Public Library Programs and Services

Natalie Cole and Virginia A. Walter share insights into transforming summer library programs

Summer 2018 might be winding down, but children's and YA librarians are already beginning to think ahead to next year's programming. In their recent book Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library: Outreach and Outcomes in Action, Natalie Cole and Virginia A. Walter detail case studies of several California libraries that have successfully reimagined their summer initiatives. These include Summer Matters, which works to provide equitable summer learning opportunities, and Lunch at the Library, a public library summer meal project. In this interview we discuss their collaborative approach, the biggest challenges to summer outreach and participation, and the inspiring lessons librarians can draw from the summer programs the book covers.

Was this your first writing collaboration?

Virginia A. Walter: We collaborated on a youth development manual for Los Angeles County Library almost authors Natalie Cole and Virginia A. Walter with their book "Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library: Outreach and Outcomes in Action"twenty years ago! More recently, along with Eva Mitnick, we wrote an article for Public Libraries (March/April, 2013) called “Outcomes + Outreach: The California Summer Reading Program Initiative.” But yes, Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library is our first full-length published monograph.  

Tell us a little bit about how the book project started and what it was like working together on it.

Virginia A. Walter: Like so many good ideas, I think it started at lunch. We had both been so inspired by the ways in which California librarians have taken these new ideas and put them into practice; we just wanted to share the story more broadly. We are a good team. Natalie has all of the first-hand experience through her work at both CLA and the California State Library. She is a great administrator and a natural change agent. I always say she could be running whole countries if she set her mind to it. I’ve got the academic background from my PhD in Public Administration and my years of teaching graduate students so I can articulate the theories behind the practice. It was easy to divide up the chapters that played to our individual strengths. We each took the lead on our assigned chapters and reviewed what the other had written.

Describe the biggest challenges to summer outreach and participation.

Virginia A. Walter: Change is always hard. The summer reading program has been a tradition in public libraries for more than a hundred years. It is a popular program in most libraries, with large numbers of participants. It has always been about reading promotion, but the new focus on “summer slide” from the education community highlighted a big problem. The very children who would most benefit from summertime reading and learning were often the ones who were not participating in large numbers. This growing awareness led to a need for more outreach, and that created another challenge because outreach takes time and resources. Outreach requires looking at the community in new ways, designing programs that will appeal to underserved people, and promoting those programs in appropriate ways. Taking on this extra effort can be challenging for librarians who are already working hard and serving large numbers of children who have already developed the reading and library habit.

How have libraries in California tackled these challenges?

Virginia A. Walter: Training, training, training. We have conducted many workshops and webinars that help librarians develop strategies for assessing their communities, identifying underserved people, finding effective ways to reach out to them, and evaluating their outreach efforts. We provide training on developing community partnerships. And we encourage people to “think small” at the beginning.  Can you reach five Spanish-speaking families this summer?  Ten Somali children who have never set foot in the library before? The success of the outreach and outcomes approach has also been helped tremendously by the group of librarians from around the state who have been advising us since the beginning. They are the best advocates for taking the time and trouble to do the right thing with summer programming.  Their testimonials are inspiring. These librarians also contributed in a major way to the development of four Quality Principles and Indicators that serve as practical guidelines to implementing an outcomes -and outreach- oriented summer reading program. (They're in Chapter 6 of our book.) Together, the quality principles and indicators make it easy for librarians to engage in reflective practice.

What was the genesis of the Lunch at the Library program?

Natalie Cole: The Lunch at the Library program grew out of great work being done in public libraries! Several years ago, my colleague, Patrice Chamberlain (director of the California Summer Meal Coalition and co-author of the book's Lunch at the Library chapter), and I became aware of a few California libraries serving summer lunches to children. We saw immediately that libraries are ideal spaces for serving free meals while school is out: they are trusted and welcoming spaces at the heart of the community, providing learning and enrichment activities, free of charge, all summer long. So we worked with a team of librarians to develop a program that would expand best practices and successes statewide (and in some cases, beyond!).

Are there any positive outcomes of the program that have really surprised you?

Natalie Cole: The program has grown more quickly than even we imagined! This year, meals were served at almost 200 library sites in California, and the number of meals libraries served increased from 21,800 in 2013 to 228,600 in 2017. The program has fostered new community partnerships and collaborations for libraries. And we consistently hear positive feedback from families. A positive outcome that we didn’t plan for at the start is the teen development component. Lunch at the Library provides great volunteer opportunities for teens—giving them workforce readiness skills and helping support their social-emotional development.

Have the programs you cover in the book affected overall library usage? Did you see increases in visits by new patrons or repeat visits by existing patrons?

Natalie Cole: Across the state, summer meal programs are bringing new families to the library and providing library staff with great opportunities to connect families with library services. Each year, around 90% of the children, teens, and adult who fill out Summer @ Your Library surveys tell us they plan to return to the library after the summer. And many of the case studies we feature in the book describe creative book cover for "Transforming Summer Programs at Your Library: Outreach and Outcomes in Action"summer programming that has increased both program quality and participation in California libraries.

What are some of the ways libraries can extend the successes of these initiatives to the remainder of the year?

Natalie Cole: The strategies we describe to help library staff carry out outcomes-based planning and evaluation, conduct community outreach, and develop community partnerships can easily be applied to library programming for all ages and at any time of year. Once libraries have honed these techniques during the summer, they will definitely be able to apply them at other times! Similarly, the tenets included in the quality principles and indicators framework—building strong communities, providing opportunities for learning, celebrating reading and literacy, and designing programs that are intended to reach and engage everyone—can guide program development and support reflective practice at any time of the year. More specifically, we encourage Lunch at the Library sites to offer after-school snacks, too, to help ensure children in our communities are nourished and engaged all year round.

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Storytimes creator Rob Reid discusses his new "greatest hits" collection

Original and adapted fingerplays, poems, activities involving movement and music, participation stories, felt stories, imagination exercises, spoonerism stories, and library raps: Rob Reid's book 200+ Original and Adapted Story Program Activities is packed from cover to cover with fun ideas for storytimes. And it happens to be his thirteenth book for ALA Editions—surely a lucky number in a writing career that spans more than two decades! We were thrilled to talk with him recently about his time with ALA Editions, how he chooses picture books for storytimes, and his tips for being a great storytime leader. 

You’ve described this book as a kind of “greatest hits” collection. How was working on this book different from your previous ones?

This time around, I had the luxury of selecting my favorite creations that I wrote for my ALA programming author Rob Reidbooks as well as various magazine articles. I updated some of the lines in different song lyrics and fingerplays to reflect the alterations that naturally occur from years of presenting them to families (like a folktale changes over time). The project also inspired me to write a few more new movement rhymes.

If you could time travel back to 1995, when you published your first ALA Editions book Children’s Jukebox, what advice would you give yourself?

I think instead of advice, I’d pat my younger self on the back for choosing the ALA family. The different editors, publishers, and crew have been so good and nurturing to me over the years – we are talking about 23 years of working together. How rare is that? Many times, we would finish one book and the editor would immediately ask, “What ideas do you have for another book?” Often, I would look around to see what has already been published, and more specifically, what has not been published, and try to fill those holes.

In your introduction you note that for these story programs you’ve taken care to limit your use of picture books to those published between 2012 and 2017. Did that pose any challenges?

I thought it would be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. We are so lucky to have such a rich collection of books out there on the market that many times, the more recently published books made an even tighter fit with a particular rhyme I wrote than the older books. I was also glad to be able to add more culturally diverse books this time around, something that was much harder to do even ten years ago.

As a storytime leader, getting over one’s fear of being silly and acting ridiculous seems really important! What are some good ways to loosen up and ward off self-consciousness?

I come from a theater background and think of how actors get into character while they are still backstage book cover for 200+ Original and Adapted Story Program Activitiesand then walk onstage ready to go. That can transform into the story program. Be excited to start before the kids even come into the area and hit the floor running. Your energy will help set the mood. That’s why I wrote many of the Hello activities – to set the mood for the program. In my workshops to librarians, I also tell them to give themselves permission to go with their strengths. If they feel most comfortable with felt stories, go heavy with felt stories. If they like musical activities, sprinkle a lot of music throughout. Don’t feel that you have to do everything. For example, I like oral storytelling and music but I’m not comfortable with puppets. So, I finally told myself, I don’t feel like I need puppets. For those who like puppets, go for it.

What advice can you offer storytime leaders for preventing kids and their parents from getting distracted?

Add variety to a story program and keep it moving. Don’t read more than two books in a row without adding an activity like a song or fingerplay or everyone-stand-and-move activity. Keep up your own energy and that will influence the audience. If there are some kids/parents who are not into what you are doing, don’t worry. Focus on the kids who are totally with you. I’ve often been surprised by kids who I didn’t think were having a good time come up to me afterwards and talk about a book or activity we shared together.

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Fighting fake news: a frank conversation with Nicole A. Cooke

Nicole A. Cooke, a Library Journal Mover & Shaker, believes that the current flood of fake news and dubious information represents a golden opportunity for libraries. Her new ALA Editions Special Report Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Era shows how librarians can make a difference. In this interview she talks about why information literacy is a key skill for all news consumers.

Information literacy seems to be one of those perpetually timeless topics, and there are dozens of books about it out there already. What motivated you to write this book, and how did you take a fresh approach to the topic?  

I was an academic instruction librarian before becoming faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so I have worked with information literacy strategies for a long time, and I have read many of the books! I am also an information behavior scholar (I.e., how  people seek, avoid, and use information). Information literacy is absolutely a form of information seeking and use which has a particular emphasis on pedagogy, in that we are trying to instruct people how to be better and more efficient information evaluators and consumers. Specifically, I have been long been interested in affective information behavior (how emotions impact people’s information behaviors and patterns).

As fake news reached its fever pitch I saw really intelligent people sharing fake news on social media, not because their intelligence failed them in any way, but because they were personally invested in the message and/or the person/source of the information. Another thing that I noticed is that people shared chart from IFLA showing how to spot fake newsinformation without reading the content, which is a result of trusting a source, but is also indicative of information overload, or being inundated with information and not always knowing how to deal with it our parse it out in such a way that automatically weeds out the bad stuff. The plethora of information also makes it easy to dismiss or avoid information that makes them angry, fearful, frustrated, uncomfortable in any way.

I wrote this book because I wanted to explore the emotional/affective investment people have in the information they consume and share, and see if that exploration can impact how information professionals teach and learn about fake news.

When it comes to strong research and evaluation skills, are there generational differences between kids and their parents?

I think so, but I think kids and their parents have more in common than not, particularly when it comes to the emotional investments in messages or groups, and their capacities to be better and savvier consumers of information. I think the main differences manifest in the mode of delivery and consumption of information – meaning kids likely spend more time online and have many more online sources and apps to consult. Their parents may still be reading newspapers and watching television news and may have a better sense of source credibility. Of course, there are exceptions to all these rules!  

The ease with which many of us are hoodwinked by phony information seems directly tied to the sheer glut of information that bombards us all day long. What advice can you offer to help people be more discerning about what information they consume?

  • Be skeptical and don’t take everything you see at face value. A lot of us are very entranced in filter bubbles and echo chambers (i.e., we so carefully curate our information and social media feeds, we miss a lot of information, including conflicting information). It’s easy to fall into a lull that convinces us that we’re receiving quality information all the time. We need to read more broadly.
  • Take the time to examine the information before absorbing it; question it. Manually inspect the information, as opposed to relying on browser plug-ins and other tools designed to automatically detect fake news.
  • Also, question your reaction to the information. Are you dismissing it because it’s not factual or comes from an unfamiliar source, or because it makes you uncomfortable?

What are a few telltale signs that a “news” story you’re reading online may not be news at all?

  • Extravagant headlines – headlines that use flowery, inflammatory, and/or absolutist words.
  • Ask yourself: have I seen the story anywhere else? Triangulation (finding the story in at least 3 places) can help us determine whether a story is fake.
  • Trust your gut. Does something seem off or unbelievable about the story? Check the date on the story. Ask yourself: do I recognize the website? Is the site overrun with ads?
  • Click the link! Take the time to read the story before sharing it and see what it’s all about. Clickbait headlines usually don’t match the content.
  • If you’re still not sure, check the hoax busting and fact checking sites.

People don’t necessary appreciate being told that the article they just read was actually made up. How book cover for Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Eracan library staff share methods to help library users think critically about information without offending or irritating them?

I think being proactive is something that will work in our favor here. If we can share informal strategies and techniques for information evaluation (such as displaying the posters and infographics in the back of the report) we can work towards keeping ideas in the forefront of people’s minds. So, the next time they see something questionable, they might remember that dramatic and/or absolutist headlines are fishy, and that might lead them to check the date of the article or look to see if it appears someplace else. Just as we do passive programming, dealing with fake news lends itself to passive education; and we can of course continue to conduct instruction sessions and workshops.

Another way to address this is not to approach susceptibility to fake news as a deficit (e.g., you fell for the hoax because you didn’t know any better); rather, we might approach it from the angle that fake news, misinformation, and disinformation are increasingly sophisticated and are so pervasive, it’s hard to negotiate everything we come across. We’ve all been victims of fake news at one time or another. It’s another area that requires our vigilance and attention.

Learn more in the new ALA Editions Special Report.

How can libraries transform and thrive? Dorothy Stoltz and James Kelly on successful collaboration

How does a library amplify the skills and enthusiasm of its staff while also identifying what the community wants? In their new book Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Community, Dorothy Stoltz and her coauthors Gail Griffith, James Kelly, Muffie Smith, and Lynn Wheeler argue that adhering to a handful of straightforward principles will point the way forward. We spoke with Stoltz, director for community engagement at the Carroll County (MD) Public Library, and Kelly, library director of Frederick Public Libraries (MD), about their prescriptions for library success.

How did the book come together?  What was your starting point?

Dorothy Stoltz: People inside and outside the profession ponder whether libraries are on the verge of becoming extinct.  My experiences at Carroll County Public Library and observations of many other libraries demonstrate the opposite result. However, not all librarians are awake to the kinds of tenets that can nearly guarantee long-term success.  I wanted to pull together a team of colleagues who promote and activate a strong, thriving relationship between their library and their community. The starting point was to write a book that debunks the notion that libraries are coming to an end. A library is not just a wonderful resource, but also a crucial component in any community that values the talents of its individual residents.  A library can thrive only if the community as a whole thrives.  If a community is declining, its library may well be declining, too. Yet the library can be a source for reinvigoration, if it can inspire its citizens. 

James Kelly: Dorothy was part of some truly inspiring work that was taking place at Carroll County Public Library and she was starting to note some trends in libraries across the state of Maryland and nationwide. She invited co-authors to consider questions about our own practice and to share examples. In this way, the book started to take shape.

What are some positive examples from the book of library leaders who have found ways to set the right tone for library staff?

DS: A great exponent of a thriving community was Benjamin Franklin – one of my library heroes – who sought to bring out the best in himself and in others in order to improve the community. Today, we have library leaders such as Felton Thomas, Cleveland Public Library director, who practices the golden rule by treasuring the people he serves and thus discovering that they – no matter their walk of life – in turn use and support CPL. Brian Bannon, commissioner of Chicago Public Library, practices how to make room for creativity and apply enthusiasm through experimentation and patience – striving to help uplift the community a day at a time, a person at a time. This is where Franklin is such a wonderful role model.  This book is something of a wakeup call, to be applied in different ways in different communities, but always with the idea of transformation. Imagine Plato being called in to rescue a library from dullness. What would he do?  Perhaps the library should be declared a “no dullness zone.”

JK: I think the conversation in chapter two about the importance of values is critical for library leaders who want to undertake culture change in their organizations. Strategic plans are important, but they are short term and concerned only with “what we do.” More important than the “what” in my opinion is naming the “how.” Values set the expectation we have for ourselves and for our teams, for the experience we want our internal and external customers to have, for how we will interact with our community partners. Naming and committing to those values is a powerful exercise. Hiring with those values in mind is the quickest way to affect culture change. Values are also the bar to which leadership should hold themselves accountable. As a piano in the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimoreleaders, if we live these values, staff see that and that helps us set the tone. If we name those values, but conduct ourselves counter to those values, staff will see it and we erode morale and trust.    

Can you offer a few tips for leading a productive brainstorming session?

DS: Brainstorming is often used to generate a list of ways to solve a problem with the hope to find one workable solution. It may be helpful to up the ante by viewing brainstorming as an act of creativity. Human creativity is not confined to artists, musicians, writers, or inventors. Creative thinking is about challenging our assumptions. It’s important to note that many of us may think of “challenge” as criticism, when it is actually constructive help.  In conducting a brainstorming session, you might consider discussion prompts, such as, how many alternate ways of thinking can be generated?  And, after a promising answer appears, keep asking, “What is possible?” Anyone who enriches a discussion or conversation with wisdom, respect, and dignity is creative. By challenging our assumptions or traditions, we can spark curiosity in ourselves and others in order to find several top-notch solutions. We don’t accept the first encouraging solution, but pay attention to possibility – and thus we can discover an answer far superior than we at first imagined. A library in the role of community anchor can be a great stimulus to creative thinking and activity.

One of your chapters is about taking intelligent risks.  How do you define that?

DS: Librarians are far more experienced in intelligent risk-taking than we might realize. The Latin origin of the word “intelligent” means “the power of discerning.” The Proto-Indo-European origin of the work “risk” means “to leap, climb.” Putting these words together we can define “intelligent risk-taking” as using our ability to discern how to overcome obstacles that seem to be in the way. In other words, we can develop the skill to ask the right questions to prevent short-sightedness and help us think through and understand the book cover for Transform and Thrive: Ideas to Invigorate Your Library and Your Communityobstacles. Each situation requires a different approach and its own set of questions. For example, Bob Kuntz, director of operations and innovation, Carroll County Public Library, asks questions that help staff think through the risks with new and emerging technologies. How might our customers benefit?  Is this a fad or does it have staying power? What should we invest in? What has the best chance of success?

JK: You want to make sure to be aware of the priorities of elected officials. In my experience the alignment of the values of the community, library board, and staff together lay the foundation for taking intelligent risks.  Decisions made which are in alignment with those priorities and values – even if they seem to run counter to traditional views of library service or roles – are intelligent risks to take.  

What’s one of the most persistent barriers to collaboration, and can you give some advice for overcoming it?

JK: One of the most persistent barriers is one that has been with organizations, not just libraries, forever. It has to do with communication and our willingness to actively listen, to be vulnerable, to have honest and direct conversations in a profession where many of us go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. I feel there is strength in vulnerability and when we allow ourselves to build trust, then to be vulnerable and speak directly, the bonds that are built between us are strongest. I believe that our work is about people, not about stuff. Our degree of success, in my opinion, rises and falls commensurate with our ability to connect to coworkers and community members. Teams that can do that, can build something great together.

DS: Many of us have a default tendency or habit of focusing on what is wrong in a situation, but if we tap large or abstract ideas of life, such as respect, discernment, and helpfulness, we can stay in tune with the bigger picture. We can develop a habit and steady attitude of looking for what is right – we don’t ignore problems and challenges, but we try to see the good in people and think about how to correct issues.

Learn more about their book at the ALA Store.

Finding answers to legal questions: an interview with Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson

More people than ever are using the library to obtain legal information and legal research advice, and library staff need to be able to serve these users efficiently and confidently. Veteran law librarians Virginia M. Tucker and Marc Lampson just published an update of Finding the Answers to Legal Questions, their benchmark text. We caught up with them to hear their perspective on what's new in the field and to get some handy reference tips.

About seven years elapsed between the first edition and this new second edition. When it comes to legal information, what do you think have been the biggest changes in the landscape?

It appears to us that all law libraries - academic, government, public - continue to cut back on subscriptions to hard copy resources, so people with limited resources for paid, online research are left more and more out of the information cycle, at least for value-added secondary sources. On the other hand, "free" online sources from the federal and state governments have continued to improve in terms of availability, timeliness, reliability, and to some extent, searchability.

In many ways, a legal reference interview can be one of the trickiest interactions library staff can face. Can you offer some tips that staff can use up front to smooth the way for a successful encounter?

Often people think they have a legal problem, in part resolvable by finding the law, when in fact they don't have a problem for which the law can provide a remedy. Conversely, people often do not recognize that at example of an internet search reult for legal resourcesthe root of a life problem is a legal problem. We think this is particularly true in health care sorts of problems. So the first and perhaps trickiest question is to try to verify that the problem the patron is presenting you with is in fact one that can be researched in the law. Once that question is answered, the sailing should be smoother.

In your book, you make it a point to differentiate legal advice from legal information. Why?

The book is directed, at least in part, to librarians or students soon to be librarians. Traditionally, librarians have been prohibited from providing legal advice. A librarian can lead a patron to the source, but not interpret or advise on how to use that source. Therefore, when helping someone with a legal question, a librarian has to keep in mind the distinction between advice and information. Often, the line is clear. Sometimes, it is not.

Marc Lampson: My position as the Public Services Attorney at a public law library was designed to overcome this conundrum because as both lawyer and librarian I could help people not only find the law but work with them, for instance, in finding appropriate documents or forms and filling them out and telling them how to proceed.

Sometimes library staff will realize during an interview that the patron is going to need assistance that’s beyond the purview of the library, such as finding a lawyer or free legal help. What advice can you offer about connecting a patron to these resources? And how can libraries familiarize themselves with the organizations that exist in their communities?

The safest, surest path is to find out if your county has a bar association. County bar associations, at least in more populated areas, will frequently provide free legal clinics for people and will also provide lawyer referrals. These referrals are fairly reliable because they are not motivated by the organization's profit motive, of which there usually isn't one, because these organizations are usually nonprofits. If the county does not have a robust bar association, the next possibility is the state bar association. There will be one in every state. These will not always have lawyer referral services, but will often have searchable lists of active attorneys, sometimes book cover for inding the Answers to Legal Questions, Second Editionsearchable by legal specialty or legal focus of the attorney or firm. A library can familiarize themselves with these organizations through good online searching, but also a number of the legal services organizations in the community may list various agencies in the area that can provide legal assistance. These organization often maintain a website with "Law Help" in the name, often preceded by the name of the state, e.g., Washington Law Help, or just to be contrary Law Help California. If you cannot locate one of these sites for your state quickly and easily, you can track one down by going to Pro Bono Net..

What are some ways librarians can keep up to date with changes in legal information and sources?

Other librarians, always. And any law library/librarian organizations, local and national. Join them. For example, in Marc's area there is the Law Librarians of Puget Sound (LLOPS). Nationally, the "big one" is the American Association of Law Libraries. A "standard" in the field is the Legal Information Buyer's Guide & Reference Manual by Kendall F. Svengalis, available at

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Ensuring libraries' future through sustainable thinking: an interview with Rebekkah Smith Aldrich

For the past several years the library world has been abuzz with the concept of "sustainable thinking." Yes, we all want to help the environment and also ensure that libraries are on board too. But beyond being just a feel-good catchphrase, how does sustainable thinking translate into concrete action? Rebekkah Smith Aldrich explores exactly that in her new book, and in this interview she discusses how many libraries are taking the initiative in areas ranging from community outreach and programming to building design. 

You’ve done quite a bit of writing for various publications, including your regular column for Library Journal, but this is your first book. What was different about doing this kind of long-form piece? What were your biggest challenges?

At first, I thought to myself, no problem, it’s just like writing a series of articles like I do for Library Journal. I did the math, figured out my word count and went for it. But that approach really didn’t work. There is an element of storytelling necessary to make the case, build buy-in and inspire people to keep reading so they are primed for the work ahead.

It took me several tries to find the right “arc” to the story. Each chapter required that I have a plan, that I was purposefully helping the reader walk through the story as it had evolved for me over the past decade. Ensuring I carried the thread throughout the work rather than writing several 800-word essays that might come across as disjoined was important. The work was to balance the enormity of the topic with a call to action that then led the reader to pragmatic steps that library leaders could relate to, regardless of the size of their library. Keeping things simple, well-defined and justified definitely took more time than I had anticipated. 

How did your experience as a founding member of New York Library Association’s Sustainability Initiative guide your book?

Thanks to the NYLA Sustainability Initiative (NYLA-SI) I have had the opportunity to think out loud and to get honest feedback from my peers. That was incredibly helpful while writing the book. I would throw ideas out VENN DIAGRAM DEPICTING THE DEFINITION OF THE TRIPLE BOTTOM LINEthere sometime and get the thumbs up, other times… crickets. That’s when I knew I wasn’t connecting on a particular point. That peer feedback has been invaluable.

The other great thing about the SI is that I get invited to speak on the topic all over the state. I’ve been able to fine tune my talking points and get real time reactions from hundreds of library leaders – directors, staff and trustees. It has also meant that I have a front row seat to what is going on around our state and get first-hand accounts of what’s working, what’s not and what challenges leaders are coming up against. That inspires me to ensure the work I’m doing is as relevant as possible. The theory of this stuff really only gets us so far. If library leaders don’t have examples to draw from, success stories to point to and sparks of inspiration to get them going we can’t accelerate fast enough to meet the challenges that are facing us.

What we routinely hear from library leaders after an introductory workshop is: “What do I do next?” That drove me to stop just pontificating and our committee has really thought through how a library leader would proceed. We are talking about a huge mindset shift for not just individuals but whole institutions. While I have great faith in my colleagues to do this work, we can all use some help and guidance to accelerate the pace of what needs to happen. There is a definitely sense of urgency that is lacking in the profession. If people feel too overwhelmed they will be immobilized. The experience with NYLA-SI has taught me to break it down into bite-sized chunks and develop step-by-step assistance to help library leaders ramp up on the issue.

The NYLA-SI has been a huge reality check for me: even in the face of such a large topic we must keep things simple.  
One of the foundational ideas in your book is that the sustainability of libraries, which is extremely dependent on things like community support and visionary leadership, has a close relationship to the sustainability of our planet. Would you briefly explain why you believe the two are so intertwined?

As Rachel Carson famously said in Silent Spring, “Nothing in nature exists alone.” Libraries do not exist alone. Library leaders do not exist alone. We are all connected to the wider world around us. As libraries we need to be embedded, in an authentic and meaningful way, into the lives of those we serve. That means understanding the status of the building blocks of life, that means awareness of the wider world around us. The library is how we translate our desire to be of service to our fellow citizens. We cannot be relevant if we do not understand what people are currently dealing with or facing in the future.

If we are to truly convey to those we serve that we care about their well-being and that we are trusted institution that are good stewards of their trust and tax dollars there needs to be an inherent commitment in our libraries to environmental sustainability. If we are careless with natural resources, if we do not respectfully dispose of unwanted items, if we do not help to educate others of the effects of our actions on the natural world there will not be much left for us to do in a few decades other than disaster response. We will be on the front lines of helping more and more citizens with what may have been preventable problems or issues we should have learned to adapt to.
At a time when it seems like many libraries are stuck in a perpetual battle for survival, a yearly fight just to stave off cuts in funding, how do issues like social equity and justice come into play?

It’s tough out there, financially, politically and socially. The only way forward on any of those topics – for both PLATFORM FOR SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITY INVESTMENTlibraries and communities – is for libraries to actively co-create communities in which citizens have respect, understanding and empathy for one another.

Funding doesn’t come from a machine, it comes from people. Whether that be from direct taxpayer decisions in the voting booth, municipal governments that allocate a portion of their budget or private donations – people are behind the decisions about library funding.

Library leaders are responsible for not only creating library services and programs that inspire the community to invest in the library, but to work collaboratively with their neighbors to help their community thrive. The coalition building, the partnerships that help realize shared goals in the community – that is what inspires opinion leaders and decision makers to invest scarce tax dollars into our libraries. You can’t only venture out of your library and speak to others when you need something. You need to be genuinely invested in the community’s success and a community cannot be successful if it is not socially equitable.

In the book there is a chapter on what I call the “Three Es of Sustainable Libraries”: Empower, Engage, Energize. These three actions describe how library leaders should approach their work to inspire people inside of the library organization and community members. In twenty years what I have observed is that this attitude in how we interact with others has a fascinating energy exchange – if your work is focused on empowering, engaging and energizing others they, in turn, will do the same for your library. I have found this to be a “secret ingredient” for many of the most successful libraries I have worked with. 

What are some pieces of advice you can offer libraries about more effectively demonstrating and communicating their importance to the communities they serve?

First I believe we need to “walk the walk.” We cannot just tell people we are committed to intellectual freedom, diversity, social responsibility or the other Core Values of Librarianship – we need to “live it.” Our policies and practices should reflect our commitment to these values. How we spend funds on behalf of the community should reflect our commitment to these values. The partnerships, programs and services we create should reflect our commitment to these values.

Examples of this can include simple things, like the food we serve at events – is it healthy? Locally sourced? – to more complicated things like how we operate our facilities or how we build new facilities. Is human health obviously valued in these choices? Are natural resources respectfully utilized? Are we humane to our staff? Do they make a living wage? Do they have access to affordable healthcare? Are our services and programs designed to advance larger community goals? Do our boards of trustees reflect the diversity of the community that we serve? These are just a handful of examples of the non-verbal choices we make that communicate what kind of organization we are.

In traditional communication channels – annual reports to the community, newsletters, social media – it is imperative that we, ourselves, state why we do the things that we do. I feel libraries make too many assumptions about what the community-at-large truly understand about the work that we do. We need to state that we are contributing to economic development by doing x, y, x. We need to clearly articulate our values. If we don’t do it, no one else will. There is no one else but ourselves to blame for our mushy messaging over the past twenty years. We need to get better at this, and fast, if we want to continue to maintain and grow our capacity to be a positive force in the world. That is a major theme of the book and I spend a lot of time delving into this.
What are some promising changes in the library world that give you hope for the future?

I see so many awesome things happening in our world right now! A great example is that the fine free debate is finally graduating from a financial issue to a social equity issue. I am so impressed by my book copver for Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain Worldcolleagues who have stood up for their communities to make the case that fines are a barrier to access for children in poverty.

The Living Building Challenge was on the cover of Library Journal last year, that is a huge statement that the library profession is paying attention to the right things. I’m also keeping my eye on Hayward (CA)’s 21st Century Library project; when completed, Hayward’s new library will be among the largest “Zero Net Energy” public buildings in the nation.

The makerspace/breakerspace/repair café movement is so inspiring. I love that we are challenging people of all ages in our communities to learn how things work, to fix their own stuff, to create and invent new things and methods. In the book I talk about how critical it will be for us to inspire people to work together to find community-based solutions so we can adapt in the face of some pretty severe disruptions that are headed our way (and some are already here). We cannot be effective at this unless we cultivate a spirit of innovation and collaborative problem solving. I get seriously annoyed when I hear library leaders that are dismissive of this trend as just the latest “shiny.” This is one of the greatest examples of how libraries empower their communities and future generations. It is one of the best talking points out there of how libraries contribute to sustainable, resilient and, ultimately, regenerative communities.

The number one thing that gives me hope is the spirit and fortitude of my colleagues and the volunteer trustees that govern our libraries. People who keep trying. People who keep innovating. People who keep fighting for the right things on behalf of those we serve. We are all in this together, both in library world and more important, in the big wide world around us. Libraries are critical partners to the success of our communities and it is an exhilarating time to be a part of this work.

Sustainable Thinking: Ensuring Your Library’s Future in an Uncertain World is available at the ALA Store

Mary Grace Flaherty on promoting health at the library

As trusted guardians of facts and knowledge, libraries play an important role in providing their communities with accurate health information. Furthermore, as Mary Grace Flaherty writes in her new book, taking the initiative to offer health promotion programming is a valuable form of community outreach, serving community needs while increasing visibility. In this interview we discuss the consumer health movement and how it intersects with public libraries. 

What inspired you to write this book? Why is this topic so important to you?

I started my library career as a reference librarian at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. While I was there, I learned the immeasurable impact of timely, authoritative health information on health care provision and research.  Later in my career, as the director of a small public library in rural Upstate New a drawing that represents the interlocking nature of patient-provider interaction, self-care, health literacy, and health informationYork, I realized the need for accurate health information was just as important in that setting. I also observed during my tenure as director that public libraries have great potential as community partners. I wrote the book to provide resources and templates, and to highlight and promote the role public libraries play in health initiatives.   
We were really struck by a figure you quoted in the introduction: nearly half of all Americans are estimated to be functionally illiterate in terms of dealing with health care issues. What’s the consequence of that for libraries?

As information providers and community resources, libraries are uniquely situated to assist patrons with acquiring and evaluating health information resources, and get many opportunities per year to do so. If we consider libraries as organizations that assist with all types of literacy training, the consequences are two-fold. First, libraries can assist through materials provision, by acquiring current materials and assuring resources are kept up-to-date and available in plain language and at reading levels patrons can understand. They can also guide patrons to credible online resources like MedlinePlus. In addition, they can initiate programs to address specific patron health needs, such as signing up for health care.
The issue of health care, in general, has been so politicized in the last decade. What advice can you offer libraries who want to serve their communities but encounter objections or resistance?

As with any issue that may engender controversy, libraries should approach health care by first considering their community’s needs. There are many aspects of health and health promotion that are not political; for example, we know that obesity plays a role in diabetes prevalence, and that exercise can help prevent obesity. If the library is situated in a community with a high rate of diabetes among youth, they may consider offering programs that incorporate physical activity for youth. This way, the library can contribute to addressing health concerns in a transparent manner, and positively respond to community challenges.
For libraries who are ready to collaborate with community organizations, what are some first steps to take?

The first step is to get out into the community and meet the key players in the health arena. These may book cover for Promoting Individual and Community Health at the Libraryinclude the folks at the local clinic or regional medical center and local governmental agencies, such as the Public Health department and the Recreation and Parks department. The library could host a community forum and invite these key players for an open discussion about addressing pressing health care needs.
Which resources would you recommend for staying up to date with developments in health information, and learning about what other libraries are doing across the country?

The National Library of Medicine’s consumer health website, is the best starting place for keeping up to date. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has a wide array of free tools. There are a number of well-established initiatives under way, such as WebJunction’s Health Happens in Libraries that provide free resources, and ALA and PLA are also a great place to find support for health programs. 

Learn more about ways to promote individual and community health in Flaherty's book, available through the ALA Store.

LGBTQAI+ books for children and teens: an interview with Christina Dorr and Liz Deskins

There is a rich and varied body of literature for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, asexual/allied and intersexed young people; in fact, within the past decade there has been a veritable explosion of new titles. A new book, LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All, surveys the landscape, not only spotlighting dozens of recommended books but also offering guidance on how to share them with young people. We caught up with authors Christina Dorr and Liz Deskins to talk with them about how their book came together, ways in which reading builds empathy, and some "desert island" picks for their favorite LGBTQAI+ lit. 

So, this is your second book together. What was the genesis of the project? Was anything different about your collaboration this time around?

We are both passionate about human rights issues, and gay rights is a large part of that. It was amazing ALA at 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade; photo by American Librariesserendipity that we were at the ALA Annual conference in San Francisco in 2015 on the day the Supreme Court handed down the ruling making marriage legal for same sex couples. We saw the celebrations in the streets and the Pride Parade, and realized that the time had come to provide a resource that would support and encourage public and school librarians, as well as classroom teachers to provide and share quality LGBTQAI+ literature with their patrons and students. This book was an amazing collaboration, as we both worked on all chapters, adding titles and annotations. Some of the ancillary portions, we divided and conquered.

Why is this topic so personally important to both of you?

This book was truly a labor of love for both of us. We each have someone near and dear to us in the gay community and saw the challenges they faced growing up. In a joyous event last summer, Liz’s son married his partner in a legal marriage. As school librarians we do our best to choose books to be windows and doors for all of our students. We believe in the power of empathy and understanding through good literature, and are hopeful this book will encourage other librarians to make these books available as well.

You’ve mentioned that LGBTQAI+ books act as mirrors and windows—what do you mean by that?

This is a concept put forward by Ohio State University professor emeritus, Rudine Sims Bishop, under which we both studied. She contends that It is so important for children to be able to see themselves in book cover for LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for Allbooks, to know that they are not alone. But it is just as important they read books where they see characters different from themselves. Reading builds empathy and understanding, two qualities worth cultivating.

What advice can you offer libraries that are dealing with community objections to LGBTQAI+ books or outreach? Or who may be self-censoring to avoid potential conflicts?

Our job is not to only promote those books we like or find interesting; our job is to present a whole and balanced curated collection of materials. In this case, the issue is respect and basic human rights for everyone. Sexuality and gender identity are types of diversity, among many, but neither of these are the impetus of for this book, or the books we suggest. Everyone has a right to see themselves in a book, or their family, or their friends. And everyone has the right to be treated with understanding, empathy, and respect. Our book shares quality titles, conversation starters, and other resources that could assist in the defense of the book, if you should need it.

Okay, desert island time! If you could choose only three LGBTQAI+ titles to recommend, what would they be?

Christina’s picks: This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman (for young children), The Best Man by Richard Peck (for middle grade children), and Queer, Here, There, and Everywhere by Sarah Prager (for teens); Liz’s picks: The Straight Line Wonder by Mem Fox (for young children), The Misfits by James Howe (for middle grade children), and Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (for high school).

Learn more about the book at the ALA Store.

Building literacy skills through creative writing: a conversation with AnnMarie Hurtado

Decades of research show that children learn to read through writing. Creative writing in particular encourages children's'imaginations to take flight. In this way, a form of play can also build literacy skills. First-time author AnnMarie Hurtado explains this approach in her new book 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to Zebras.

So … your first book! Congrats! What was it like? And what did you find the hardest about the process? How did you stay motivated?

I really loved working with ALA Editions. I would love to write for you again. Jamie Santoro was my acquiring editor and she was a gem, offering a lot of feedback and support throughout the writing. And my hats off to Angela Gwizdala, who has been taking the draft and all my ideas for the handouts, and working with the designers to make everything come together!

I submitted a proposal to ALA Editions in late 2016, and after my proposal for the book was accepted, I dove into the research. I wanted to know all about how creative writing impacts children’s development of reading fluency and overall academic success. The things I learned for the writing of this book have continued to benefit my work at the library to this day. I have tried as often as possible to share those insights with parents who come to the library. I think that’s what kept me motivated, to tell the truth; the feeling that this book needed to be written. The more I read about how reading and writing go hand in hand, the more I sensed I was hitting on something librarians are not told enough in library school. We don’t get a lot of training on how people learn to read, but teachers do, and through organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English I was able to tap into an ocean of materials going back to the 1980s on the connection between reading and writing.

Research was a lot of fun, and it was all-consuming for about two months. I had numerous ILLs and lengthy visits to Pasadena City College Shatford Library. I would say that knowing how to do research and find current and historical information on a topic is a great skill for any writer, and that if you’re a librarian who has considered making the leap into writing and publishing, you should know you already have a strong skill set that will help you, not to mention a supportive community of fellow librarians (like the librarian who helped me at PCC).

The hardest part was probably switching from research mode to writer mode. Jamie often counseled me that the research was great, but I needed to also find my own voice and convey my own insights. Her help was invaluable. I worked hard on it in whatever snatches of time I could find at home, on weekends, in coffee houses, in libraries, and in the break room on my lunch breaks at work. The bulk of the writing took about six months. Having a detailed proposal at the start ensured that I never had writer’s block. It just wasn’t always easy finding time (because I have two small children at home). Fortunately I had supportive family who were able to lend a hand now and then.

How did your work at the Pasadena (California) Public Library inspire this book?

When I started working in the Youth Services department of the Pasadena Central Library five years ago as a children’s librarian, I was putting on writing workshops for tweens using prompts inspired by good middle grade books. Having a young daughter of my own I started to notice a gap in the programs libraries provide to kids as they age out of traditional preschool programs and yet are too young for advanced tween programs like some of the STEAM programs I did or the writing workshops. In many ways children in kindergarten and 1st grade are also a little too young for traditional book clubs or book discussions. The primary grades are difficult to reach because kids are becoming independent readers and writers, and yet the books they are interested in are too hard to read. Instead, craft programs tend to be the afterschool program of choice for public libraries wishing to offer something to early elementary school kids, and it’s not hard to see why—it gives them fine motor skill development while also giving them range to learn and express their creativity.

drawing of creative writing lessonBut when their older siblings were signing up for our tween creative writing workshops, many younger kids and their parents were disappointed that they were considered too young to write stories. They knew what I would soon learn—that they were old enough to make up stories of their own. I realized I needed to develop something that would be more catered to the primary grade student’s growing abilities. I started a creative writing program just for kids 5-8 years old. I’d choose a picture book, print out clip art and coloring pages, and spread the printed images all over the tables, along with scissors, glue, crayon and markers. I bought blank books for kids to make their own stories, which they illustrated with those glued-in clip art printouts. Having the images sometimes helped kids to come up with something fun to write about. It was almost like a craft program about making your own book.

I saw kids who hardly spoke a word of English at our first meeting come every month to draw, cut and paste, and write a few words, and within six months they were writing their own funny sentences in English, inspired by the books we read. I saw boys and girls collaborate on exciting pirate stories the same way I did when I was a kid playing with my sisters. And it struck me that this sort of creative writing program was something that other libraries could benefit from, replicate, and modify, to reach our goal of promoting literacy—Talking, Singing, Playing, Reading, and WRITING.

Yes: one mantra you repeat throughout the book is that children learn to read by writing. At what age do you get kids started? And as librarians and educators, *how* do we start?

I’ll include parents in this as well: as soon as your child can hold a pencil or crayon, start asking them to tell you what they are drawing and helping them to write it down. Ask the child to tell you stories and write the stories down for them. Model writing for them—be an adult who writes and who models for your child how valuable it can be to be able to express something important by scrawling symbols on paper. Then encourage them to write down their own stories and letters without help (these stories will look like illegible scribbles at first). Ask them to read the stories to you. And of course, read, read, read to them often.

One of the researchers and authors whose work was immensely important to me as I was researching this book was Lucy McCormick Calkins, who wrote about how reading and writing develop hand in hand, around the same time in a child’s life. Invented spellings, for example, (writing “pupe” to indicate a puppy) is an important step in the learning process for the development of decoding skills. Just as crawling precedes walking and babbling precedes talking, scribbling and invented spellings indicate a person who is well on their way to becoming truly literate. We can talk about the phonetics of the words but it is very important that we not discourage kids. We are here to help them to appreciate books and add their own ideas to the world of literature, and through that engagement they will develop their ability to read and write, to construct meaning. Kids have to feel that their early efforts at writing are meaningful and fun, just as babies need to feel that their early attempts at communication are giving them connection with their parents. You don’t understand everything your five-month-old is saying, but by pretending you do, you show them that you are listening and you care. Do the same thing with your five-year-old’s writing. That connection is what’s most important for the young child; refinements such as standard spelling will come with practice.

I’m sure some children’s librarians are thinking, gee, kids can get really rambunctious! So when you’re doing a storytime, how do you channel that energy productively into creative writing activities?

It’s certainly a challenge, yes! I recommend involving the kids in a group writing activity or a group brainstorming activity, and letting it be as long and as energetic as possible. Spend at least ten minutes on the group writing (and if you can spend longer that’s great!). Get their ideas flowing. Ask the kids lots of questions. Let them be the experts and you the scribe. Get your pen flying all over the whiteboard to capture their suggestions. If you are enthusiastic and focused, you will help to ignite and focus the children’s enthusiasm. And after they have been focused on the group writing activity for at least ten minutes, they’ll be ready to do some individual writing. The room will not likely be a quiet one—kids will be talking, sharing their ideas, asking you questions. My workshops are usually very noisy, but vibrant!

I also recommend making the writing activity as “crafty” as possible for the kids. Give them supplies to color, cut, glue. Break out the glitter now and then. Kids need to have a variety of activities available, and they need a wide range of artistic expression when illustrating their stories.

When working with older children, how do you vary the approach?

Older kids don’t need quite so many different segments or activities in their workshops—they can focus on writing for a longer time, and they rarely need to do illustrations. But I think the really surprising thing is how much of the approach is actually the same for older kids. Instead of cute blank books I give them legal pads, but many of the writing prompts I give them are similar to what I’d give the younger kids. That might be because I never like to underestimate what younger kids can do.

book cover for 36 Workshops to Get Kids Writing: From Aliens to ZebrasOlder kids don’t need quite as much help or scaffolding when it comes to generating their stories or writing things down, but the use of a mentor text to center our discussion on the writer’s craft is essentially the same approach with both groups. I always read excerpts from stories at the very beginning—usually from a middle grade novel, but not always. A picture book can be a surprisingly effective mentor text for teaching older kids advanced concepts about writing, such as plot. It’s hard to break down the plot of a novel in a fifteen-minute discussion, but it’s not so hard with a picture book. So several of the picture-book-based writing workshops in my book will actually work quite well even with older kids. For example, one of my workshops uses the picture book Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae as the center of a lesson on The Hero’s Journey. Once they make the connection to their favorite hero stories from other books and movies, older kids are generally able to learn the steps and then get to work crafting their own epic plots. I’ve also used the poetry workshops from this book with older kids, and they loved it.

I have an adult friend who has special needs, and every other week we get together to do some creative writing. It gives her practice with her reading and writing skills so that someday she can get her GED. Sometimes I use workshops from this book. She and I are currently writing a very funny story about her and her dog getting in a time machine and ending up on a medieval battlefield. We read books about knights for research and inspiration, and then we take turns writing alternate sentences of the story. It’s an approach I’ve used with kids that seems to be surprisingly effective with my adult friend. Perhaps approaches don’t have to vary quite so much by age or grade level—perhaps at our core, we’re all creative beings who enjoy stretching our imaginations to write something funny and weird and nonsensical every now and then.

Lastly, one chapter in your book is titled “All You Need Is a TERRIBLE Idea” … what’s the idea behind that?

As I was compiling my list of picture books and ideas for writing prompts for my book proposal, I noticed something—many of the really funny picture books I love are about characters doing something silly or foolish, or putting two things together that normally aren’t. And it just started to make sense to me: all you need for a good story is a really terrible idea. Books like that were easy to create writing activities for, because they work on an imaginative sort of logic that prompts multitudes of possibilities. But I also noticed that those silly picture books are intrinsically appealing to kids, and that if you give a kid a book about something that makes no sense, they will be curious to see what happens and will anticipate laughs and fun along the way. Furthermore, if you give a kid a writing prompt that is rooted in nonsense, you free the kid’s imagination to do anything they like with that premise—imagining a parade of snails, for example, or trying to teach an alien how to use the toilet. In the end, the child writer bring herself and her ideas to it, and pretty soon she is creating something she never would have dreamed she’d be creating.

Now, some teachers will prefer to encourage kids to just write about themselves and their experiences, and there is definitely a place for that. But when you have a group of kids who don’t know each other, as we usually do at the public library, you have to tickle their funny bones. It’s the quickest way to their creativity!

Read an excerpt from the book at the ALA Store.

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