Authors, Bats, and Space: Library programming lessons for (and from) a beginner

As I mentioned back in early August, I’ve been trying to relaunch my library’s adult programming. Since then I’ve held two programs, set up a third, and sketched out ideas for 15 or so more. I’ll probably learn so much more as time goes on, but I thought I would record some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. Remember, I’m a beginner, so don’t laugh when it comes to my relative ignorance. I will say that I had nightmares about both thanks to all the stress. This has made it really difficult to get excited about planning events, but really I just have to learn to stop putting so much pressure on myself. As Woody Allen says, “80 percent of success is showing up.” Just by having programs, I am calling our programming at least an 80% success, especially since we had roughly zero last year. While it is up to me to get that number as high as I can, it’s nice to rely on at least some measure of success just by having an event for people to show up to. Now I only have 20 more percent to go to reach my lofty goals for myself, so wish me luck!Woody-Allen1 Continue reading

Zen and the Art of Library Programming

Well, as usual, I find that I get so busy at work that I have little time or motivation to keep up this blog. A whole bunch of stuff has kept me busy, but one thing has kept me busy more than others: Library programming.

Programming is the joy and bane of many a librarian, and I am no different. Going above and beyond to offer that next level of service for our patrons is important, but the stress of planning a program can be overwhelming. How will I decide what will draw a crowd? How do I get a speaker to share their knowledge, hopefully for free? Will anyone show up? Will someone complain to the director that my program sucked and they plan to never come to the library again because of it? (I’ve had an actual nightmare about that one!)

And yet, when a program is successful, it feels amazing. And really, as long as one person gets one thing out of a program, it’s a success? Right? There are many ways to rate a program, so many in fact that the topic warrants its own blog post (or many). Thinking about how to define “failure” in terms of programs can be problematic, but worse is refusing to have a program because you are afraid of the many ways a program can be deemed a failure.

According to a chapter in the Library Innovation Toolkit: Ideas, Strategies, and Programs that aims to incorporate Zen teaching into library program planning:

“Nonattachment helps us to try out new ideas even if we may fail, to freely share and collaborate, and to move on when necessary.” p. 9

If you don’t define your identity by your ideas for a program, then it isn’t a huge hit if your program isn’t a success. Why is this important? For me, I find planning programs to be a bit paralyzing. I immediately become a hundred percent committed to and excited about each program idea, often causing me to think of all the possible ways it can (or in my mind, will) fail. I don’t want to see something like that fail, so I sometimes just give up and don’t plan the program at all, choosing instead to stay in the safety net of the tried and true programs that previous colleagues have found successful here.

But this sort of thinking severely limits innovation. Our lives are built around the idea that through failure, we learn. So programming is all about learning to face the fear and being okay with failing. With that in mind, I’ve planned two programs, one in August and one in October. One features local authors and one educates patrons about the importance of bat populations (Get it? Halloween? Bats? Never mind). One or both may fail, but the important thing is to try. Strike that. The important thing is to do:

Awareness and Acceptance: The Library’s role

A library science student came to the library today for help with a project that was quite similar to one I did while pursuing me own degree. In both you have to visit libraries in person and evaluate their services, as well as compare and contrast them. One of her questions was this: What is the mission of your library and who do you serve? My library’s mission statement stresses the need to meet both the entertainment and educational needs of my county’s residents, as well as patrons who come to us from the surrounding areas. As a huge supporter of lifelong learning (it is the source of inspiration for my blog’s name), I love my library’s focus on education. During my conversation with the student, I realized that many have a very narrow understanding of education. Generally, people see education as the structured process by which people earn a piece of paper that certifies that they learned something. This student can be forgiven for her misplaced focus because she is actually a teacher going for her library media specialization, but that’s not how I view lifelong learning at all. Instead, I believe learning is any knowledge acquired through experiences, whether those experiences be reading, watching, listening, or interacting. So when I say the library can support learning, I mean we can support it in more than just providing educational books or movies. Instead, I think the library has a vital role in teaching through example. Although, I think every business has the opportunity to better the world in this way. I was disheartened to see this headline in my own state: “Mother Says Bob Evans Customer Called Police On Her Son With Autism.”

For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit

For more information about the connection between libraries and those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit

When I was a library student, I did several projects on the role libraries can play in supporting those patrons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is actually covers a variety of behavioral disorders that impair speech and ability to interact with others at varying levels. Autism is one, but so is Asperger Syndrome and Rett Syndrome, among others. Through my research I learned that the best way to handle the situation in the link is to offer to help the caretaker, taking care to approach without making eye contact with or touching the ASD individual. Calling the police or trying to restrain or approach the ASD individual are both bad ideas.I developed a website to provide information, resources and readers’ advisory suggestions for librarians seeking to better serve their ASD populations (Be gentle. We were not allowed to use web design techniques not taught in the class, and we had to include several Javascript gimmicks that I hate as well). I also wrote a research paper studying the ways libraries can offer employment opportunities to those on the spectrum and suggesting a pilot partnership program that worked with a school serving autistic children and adults. By serving these patrons we provide acceptance and understanding, as well as an example for those who are unsure how act around those that are different from them.

Those with ASD we can help by accepting and understanding. The American Library Association offers an array of resources focuses on serving those that are different from us in a way that helps our other patrons be more aware and accepting. Here is a list of more resources:

  • Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transexual Roundtable: This subsection of ALA focuses on those whose gender identity differs from the “norm” (I hate that term!), although the norm is thankfully beginning to be more inclusive of everyone.
  • Youth Services and ASD: This link further discusses the role libraries can serve those with ASD, especially youth.
  • Diversity: Libraries can serve as powerful advocates for supporting diversity inside and outside the library. It’s our differences that make us beautiful, whether our differences are visible or under the service, they should be embraced and celebrated.

Support from POTUS: Libraries and Advocacy

President Barack Obama reiterated this week his continued support for libraries. He also announced an initiative to increase access to digital books for children across America. As Obama stated:

“America’s librarians connect our kids to the books and learning resources that inspire us to dream big, and ensure that we set off on a lifetime of learning. And right now, not enough kids have access to those vital learning resources.”

The interview was given at a public library in D.C. and the kid given the task of interviewing the president is incredibly cute. Mr. Obama used the event to outline the two initiatives aimed at supporting childhood literacy: The Open eBooks initiative and the ConnectED Library Challenge. Here’s how the Institute of Museum and Library Services summarize of the programs (IMLS provides grants that promote leadership and advancement of museum and library services):

“The Open eBooks initiative will make over $250 million in popular e-books from major publishers available, for free, to children from low-income families via an app. …ConnectED Library Challenge is a commitment by more than 30 communities to work to put a library card into every student’s hand as soon as they enter school.”

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Enjoying a reference high

A recent reference interaction taught me a valuable lesson last week. That’s the wonder of working in a library: While there are inevitably the same interactions, there is always something new to challenge you. Mixing the familiarity and comfort of answering the same questions with the adrenaline rush of magically discovering the answer to an impossible question gives me perfect job satisfaction. Here is an example of an “impossible” reference interview:

Sometimes you have to remember to say yes, even if you doubt yourself.

When I answered the phone at the desk, a panicked voice explained that she had been surfing various government websites hunting for a very precise bit of information to no avail. Starting at 9 a.m. that morning, she had been trying to find “the percentage of rural population in each county of West Virginia.” She began with, futilely browsing it for two hours before giving up and searching on Google, where she found four different definitions of “rural” and no hard population numbers. By 6 p.m. she was thoroughly frustrated but still desperate to get a crucial piece of evidence for her work.
When she first asked me to help her, I was sure I couldn’t find it. While I had learned to use earlier, the site had been redesigned, and it wasn’t what I would call user-friendly. My first hunch was just to say no. And then I pushed past the doubt and starting looking through, starting with what I thought would be the easiest question: The definition of rural vs. urban. I shared the page I discovered with her and then we read it together. (None of the four websites she had found through Google had the federal definition correct).
Then I pointed out that a linked page held other links to Excel spreadsheets from the 2010 census that referenced rural and urban populations. Elated, she opened the spreadsheet and I heard her groan. I loaded a copy myself and realized it was massive and hard to decipher. I stayed on the line and talked her through pinpointing the relevant columns and rows and how to hide the irrelevant rows so she could print it out and have a two-page hard copy (instead of dozens of useless pages) to better understand the numbers.
From the panic and despair to the final excitement of finding the answer, I couldn’t help grinning like an idiot as she thanked me and we said our goodbyes.
The experience was awesome! The only way I can describe it is as “experiencing a reference high.” She was so happy she was gushing over the phone and I couldn’t help smiling and thanking her for challenging me. For the rest of the day, I would think about the feeling of helping her and start grinning like a fool again. What was my lesson? Doubt can remind you of your limitations, but it should never stop you from trying your best.