Friday, 18 December 2015

When the Library is Cut, the Community Bleeds

The first public library in the U.S. was founded by BenjaminFranklin.  While mission and vision statements weren’t all the rage in 1731, mottos were and what he settled on for this newly established institution was “Communiter Bona Profundere Deum Est”. No, my fingers didn’t slip on the keyboard—it’s Latin.  And the free translation (a free translation incorporates the literal and cultural meaning, rather than just word-for-word, as opposed to being monetarily free) is: “To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine.”

Wow.  That’s quite a motto to live up to, isn’t it? 

But public libraries have been doing just that for the past 284 years.  They don’t look the same as they did in Franklin’s day but they serve the public to the betterment of the community and nation today just as they did then.

Public libraries exemplify the true definition of a democratic entity; one that focuses on “believing in or practicing the idea that people are socially equal”.  Everybody that comes through the door has the same rights, privileges and opportunities as everybody else.

I like this explanation from
“Libraries are great democratic institutions that serve people of every age, income level, location, ethnicity or physical ability, and provide the full range of information resources needed to live, learn, govern, and work.  Because libraries bring free access to all, they also bring opportunity to all.”

Now, I know I’ve written some complaints about the people I serve involving some of the more uncomfortable interactions I’ve had.  Too much 'positive appreciation' (e.g. creepy attention), some aggressive or argumentative patrons, and the olfactory assaults that come with working with people en masse, to name a few.  But that’s just the beauty of the organization; everybody that comes to my desk gets the same quality of service, regardless of their background (or personal hygiene). And everyone has the same opportunities! Which means that even though I’ve had to grit my teeth and help the sarcastic fellow who snidely comments, “you know you’re going to be replaced by a computer soon, right?”  I’ve also been able to help:
  • The gentleman who had just gotten out of jail after a 10-year stint and needed to get an email address.
  • The gentleman who had to argue on the phone with the insurance company about the care his elderly mother needed.
  • The high school student who needed information for her National  History Day project.
  • The lady who made sure to thank me for help on her resume which helped her land a job.
  • The multitude of people who need legal documents printed out so they can file for divorce, request child custody, or contest a ruling from the court.
  • The older couple that comes in looking for books that are enjoyable but not too exciting (because the wife gets so into her books that sometimes when she’s done she has to take a Xanax!)
  • The blind gentleman who comes in for dozens of audiobooks at a time.

Every one of these people is a valued citizen who is served by the public library.

Unfortunately, since libraries render services for the common good and equality of the citizenry, they don’t make a profit.  In reality this is not a failure, that is simply not their intent.  So, in times of financial crisis, they are often a target of budget cuts.  This is the exact opposite of what is best for the community!  When money gets tight at the library, what becomes endangered?

  • Books—despite what you might hear books are still bought, sold, rented, borrowed and read (and stolen as "souvenirs" as we in the biz say, but still need to be replaced).
  • Periodicals—these include magazines and newspapers.
  • Digital services—ebooks can be expensive but it’s actually the access and storage of them that requires the expense output.
  • Internet and WiFi capability—broadband is expensive and all services require maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Children’s programs—with so much outcry about the decline of education in the country, decreasing literacy programs is not only counter-productive, but actively dangerous to our country's future.
  • Job hunting—Many patrons come in for access to, and help with, online job applications.  Less money means less time and help are available. Fighting the specter of unemployment is more difficult when people can’t apply for a job.
  • Hours—This is one of the most heinous cuts.  If there isn’t enough money for staff or utilities, the library hours are cut which means limiting the equalizing opportunities for everyone.
  • Staff—Budget cuts mean fewer hours and fewer positions available so staffers have to take on more and varied duties, often doing things outside their normal job parameters to get things done.
  • Staff—Professional library staff hold higher degrees; a Master’s degree in Library Science (or often now, an MLIS—Master’s in Library and Information Sciences) or State Professional Certification is required to be a librarian. With less money it’s difficult to attract and hold certified professional staff to develop and maintain a quality library.

Make it a point to convey your support of the public library, not just to the tireless staff that serve you but to the governing body that provides the funds.  The city government might not understand the gem in their midst.  The county library might not see how many people utilize this vital tool.  The state might forget about the benefits supplied at the ground-level by the public library.  But you can remind them!

Help support your public library!


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Why I'll never be a good DIY blogger

I love crafts

I love DIY

I love creating things

I am the one who spends $40 on supplies for something I could buy for $5.

It's the process, the creativity and problem-solving I love.  The altering of expectations when things don't go as I planned (my favorite phrase when making something: "Oh, no one will notice.").  I like the flush of success that comes when I've finished the project.

And, while trying not to brag, I've made some quite lovely things over the years.  To be fair, I've also made some disasters, I just don't always show them to people (that's the trick to appearing successful at crafting).

With all of the cutting, gluing, sewing and pinning flurries that go on in my house, it might be kind of surprising that I don't feature more of my multitude of projects here.  I did put on our fun cookie night and how I made the giant Playaway to hang in the library but you haven't (and won't) see many process posts on how I achieve some of my fun things.

Whyever could that be? 
(I'm sure you're asking with wide-eyed anticipation)

Two reasons:

1.  I'm not a good photographer.  There are several aspects that play into this.  

  •           One is that I haven't taken the time to learn how to take decent pictures.  There are numerous tutorials on how to take good pictures with my phone... nope, not interested.
  •           Another is that I get so involved with what I am doing that I forget to take pictures. When I'm making something, I'm following (or making up) the steps I need to follow to get to the end.  Who has time to remember pictures?
  •           A third reason... I only have two hands and they're usually doing whatever it is that I'm making.  Even if a hand may be free for a moment... it's usually messy.

2.  My counters and work spaces look like this:
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I strive but it's 3 kids against me...

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Not a good backdrop for featuring a nifty new creation.

So while you might see the result of a crafting project, you'll have to ask for details on how it was done and bear with the messy, shaky-cam, cluttered counter pictures you get! But you can enjoy my witty book reviews and insightful posts on library and education here in between the crafts (shameless self-advertising plug).

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

New Book Review--Thing Explainer

Make way for the new best book ever!  Randall Munroe of xkcd and What If? fame has done it again and written a fantastic volume that clearly and not-so-clearly explains how things work, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words. My boys and I are in dry-wit geek heaven!

Have you ever talked to a bright 3-year old? They have so many questions and are starting to learn bigger concepts but their vocabulary hasn't caught up with their understanding. So the challenge comes in figuring out how to describe something using words and experiences they can relate to.  I've often enjoyed the comedy of Jim Gaffigan and he has a prime example:

Child: Look, Daddy, a stick.
Dad: It's not a stick it's an antenna.
Child: What's an antenna?
Dad:...Uh... it's a stick.

Here are examples from many years ago with my sons.

Son 1: What are grapes made out of?
Me: Grape guts.
Son 2: What are tongs made out of?
Me: Scissors with no knives.

Sometimes answers come easily and sometimes I'd struggle for explanations and sometimes... total prevarication.

Son: What about...?
Me: Wanna popsicle?

Nowadays, everyone is a bit older and we're interested in different things and our dinner table conversation can include some esoteric subjects (and I should mention we're all Big Bang Theory fans).  Like last night, someone posed the question, "What's the difference between string theory and loop theory?" After a quick search online, I found "String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity for Dummies" (apropos, I thought) and read about 3 paragraphs.  So we had just enough understanding to pose some questions but not enough to know if the questions were even valid. My daughter's turn, "I think that string theory is the more accurate one because if loop theory were real, light would bend around us and there would be no shadows."  Well.  I guess it's time for Mom to do more research!

But, it really highlights the fact that trying to explain something to someone means you have to really know what you're talking about to help them understand. Who could say it better than Albert Einstein, world renowned physicist and teacher?

"If you can't understand it simply, you don't understand it well enough."

Randall Munroe takes this to a new and humorous level. Using the"ten hundred words in our language that people use the most", he explains the workings of a vast variety of things.  From simple machines that we use everyday;"boxes that make clothes smell better" (washer and dryer) and "writing sticks" (pen and pencil) to things that not many people understand the workings of, "Machine for burning cities" (nuclear bomb) and "big tiny thing hitter" (Large Hadron Collider), we have to make sure we understand for ourselves what makes up these items and processes.  We have to reverse-engineer our own vocabulary to make sure we understand the actual basic contents of the subject.

In the Thing Explainer, you will find the term "tiny bags of water" but you won't see the word "cells".  You'll read about the "big tiny thing hitter" but you won't read the words, "particle accelerator". And this is where the true genius lies.  Vocabulary is important (of course, I'm a librarian, scientist and all-around book-nerd) but not at the expense of understanding.  It's not enough to toss around big words if you don't know the concepts beneath them.  And why not laugh your way through?  So as my kids and I giggle our way through these explanations, we are also making sure we embrace the importance of true understanding.

(And for Big Bang Theory fans, you can consider this the anti-Sheldon book of physics.  Instead of using the biggest words to explain a concept so that nobody can understand it, it uses small words for everyone to enjoy.)