Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Garbage Has Come to Rule My Life

Before I became a branch manager, I lived in a blissful world wherein I didn't think about garbage very much. I tried to remember when trash day was and take out the bins. Occasionally I would see a documentary or news special about filling up landfills and worry about our planet. For the most part though, trash was a very small part of my world.

Not now. Now, it is a huge part of my world. Hardly a day doesn't go by when I am not writing an email, having a phone conversation, or answering a patron complaint about garbage. And this is the story of how a nice librarian's life went to the dumps.

Before we opened the branch, there were about a thousand details to work out. Many of them I expected, the librarian type things (shelf end signs, ordering book ends and book carts) and those I dispatched with grace and professional surety. Some of the others took me by surprise. (Don't get me started on the weekly emails from the electricians with technical reports that appeared to have been written in Greek. I've saved them in case anyone ever asks me about the electrical system in this building). And that is how I found myself one day having a meeting about garbage pick up.

The meeting had all the usual suspects: the head of facilities for the library, the solid waste removal representative, the project manager for the building construction, and the head of janitorial services for the city. Oh yeah and me, the librarian. Binders were laid out and options were explained. I nodded like I understood. And then came the killer moment where everyone stared at me.

I stared back. "Great!" I said with cheerfulness, "So which one are we getting?"

"It's up to you," explained the head of facilities for the library.

And then we all stared at each other in complete confusion as it dawned on me that these four men, all specialists in buildings, maintenance, and garbage, expected me, a specialist in books, to make this decision. I had thought (well, really I had hoped) that this was merely an informational meeting, not an Elizabeth-make-12-rapid-fire-decisions meeting. (Opening a branch requires rather a lot of the second type of meetings.)

So there were choices. We could have a dumpster. We had a paved pad to put a dumpster on. But we would have to build an enclosure around it due to the new city ordinance and there was a lot of concern that people would come by and fill up our dumpster with their household trash. Or we could have those large rolling bins for trash and recycle and put them out on trash pick up day.

I carefully reviewed my choices. I reflected on that if you told me the square footage of the building and the demographic make up of the community (all information I had), I could tell you how many books you needed and what type of collection to build. Cheerfully I would rattle off number of children's books versus adult materials, media materials and computer needs, seating and furniture needs. How big should your meeting room be, your staff areas, etc. All of this would require some thought, but I knew how to work that out. I had a master's degree and everything to prove it. Garbage? I had no idea how much garbage this building I had just designed would be.

Desperately, I did what all good librarians do, I sought more information. By that, of course, I mean I tried to pressure one of the facility/janitorial/building type guys to make this decision for me. No go. They were wily and resisted all my efforts to get them to even commit to recommending one over the other. Eventually someone finally said that they thought rolling bins would be a better choice because of the aforementioned issue with dumpsters getting filled.

Aha! This is true. People do illegally fill up dumpsters not their own. Rolling bins! (At that point I was willing to act on even the smallest scrap of information.) After a bit more unsuccessful wheedling for advice on sizes and quantities, I chose two of the biggest sizes (which automatically came with a recycling bin) and we were off and running. Silly naive me even thought that would be the last I'd think about the trash. I was ready to leave the meeting.

But how would the trash cans get to the curb? This was the next big point of discussion. Couldn't janitorial just take them out? Janitorial only fully cleans our building three days a week, the other two days they just do the bathrooms. Garbage day was one such day. But if they were here to do the bathrooms, how much trouble would it be for them to wheel out the trash cans as they leave? (Janitorial comes in at night after library staff has left.) Then my staff would wheel them in first thing in the morning. Eventually all agreed this was the most logical course of action.

This post is currently ridiculously long, so I will tell you further tales of garbage later. I think I need a tag for this, perhaps facility maintenance woes?

Friday, November 05, 2010

In which I learn a painful lesson about donations

Remember how I ranted about donations yesterday. Here's a great story to prove my point. Even better, I'm the rube in this story.

I was talking with one of my library staff and she mentioned that someone had wanted to donate some auto manuals to the library. The staff member (new) had checked with staff at another branch who thought it was a gold mine. That is true, to an extent. Our auto-repair reference databases get the most searches and this material is some of the most frequently requested. However, it makes the most sense to have this material on a database then occupying four rows of the library. The staff member mentioned the patron was bringing 10 or 15. Well, I can deal with 10 or 15 books even if we can't use them. This is the point at which alarm bells are ringing for wiser and more experienced librarians, but I continued blithely on my way.

One lovely Saturday morning in September just after we opened, we receive a call. The patron is on her way and wants to make sure we're ready to receive her donation and check if we have a flatbed and/or dolly. My heart starts to sink as I ask her how many books she is bringing. She has 15 boxes of books to bring us. My heart starts racing and I begin to feel a little faint. (I'm not mixing metaphors, my heart really was sinking and racing at the same time, hence the faintness I was feeling.) 15 boxes of auto manuals? No one has that many auto manuals. People usually have one or two auto manuals for the vehicles they own. People with 15 boxes of auto manuals have typically owned an auto repair shop. I don't know if you've ever been to an auto repair shop, but they're not the cleanest places in the world, and not to disparage mechanics (I've known several very nice mechanics, friends of mine), but they're not the best at keeping books in good condition. My sinking feeling was getting worse by the second.

When she arrived, the entire back of her pick up was full of boxes of auto repair manuals. And, naturally, she wanted us to unload the boxes so she could have them back. There were several moments here where I should have said, "I'm sorry that's not possible" or "I'm sorry we don't have the staff time available to deal with that donation". I didn't. I don't know why, but I didn't. Even as I accepted this pick up load of (and yes I counted) 17 boxes of auto repair manuals, I knew they would be worthless. This incident helped strengthen my backbone a lot.

As we were unloading the boxes, the woman said she had to "run and get something" but would be right back. Foolishly I assumed she was running to a store to pick something up. Nope. She went home and got another pickup load full of boxes of dirty, outdated, useless, heavy auto manuals. Another 9 boxes. That brings us up to 26 boxes of auto manuals. Our hands were turning black from unpacking them. The courier tubs we were putting them in were getting filthy. All in all it was a HUGE mess. But the patron thought she was doing us a service, helping out the new library in the poor neighborhood. I would never put these filthy books on my shelves. They were in disgusting condition and so old as to be useless to the vast majority of my patrons. Almost immediately they went into the dumpster and recycling bins. (Well I tried to send them to our main library but all that accomplished was another three staff members handling them, more courier bins getting dirty, and people getting angry at me.)

Lessons learned? When someone offers you a donation, clarify if they are counting in boxes or books. And make sure all of your staff understands what can be accepted as donations. (This assumes that you've already established a policy on what you're accepting as a donation.)

What we will (now) accept as donations:
  • hardcover books published within the last 5 years in good condition
  • hardovers of classic books
  • no encyclopedias
  • any hardcover or paperback graphic novel or manga
  • limit one box per patron per donation

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Start Looking Gift Horses in the Mouth

The public believes that all donations are good and that every library would happily welcome and rejoice at whatever pile of outdated, dusty, boring junk they found in their great-aunt's basement. As most librarians known, the public is wrong about this (and many other library-related things).

Let's start with the most common myth, donations aren't free. You (the great unwashed public) give them to me (the humble civil servant) thinking that out of your munificence you are enriching the library at no cost to us. However, we still have to take the book to technical services, add protectorants (the shiny stuff over the dust jacket, the stiff stuff on paperbacks that makes them feel hard), add labels, add security measures, add barcodes, and put them in our catalog. This can involve the labor of anyone from the technical services clerk to the head cataloger and it can involve materials costing anywhere from $1 to $10. All told your "free book" can cost the library somewhere in the range of $25 (or more) to add (labor+materials).

So when I get your donation, I start staring, inspecting, picking apart that gift horse. It's the same economic decision I make when I decide if I should purchase a book for the library. Will this book pay for itself in circulations? Do we have other copies of this book? Other things by this author? On this subject? How well have they circulated?

I guess what I'm really saying is that no, we don't want your 1999 edition of the Writer's Market, I have the 2010 edition on the shelf and only one person has even touched it in the last two months.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Feel Good Story of the Day

Working in a library in an economically depressed area, particularly in a brand new library in an area that has not had a library in a very long time, can lead to some heart warming moments. Or as our development director says, tell one of those stories that makes everyone tear up.

So here is today's story. We share a parking lot with a middle school and are often overrun with kids. It can be overwhelming for our staff, our patrons, and pretty much everyone who isn't a middle schooler. Every now and then it can be nice to have that little boost that we're still managing to serve people amidst all the chaos.

A father came in about five minutes before the middle school got out and was chatting while waiting for his daughter. He told us that she had done five book reports since we opened, because we are here. Last week, they'd been here immediately before parent teacher conferences and quarter grades. Today he was happy to report that his daughter has an A in English. Because she's done five book reports. Because we're here. (Why yes, I am going to take all the credit for this.)

I needed that reassurance today.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

On elections, voting, and libraries

All across the United States, it's election day. In Alaska, it's a particularly heated one with Joe Miller and Scott McAdams on the Senate ballot while Lisa Murkowski desperately holds spelling lessons for the state. It's also the first day with any real/noticeable amount of snow though mostly it's a couple of inches of slush on the roads and in the parking lots.

Despite snow and slush and crazy campaigning (I won't even get started on the people in costumes I saw), I pulled myself up early and stopped to vote today. With elections, I like to either vote on my way into work, or if voting early get a sticker and save it. This allows me to wear my "I voted" sticker all day at the library. As a public servant, someone who works with a lot of youth, it is a chance to very quietly set an example. Voting is very important to me and I haven't missed a single election, no matter how minor, since I turned 18. It might be slightly sanctimonious, but I like to think of myself as a role model for my community. Today I do my best to live up to that by voting and displaying the evidence.

Of course, as a public servant, I am extremely limited in what I can say to the public. Municipality ethic rules specifically forbid me from any sort of campaigning as part of my duties. That means (naturally) that I can't wear a "Vote For X" button while I'm at the library, working the desk, etc. Perfectly logical. However, we're in a very bad budget cycle (when are we not?) and I also can't campaign for the library. The current budget plan is to close one of our branches (not mine) and when patrons come in to ask about it, we're very limited in what we can say. Two years ago when we had a bond issue on the ballot, I could remind people that there was a library issue on the ballot, but I could not tell ask them to vote for it. I can't write a letter to the editor and sign it with my name and position. We can't display any information about the library budget that asks a voter to take action (such as voting one way or contacting a legislator). And on and on and on the rules go. It can be maddeningly frustrating when an issue affects your very job and you can't ask the person on the other side of the desk to please email their assembly representative.

No solutions, no real complaints, only musings on a snowy election day.

Monday, November 01, 2010

A Promotion

Live exploded about three months ago (shortly after the last time I managed to update this blog). Many things (some fun, some less fun) happened in my personal life. Professionally, I received a huge promotion. I became the branch manager of the Mountain View branch of the Anchorage Public Library. (Before I had been a youth services librarian at the main location.) This is a great library. It's in an urban area, or as we've been saying the most "economically challenged" part of Anchorage. There hasn't been a public library in this neighborhood for eight years, a standalone library for nearly 20 years. I hired and chose the vast majority of my staff and oversaw the final parts of the construction. Many people go their entire career without an opportunity like this so I am trying to make the most of it. Someone suggested I tell the story of the library and it isn't a bad idea. Brand new library, brand new community, brand new staff, brand new manager. We're learning a LOT as we go along. People keep reminding me that making mistakes is a part of the process. I hope so because I feel like I'm making a thousand mistakes a day.

I've accepted that I will probably never do Nanowrimo so this month I will do Nabopomo. Instead of writing a novel in November, I will do my best to write a blog post either here or at my other blog. Hopefully the story of my library will get told and all the funny crazy things that have happened and continued to happen every day.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Club - Jake Drake

I'm a few months behind on posting book club news - summer and the lead up to summer is so crazy. For the July book club (which was today), the Little Dippers read a perfect back to school book in which a young boy learns a little about teachers and a little about being funny. School starts in about three weeks here so that was a lot of the focus of our discussions. Please note some of the teacher discussions don't work as well with homeschool students.

Book: Jake Drake, Class Clown by Andrew Clements

Introduce Yourself: Tell us your name, age, and what school you'll be in this fall.

Discussion Questions
  1. Are you ready to go back to school? Ready for a new teacher?
  2. What do you hope your new teacher will be like?
  3. What was Miss Bruce not supposed to do before Christmas? [smile] Why do you think Miss Bruce was told not to smile at the class?
  4. Do you think that a teacher should smile at a class?
  5. Is it better for a teacher to be friends with her class or to be in charge? Can they do both? What happens if they do too much of one?
  6. Who was the best teacher you've ever had? Why? What made them a good teacher?
  7. Who was the worst teacher you've ever had? Why? What made them a bad teacher?
  8. Is it good to be the class clown? Why or why not?
  9. Is it easy to be funny? Hard?
  10. Why does Jake stop being funny all the time?

Tell Me A Joke
Everyone tell me your favorite joke! (Note 1st graders tend to lack comic timing.)

Make the teacher laugh
I sat in a chair and the children took turns trying to make me laugh. I had a kitchen timer set to 15 seconds (started with 10 seconds, but it wasn't long enough). They got a prize out of the treasure chest (filled with trinkets) if they made me smile or laugh. They didn't succeed until the end when I let them all try at the same time.

Joke Tellers
I pulled a ton of joke books from the library and we looked through them and had a ton of fun picking out our favorites. We then made together step-by-step some origami fortune tellers which I renamed into joke tellers. (Thank heavens I mastered these in elementary school.)
Here are simple instructions
We put the joke question on the part with the numbers (inside the "face" of the teller) and the answers under the flap you lift up (where the fortune usually goes). We moved our fingers back and forth showing the different choices until the other person said stop. It was a lot of fun. And of course the joke books were available for check out.

All in all fun was had.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Book Club: Catwings

For March our book club read Catwings the first volume in one of my favorite series of all time. It was well-received though it's reading level falls into the easier end of our 1st to 3rd grade age range and it is also definitely ne of the shortest books we choose. This works well to use this short of a book when you are trying to meeting more often than once a month.

Book: Catwings by Ursula K. LeGuin

Introduce Yourself
Tell us your name, age, and

Discussion Questions
  1. What would be an advantage to having wings?
  2. What would be a disadvantage to having wings
  3. Why is flying harder for cats than birds?
  4. What do we know about birds that help them to fly? (half of my kids knew about hollow bones)
  5. What is a nocturnal animal? Can you name other nocturnal animals?
  6. Why is it easier to be a stray cat in the city? In the country? (comparison list time!)
  7. Why were the birds scared of the cats?
  8. Do you agree that it's "fair" as the other animals think that someone other than the birds can fly?
  9. What types of hands and shoes were there?
  10. What human behavior would you classify as "good hands"? "bad hands"?
  11. What are ways we can show kindness to animals? Is it always kindness to feed a stray cat?
  12. Do animals love us? How do they show it?
  13. If you could give wings to any other animal, which one would you choose? How do you think the animal would react? (Personally I think my dog, who is quite stupid, would be so surprised, he'd start flying, forget to pump his wings, and fall.)
  14. What does it mean when it says that Owl was not a quick thinker, but he was a long thinker?
  15. Why did Owl atttack James and the other cats?
  16. Why did the cats decide to trust Susan and Hank? How did Susan and Hank show they were trustworthy?
  17. Do you think it was the right decision for Susan and Hank to not tell anyone about the catwings? Why or why not?

We made paper airplanes. I'd pulled several books on how to make paper airplanes (enough books in fact for every child to be looking at a separate book). When I had done this three weeks before with a slightly older group (fourth grade boys), it had worked wonderfully and been incredibly sucessful. The first to third grade group had trouble following the directions in the books independently though most knew how to make some form of a paper airplane. They did not find this as engaging of an activity as the older boys. It was only mildly sucessful.

Tuna Salad on crackers, of course
Goldfish crackers

Friday, March 05, 2010

Book Club - Horrible Harry

For our November Book Club we read from that classic beginning chapter book series, Horrible Harry by Suzy Kline. I chose thus particular volume of the series because I had a lot of copies of it. This is not a series that needs to be read in order.

Book Horrible Harry's Secret by Suzy Kline

Introduce Yourself
What is your name, age, and who is your best friend?

Discussion Questions
  1. Who is the narrator of this story? (Hint: It's not Harry; it's Doug, Harry's best friend.)
  2. Why do you think the author calls this book (and all the series) Horrible Harry, but Doug actually narrates them all? (For us this lead into a whole discussion on types of narrators such as first person, third person limited, third person omniscent, and why an author would choose one over the other. Not bad for first and second graders!)
  3. Is Harry really horrible? Why or why not?
  4. Why were Doug and Harry fighting in the book?
  5. Have you ever gotten in a fight with a friend? Why? What were you fighting about?
  6. How can you resolve fights the best?
  7. What are your favorite snow activities?
  8. Why won't Horrible Harry smile at the end? (lost his teeth)
  9. Have you lost any teeth?
  10. What does Doug call it when Horrible Harry smiles? (Showing his pearly whites)
  11. That is almost an idiom, what other funny expressions and/or idioms do we use? (hungry as a horse)

Craft Activities
Make a winter mural as they do in the book with large pieces of white paper and blue paint. Alternative to paint: blue chalk, white chalk on dark paper, blue markers, blue crayons, all blue things. We used white butcher paper and mixed medium blues (chalk, markers, colored pencils, and crayons). Hung it up in the library and it looked great.

Pair the kids up and have them draw pictures of other children. (Again as it is done in the book.) Alternative: have them draw a picture of a family member or friend rather than a fellow book club-ite.

Illustrating Idioms
Harry and Sidney "bury the hatchet" by drawing a graveyard with an axe buried in it. What other idioms can you illustrate? I had some pre-printed on half sheets of paper ready to be illustrated. There are several books that are great examples of this such as Raining Cats and Dogs by Will Moses (which I showed to all the kids) and Punching the Clock by Marvin Terban.

Other Activities
Snow Ball Fight!
By far the most popular thing we did. Crumple up paper from the recycle bin to be snowballs in a pretend fight. (Yes we did this in November in Alaska when we had plenty of real snow on the ground outside, but no one had wet socks at the end of the time.

Feed the liver to the frog
Tape a piece of paper that is an "aquarium" with a frog drawn in the middle. (I can't draw and taped a die-cut of a frog up there.) Blindfold the kids with small pieces of "liver" (scrap construction paper with tape on one side) and let them feed the frog. Whoever gets the closest wins. (Basically this is glorified pin the tail on the donkey, but it's always fun.)

If they like Horrible Harry's Secret by Suzy Kline, they should also read:
  • The rest of the Horrible Harry series by Suzy Kline
  • Marvin Redpost (series) by Louis Sachar
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements (or any of his school stories)
  • The Boys Start the War by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (first in a series for slightly older readers)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Book Club - Franny K Stein

In my spate of catch-up posts about book club, I hop in my wayback machine to February of 2009. During that Valentine happy month, we read Attack of the Fifty Foot Cupid by Jim Benton, the second in the Franny K Stein series. Normally I try to feature the first book in a series in book club. However I had received a large number of free paperback copies of the second title in this series, so we went with the giant cupid. If you're not familiar with Franny K. Stein, she's a lot of fun as a beginning chapter book for guys or girls. She's a mad scientist (though not evil) kid who does wacky science things worthy of any film noir villain, but does so with humor and surprising humanity.

Book: Attack of the 50-ft Cupid by Jim Benton, part of the Franny K. Stein series.

Introduce Yourself
What is your name, age, and favorite subject in school?

Discussion Questions
  1. Is Franny a likeable character? Why or why not? (Make a pro/con list! I love lists!)
  2. Why do you think Igor the dog likes her?
  3. Does Franny get more or less likeable during the story?
  4. What do you think of Franny's valentine's generator?
  5. Did you make/give valentines this year?
  6. Is it better to valentines once a year or to show love all year long? (these last two questions break my own no yes/no question rules but they lead into the next few questions)
  7. How can you show love all year long? Does Fanny understand this? How so?
  8. Which is your favorite of Fanny's inventions?
  9. What would you invent if you could invent anything?
  10. What would you "biggerize"?
  11. What would you make manifest?
  12. Do you like science?
  13. Have you ever done a science experiment before? What was it like?

I've previously posted a Gross Science Program and any of those ideas would work. We made silly putty (erm I mean the non-trademarked pushy putty). Each kid got their own ziplock baggie full of fun. Pro tip: have hand wipes and clean ziplock bags available for transport home. Here's the recipe I used:

Pushy Putty/Flubber
Add 1/4 cup water to 1/4 cup Elmer's Glue
Squish together in ziplock bag with a few drops of food coloring (optional)

Make Borax Solution:
Take 2 tablespoons borax (found in the laundry aisle), add 1 cup water and stir

Add 1/4 cup of Borax solution to water and glue mixture.

Knead together. Let dry for a few minutes then store in an airtight container. It will be smooth and rubber like; it can bounce, pick up pictures from paper and more!

Science Experiment Take Two:
A great, fun, amazing, and simple science experiment demonstrates the law of gravity (that it works equally on all objects regardless of weight). Drop a ping pong ball and a golf ball from the same height at the same time. Guess which one will hit the ground first. (Hint, they'll hit at the same time.)

Obviously you'll be serving valentine candy you quite wisely bought on the 15th for a deep discount.

You can read the rest of the Franny K. Stein series by Jim Benton for a good start. Also fun is: Andrew Lost (series) by J. C. Greenburg, The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey, and The Zack Files (series) by Dan Greenburg.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Club - Legend of Spud Murphy

Our first book club of the new year, at the end of January, was The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer. This book got rave reviews from our kids (remember our audience is first through third grade). I admit I'm not good at posting book club activities, but I save all my notes and I mean to! Since I'm doing a presentation at the Alaska Library Conference next week on book clubs, hopefully I'll get a bunch of these back notes put up. Helpful hint, while I always want to pronounce Eoin like Ian, I listened to an audio book of one of the Artemis Fowl series and they pronounced it more like Owen. I'm assuming the audio people would have pronounced the author's name correctly.

Book: The Legend of Spud Murphy by Eoin Colfer

Introduce Yourself
Name, age, and your best adventure story (one you read or one you lived)

Discussion Questions
  1. What are the boys' favorite types of books to read? (Action/Adventure)
  2. What are your favorite types of books to read?
  3. How do the boys know which area of the library to stay in?
  4. What areas of the Loussac Library are you allowed to be in? (all of them) Where are you not allowed to be? (you can go anywhere, but you do need to respect quiet zones)
  5. Why do you think kids weren't allowed in other sections of the library?
  6. Why were the kids so scared of Ms. Murphy? Was she really scary? Why or why not?
  7. Do you think librarians are scary? Why or why not?
  8. What do you think Ms. Murphy meant when she said she sometimes forgot the library was about books?
  9. What else is the library about besides just books? (hint programs, information, helping people)

Library Tour!
We spent about half our time on a tour of the library. Even though these kids are regular library users, they all said they learned stuff, and they all enjoyed it. Of course at the end, they got a READ temporary tattoo.

Survival Games
Using various survival guides such as The Boys Book of Survival or The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook and we played a quiz game with situations such as what would you do in a bear attack? (This is Alaska - they might need that! Of course they're less likely to be stuck in a hurricaine.)

Exploding Popsicle Stick Frisbees
Because my library is WAY more fun than Ms. Murphy's library, we made the exploding popsicle stick frisbees featured in The Outdoor Book for Adventurous Boys.

Potato Gun
I wish. We didn't do this, but how cool would that have been?

We don't do snacks any more, but it would have to be something spud based. Tater tots if you have a way to heat them, or potato chips. (The healthy kind of potato chips, er the healthy-ish kind.)

There are two veins to go when kids like Legend of Spud Murphy. The easiest is to go with similar humor books. I'd recommend Frindle by Andrew Clements (or pretty much anything by Andrew Clements) or any of the Joey Pigza books by Jack Gantos (first title is Joey Pigza Swallowed The Key).

You can also go with survival stories, anything by Will Hobbs or Gary Paulsen (though those tend to go to a higher reading level). Gordon Korman is also a really good choice. And I tend to really like non-fiction books as well. Thus I recommend The Outdoor Book For Adventurous Boys by Adrian Besley and The Boys' Book of Survival: How To Survive Anything, Anywhere by Guy Campbell and not to leave the girls out we have The Daring Book For Girls by Andrea J. Buchanan.