The Positive Effects of Growing Up with Books

As a librarian I naturally appreciate the value of a personal library of books at home. While my daughter was growing up we bought many classic and favorite books to supplement the ones I borrowed from the library. This lead her to become a proficient read and excellent student. While my daughter clearly benefited from a robust home library, it raises the question about the impact that access to books at home has on children across the population.

In a Smithsonian Magazine article, reporter Brigit Katz points to a study that “suggests that exposure to large home libraries may have a long-term impact on proficiency in three key areas.”

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The study, published recently in Social Science Research, assessed data from 160,000 adults from 31 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Turkey, Japan and Chile. Participants filled out surveys with the Programme for the International Assessment of Competencies, which measures proficiency in three categories: literacy, numeracy (using mathematical concepts in everyday life) and information communication technology, (using digital technology to communicate with other people, and to gather and analyze information).

Learn more about the results of the study on the impact of home libraries on children’s development by reading the rest of the article.

Why Did I Make that Dumb Decision?

Have you ever made a decision you quickly regretted? We have all made choices in our life that seemed well thought out at first, only to have the results turn out sour. Decision making is something we do every day, but very few people take the time to examine their decision making process. Even fewer attempt to understand the hidden factors that effect our cognitive process and cloud our view of the world.

In a recent workshop for PCI Webinars I explored the role that fallacies and probability play in our decision making process. I started out the webinar with a quote from former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld that demonstrates the complexities of our ability to understand the world.

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.” – Donald Rumsfeld – US Secretary of Defense – 2001-2006

To learn more about six big fallacies the effect our decision making and to discover how our inability to understand probability leads to bad choices, read the text version of the workshop on the Efficient Librarian web site.

Leadership Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

This past year has been a trying time for everyone including those in leadership positions. Many leaders had to make health and safety decisions for the staff and the public they serve in the face of a threat that no one had any experience dealing with before now. For me this past year was a tremendous challenged but it provided many deep insights into how to guide an organization through a crisis.

My thoughts on leading through a pandemic were summarized in an article published in the Learning Exchange newsletter this past quarter. One of my first observations was that to be successful in their job leaders would be wise to over-communicate.

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Over-Communicate – In times of crisis constant communication is vital.  However, it is easy for leaders to fall quiet in the face of uncertainty or be too limited in their sharing.  The stress of a crisis prompts fear.  One underappreciated fact about fear is the creativity it spawns.  This creativity can be directed towards solving problems or it can be used to fuel angst and discord.  I have found that in the absence of effective communication, people fill the space with negativity and worse case scenarios.  To avoid this trap, leaders must over communicate.

The rest of the article is available to view right here on the Efficient Librarian.

The Ongoing Library Publisher eBook Saga

The pandemic has impacted public libraries in many ways, most significantly being the number of visitors. With many libraries on reduced operating hours or offering only curbside/walk up service it means access to their physical collections is limited. As well vulnerable populations that make up a significant portion of public library users are still staying at home for their own safety. These factors have combined to generate large increases in eBook borrowing. At the same time it has renewed simmering concerns about publishers and their eBook pricing models.

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A recent article in Wired Magazine provides a good overview of the interaction between libraries and publishers in the age of COVID-19.

The rising demand for digital materials has prompted some librarians to shift what they buy, even as they fear shrinking budgets amid the economic downturn. A recent survey of 400 librarians in the US and Canada found that one-third are spending less on physical books, audiobooks, and DVDs, and more on digital versions since the pandemic began. Twenty-nine percent have had their budgets frozen or reduced.

But the publishers’ licensing terms make it “very difficult for libraries to be able to afford ebooks,” says Michelle Jeske, director of the Denver Public Library and president of the Public Library Association. “The pricing models don’t work well for libraries.” Between January and July, the Denver system saw 212,000 more books downloaded than the same period last year, a 17 percent increase.

Read the rest of the article at the Wired Magazine web site.

What is Your Next Action?

One of the most fundamental moves in productivity is identifying your next physical action.

You may have heard this statement before especially if have studied Getting Things Done (GTD). In fact the question is at the center of the David Allen’s famous workflow diagram. Why is it so important to identify your next action in a very specific way? Because vagueness is the antithesis of productivity.

The reason is simple to understand. When our actions are undefined the mind has nothing to focus on. Sure it may have a sense of what our completed projects will look like in the end, but to get there involves a series of steps. Most of the time our next actions are self evident and require little thought. However when a project becomes stuck it creates stress and avoidance. That is when defining the next physical action is vital to forward progress. Getting specific forces the mind to focus through visualizing success. Often it only takes a minute to figure out an appropriate next action.

In the book Getting Things Done David Allen provides a classic example of what it means to think this way. Imagine you are overdue to take your car in for an oil change. The next action for almost everyone is not “change the oil” unless you are a DYI car mechanic ready for grease. The next physical action might be any of the following:

  • Call to schedule an appointment at your favorite garage
  • Talk to your colleague down the hall who recommended a shop
  • Search the Internet for local oil change deals
  • Check your calendar for an open day/time on your vehicle in
What is your next action?

Not having clarity on the next action could mean that oil change will not happen for a long time. Deciding on the next physical action creates greater clarity and makes it far more likely for the project to be completed.

Your challenge is to identify all the stuck projects in your life and decide on a next action for all of them. Taking these steps will boost the odds of completing them while reducing your stress level at the same time. Sounds like a win-win!

The Ripple Effect

How do we make Work work for everyone?

By that I mean how can we create physical or virtual workplaces where teams come together in the spirit of friendship, respect, and trust? One person who has thought deeply about this is Shola Richards. I would like to share a portion of one of his teachings about kindness from a post on his web site titled: Make Someone’s Day, Every Day:

The Ripple Effect

You likely know how deeply I believe in the power of kindness, so I won’t rehash that here. Here’s what I will say, though:

Kindness is the fastest, most effective, and easiest way to positively change the world. Just the simple act of making someone’s day can positively affect three (or more) people:

  • The person delivering the act of kindness
  • The person receiving the act of kindness
  • The person (or people) witnessing the act of kindness

Can you imagine if everyone reading this blog post committed to making someone’s day, every day? Can you imagine the positive impact that could have on literally millions of people? You (yes, you!) could literally be the person who restores someone’s faith in the goodness of humanity.

I believe that this “ripple effect” (one that we are responsible for starting, by the way) could be the key to healing the world.

And yes, the world needs healing.

Read the rest of his blog post at his web site.

Taking Better Notes

The secret to success in knowledge work lies in successful note taking. In my article for Public Libraries Magazine I defined a note as an information artifact of perceived value. Notes are necessary because we simply cannot rely on our brains to remember everything of importance. So the art and science of note taking is a field worth studying.

In an article by Kenneth A. Kiewra called A Seven-Step Guide to Taking Better Notes, the author starts out by focusing on why it is important to take notes in the first place, especially in an academic setting.

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Students who take notes during a lesson achieve more than those who listen to the lesson without note taking. This is because the act of note taking staves off boredom and focuses attention on lesson ideas more than listening without taking notes.

The primary value of note taking, though, is more in the product than the process, more in the reviewing than the recording. Students who record and then review notes almost always achieve more than students who record but do not review notes.

Read the rest of the article on the Quartz web site. If you haven’t done so already, learn the best techniques for digital note taking over at Forte Labs and their signature course, Building a Second Brain.

REALM Results 3 and 4

In the last few weeks the REALM Project, a partnership between the Columbus Metropolitan Library, OCLC, and the Battelle research labs, provided two new rounds of test results regarding library material and the survivability of COVID-19. Round 3 looked at five different item types including DVDs and Talking Books cassettes. The summary finding was as follows:

Results show that after five days of quarantine in an unstacked configuration, the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detected on the storage bag (flexible plastic) or the DVD. The storage container (rigid plastic), plexiglass, and the USB cassette all showed detectable virus at five days. Day five was the final time point tested.

Round 4 looked at materials from Round 1 but this time left them stacked to simulate items in a book return. The study indicated the following:

Results show that after six days of quarantine the SARS-CoV-2 virus was still detected on all five materials tested. When compared to Test 1, which resulted in non-detectable virus after three days on an unstacked hardcover book, softcover book, plastic protective cover, and DVD case, the results of Test 4 highlight the effect of stacking and its ability to prolong the survivability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Learn more about both studies and more at the REALM Project web site.

The Power of Appreciation

“Why should I thank them?  It’s their job.”

Many years ago I heard a supervisor say those words about her staff and to this day it still makes me cringe.  This person assumed that merely paying people for their work was thanks enough.  After all, to her mind it was not as if they rescued someone from a burning building or something else extraordinary!

I hope that you agree with me that people deserve to be appreciated beyond financial compensation.  Gratitude is not only reserved for big things that happen, but the little daily actions that contribute to workplace success.  In fact, this is an argument that appreciation for small actions has an out-sized effect.  According to the O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report, an employee’s satisfaction with their job is directly related to the amount of positive micro-experiences they have.

What are micro-experiences?  They are the tiny things that happen every day that together shape our overall impression of a workplace.  For example, do your colleagues say good morning every day; is the work evenly shared; is there laughter and fun in the workplace;  and does the team stick up for its members in a crisis.  Positive micro-experiences connect to a sense of purpose, success, and well-being, while negative ones do the opposite.

To my mind the most powerful micro-experiences come from genuine appreciation.  The most basic form of which is the simple, “thank you.”  Those two words have done more to improve employee morale and team connection than any other reward system or program.  I’ll ask you this question: How often do you thank your colleagues for helping out, completing tasks, or simply listening to your concerns? 

On my Library Management Team we started a practice to open every meeting with a round of appreciation.  Each team member offers gratitude to another team member for something specific they have done.  They can even offer appreciation to staff from that person’s division.  Opening the meeting this way creates a subtle but significant impact on the quality of the meeting.  It gets everyone into a team mode and demonstrates how simple appreciation quickly lifts the mood.

To that end, I challenge you all to make appreciation for your colleagues a more deliberate part of your day.  One habit is to thank at least five people every day for something specific they did at work.  Write kudos to them for an extra surprise.  Then watch how the power of appreciation creates an amazing work experience.  Thank you all for reading these thoughts!  It is appreciated.