Florida Libraries are Fundamental to Freedom

On May 19, 2023, I became President of the Florida Library Association. At the conference in Dayton Beach, I unveiled the Presidential theme: Florida Libraries are Fundamental to Freedom. Below is the opening portion of the speech explaining the theme and how it is important to the work that libraries are doing today.

Florida libraries are fundamental to freedom.

The drafters of the Declaration of Independence believed in the essential rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Since 1776, our nation has struggled to apply these principles equally across all its residents in order to create that elusive more perfect union. At its core, the freedoms that Americans seek are the same freedoms supported by our libraries. Of these aspects of liberty, three specific freedoms stand out for me.

Florida libraries support the freedom to participate. In an increasingly fractious society, our buildings remain the one space where everyone is welcome. Through our libraries, residents can find all the tools and resources needed to live their lives. Whether it is using public computers to apply for benefits, meeting neighbors at a children’s story hour, or to register to vote and actually vote, libraries remain central to our communities. Eric Klinenberg in his book, Palaces for the People, states that a founding principle of libraries is, “that all people deserve free, open access to our shared culture and heritage, which they can use to any end they see fit.”

Read the full speech found on the Efficient Librarian website.

Right to Read Day

It is a sad but true fact that some people consider reading to be a dangerous activity. Of course, history is full of examples where repressive regimes have sought to prevent their citizens from reading certain books, even going as far as burning them! (The books usually, but sometimes the reader as well.) When this takes place, it is essential that all who value learning and literature fight for the freedom to read.

The American Library Association has been America’s leading champion in the fight against censorship. This year for National Library Week, they have declared today to be the Right to Read Day. As they explain on their website:

The Monday of National Library Week – April 24, 2023 – will mark one year since the launch of the Unite Against Book Bans campaign. To honor the occasion, we’re calling on readers, advocates, and library lovers to fight back against censorship in a national day of action to defend, protect, and celebrate your right to read freely. We’re calling it Right to Read Day.

On the same day, the American Library Association will release its list of the Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2022. The list follows ALA’s recent unveiling of data showing record-shattering attempts to remove books from school and public libraries, and it shows us what types of books are being challenged the most and why.

It’s also a call to action.

Join us on #RightToReadDay and beyond by participating in the actions below to support your library and defend the freedom to read in your community.

Do you want to help protect the freedom to read as an essential human right? Learn the five steps that you can do today or any day to fight for the right to read.

ChatGPT Guest Post – How to Reduce Stress at Work

Today I decided once more to test the ChatGPT AI to see how it reacts to writing a blog post with references to recent articles. The topic I gave it was to: write a blog post using recent article references on the topic of how to reduce stress at work

Below is what it generated. I’ll provide my thoughts at the end of the post.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Start of Blog Post:

Stress at work is a common problem that affects millions of people worldwide. From deadlines to heavy workloads, it can be challenging to manage stress levels when working. The good news is that there are practical steps you can take to reduce stress at work and improve your overall well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explore some recent article references on how to reduce stress at work.

  1. Take breaks regularly

One of the most effective ways to reduce stress at work is to take breaks regularly. According to a recent article by Harvard Business Review, taking short breaks throughout the day can help to reduce stress levels and increase productivity. Research has shown that taking a 15-minute break every 90 minutes can be highly beneficial for both mental and physical health. So, make sure to schedule regular breaks throughout your workday.

  1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness has become increasingly popular in recent years, and for a good reason. According to a recent article by Forbes, practicing mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. There are various mindfulness practices you can try, such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga. These practices can help you to stay calm and centered when faced with stressful situations at work.

  1. Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep is essential for reducing stress levels. According to a recent article by Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep can lead to increased stress levels, decreased productivity, and impaired cognitive function. To improve your sleep quality, try to establish a regular sleep routine, avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and create a comfortable sleep environment.

  1. Communicate with your colleagues

Effective communication is crucial for reducing stress at work. According to a recent article by Psychology Today, communicating with your colleagues can help to reduce misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and build stronger relationships. When you feel stressed, don’t hesitate to reach out to your colleagues for support. Discussing your concerns and sharing your workload can help you to feel less overwhelmed.

  1. Prioritize self-care

Finally, prioritizing self-care is essential for reducing stress at work. According to a recent article by Harvard Business Review, practicing self-care can help to improve your overall well-being and reduce stress levels. Self-care involves taking care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. Some self-care practices you can try include exercise, healthy eating, spending time with loved ones, or pursuing a hobby you enjoy.

In conclusion, reducing stress at work is crucial for maintaining good mental and physical health. By taking regular breaks, practicing mindfulness, getting enough sleep, communicating effectively with colleagues, and prioritizing self-care, you can reduce stress levels and improve your overall well-being. Remember to make these practices a regular part of your routine, and you’ll soon feel more relaxed, focused, and productive at work.

End of Blog Post

My Thoughts:

The post did indeed generate a simple blog post focusing on stress reduction techniques, which was created in under ten seconds. Along with the quick turnaround, a few things caught my eye.

First of all, while it made references to recent articles, it did not provide a link or notation about the date the articles were published. Therefore, the reader has to do the legwork to track them down.

Second, three of the five tips were not specifically work related. “Taking breaks” and “Communicating with Colleagues” were the only two workplace specific items. The other three were broad suggestions, that while useful, did not exactly match my initial prompt.

Third and final, none of the stress reduction tips had in-depth steps on how to do them. For example, the section on self-care provided basic ideas, but was entirely generic. This could be a function of my initial prompt. Experimenting with the instructions to the AI could guide it to fix the problems encountered above.

Go over to ChatGPT to give it a try for free.

How to Talk About Book Bans

It seems that every day the news reports another school district or public library being inundated with demands to ban books. Looking back in history these moral panic waves hit every couple of decades, but their effects if successful last for a long time. Often it is a vocal minority that powers these attacks on the freedom to read. Yet, when it comes down to the facts, do a majority of people support ban books. The truth is clearly they do not.

According to United Against Book Bans, 71% of voters oppose banning books in public libraries and a similar 67% oppose it in schools. The problem is that most people don’t realize the underlying negative impacts that book bans have on minorities and other targeted groups. How do we reach out to the silent majority who oppose book bans to educate and activate them on this important issue?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Kelly Jensen writing for Book Riot recently authored an article titled: How to Talk about Book Bans with Friends, Library Patrons, and More. In the piece she provided helpful tips to encourage supports to speak out against book bans. For friends she suggests a few things including:

Share data, statistics, and research as much as you do the terrible and/or click-y stories about the absurdity of certain challenges. It IS ridiculous that books about sports heroes were banned in a Florida school district. But what is also absurd and far more actionable is noting that book bans are extremely unpopular with the public (research) and that when given the choice to opt their kids out of school library materials, it is the smallest minority of parents who do (research).

When talking to library patrons, she suggests many approaches, including sharing widely when a book challenge takes place:

If your library is dealing with a book challenge, make sure your power users know that they need to attend the board meeting and/or submit a letter in support of the book. As noted in the previous section, use the data, research, and statistics to back up the need for the library to include materials for all.

Read the rest of the article on the Book Riot website.

Open AI Chat Post

Today’s post is being handed over to a special guest writer. However, it is not a human being!

Have you heard of ChatGPT developed by the company, OpenAI? Here’s how they describe it:

We’ve trained a model called ChatGPT which interacts in a conversational way. The dialogue format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer followup questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests. ChatGPT is a sibling model to InstructGPT, which is trained to follow an instruction in a prompt and provide a detailed response.

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

For fun, I decided to test their open test version to see what would say when asked to write a few paragraphs about productivity. Below is Chat Bot’s response:

Productivity is a topic that is on the minds of many people these days. With so much to do and so little time, it can be overwhelming trying to get everything done. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques and strategies that can help you increase your productivity and get more done in less time.

One of the keys to being more productive is to set clear goals for yourself. This means taking the time to identify what you want to achieve and then working backwards to figure out the specific steps you need to take to get there. By having a clear plan in place, you’ll be able to stay focused and avoid getting sidetracked by distractions.

Another important aspect of productivity is time management. This means being intentional about how you use your time, and prioritizing the tasks that are most important. One effective way to do this is to use the 80/20 rule, which states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. By focusing on the tasks that will have the greatest impact, you’ll be able to make the most of your time.

It’s also crucial to eliminate distractions and create a productive environment for yourself. This means taking steps to minimize interruptions, such as turning off notifications on your phone or closing unnecessary tabs on your computer. It also means creating a workspace that is conducive to productivity, with everything you need within easy reach.

In addition to these techniques, it’s important to take care of yourself and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This means setting aside time for exercise, relaxation, and socializing with friends and family. By taking care of your physical and mental health, you’ll be better able to focus and be more productive.

Overall, being more productive is all about setting goals, managing your time effectively, eliminating distractions, and taking care of yourself. By implementing these strategies, you’ll be able to get more done in less time and achieve your goals more quickly.

What did you think? Was the advice helpful?

Try ChatGPT out for yourself and see what other responses it can provide.

12 Grand Challenges

What is the future of Local Government?

This past weekend fifty-one delegates from across the country came together in Omaha to shape that future. The event was the Local Government 2030 National Convening. With a purpose to discern the lessons from the future, the group worked over two days to find ways to break down silos and create the groundwork for change. I was honored to serve as a Super Delegate to help guide the work and keep everyone thinking big and bold.

A starting point for the Convening was provided by the National Academy of Public Administration. As a way to set out the problems facing government and inspire answers, they devised the Twelve Grand Challenges in Public Administration. These challenges are part of an agenda for change. As the Academy states on its website:

As the world moves quickly from the industrial age into the information age, new challenges have arisen and demands on government have increased. But the public sector has often been in a reactive mode—struggling to adapt to a rapidly evolving international, economic, social, technological, and cultural environment. Over the next decade, all sectors of society must work together to address the critical issues of protecting and advancing democracy, strengthening social and economic development, ensuring environmental sustainability, and managing technological changes. And governments at all levels must improve their operations so that they can tackle problems in new ways and earn the public’s trust.

Each of the twelve challenges focuses on a specific goal. For example, one of challenges is to “Modernize and Reinvigorate the Public Service.”

Federal, state, and local governments deliver vitally important services to the American people each and every day. If it is an important need, public agencies at one or more levels of government are likely to have an important role in meeting it.

Learn about all the Twelve Grand Challenges in Public Administration and more about the Local Government 2030 National Convening through the links provided.

Public Libraries Fill 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.