Category Archives: Libraries

Fairfax County Needs Librarians!

It’s been a year since I last wrote a blog post, and I am breaking my silence for an issue that means a lot to me.

If you live in the Northern Virginia area, specifically Fairfax County, you may or may not be aware about changes that have been proposed to our county library system. These are potential major changes; originally it was planned to pilot said changes without any input from county residents. Granted, being a librarian, I am biased about the changes, but as a citizen, I am angry that I was not given an open opportunity to provide input.

First, you should know some facts about our libraries, provided by Fairfax, for those people who claim we don’t need libraries anymore, thanks to the internet:

  • Our system is pretty big. We have eight regional libraries, 14 community libraries, Access Services for people with disabilities, Fairfax County Archives, Public Services Support, and Library Administration. The number of locations we have access to dwarfs the neighboring counties of Arlington, Loudoun, and Prince William. For those Fairfax families who cannot afford the internet in their home (they exist!), they should have a library fairly close by.
  • In 2012, Fairfax had over 5.2 million visits to its branches. I cannot find any visit statistics for Arlington, but Loudoun had 1.7 million visits, and Prince William had 1.3. Obviously, our library locations in Fairfax are greatly depended upon.
  • Not all of those visits are just for internet access. In 2013, 13 million items were loaned out by Fairfax libraries. 13 million! Loudoun residents only checked out 6.4 million, and even less in Prince William with 3.7 million.

You can consult those fact pages for further information on specific levels of services provided to children and the elderly, electronic services, and work towards early literacy and English language learners. I’m not giving these statistics to make our neighboring county libraries look bad. I just want people to be aware of how much our county residents depend on our libraries.

There are proposals involving cutting positions, but the change that concerns me is to make it optional to have a masters in library/information science. To quote the Annandale, VA blog, “A new service model is in the works to focus on basic assistance rather than professional-level research for patrons.” By completing a masters program in library and/or information services, librarians know how to find information that the regular person might not. At school, my student aides can help a patron learn how to use the library catalog, but when the search for a subject like recombinant DNA is unsuccessful, the librarian will know the resources – both books and electronic databases – that will have that information. We can also do a reference interview to focus on what exactly the patron needs to know about recombinant DNA. The library secretary I worked with recently was someone who wanted to help the students, but when she couldn’t find something, she would send the students away thinking the school library did not have what they needed. Teachers in the school began to tell students to specifically ask to speak to me or our other librarian because they knew we were the information experts, not the library secretary. Yet, Fairfax library is thinking about not prioritizing the access to information experts for their patrons. The knowledge lost by not having that master degree would have a huge effect on the books purchased, the programs for your kids.

By having staff fill the dual role of reference and circulation, you may find yourself waiting in long lines to ask for research help while the person at the desk helps check books out, answers the phone, provides direction to the bathroom, and signs children up for the summer reading program. You might bring your children to a program that is led by someone who hates kids. That will be a positive experience for all involved!

You can read more about this at the Fairfax Times in an article published yesterday.

You can sign the petition against these changes.

The next board meeting is scheduled for September 11th at my own local branch, and I plan to attend.

Do you care about the libraries in Fairfax county? Add your name to the petition and spread the word!


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YALSA Teen Book Finder App

Have you downloaded the YALSA Teen Book Finder app? If you have, don’t you love it? If you haven’t, why not? It’s FREE, which is always nice! I’ve requested that we install it on my school’s iPads. I’m having to wait for the Droid version. This YALSA page can tell you more about it. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to read YA fiction, or anyone that has a teen in their life.

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WrestleMania Reading Challenge 2012

Have you signed your library up for the 2012 WrestleMania Reading Challenge? If not, get on that! It’s free, and you receive posters, bookmarks, other giveaways, and a support kit. It is an easy program to use to reach some teens who might not be on your radar. You must register by July 31st, so you don’t have much time left. Get going!

WWE also has a page about the Reading Challenge that you can reference to promote it to your teens.

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What’s your number?

I’m # 6,502 to sign the petition asking the Obama administration to ensure that every child in America has access to an effective school library program.

An effective program should include highly qualified staff, and equitable access to resources that support and further develop learning in and outside of the classroom. This should result in a variety of resources: databases, internet access, tech tools to support projects as basic as word processing or more complex like editing a film or creating a robot. Magazines and periodicals that support classroom learning and student interests, and books in a variety of formats: fiction and non-fiction, hardcover and paperback, paper and electronic, words and graphic novels, dystopian and fantasy romance. People develop so much in the years 4 – 21 and having the ability to explore the world through books and other library information sources broadens their experience. I haven’t even touched on the social/creative outlets a lot of my students find in our library by playing chess, Apples to Apples, puzzles, and other games, or participating in book clubs or an open mic coffee-house.

My student library aides must take a mid-term, and one question I ask is what they have learned so far this year as an aide. The responses I get are sometimes what you would expect, “I’m learning how to be better organized,” or “I’m learning where to find books in the library.” But I also get answers that let me know the student really is growing while being a library aide. This week, one student wrote in their response that they are learning forgiveness this year as a library aide.  This person started out in a rough spot, and we have all moved past that spot and get along very well. It warms my heart to know that this student sees this. Another student wrote that they have a huge lack in social skills. Working in the library has helped this person develop social skills in dealing with fellow aides and library patrons. It has given them confidence in their senior year and it will be something they take with them after graduation.

My library aides are just a small part of my job as a school librarian. Education has a big focus on data right now, and I think there is a need for careful data collection and analysis to see what “Education” is doing right. After a while, though, data can become just a number, and some higher-ups lose sight of the individual attached to each piece of data. If something you do is hard to put into the terms of data, such as a library aide learning about forgiveness or social skills, that piece gets lost when looking at the firm data that makes up the big picture. It is impossible to connect these two student experiences to whether they pass their SOL tests or graduate on time because so many other measurable variables can be connected: teachers in the classroom, the curriculum, grades, test scores. I may know, without a doubt, that a student is graduating as a more developed person from our school because of the library, but no measurable/standardized test exists to prove it.

This is why when librarians ask for help in supporting our cause, it is a grass-roots movement. Signatures on a petition are our data that can be taken to President Obama. Each signature might represent a person who loves books and wants all children to have access to them whether rich or poor. Another signature is a person who remembers a librarian that changed their life for the better as a child, a teen, a college student, or even as an adult. One person might think of the stereotypical cranky librarian they have personally experienced, want better for children, and see the push for “effective school libraries” as a way to retire the cranky old and make sure they are replaced by the excited positive new (instead of not being replaced at all!).

So think about your opinion of school libraries: the positives and the negatives, the information they contain that reveals the past and opens the future, the hope that every student can become a reader if they just get introduced to the right book by someone who knows the book AND the student, the world of opportunities every student can access if the library has open doors and a knowledgable key master. I know it is annoying to create a username and password for the White House website, but if you agree with even a fraction of what I am saying, get over there and add your name to the petition.

Who knows, you might learn about other petitions you believe in and that account will continue to come in handy.

If you do add your name, come back and comment on this post to let me know what number you are.

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The First YALSA Board Fellow

I am so excited to have been selected to be the first YALSA Board Fellow! Here is the ALA press release. My position starts in June, and runs through July, 2013. This feels like it will be especially interesting since the position is new. I look forward to everything I will learn and experience in the coming year and a half.

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Hello There, Dear Blog

Oh 2011, I feel like you just got here. Must you go so soon?

Seriously, this year has been a blur. I really can’t believe 2012 begins in 36 hours. Last year, I over-extended myself with commitments and scaled back this year. Somehow, the world kept life just as busy this year.

I traveled a lot (for me)! I attended ALA Midwinter, and was able to go to Disneyland with my husband for a few days. Spring flew by, and I attended ALA Annual right after school ended. (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) During the summer, I was lucky enough to go to NYC for 24 hours and then spend a weekend at Rensselaerville. I got some beach time in at Ocean City (Maryland) and Wildwood Crest (New Jersey). I didn’t see as much of my family as I would like, but I was lucky to spend a good amount of time with dear friends.

Work has been busier than ever. We have a new library assistant this year, so getting her up to speed has been a focus. In addition to sponsoring the student book club, I am continuing on as the chair of Faculty Senate, and a member of the Climate Committee and two different literacy committees. I was a co-coordinator for our school Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical competition. I’ve been just as busy with book talks this year as I was last year, which is excellent.

I challenged myself, via GoodReads, to read 50 books this year. I thought that would be easy. I just made it, and it involved some last-minute reads of picture books and graphic novels. I have come to accept that reading challenges are not fun for me. Reading (and blogging) is something I do for pleasure. Once I commit to a challenge, it feels like a job. It becomes a finish line and is no longer about enjoying the experience. I won’t be doing that again this year.

Life itself has been a roller coaster, speeding through the highs and lows and dips and flips of love, loss, struggles, and blessings. The health of everyone I know ebbs and flows. I continue to be lucky to come home to a house filled with the love of my husband and two dogs. We continue the never-ending project that is living in a house built in 1951.

2012 is largely a mystery for me right now. I applied for the YALSA Board Fellow position. If I am fortunate to be selected, I envision a chunk of my year focused on that. If not, I intend to apply for another process committee position as my term on Teens’ Top Ten ends after Annual. My work commitments will continue, of course. I am not attending ALA Midwinter this year. I have no requirement to attend, and financially it is not a priority right now. I have not made a decision on attending ALA Annual, but I suspect the Board Fellow decision will have some affect on that. I would love to attend the YALSA YA Lit Symposium again, but I have some time to make that decision.

For now, I hope 2012 will pass a little more slowly than 2011 did. If any of my readers have stuck around since my last post in September, I thank you and hope you continue to stop by in 2012.

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A Reminder That Bookstores Are Not Libraries

While skimming Entertainment Weekly’s website today, I found this post: “Borders Employees List Grievances: ‘Ode to a Bookstore Death.'” I got a bit cranky. Yes, the list creator is one person (or a handful of people) out of many bookstore workers. Yes, I think that it sucks that Borders went out of business and lots of people lost their jobs and their bookstore. Yes, these people have a right to vent their frustration.

But this list of complaints is exactly why we need libraries and librarians. Let me point out a few things to you:

Borders employee says, “We hate when a book becomes popular simply because it was turned into a movie.” This high school librarian (here on out known as HSL in this post) says, “If a book-turned-in-to-a-movie gets one person to read, that person could potentially come back again and again and become someone who loves reading. It just takes the right book to hook a person.” Whatever works.

Borders employee says, “Oprah was not the “final say” on what is awesome. We really didn’t care what was on her show or what her latest book club book was. Really.” HSL says, “Again, whatever gets someone to reconsider reading is a win in my world.” I bet the author cares when he/she is able to make enough money to write full-time after Oprah praises their book, and can publish more books which will bring in more money for the bookstore.

Borders employee says, “If you don’t know the author, title, or genre, but you do know the color of the cover, we don’t either. How it was our fault that we couldn’t find it we’ll never understand.” HSL says, “If I had a nickel for every time in the 4 years I have been a librarian when I found the correct book for a patron based on the description of the cover, I would at least be able to buy myself lunch tomorrow.” Part of a librarian’s job is to know your collection. One student asks about “the book with the baby on the cover,” and she is so happy when I hand her Jacqueline Woodson’s The Dear One because that is exactly when she meant, but another student wants “the book with the baby on the cover” and is relieved when I give her Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting from the Current Controversies series. Both books have a baby on the cover, as do several other books in our library, but I am able to do a reference interview and get the right book in their hands.

Borders employee says, “It confused us when we were asked where the non-fiction section is.” HSL says, “If books are cataloged and patrons can search on a computer to find what they want, you would not be asked questions like this.” One thing that I think Barnes and Noble gets right is that in some of their stores, they provide computers for customers to do their own searching. (Not every store does this, though, which needs to change.) I have never been in a Borders where a computer was available for customers; each was always labeled “For employee use only.” Library patrons may not understand why books on fashion will be found in the 700s but books on what to wear for an interview will be in the 600s, but they will at least be able to use a computer to look up what they want and follow the clear layout and signage of a library to find the book they want.

Borders employee says, “We greatly dislike the phrase “Quick question.” It’s never true. And everyone seems to have one.” HSL says, “I love the questions that require some thinking and digging!” What else is a book store employee there to do but sell books? If someone has a question that could result in a sale, why hate the question? I love when students have a complicated question, or a question they worry is impossible to answer, and I can guide them to the answer. No wonder Borders went out of business if the employees don’t want to answer questions.

Borders employee says, “‘I was just here last week and saw this book there’ meant nothing to us. The store changed once a week.” HSL says, “Displays are meant to promote books. Know your recent displays.”

Borders employee says, “When you walked in and immediately said, ‘I’m looking for a book,’ what you really meant to say is, ‘I would like you to find me a book.’ You never looked. It’s fine, it’s our job — but let’s be correct about what’s really happening here.” HSL says, “Do we really need to argue semantics? Does it matter how the need for assistance is phrased? Booksellers and librarians have jobs because people need help in fulfilling an information need and we can help them.” Oops, maybe that is why you don’t have a job anymore.

Okay, in all seriousness, I understand where this person (people?) is coming from and like I said before, it sucks that Borders closed. I know some bookstore employees who are awesome and some librarians who suck, but this is a prime example of what to expect in a bookstore where the job qualifications are minor, and a in library staffed by librarians with a master’s degree. Librarians are trained to answer the unanswerable. The next time someone questions why modern society needs libraries, he or she should try to answer the unanswerable using an ode-writing bookstore employee and Google.


Coming soon: my rant about librarians who suck.


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