Third Rotation: Vermont Square Branch!

We apologize for the hiatus on the ILP blog. Both Jacquie and myself have been quite busy since we have started our third rotation assignments. Of course, this is a good thing, but I wanted to take a moment to update you about what we have been up to!

At the moment, Jacquie is assigned at the Will & Ariel Durant Branch in Hollywood, and I am located at the Vermont Square Branch in South Los Angeles. Our third rotation sites were chosen to give us a well-rounded perspective of library services in Los Angeles. Previously, we had only worked for an extended period of time in the Studio City Branch, which serves a mostly suburban population of avid library users. It was an incredible way to experience what a very busy, destination library is like, hone our readers’ advisory skills, participate in service pilot programs, and experiment with interesting next-level programming. However, in order to gain a fuller perspective of urban librarianship, our team opted to send us to two branches that serve a different population. I’ll let Jacquie tell you about her work at the Durant Branch, but I want to give you an idea of what I’ll be working on at the Vermont Square Branch.

Vermont Square is a small, neighborhood park located in a residential area of South LA. The Vermont Square Branch, which sits on the park land, is a Carnegie building and we just celebrated our 100th anniversary in August. The building is much beloved, so much so that when the library administration thought of tearing it down to build a bigger, more modern facility, the community fought to keep the original building. As such, it is small, but it is very well-used. As we are fond of saying, circulation does not tell the whole story; with only about a quarter of the circulation of Studio City Branch, we might appear to be a terribly sleepy branch. But that number does not illustrate the fact that we offer some of the only free wi-fi in the area, and certainly the most easily accessible free computer access. Additionally, we work in what has been identified as a service desert, so we spend a lot of time fielding reference questions and identifying resources and services nearby to assist our patrons with health issues, tutoring, literacy, financial planning, and educational needs. We also do a lot of programming, readers’ advisory, and outreach to the community. After school lets out, we are typically very busy, with every computer in use and our Student Zone (designated computers for school work with free printing) is always in use.

I have taken on a few special projects at Vermont Square that I am working on while I’m here. The first is computer classes. We don’t have a computer lab, or even a large number of computers to host classes, so I am mostly doing one on one computer help with patrons. This is a great way to really assist patrons in gaining new skills, and building on what they already know. My goal is to help these patrons learn the basic skills that they need to be comfortable with a computer, and internet searches, so that they can then use these skills to pursue their own interests.

Additionally, I am trying to assist our patrons with their GED preparation. Our GED prep books are checked out very frequently and we cannot keep up with the demand. Most of our patrons that I have asked are not aware of our GED resources online. Given the coming changes to the test in 2014, I am working on a program that will outline the resources that we have at LAPL and the ways that the test will change in the new year. I also plan to share this presentation with my colleagues and potentially take the show on the road, so to speak, by presenting at nearby branches as well. I also have an idea about having students at the nearby University of Southern California staff a weekly GED preparation drop-in time at the library, but we’ll see if I can make that happen!

Of course, both Jacquie and I are working on other projects in addition to our branch projects – it is a busy time for us! But the opportunity to experience such diverse parts of this library system and to participate in so many different experiences is invaluable!

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Gathering the tools: Preparing new Information and Library Professionals for Success

Preparing for ALA’s annual conference feels particularily important because it is  my first chance to catch up with the people, trends and research that I immersed myself in during school since becoming a full time librarian. For the last few days,  I have been thinking what it means to be part of the profession, and what facets of the degree and other experiences I and others have had that most enhance the work we do in a library. Therefore,I feel a strong need to spend time discussing what I feel the training and education of a 21st Century information professional could/should (and in some places already does) look like.

I loved library school. I was lucky enough to go to a school and be part of a program that encouraged, and truly required, looking at and experiencing all the different ways information and knowledge are created, used and shared . The degree wasn’t just about learning how to do a story time or plan a computer class, it was about organizing the information, people, and materials at my disposal to add to a person’s body of knowledge. It made being a librarian not just a job, but as a member of a profession. A profession with the goal of  helping craft and enhance the standards and tennets of information environments to better serve society.

Not all of this could be done in class. In addition to working in a library for my graduate assistantship, in one class I was required to complete a certain amount of service learning at a library or information environment completely different than where I worked. I received the theory in my classes, gained practice in one work environment (a public library), and gained even more practice in my service learning location (a high school library). From these experiences  I learned where the history and traditions of the librarian profession were still relevant, where they needed to change, and why a “one size fits all approach” was not appropriate.The curriculum made me feel like I could truly help craft a new dialogue for the profession to meet the cultural and societal needs of the present.

If I were told that tomorrow I would be in charge of creating a new library school there are several things that I would emphasize in the curriculum.  It is important to learn from the history of the profession, and use it to help adapt for the present and future. A librarian must not only  think critically, but also innovatively. Some of these suggestions may seem a bit far-fetched, but I believe that it is within the spirit of the ILP to push these sorts of boundaries.

(1) Cultural Competency Standards- Every class, every workshop, every training, would begin with a fundamental, and frank, discussion on what are people’s multiple literacies, cultural influences, and why and how people gather or share information. This would not be an exercise in political correctness; instead it would be the opportunity for students to begin to understand how to approach cultures that differ from theirs to make sure the information that is shared and gathered is done so in a responsive and respectful way.

(2) Cross-disciplinary coursework: For those in library school, I would want a core group of instructors who could speak to the history and tradition of the profession, teach the searching courses, the information management courses. But, I would also want to see that each student take a minimum of two other pertinent courses outside of the department; whether that be from the communications and management departments, the education department, health sciences, etc. Understanding how other subjects organize and distill their information can only broaden the student’s ability to navigate the information systems later, and have an idea of common terminology and practices to help them guide users.

(3) Service Learning or Job Switching: The act of going into a new space or position that is different from previous experiences helps break down the “silos” created by focusing on one subject or one department, and allows for a greater level of connection within the profession. For instance, a student who is studying to work in a public library would spend ten weeks dividing their time between the public library and a health sciences library. This sort of experience allows them to better understand the breadth and depth of the information profession. Working in a health sciences library would also help the student from the public library understand the vast amount of consumer and professional information streams, from books and digital resources to lecturers and outreach programs in the department. Additionally, when the archivist or the health sciences librarian or professional spends time in the public library, they will be able to see where and how their “behind the scenes” work can limit or enhance what the public knows and understands about a topic. It is from this kind of experience that the most critical thinking will happen for a studentI also think we should relax the requirement in many positions for an MLIS altogether. Ultimately, the student would understand where two traditionally different information environments could become strong partners.

This is not meant to be a defense of the MLIS, but rather an idea of how we can further enhance the kind of experiences students receive during their programs to augment the theoretical curriculum. I believe the cross or interdisceplanry aspect of the degree program in both the theoretical and experiential opportunities not only helps the student understand the larger picture of the profession, but fosters critical and innovative thinking. This kind of system prepares a student for interaction with many different kinds of information professionals, and see where the work of one may impact that of the other. And, as I will explore in future blog posts, the training and introduction of non-MLIS staff and professionals can also help propel the profession forward and provide many new and exciting opportunities for growth. But at this point, I am excited to see what transpires at ALA 2013, and what I may glean from the wide range of this great profession to better serve my community.


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Visiting NYPL and the Career and Education Information Service

Los Angeles, my current home, is an iconic city. San Francisco, where I lived for twelve years before moving here, is an iconic city. But I think most people can agree that New York City is the iconic city. It stands to reason, then, that The New York Public Library is the iconic public library. The lions that stand in front of the Schwarzman Building (named Patience and Fortitude, I learned) are recognized worldwide as a symbol for the library and even though most of its materials are not circulating, the building attracts thousands of visitors everyday. So when the ILP was presented with the opportunity to visit NYPL and meet with an incredible cross-section of their staff, you can understand why we jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve been back at the Studio City Branch Library, where I’m currently assigned, for about a week now and I’m still reeling from everything that we saw and learned while in New York. It would make for a rather long and possibly boring blog entry if I covered everything, so I thought that I would cover just one of their innovative services that really impressed me – the Career and Education Information Service (CEIS) at the Bronx Library Center.

As we all know, our current economic slump has resulted in a lot of job seekers and many of them are coming to the library for help. The CEIS is a one-stop-shop for the unemployed, students interested in learning about potential careers, and those who find themselves changing careers. They provide a large bank of computers for finding job listings, working on resumes and cover letters, researching careers and companies, and brushing up on one’s professional skills. Of course, the library has all the materials that you’d need to help you do these things, from how-to guides to books on certain careers. And though all of these things are wonderful, they are all things you’re likely to find at most public libraries.

What you won’t find at most public libraries, is Robyn Saunders, and she is what makes the CEIS so incredible and innovative. Ms. Saunders is a professional career coach, and she works full-time at the CEIS. That means that if you are looking for a job, you can make an appointment with her, for free, and she will work with you one-on-one. And she can do it all – help you find appropriate jobs to apply to, give you tips on how to craft the perfect resume and cover letter, help you identify resources to gain new skills that you’ll need in a different career, and offer general career coaching assistance.

Of course, at LAPL and public libraries everywhere, librarians are honing their job search skills to provide these much-needed services. But unfortunately, we are not professional career counselors and given the constraints on our time, we are often unable to provide in-depth assistance. However, we are a community institution that people trust and we have the space, equipment, and materials that job searchers need. I think it is very forward-thinking of NYPL to recognize the library’s limitations in providing career counseling services that our patrons sorely need, and to hire the right kind of people to fill this service gap.

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Innovative Leadership Fellow-Karen Pickard-Four

I really should be packing for New York, but I’ve decided to post this instead. The Innovation Leadership Program (ILP) team, which includes residents, Jacquie Welsh and Mary Abler, Library Foundation staff members, Rebecca Shehee and Dawn Coppin, the head of Central Library, Giovanna Mannino, as well as ILP Fellow, Joyce Cooper, and myself, are travelling to New York to liaise with key members of the New York Public Library (NYPL) staff and Foundation.

Some background about me: after over twenty years as a small business entrepreneur, I began my career as a librarian. I received my MLIS in May, 2006 and began my career as a Young Adult Librarian at the Sherman Oaks Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). After four fabulous years as a YA librarian, I became an acting manager and spent the next three years at three different branches. In turn, I worked with three different patron bases, friends groups, staff, buildings, and stakeholders. In March, I was appointed as manager of the Studio City Branch—among the busiest in the system.

In January of 2013, I applied for and was appointed as an Innovative Leadership Program Fellow. I am now committed to working closely with a resident and the rest of the team for the next two years. My hopes for the program are far reaching – creating an environment where new leaders are cultivated, encouraged, and supported so that they and the profession can flourish. Yes, it’s not all about me!

Jacquie was at Studio City for three months and although our time passed by quickly, we made an effort to conduct our daily debriefings. We experimented with innovation at the branch on many different levels including staff interaction, customer service, E-learning, outreach, and much more. I continue to learn a lot from Jacquie and cannot overstate the value of collaborating and communicating with someone on such a level. It is energizing! Balancing the responsibilities of my new position and that of the ILP is challenging and exciting.

As the rotations switch—Jacquie is at Central working with the multi-talented and Zen management master, Joyce, and Mary is with me at Studio—I can already see that my relationship with Mary will blossom and, together, we will discover what the heck it means to be 21st Century Librarians.

We travel to New York City to learn and share with NYPL, to seek innovative solutions to best serve our patrons, and to strengthen our relationship with team members. The familiar refrain “libraries are changing” is one that we hear constantly, but what does it really mean to librarians, staff, and patrons? Stay tuned because we’re going to find out!

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Musings on Innovation: An introduction

Briefly, as Mary mentioned, I have been working with my Fellow, Karen Pickard-Four, at the Studio City Branch. Its been an excellent experience, as Studio City is an incredibly busy branch (22,650 items circulated just this past month!). With all that activity, including over 15 programs throughout the month, outreach done regularly by the librarians, and just the normal, daily duties to make sure the public is served, its sometimes hard to think about “innovation.” And sometimes, trying to wrap my head around the concept of innovation is tough; there are so many ideas, so much drive to do the innovative things, but then there is always the but…. the unnamed situations, fears, and so forth that may make us falter and fear the change.

Overall, with the end of this rotation I have several major questions surrounding innovation that I don’t expect to have answer to any time soon, but will definitely be in the forefront as I grow in this profession, and will definitely guide me as I work at LAPL and implement my programming.  I won’t go into all of them at this point, rather, I hope this to be a recurring theme, perhaps a series for my posts as I build upon my experiences over the coming months.

So far, the questions I have surrounding innovation fall into about three different categories. The first revolves around the idea of when an innovation is no longer such, and instead, the new standard. What constitutes “majority” in the world of library services, for instance, one library starts checking out digital equipment (camera’s, in particular) to the public for three weeks at a time, no questions asked. More and more libraries add the service of loaning at digital equipment, and before long it seems like it’s odd for a library not to do that. At that point, should a library make it a priority to implement the service because it is the standard across the system, and no long an innovation? Even if it is a new and seemingly innovative for the system?

Next, I am interested to learn more about what motivates people to innovate. For many, the satisfaction of creating something that helps make services more accessible, relevant and simply good is enough to encourage further innovation and reinforce a commitment to customer service. However, it is not uncommon for some individuals or systems to receive an incentive or reward for their innovation. For example, in California an act was passed in 2012 that provides companies that implement an innovative project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a certain number of credits. Could, or rather should, libraries have similar opportunities? Or, perhaps these are already in place with things like grant funding for dream projects, and so forth. But what can be done at the lowest levels (branch libraries) to the highest (administration of a system, or even a state library office) to encourage and support the act, or a culture of innovation?

I believe that innovation allows for individuals, organizations, etc. to create a flexible program or plan for service delivery that meets the needs of the profession and public, and will grow and change with advancement of the future. Additionally, it incorporates or builds on the core of the institution, and enhances all the things that are already done well, but makes them available to fit the needs of the present and future. However, my final question here has two parts: how do we support/maintain a culture of innovation, while at the same time, getting the work done? It seems simple that we should just do the work, but because innovation gets people thinking, stemming the flow of ideas, or finding the appropriate times and spaces to incorporate that innovation seems to be tricky.

Ultimately, as this rotation wraps up I feel like I have learned so much, yet have even more to go. But I am hopeful that these questions, along with the people, places, and the community, will be excellent guides as I start the next phase!

Jacquie Welsh

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What the Heck (Part 2)

This is the second installment of “What the Heck Is an Innovation Leadership Resident?”

In my first post, I described a bit about my background and what I did before coming to LAPL to work with the Innovation Leadership Program. If you’d like to know some more about my fellow resident, Jacquie Welsh, see her post here. I imagine that a lot of people wonder how Jacquie and I spend our time and how a residency program runs in a large, urban public library. When I first explain that I’m a librarian-in-residence, most people give me a blank look. It’s not a job title that we immediately understand, so I usually reference medical residencies, which is a concept that most people get.

The basic idea of the ILP is to 1) attract promising, recent library school graduates to public libraries, namely LAPL, 2) pair them with experienced and passionate seasoned library managers, who will be given the opportunity to improve their leadership and mentoring skills, and 3) provide them with the tools, skills, and experience they need to plan, implement, and evaluate an innovative library program or service.

Nuts and bolts: The ILP is a two-year residency. After a one-month orientation to LAPL, Jacquie and I split up to start the first of four, three-month rotations. I am currently paired with Fellow Joyce Cooper, Senior Librarian in the International Languages Department at Central Library and Jacquie is at the Studio City Branch with her Fellow, Karen Pickard-Four, who is the Senior Librarian there. We’ve been at our current deployments since late February and at the end of this month, we’ll switch rotation sites. After a year of rotations, we’ll begin work on our special project.

Working at the Central Library is incredible. If you haven’t visited us before, you really should come by. Our beautiful, historic building is chock-full of beautiful things like sphinxes, murals, a really cool globe chandelier and, of course, millions of books, DVDs, CDs, computers, study carrels, and friendly library staff. The collection here is more akin to what you might find in an academic library than your local branch. We have rare materials, reference materials, and special collections including maps, photographs, and menus. I’m not just listing these things for my health, but to give you a sense of the enormity of the materials and expertise at the Central Library.

Much of my time at Central Library has been spent in various departments, getting a feel for what they do. Which is difficult, considering that it is generally accepted that it takes roughly two years to even begin to understand all the resources located in a single department and to start to get really good at reference questions in that department. And that is not an exaggeration. When I started at Central, Joyce was working in the Social Sciences Department, so I got a feel for the diversity of subjects and the enormous range of questions you might get in a department with materials about astrology, religion, test preparation, self-help, and social movements. And that barely scratches the surface.

I’ve spent time with all of the departments in the Central Library at this point, but most of my time has been spent in the International Languages Department. The idea of the rotation is to give us a feel for what it would be like to work in a certain department or branch, and to help us understand the demographics and information needs of the community we serve. I have regular shifts on the reference desk, I’ve handled security situations with disruptive patrons, created displays, told more patrons than I can count where the restrooms are, and selected items to be purchased. However, being a Resident, I also have the benefit of being partnered with the manager, so I get to participate in the bigger-picture tasks, too. I’ve had the opportunity to create schedules, prepare a presentation to the Board of Library Commissioners, rethink how our collection is developed and organized, attend management meetings, participate in conversations about how to serve our patrons better, and ask, constantly, why we do things the way we do.

For me, this is a dream job. Though I’ve focused on a few areas of librarianship in more depth than others, my interests, education, and passion haven’t led me to commit to a particular type of public librarianship. That is, I don’t know if I would have succeeded in my first library job if I’d had to narrow myself to one particular job or service demographic (i.e. adults, teens, children). But in this role, I have the opportunity to explore all of my interests, volunteer to work on a variety of projects throughout the system, and refine my skills. All while meeting and working with library staff from throughout the system. It doesn’t get any better than this!

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What the Heck Is an Innovation Leadership Resident?

Innovation Leadership Resident. What the heck does that mean? This is a question I am asked often and, to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure of the answer. Now, that is not to say that I don’t know what I’m doing, but that the entire concept of the Innovation Leadership Program is new to the world of urban, public libraries in general, and LAPL in particular. Those of us who are participating in this two-year residency program are embarking on a new adventure and though we are benefiting from all of the lessons learned in the 6-month pilot, we’re still learning much of it along the way.

However, before I delve into the concept of a public library residency program, let’s back up so I can tell you a bit about who I am and how I happened to become an Innovation Leadership Resident. My name is Mary Abler and I received my MLIS from San Jose State University in 2012. I decided to pursue a career in libraries shortly after I started working at Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. I came to work at Friends after a series of unfulfilling, short-lived stints in various “my-English-lit-degree-didn’t-really-prepare-me-for-a-particular-job-and-no-one-will-hire-me-without-experience-so-I-will-take-what-I-can-get” jobs. I was desperate to obtain work that mattered and that made a difference in the lives of others, and finally, I obtained enough confidence to convince someone at a non-profit to hire me. At the time, it hardly mattered what cause I supported, but that I was doing something that was greater than making a profit. It wasn’t until I started meeting library staff and working with them on various projects that I began to understand the depth and breadth of how public libraries serve their communities.

For me, public libraries represent a synthesis of my passion for service and education. I was lucky to learn early on in my adult life that a terrible job with a big paycheck would not be satisfying to me, especially if I couldn’t see the value of my contributions beyond the bottom line of the company for which I worked. Everyday, public libraries serve our communities and teach our patrons. We provide resources for those who have lost their jobs and coach parents on how to help their children develop early literacy skills. We give those that have no other place to go a welcoming space and simple kindness, and put books in the hands of teenagers who have never read a book outside of school assignments. Library staff are some of the most selfless people that I know, often going above and beyond simple customer service to help patrons find what they’re looking for and provide the resources that they need to educate themselves and learn new skills. And not because we’re going to make a sale or obtain a commission. Not because this is the only job we can get. But because we are in the business of service and access to knowledge, and it is at the core of everything that we do.

Meeting library staff throughout San Francisco who were actively engaged in helping their communities to be more educated, more active, and more engaged felt a bit like a magic trick. Here were all these talented, bright, passionate folks, right in front of me in every community in which I’ve lived, and I had no idea that they did the kind of work that I felt called to do. (We won’t even get into the fact that my mother has an MLIS too and works for a library school. I was obviously oblivious.) In many ways, I did not find the library profession; it found me.

Now back to the original question: what exactly is an Innovation Leadership Resident? To start, I will introduce you to an ILP catchphrase: “Don’t call it an internship!” Many times, Jacquie and I are confused with interns – students who are working in libraries with the goal of obtaining library skills and school credit towards their degrees. Granted, as first-year librarians, we are certainly learning essential library skills and engaging in first-year librarian duties, but the difference is that we aren’t students. We are post-graduate library professionals and while we are learning, we are also offering our unique skills to LAPL as innovators. We are making connections, asking questions, and generally working with LAPL go from being a great library, to becoming a remarkable library.

At the moment, Jacquie and I are each partnered with a fellow, a mid-career librarian at LAPL, in the first of four rotation sites. Currently, I am working with my fellow, Joyce Cooper, Senior Librarian, in the International Languages Department at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles. Jacquie is with her fellow, Karen Pickard-Four, at the Studio City Branch Library. In my next post, I hope to tell you more about the nuts and bolts of what a rotation looks like and how I actually spend my time!

Thanks for reading…

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