Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lessons from the Library: Week 8

For a previous generation the question was 'where were you on Dec. 1, 1941?'  For this generation it is 'where where you on Sept. 11, 2001?'

NYC - 911- DOJ- Public Domain Image
My answer is that I was at work in a library.  It was a normal morning as I arrived at 8 a.m. to the urban library where I was employed as a librarian and programmer.  Opening meant myself and the circulation clerk scurried quickly to get everything done before the 9 am opening. Check in the book drop, count out the money, pull the reserve list, restock the copiers.....

"Did you hear about the plane?" was what the third staffer, a shelving clerk asked as she came in about midway through the process.  "A plane crashed into a building in New York City."

I turned on the sound system because it had a radio unit and we listened as the story was repeated of a this terrible accident, so much like one just a few years before, and then all work slowed as the story shifted to something that was not an accident.

1995 OKC Bombing - Public Domain
Every morning the commuters from the transit bus dribbled off the bus and came to the library to wait for the next bus. Some would do a little surfing before catching the next crosstown connection and some came to do work.  Always little more than three or four people.  

On that morning, the group crowded around the doors waiting for us to open numbered over twenty.  As the doors opened they pushed in and were soon joined by others. All had a single purpose and voiced it the question, "What more do  you know about this thing in New York?"

I hurried to the store room and pulled out the cart with the television on it and set it up in the library so people could watch the coverage.  Reception was always poor in the brick building but no one seemed to mind. I had been in this place before; on April 19, 1995 I had been in a school library in Norman, Oklahoma beginning the day,preparing for teachers and students, when the ground shook.  Turning on the television in the media area to see if there had been a plane crash or explosion the opening acts of the Murrah Federal Building Bombing commenced. 

Now, on this September morning the same silence overladen with uncertainity, horror and fear rode the air. People clustered around users -against library policies against sharing computers - but they were all looking at the same things: news pages and feeds. Every tiny crumb of information was sought, discussed and passed on.  

People missed busses, called in late to work, and grew frustrated as the Internet feeds began to go away.  They were slow to understand the network connections lost in the fall of the twin towers.  The Internet was just always - there.  Now, it was not.  Systems were overloaded, rerouted, and the same news repeated, speculated on, and reviewed.

Still, library staff worked hard and long to help people meet the new and ever changing information needs of a troubled and challenging situation.  

Over the next 48 hours as people began to understand the alleged hijackers had all been muslims, there was another kind of fear.  Local muslims and black muslims were afraid to come to the library.  They called the reference desk and sent us emails with questions.  We sent books, magazine articles, and information to their homes using the postal service.

There was a lot of fear during those days and a lot of finger pointing.  There was also a lot of courage, unity, and commitment evidenced by people.  In the face of a terrible attack on the nation, on a sea of uncertainity all around them as to the next thing that might happen, they choose to stand as American citizens.  They were not African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, or Native Americans.  In those bleak days, as so many wept and searched for those who would not be found, they stood simply as Americans.

As Americans they called for sense, caution, for bravery, for courage, and most of all for the unity which defined us as citizens of the United States.

9-11 was the worst disaster, but every year in every library staff prepare for the worst.  They post information, they add materials for planning to remain safe, or instructions for handling disasters of both manmade and natural origins.  They connect the citizen to community and government agencies, information, and resources every year. Libraries became sites for counseling, information and resource sharing, response training and so much more.

The lesson I learned on 9-11 was that the library is there for people to find out what is happening, to find out why, and to learn how to handle the changes with knowledge. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lessons from the Library - Week 7

Fresh from a fine graduate program in my selected field I found my first 'professional' position in a major metropolitan library system.  I had been tutored in the big picture, the grand scheme, and the overarching philosophies but soon realized there was a practice side to the profession left out of those many classes and lectures.

Luckily my supervisor, Mrs. Denyvetta Davis, had a lot of that practical, 'rubber meets the road' , experience and set out to train the newbie.

A series of tasks occupied by first few days.  I had to find, surveyed, and then write reports on many various resources in that particular library.  The report had to address how the resource might be helpful to a customer, when it might be needed, and who might look for it in the course of a normal day.

The result was that the head knowledge integrated with the practical working world needs of a busy library.  I gained immediate applicable information for those phone and face-to-face reference needs.  It created awareness of who used the library, why they used the library, and what types of information was most actively sought by customers.

The lesson learned was that the philosophical information and training are crucial to the development of a professional in any field but 'interning' was also very useful.  The professional aspect was in name only until the professional training and the field training met and merged into one cohesive unit.  It was a valuable lesson taught by a very skillful professional who was also practically rooted in workday realities.  Thanks Mrs. D!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lesson from the Library - Week 6

In the oversized books on the library shelves I discovered a world of human vision.  These were eye opening to a girl from a small midwestern town were the acceptable art were calendars with paintings by Norman Rockwell or the overly pious religious art behind the pulpit on Sunday.

Suddenly the human form was a thing of beauty, exotic locales became real, and a realization that humans had in the earliest moments sought to describe their inner thoughts in line, color, and shading.  

In that process came an expansion of my world and a realization that maybe there was something beyond the boundaries of the town where I lived.  The two dimensional limits of the life I knew began to develop depth and sutbtle shades of new meaning.

All because, a large book on a little used shelf caught my eye and I opened its covers to discover the world.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lessons from the Library - Week 5

Tall blue hair, sparkly sunglasses, a bright red oversized purse and a book to share.  Who is it?  The local children's librarian out to invite students to the summer reading program at the public library.   Can you picture yourself visiting ten schools, forty classes, and twelve daycares in such a get-up?  Can you imagine yourself acting silly so kids will have good feelings about the library, about reading, and about learning?

If you could say yes to any of those you could be a children's librarian. 

The lesson I learned in such work was you have to be brave, get on the same level as the youngest audience member and bring the fun with you. Not bad lessons for a lot of life.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lessons from the Library - Week 4

Wikipedia Commons - Christopher Ziemnowicz
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Libraries need friends.  Not simply those who joyfully and with out thought use its resources but the friends with pockets deep enough to provide for the ongoing existence and expansion of library services.  In the late 20th century some of those friends were Bill and Melinda gates.  At the end of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, it was steel mogul Andrew Carnegie.

Thousands of communities applied for and received funds from Carnegie's foundation to establish libraries.  "Few towns that requested a grant and agreed to his terms were refused. When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants paid by Carnegie " (Wikipedia).  The communities had to meet certain criteria though discovered through a set of questions. Communities had to demonstrate the need for a public library;
provide the building site;annually provide ten percent of the cost of the library's construction to support its operation; and, promise to provide free service to all.

Today, there are a dwindling number of them remaining and fewer still in operation as community libraries

A surprising number of these palaces to learning were torn down - some in the 1930's and 1950's- long before urban renewal scarred the landscape of so many cities.  Many communities still go begging  for needed support, improvements, and development in the face of rising costs for print and nonbook resources.  Library booksales are a crucial resource maker in far too many communities. 

What I have learned from libraries is they need friends with deep pockets - but more importantly - a vision and appreication of the impact learning and libraries can make in a community. In a life.  What I have learned is that so often we cut the budget, make learning go begging and forget the importance of literacy in our towns.

Just goes to show we can destroy - or ignore -  with greater ease than we can build.

Thanks Mr. Carnegie, Mr. Gates and all the others who supported the library in their communities.  A new century dawns, I wonder who the new supporters of learning, reading, literacy, and the imagination will be?

Library with Secrets and Mysteries

Some of the favorite reading materials in most libraries are mystery and detective books.  So it is only appropriate that libraries themselves should be the focus of a few mysteries and maybe a secret or two.

Willard Library
Does a ghost wander the library after hours?  The subject of documentaries, investigations, and online camera survelliance the Willard Library in Evansville, Indiana.

Eureka Springs Carnegie Library
Secret tunnels?  A mysteries link to the historic Crescent Hotel? This library and the community have been explored by "Underground Eureka" and documented the area but have yet to find such a tunnel. A delightful little urban tale and one which makes me, for one, want to go back to see things for myself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lessons from the Library - Week 3

Many think of women's emancipation issues as something from the roaring 20's but examples of the ways society functioned are frighteningly closer to the present than many suppose.

It was 1974 in the area known as Walnut Valley in east central Kansas.  The oil based community of El Dorado had a history of many notables, their gifts to the community and their legacy.    The original library in town had been a a small "Free Library" in 1897 in left over space; then in 1912 a grant from Carnegie provided a formal space with a goal of education and improvement of the community. In the mid-century however donations from a trustee built the "Bradford Memorial Library."

I was a young wife with one small in a stroller and one on the way.  Not much else to do in town and fairly new with few friends, I thought using the library would be a good thing. It was easy to get to when I took the morning walk and would provide storybooks for the toddler's bed time and books for mom.  My husband's job meant he was often gone in the evenings for meetings as well. Something to read would help pass the time.  I was six months pregnant so passing time was something I was going to be doing a lot of in coming months.

It was a lovely spring day when I pushed the stroller into the library and began looking around. I always like to 'get the lay of the land' before doing things so I looked at the new book deplays, the children's area, and the reference area.  I saw there were large glass windows looking out over tall leafy trees, yellow daffodils were popping up and it was really a very nice looking modern library.

I finally approached the desk to fill out an application and then stood in line to get my card.  The man at the counter looked it over and said, "You will need to get your husband's signature on this before we can issue you a card."

I have always imagined my stare must have been glassy-eyed. I metaphorically slapped the side of my head to clear my hearing. "What?"

The sentence was the same the second time around. I looked at him: " I am a married woman, mother of one child and pregnant with another. Why do I need my husband's approval to get a card?"

"We have had some problems..." he replied vaguely. " We have to know someone is going to be responsible for the books. In case they are damaged, uh, or lost."

"I am going to be responsible. Me."

"A wife is not considered...It has to be your husband..."

So, I took my form home and got my husband to sign it.  I remember how he laughed about that....for awhile anyway.

The lesson learned was that discrimination is painful, shocking, and embarrassing.  I am so glad my son was too young to realize why his mother was crying as she pushed back home on that lovely spring morning.  If I was not responsible as a wife, a mother, and soon to be did I rate as a woman?  Sometimes it is a mother who ends up providing her children with all they have in the way of values, hope, history, and dreams.  This lessons harks back to a period in our society where women where often viewed as little more than the children they bore. They were eternal children who had to be tended, watched over, and kept in their place.
The library is still there and continues to provide excellent library services to its 21st century style.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Knowing Where the Books Are Buried

Someone asked what that title meant and I proceeded to explain a bit of history.

From the Book of Kells
Vikings plundered Ireland over several centuries and as a result many of the monks charged with preserving and copying the religious texts began to hide the works.  The covers where sometimes gold or jewel encrusted to signify the great sanctity of the volumes and of recovered they nearly always came minus those added features.  The insides, however, were the real jewels as brilliant colors and fine designs preserved symbols of Celtic history merged with Christian theology and history along with the sacred texts.

One particular story from the early 11th century details how such a raid had occurred but the books were safe because they had been hidden under the sod. This means they might have been buried (and other texts and archaeological findings do infer that) in the ground or hidden in the peat moss roof.

So, image you are on the wind swept coast of Ireland as the single goes up that the dreaded dragon headed ships approached.  The people scurrying to hide themselves and their precious items of food, weapons, and, in the case of the monks, their books and bibles.

Now, image the raid being very successful and the villagers and the monks killed or taken for slaves.  Now, an empty ghost village, there would be known left who knew where the knowledge had been hidden, who had no clue where to recover the manuscripts, the Bible, the weapons, or the food.

How sweet must have been the sound, in the chaos of such a catastrophe and such devastating loss, of the words, "I know where the books are buried..."

Lessons From the Library - Week 2

In the town where I lived as a child the library was like a distant and inaccessible temple to some exotic god. My parents had been raised in places where libraries were rare and only a few people had more than a book or two in their homes. They had been raised in times where there was a severe awareness of class and status in America. Libraries, like many other public services, were seen as something for the upper class. They were clubs for the privileged, the educated, and the socially elite. 

I had seen the old Carnegie building in town and it was pointed out the way someone pointed out an office building or some other place of no import to our life. 

In grade school, the library was a shelf in each class and I enjoyed that.  I read through most of the shelves.  It was in 3rd grade that I learned our class was going on a field trip to the library.  We walked the four blocks to the library and entered the library by climbing the many stone steps to the glass fronted doors between two Greek columns.  As we entered, our steps echoing loudly in the vaulted room filled with skyscraper height bookshelves of glossy oak.  It was like church and our voices lowered to whispers.  All the impressions I had picked up from people seemed justified. This place was special. Was I worthy? Would they run us out for not being smart enough? For not having good clothes?  For not coming from the rich houses in town? As I expected, we were not allowed to linger in those rarefied realms but were led to a small staircase and descended into the 'children's room'.  

That space featured a couple of large windows looking out over the street, bright glossy shelves, and walls a soft yellow.  It was like school with colorful pictures, toys, and small chairs and tables.  Strange words "fiction", "check-out" and other alien terms begged understanding.  Along the shelves, were some familiar books from school but so many, many others.  The only place to buy books in town was a tiny corner shelf in the office supply downtown. This place held more books than the whole office supply store could hold.

I learned that day that anyone - anyone - could get a library card.  A library was the great equalizer of social groups. The walls of class, social status, education crumbled at my feet.   I did not realize this at that time, but would later. At that time, with a look of a sugar fiend lost in a candy factory, I just carefully stepped over that rubble in my shiny Mary Jane's with the short ruffled socks.  

I was on my way - all because of a library.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lessons from the Library - Week 1 (52 Week Project)

A new year blooms and so do ideas.  This marks the start of a special journey as I reflect on the lessons - good and bad - learned from the library.  This begins a new series, hopefully an entry on this topic each week for 52 weeks.  Living and loving libraries I have come to realize they have taught me many things over the years. So I hope you will join me in the laughter, the embarrassment, the tears, and the frustrations of life in the stacks.  Along the way, I hope to articulate the meaning and value of the library as both a place and an idea.  In focusing on the experiences, I will be interrupting a lot of life, people, and our crazy world.

Lesson One: Imagination Is a Must

The vast activity room was crammed with children from 2 years old trying desparately to crawl out of their mother's arms to 5 year olds doing everything but listening to their teacher's instructions. I counted nearly 75 present.  I glanced at the clock. Show time!

It was a story time at the library but with groups this large the intimate, small, close kind of story reading event was hard to achieve.  So, to pull attention into the moment, we launched into a little ditty I had created  "Books, books, books; that's what I need!..."  It worked off energy, focused the children and adults, and as I closed it down with a whispered..."books, books, books; that's what I need..." we were ready to begin.

I opened the first book and away we flew into the world of imagination as I read from the selections that week designed to not only provide a literary experience but to promote the wonderful collection of books and resources available for families in the public library.  Books were read, stories told, participation from the audience encouraged to create a memorable book centered experience to showcase the value of reading, learning and the library.

The vast activty room was crammed....but now they were intently listening and imagining along with the story line. It was plain on their faces as they listened, now still and absorbed in the story.  They were seeing the pictures in the book when shown but more importantly they were also seeing it in their heads -  a permanent addition to the gallery in their head.   They little knight's sword would be recreated from brooms and bathroom plungers.  The little princess' veil from sheets, towels, or a purloined nightgown.  The dragon's heavy steps recreated with care and great energy in bedrooms and playrooms and front yards.

People need the imagination as they need air and water.  It must be cared for, fed, and inspired to develop just as a child is cared for so that it can provide the innovation, ingenuity, and creativity for later life success.  It does not stop at childhood; many of those teachers and parents were also lost in the images their own minds were creating...traveling into a wonderful...magical...and necessary place where dreams and reality mingle to strengthen one another.

See you next week for another "Lessons Learned in the Library" with Marilyn A. Hudson