Public Libraries Fills Early Childhood Infrastructure

As a professional who started my career as a children’s librarian, I have often said that children’s services are the heart and soul of public libraries. The faces of joyful children picking books off the shelves then sitting on a cushion to read them is a beautiful thing. However, this is more than simply a feel-good image. Public libraries are essential for early childhood.

In a recent article on the Bloomberg web site, City Lab reporter Kendra Hurley shares the unique way public libraries serve this unnoticed demographic. In her article called The US Has No Early Childhood Infrastructure. Libraries Are Picking Up the Slack she shares the following:

In the United States — the only rich country without paid parental leave — babies, toddlers and their caretakers are routinely neglected by both policy and city planning. It’s rare to find even a step stool in a public restroom, said Kristy Spreng, a child-care program director and former librarian who co-created a baby play area with a workstation for Ohio’s Loudonville Public Library. “Those basic simple things just get overlooked,” said Spreng. “It’s crazy, because there are always babies. We reproduce. The need isn’t going away.”

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

To fill this gap, children’s librarians are developing new approaches to service.

For librarians, the big takeaway was that literacy starts at birth and the early years set the stage for future learning. “Children become readers on the laps of their grown-ups,” Payne recalled the philosophy of the time. Children’s librarians began regarding themselves as coaches for parents with small kids, and “laptime” story hours where librarians model how to read, sing and play with babies and toddlers cropped up at libraries everywhere.

Learn more about how public libraries are serving very young children by reading the rest of the article.

Read a Banned Book

Ever since the first books were written, someone has been trying to ban them. It is a centuries old struggle to preserve the freedom to read against forces that try to stifle the spread of knowledge. This is why the third full week of September is annually celebrated as “Banned Books Week.” A USA Today article summarized the history of the week.

Banned Book Week started 40 years ago as a celebration of the freedom to read but the librarian-led movement is shifting into the world of grassroots organizing as an unprecedented number of book-ban efforts have emerged around the country.

This past year marked one of the busiest years for book challenges in recent memory. Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom summarized the current situation in the article.

The number of challenged books hit an all-time high last year. with 729 challenges, affecting a total of 1597 books – nearly triple the number of challenged books in 2019, according to the American Library Association, which has tracked the annual number of challenges through media and voluntary reports since 1990.

“We’re now seeing efforts to remove books en masse. In the past it might be one parent challenging a particular book in a library and now we’re seeing organized groups take lists of books to boards demanding their removal,” Caldwell-Stone said. “Demanding that elected officials censor these works because they find them offensive, which is the very antithesis of democratic freedom to read, a real attack on liberty.”  

Since most book challenges are local, it is important to support our local librarians by letting our elected officials know that the freedom to read is essential to democracy. Learn more about the topic through the USA Today article.

Censorship Battles in Public Libraries

Across the country libraries have seen an increase in book challenges, especially around race relations and LGBTQ-themed books. While these sorts of challenges have always been part of the landscape, during the past year they have intensified. The ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom recently reported that challenges quadrupled in 2021. The office also keeps a list of the top ten most recently challenged books on its web site.

An example of how this struggle is happening is encapsulated in a recent story about the Citrus County Library System and a battle by activists to get a seat on its Advisory Board. The Tampa Bay Times reported on the story of the battle that started over a small Pride Month display.

The yearly LGBTQ Pride Month display in the Citrus County library went largely unnoticed until 2021.

But last year, the small array of LGBTQ-themed books surrounded by rainbow hearts and signs saying “love is love” became a point of contention that has expanded into a larger partisan battle, pushed by the fringes of the conservative movement, over censorship and children’s education.

Last month, the library’s advisory board was inundated with candidates trying to replace five of the nine sitting board members. It was the first time the board, which does not control the content on the library shelves, had seen such interest.

Read the full story on the Tampa Bay Times web site.

Leading Your Team to Productivity

Back at this year’s Florida Library Association annual conference, the FLA Professional Development Committee released a video highlighting productivity practices, tips and tricks from three leaders in the library field. I was included along with Dr. Leo Lo, Dean and Professor of the College of University Libraries and Learning Services and Dr. Vanessa Reyes, Assistant Professor for the School of Information at the University of South Florida.

I was interviewed by Amy Harris, Instruction & Assessment Librarian at Saint Leo University. During my portion of the presentation, I discussed the basic principle of GTD and how to apply them in the workplace.

The full video can be found on YouTube.

Director’s Dialogue – A Public Libraries Podcast

The PLA Leadership Development Committee is always looking for ways to bring value to library workers across the profession. Earlier this year, the committee developed an idea to do a podcast series where current Public Library Directors would have a casual conversation about their work and offer insights into the profession. This led to the creation of a new Public Libraries podcast special edition episode called Director’s Dialogue.

The inaugural episode featured me and Kent Oliver, who recently retired as chief executive of the Nashville Public Library. Future episodes will aim to provide a diverse cross section of library leaders from both large and small systems.

The description for the twenty-minute episode was as follows:

From leadership and management matters to current public library hot topics to strategic planning, capital projects, collection development, program planning, and so much more, the Directors Dialogue episodes aim to share ideas, best practices, and lessons learned.

Both are also members of the PLA Leadership Development Committee and the idea for the Library Directors Conversation series came out of their committee discussions.

Listen online or through your favorite podcast app and watch for more episodes later this year.

Unite Against Book Bans

Across the country attacks on the freedom to read have multiplied. While there have always been attempts to remove books from library shelves, this time the movement is more organized and widespread. Most of the targeted items are children’s material covering LQBTQIA+ information and race relations, such as Black Lives Matter.

The American Library Association stands at the forefront to protect the right to read. For years they have tracked book challenges and compiled the top ten list of targeted titles. With the threat rising, they recently started a campaign called Unite Against Book Bans. The site contains the results of a nationwide poll that clearly shows book banners are a minority.

On both sides of the aisle, large majorities of voters and parents oppose book bans. 71% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from public libraries. 67% of voters oppose efforts to remove books from school libraries. And yet, attempts to ban books from libraries are rising at an unprecedented level across the country. The American Library Association reported more than 729 attempted bans of 1,597 individual books in 2021 alone.

Join the campaign to preserve the right to read and fight book bans. It is as simple as signing up through the ALA’s campaign page. The web site also includes an action kit and ways your organization can partner with the movement.

Don’t let a small minority ban books from our library shelves. Join the cause and unite against book bans.

Interview with Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada

I had the honor of interviewing incoming ALA President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada. The interview is available to read at Public Libraries Online.

Working out of her home base as the Adult Services Assistant Manager at the Palos Verdes Library District in Southern California, Lessa has been deeply involved with ALA for many years. Given the huge responsibilities and time commitment, I asked what inspired her to run for ALA President.

The idea of becoming President stuck in my mind because when I was in Emerging Leaders, my group said I was going to be ALA president someday although I’m not sure I agreed then. When I was on the Executive Board and started doing work for the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE) it was a labor of love, and a lot of work. I saw how much I cared about the Association, but it also showed me how much others cared about it too. I saw the difference that ALA made not only in personal lives, but in libraries and other Associations across the country. When I was finishing my executive board term, and SCOE was coming to an end, it was right when the pandemic hit. Calls for nominations for ALA president were being solicited. I wasn’t finished with this work and wanted to continue to completion to see those changes. I don’t want to just drop it into someone else’s lap. I want to take responsibility and help the management and cultural changes going on in ALA, and as a society as a whole. That’s how I got here today.

Later in our conversation, she shared her list of the most important issues facing libraries today.

I think our biggest issues include ensuring that ALA continues its mission to preserve and strengthen library services through technical assistance, professional development, and direct funding for libraries and library practitioners. What that looks like on a practical level is how we support library workers right now. We’ve gone through a lot of trauma, regardless of the type of library you’ve worked in. As library workers and as people, figuring out what that support and advocacy for library workers looks like is one of the biggest issues. ALA can utilize its 501c6 arm, the ALA-Allied Professional Association, to carry out this mission. As ALA, one of the biggest issues right now is also supporting those who are facing intellectual freedom challenges. We must work against those challenges with a concerted effort. ALA recently launched Unite Against Book Bans, and is rolling out tool kits. We’re seeing support from our Office for Intellectual Freedom helping those on the front lines. Finally, there’s lots of different ways that folks can use their skills, time, and dollars. I think it’s important to remind folks of the value of ALA membership and how it affects libraries across the nation.

Read the rest of the interview to learn about her Presidential plans, the value of an ALA membership, and what she believes are the biggest opportunities for libraries of all types.

Thank you to Public Libraries Online for posting the conversation.

Libraries Can Really Change the Future – Interview with Susan Benton

In February I had the honor of sitting down with Susan Benton, President/CEO of the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). Susan is retiring this summer after thirteen years of service at ULC. Before she left, I wanted to learn more about her tenure at ULC and her thoughts on the challenges facing, and future of, public libraries. The full conversation is posted at Public Libraries Online. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

DC: How has ULC changed under your leadership both internally and also in terms of its relationship with members?

Susan Benton

SB: When I first joined ULC, we had a very small staff and were located in Chicago. We made the move in 2014 to Washington D.C. which was important for us. While some thought ULC moved to Washington to lobby on Capitol Hill, we moved to D.C. so that we could be closer to allied organizations that are important to libraries. The work that ULC is doing to transform the lives of people in our cities and counties requires us to work with organizations here in Washington D.C., such as the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, the Council of the Great City Schools, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities and others. They are truly sister organizations with very similar missions to ULC. We now connect with them to extend our work. The move helped us take a stronger position for urban libraries. We are constantly in conversations with colleagues in the public sector and private sector so that we can educate others about the essential contributions of libraries to all aspects of life. 

Read the rest of the article on the Public Libraries Online web site.

Finding Your Leadership Pathway – a PLA PreConference

Are you planning to attend the Public Library Association Conference in Portland OR or live in the vicinity? If so, why not brush up on your leadership skills by joining me and a team of great leaders for a full day pre-conference session, Finding Your Leadership Pathway.

Our presenters include:

  • Lynn Hoffman, Director of Operations, Somerset County Library System of New Jersey
  • Isaiah West, Teen Services Specialist, Prince George’s County Memorial Library System
  • Derek Wolfgram, Library Director, Redwood City Public Library
  • Douglas Crane, Director, Palm Beach County Library System

This full day event is happening on Tues. March 22, 9 am to 5 pm, at the convention center.

What to know what is in store? Read on!

Public libraries offer multiple pathways to leadership. From team supervision to directorship, and from small municipal and rural libraries to large multi-site systems, the array of options create a rich leadership landscape for public library careers. Join current and prospective leaders at all levels to share in a day of exploration, self-reflection, and networking, all focused on helping you map out your own career development journey. In addition to having ample opportunities for interaction with other participants, you’ll also hear from over a dozen diverse leaders as they talk about their own varied experiences throughout the day.

Outcome OneState their leadership value and identify the strengths they can put to the most effective use now and in the future;
Outcome TwoCommunicate with stakeholders and powerfully advocate for change within their organizations, employing strategies to make their voice heard at all levels of leadership; and
Outcome ThreeCreate a plan for sustained action that exemplifies their commitment to maintaining and building on their leadership practice

Register for the PLA Conference and add on this event for an additional charge. Lunch is included.

I hope to see you there!