Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sick of "Doing More With Less", Aren't You?

This is all in reference to a wonderful article by author Scott Turow on how cutting library funding is killing more than just library jobs, it's killing communities:

Scott Turow: Let Them Eat Cake Attitude Threatens To Destroy A Network Of Public Assets

One of the phrases being kicked around in public libraries is "doing more with less".  I've heard this for the last few years, especially since 2009 when the governor of Ohio cut the PLF (Public Library Fund) by 20%.  People were so frothing mad that they marched on the state capitol, flooded the governor's office and the offices of the state reps and senators with emails and phone calls (we even shut the phone lines down at one point), and got Strickland to back down.  But he only backed down to 20%.  He had initially started in the high 40s.  Other states have gone through the same kind of budget turmoils, and still are.  And as soon as budget and funding talks started and the fear of lay-offs and cutting hours and materials became more of a reality, we put the key in the engine of the phrase of "doing more with less."

Every time I hear that phrase I hate it a little bit more.  At the professional conferences, there are whole workshops on how to "program on a shoestring!" and the presenters are so excited about showing you just how to do entire children's programs and spend no money.  First of all, I'm not knocking these presenters.  Most of the time, the ideas are solid.  But in my library system, particularly in my department, we were programming with very little money spent before the state cut the PLF.  And we did fantastic, inventive programs.  We didn't need to spend $5 or $10 a child on a princess tea party or a superhero program.  Perhaps I'm biased, but I think that when you spend money like that all the time, you get used to it.  You get used to having those resources, and when they're taken away, you're left holding an empty programming bag.  Again, not always true of everyone but I've seen some of these librarians left utterly clueless as to what to do when they don't have money to spend on programs and the like.  I have a suggestion....

Start getting creative.

Kids appreciate a program whether you've spent $50 or $.50, or nothing at all.  One of my favorite programs in the last year was an outer space/alien program.  I bought a tube of glow-in-the-dark bracelets for $1 at Target and at the end of the program we made alien masks, put on our glow bracelets, turned on some music, and shut off the lights.  I have video of those kids dancing around in the dark like little light-up aliens, and they had a blast.

(You can see my little aliens @ the 1:05 mark, but the whole video shows our programming on virtually no money.)

Scott Turow's point in his article is that libraries keep getting their funds cut, and state governments are cutting in the wrong place.  I wholeheartedly agree, but with one caveat - if all of the funding for public libraries all across the country were to be restored back to the levels they were at before the executioner-style cutting began a few years ago, would we return to the levels of spending, or would we be wiser?  Would this brush with "doing more with less" (ugh, I'm practically gagging from having to type that) be a lesson well learned, or would we simply put the money-goggles back on and start spending without a brain again?  My library system serves a population that, in city, is fairly poverty stricken.  From a PR standpoint, it does not look good when any library starts blowing money left and right on things it doesn't need instead of using money for community outreach, materials, etc.  Would library boards and administrations return to levels of "stupid spending" if our funding was restored, or have we actually figured out that the library should be serving the people of the community?

It's A Blog! No Wait...

Under the incredibly wise advice of a trusted coworker and friend, I've decided that this blog will be a spot for my ideas and writings surrounding my work.   

With a twist

Because otherwise, it's just like everyone else's blog, isn't it?

I started working with children in a public library two and a half years ago.  Previous to that, I had been a library clerk.  If you had told me at the beginning of my library career that I would wind up working with the tykes, I would have called you a liar and told you to check your crystal ball.  Now, I bloody love it.  Suffice to say, working with children is entirely rewarding, but there are reasons for the reward beyond the typical "I get to help kids with reading, books, etc."  That is, of course, a huge part of the job.  But there is a lot more to a Children's Librarian than assisting a class of fourth graders find chapter books or helping a five year old find an Eric Carle book.

Truly, what drives me is the astounding creativity in this job, and the freedom to do bugger all that I want.  Seriously.  Granted, I'm fortunate enough to have a supervisor that trusts me implicitly (and I do run ideas by her all the time), but a typical stop in her office often goes like this:

Me:  "Hey, I've got a science program in two weeks and there are a couple of experiments I want to do.  I just want to make sure it's okay for me to have bubbles, yeast, and hydrogen peroxide in the back room."

My boss will then give me what I have so cleverly labeled as "the look" (a cross between curiosity and slight supervisory concern...she is my boss) and tell me to not make a mess.  If I make a mess, then I'm in trouble.  Makes sense to me.

And I smile, nod while thanking her, and go about my merry way.  I've gotten her permission to fling paper copters off the third floor balcony with 30 second - fourth graders (it was a big deal because NO ONE goes on the third floor, it's all administrative offices), shoot off film canister rockets, and bring in an African drummer who was a friend of a coworker to do a drumming workshop in the middle of a snowstorm.

And that last bit is misleading; the snowstorm hit after I had set up the drumming workshop and had people signed up to come.  But it was still amazing.

But I think my favorite "got away with it" moment was two years ago, only six months or so after I had started in the department.  My first major Children's program was a program about poetry.  Such a thing had never been done in the department before (at least to my knowledge), so I was already breaking new ground.  Top that off with the fact that I hadn't done anything more than a Toddler Story Time and this was an evening program for elementary school kids.  I had decided to perform poetry (not memorize, but get up and read it dramatically) in front of a group of kids and their parents/grandparents, etc.  We had advertised the program as a silly poetry night where kids could come and celebrate poetry with me, and hear the names of the winners of our annual Poetry Contest for kids announced too.  A lot of the contest participants showed up, and they were the kids that didn't frequent the library programs, so they weren't too sure what to expect.

The program went quite smoothly, with me acting more and more like a ham as the hour went on.  My boss came in to observe at one point and I was so into acting out a Shel Silverstein poem with a couple of kids that her presence barely even registered.  I do remember her leaving the room via the back door with a huge smile on her face.

The grand finale of the program, before announcing the contest winners, was me reading the poem "Spaghetti" by Shel Silverstein.  It's a favorite of mine; out of all of his poems, this is simplistic yet astoundingly funny.  And if you keep reading, you'll see it's even better with props!  (And how hard do I love this poem in typography?)

The energy and exuberance of Shel's performance on the CD of Where the Sidewalk Ends inspired me to perform the poem out loud, but with one trick up my sleeve.

I got the kids and parents revved up for the last poem, and started flinging cooked spaghetti noodles while shouting, "Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place!" and then performing the rest of the poem.

It was, unquestionably, one of my favorite moments in my career.  The shocked looks on the faces of those in the room quickly turned into giggles and full out guffaws.  Some of the kids starting throwing spaghetti at each other and yelling "Spaghetti!", and there was one grandpa that got down on the floor and got into it as well.

It was an all-out mess that Shel would have loved, and I like to think that we did it in his honor.

After the program was over and the kids and their families went home for the evening, I spent some time on the floor picking spaghetti out of the carpet as part of the program clean-up.  Worth it?  Absolutely.  The next day, I had more spaghetti pick-up to do and my boss came in and congratulated me on a successful program.  Then she said something that I can't remember verbatim, but it ended with calling me her department's "wild child."  I believe the implication at the time was, "Who else in this department would throw spaghetti at kids?"  It was meant at a compliment, and I took it as such.

To this day, I'm known as the department's wild child, a label I proudly wear and own.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why I Started A Blog Today, or When the Great White Death of 2011 Hit

It's been my intention for some time to start a blog.  All the hip librarians from the young to those who have been in the game for some time seem to have one.  Admittedly, I've been feeling a little behind the times, especially since I'm one of the go-to's at my library for technology needs and assistance.  So now, I have a blog.  What spurned my action today of all days was the call from my supervisor at almost 7 am this morning, telling me the library wasn't going to open until noon.  Yes, we've been hit by what some meteorologists have called "The Great White Death" of 2011.

I didn't actually take my supervisor's call, rather I listened to the voicemail she left.  I missed her call because I had been outside with my husband trying to de-ice my car, which in the dark, resembled a vehicle-shaped popsicle that no blasting heaterwould melt.  My husband had to leave for work and I continued to scrape, brush, and scrape...all to no avail.  The ice had already eaten my car.  Frozen but not completely despondent, I went back inside to warm up and finish getting ready for work.  Then I saw my phone had 3 voicemails on it, 2 from my supervisor and 1 from the hubby.

Cut to me finding out I don't have to go to work until noon and my husband got to his workplace safely, and here I am, setting up a blog.  I could be reading my incredibly dry MLS textbooks or cleaning the living room.  However, I consider this activity to have merit as well, especially since the textbooks can wait and the living room will be tackled tomorrow when I'm actually off work.

But then again...if The Great White Death Part Deux hits us this afternoon/this evening like the weather people are talking about in their oh-so excited ways, I could wind up hitting the books early today and more than likely canceling that appointment tomorrow, leaving me time to tackle the housework, more classwork, and probably put up an actual post with content, instead of my blatherings.

Here's to you, oh Winter.