something I’ve been thinking and reading about lately. This is largely due to the fact that it’s highly relevant to the topic of a conference paper I’m co-authoring (more on that later), but also just because it’s so interesting.
All the passionate public librarians I’ve ever known or worked with – and not just Children’s and YA folk, although that’s obviously where my bias and connections lie – have been heavily into developing the social capital of their libraries, even if that’s not the term they’ve used for it (and I admit it’s not a term I was familiar with until my co-author introduced it to me). It seems very obvious that libraries need to develop relationships with their users, but this sometimes seem to be something that goes over the heads of decision-makers, sadly enough. Many hands have been wrung and much ink has been spilled on the topic of libraries remaining relevant to their users, and it’s a good and relevant question, particularly for public libraries, whose funding must frequently be justified in terms of statistics – bodies through the door, loans statistics, program attendances, and the like. Intrinsic value won’t get you very far, but at the same time, a library that isn’t relevant to the needs of its users doesn’t have much intrinsic value, a fact which I think sometimes the hand-wringers forget. Yes, it sucks to have to run a library like a business minus the profit, but if your shelves are full of things that people don’t want then you’re not providing much of a service.
I’m still thinking through a lot of this stuff as it will relate to the paper, and just in general, but I wanted to share a good quote from an article by Carolyn Bourke, which is available for reading here (PDF):
“We want people in our Council, State Government Departments, local organisations, the business community and the general community to think of the Library when they have a great idea to build social capital. We want to be one of the obvious places people think to come not just for resources but also for the broader community issues. If we are truly to be facilitators in a knowledge society we have to be visible and active in our communities, constantly looking for new ways to build bridges to the excluded and the marginalised.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have anything to share.
I don’t believe, as some do, that my job is my ‘calling’. In fact, if you’d said to me five years ago, “Aimee, you’re going to be a children’s librarian, and you’re going to love it,” I would have thought you were nuts, or at least having a lend.
But it turns out I love my job. This blog, when I discuss it, will probably focus more on the youth side of things, since that’s where my passions lie, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about The Children. Specifically, that oft-maligned portion of the Children’s Librarian’s job: Storytime.
My colleagues and I often joke that it takes a certain type of person to run a Storytime session successfully, and that being mildly insane helps. This may be something of an exaggeration, but not much. It takes skill to maintain a straight face and continue with the story while a toddler humps your leg (oh, I wish I was making that up. Someone’s parents need to discipline the family dog). You need to be able to perform, but you also need to be willing to reign children and parents alike in if they’re not quite behaving properly. And you need to be comfortable with young children, obviously, and communicate with them in an honest and friendly way. Including being able to explain the meaning of the word “naked” in a meaningful way when you’ve decided to read Mo Willems’s Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed at a Storytime.
Despite the early literacy and socialisation benefits of Storytime programs, they seem to be pretty disrespected by those who don’t deal directly with them, by other library patrons and sometimes – upsettingly – by other library staff. Despite a host of experience and skills needed to successfully run a Storytime or baby rhyme time program, there is sometimes a pretty pervasive idea that what you’re doing is, well, a stupid waste of time. Fortunately for me, I haven’t come across that view much personally, but I know that it’s a pervasive experience across the industry.
That said, children’s librarianship in general seems to get a bad rap. The attitude that it’s not a “real” career seems pretty common, and indeed it seems to be a little ghettoised in terms of career path, despite that fact that a great number of senior librarians and library managers I’ve worked with were formerly children’s librarians. There’s a perception that we just play around with craft all day. Believe me, as a completely non-crafty person, if that’s all there was to the job then I would’ve stayed out of it.
I suspect that a lot of the antipathy comes from a combination of people projecting their fear of public speaking (because the number of times I have heard some variant of “I could never run a Storytime!” said with genuine fear is, well, it’s a big number), and dislike of children. And while I am not someone who believes that every child is a Precious Giftto the entire world and blah blah Hallmark cards, I do think that our culture devalues and dislikes children in many ways, and that that dislike spills over into the realm of those who care for or provide services for children – things that are traditionally considered “women’s work”, a term used for allegedly unimportant things. Any profession that could potentially be done by a woman, in the home, for free, tends to be undervalued – childcare, cleaning, cooking etc; and any profession traditionally dominated by women tends to be undervalued as well – nursing and midwifery, teaching and, yes, being a librarian (which is interesting considering that women weren’t considered to have what it takes in the profession’s early days).
Back on track, there is a lot to being a children’s librarian besides telling stories and doing craft – and there’s nothing wrong with those things, either. Being a children’s librarian often means defending both your job and your key clientele to people who can’t or perhaps won’t understand the value of what you’re doing – and making that defence with a smile on your face. In a lot of places, it means continually defending your budgetagainst those who would seek to cut it, so that you can actually develop collections and run programs that will serve your library patrons. It means having a pretty clear idea of just what working with kids and babies can entail, and choosing to do that and working to do it well anyway. It’s sometimes messy, often exhausting (particularly if you’re on the introverted side of things), sometimes thankless but most often rewarding work.
Oh, and it’s fun, too. And the haters will be sorry when I finish amassing my itty-bitty army.