Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas 2012: some thoughts and photos

With all the guests randomly stopping over, and the dinner party at my house, I was so afraid that the top scene of this cartoon was going to be my house between guests on Christmas. I will admit, keeping my house in a state of semi-perfection can be a challenge for me and the kids, even on a regular day.

Pipe cleaner collection
I like the toys that inspire imagination for my kids.  Imagination doesn't tend to stack well on shelves or fit in neat rows. Imagination doesn't always clean up after itself. Part of imagination is having a tolerance for not knowing what is coming next and spontaneously combining ideas from things that were supposedly separate. It's not a tidy philosophy, but I do like to let play time take over for a while.  There is inevitably the point in this process when enough is enough, play time is over. We must clean up.  For Christmas I let the reins go more than usual in this regard for the kids and I made the conscious decision to focus myself on making the food amazing and minimizing mess control in between food prep and talking to my lovely guests. The kids and adults appeared to very truly enjoy sharing the spirit of Christmas together and my apartment felt like a comfortably populated warm home with an eye level window view of the first snow of the season.  Sigh.  The presents I gave them this year included an incredible collection of pipe cleaners and a special box filled with brightly colored feathers.

The kids managed to sleep until 8, which I thought was totally fair. We all woke up and together we all checked out the living room. Bea and Vinny were in their new pajamas so that they would look nice in pictures. This is a Colbert tradition I've adopted thanks to Christmas eve with Arlene and Mary Ann. Bea's Christmas jammies this year made her look just like a leopard.  Thanks Mary Ann! How cute. Funny that I bought some kitty ears totally separately that just happened to match perfectly. Santa must be psychic! At least he was when I was a kid. Now that I'm grown I have to figure out how to be the mind reader. Oh wait, no I have to find a way to conjure up money.
Kitty Bea waking up slow next to a family of sledding penguins.
I took the kids to visit Santa sitting on a throne in a fake plastic version of the North Pole at Eastview mall. Vinny wanted to touch the fake snow just as bad I remember wanting to touch it. It's that seemingly built in human yearning for the thing just beyond our reach.  Put the gifts on a charge, buy a brand new mini mansion in a cookie cutter configuration on a road named after something humans are destroying on this planet, live life on the edge. I bet Eastview uses the exact same rolls of quilt stuffing and white cellophane sparkle snowflakes they used at that mall when the carpet was green and I was a kid in a stroller.  I remember Mom used to like parking at Woolworths or Fay's Drugs.  I remember sitting in the car outside Sears watching it snow while Dad loaded our brand new long needle fake Christmas tree into the car.  I remember my parents talking about keeping it forever.  I remember my Grandmother talking about downtown, and I think of Midtown.  It's a hole in the ground. I wish I could ask her about her visits there.

I feel old and worn as a Mommy of two approaching Christmas. I don't want to teach them to over-do as I think I was taught.  I want to teach them to center themselves and live life awake.  Bea asked Santa for a pink whistle with a bird on it.  Vinny wanted trombone.  Santa looked at me inquisitively and told the kids he was stumped.  I just said, "I guess that's what they want." He told them that he wasn't sure if he could do that or not, but that he would try.  A pink whistle with a bird on it is pretty specific, and a trombone is likely very expensive.  He managed to find a pink recorder and put a bird sticker on it for Bea. Vinny somehow got his hands on a slide whistle, but I'm not sure where that came from. Wishes were fulfilled, though I didn't spend $20 on the pictures.

Vinny thinks his new saw is amazing!
We let the kids open the presents very slow. They seemed to want to take a good look at everything before moving on to the next thing. I fought my childhood inclination to open all the presents fast and then play with them when no one is around.  Santa brought Vinny an amazing work bench constructed of wood including wooden screws, nails, bolts, pre-drilled lumber, and cubes to help fasten the lumber together in various configurations.  Mat started putting that together as I began brewing an extra yummy pot of coffee.  This toy is amazing and Vinny hasn't stopped playing with it yet. I found it for $60 less 15% at a great big store that at least pretends to care about human rights and the environment.  Bea's best present was a digital camera.  She has been taking tons of pictures of the most random things.  She's admittedly jealous of Vinny's yoyo.  Vinny is very jealous of Bea's Monster scaring flashlight. I'm proud to report that they have been playing together nicely, especially when they decide to share new toys.

We celebrated Christmas eve with the Colberts where we helped decorate the tree.

My best attempt at photographing overtired Vinny decorating the tree at Grama and Grampa's house.

Vinny made an interesting attempt at wearing a stocking.
 The day of Christmas I did not leave my home.  Here are a few photographic highlights.

Centerpiece for the dinner table!

Close up of my pink Christmas tree.

Bea is just cute.
Dad carving the perfectly cooked, perfectly timed prime rib.
I made a feast for eight people this year.  The prime rib roast came out perfectly medium rare and delicious.
The tiniest cutest ladybug!

Bea opening a present carefully selected by Mama and Auntie. Finger print art!

Decorating the tree with Mom and Dad Colbert

Bea flipped when she opened this.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Something about me.

I really started learning stuff back in the autumn of the year 2000 at St. Lawrence University.  One of five courses I took my first semester of college was intro to environmental science.  I still have my two and a half inch thick text book, even though I could have sold it back for good money.  It was painful to learn all this from a teacher who basically started out by telling us that there is no real solution.  That same semester, my first year class also studied environmental issues and international politics.  It was enough to immerse me deeply in the problems of this planet, that's for sure.  After reading Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and also The Man Who Grew Young by the same author, I became passionate about making a difference in the world.

My second semester I decided to steer away from such a deep focus on the environment. I knew it was very bad, and that was enough.  My second semester first year course was "Toxic Avenger's Theatre." That course really stretched me far beyond my comfort zone and pushed my creativity to the limit.  The following semester I took international politics and then, early in the semester on an off day, September 11th happened.  I decided to focus my learning on international politics and math. I was doing well in most of my courses.... but I had become so deeply depressed by the shock of learning about the impossible ills of the world I was not sure I could carry on.  I spent a semester in Europe and then dropped out of college.

I felt it was time for me to switch from a science and math focus to a creative focus.  I took courses at a few different community colleges and then designed my own degree program at Empire State College.  I carefully planned out a highly balanced, extremely well rounded education topped by a study in the use of literature in education.  I did not study how to teach but rather the broader concept of education in general.  After finishing my highly coveted degree, I spent two years earning minimum wage in urban poverty until I realized that a career in librarianship was perfect for me. I wrote a compelling application essay and (surprise!) conceived my daughter the same week. I learned of the pregnancy two weeks after I was accepted at the University at Buffalo's library science program.  This same month, my grandmother died.  I underwent several serious lifestyle changes to adapt to the pregnancy, while at the same time I awkwardly began a degree I wanted second only to my baby. We moved to Batavia and got married.  We moved back to Rochester. As soon as my prepregnancy figure returned, (surprise again!) I became pregnant a second time.  I finished my MLS and then gave birth to my boy child three weeks later.   Perhaps this might be the right answer to "tell me something about yourself"  for someone looking to hire the best of the best? I don't know. What makes one best better than another best of a different variety?

Honestly, I am the sort of person who is interested in so many things. I must concentrate to narrow my focus and execute detail oriented work.  Seeing the big picture is something that comes naturally to me.  I like to bird walk ideas, as one started project gets set aside unfinished as I become excited about a new concept that then in turn feeds to another.  I will return to my old projects.  I do intend on finishing them one day.  Deadlines help me.

My current focus is learning about how humanity must change the way we interact with our environment if we are to stop living as parasites on the planet and begin to shift our way of thinking toward sustainability.  My daughter's preschool teacher says I should just talk about going green.  That's something palatable that people can learn about somewhat comfortably.  Learning about sustainability and permaculture can be overwhelming and depressing.  I think that now I am ready for it.  As a pretend librarian, I imagine that I am in a position where maybe somehow I can make a difference by providing my imaginary patrons with just the right amount of information so that they want to learn more and continue to live an increasingly green lifestyle.

I fantasize about being able to build a collection of very useful reference books in these subjects.  I am lying.  I see titles and reviews of books like these and I ignore them all the time.  I have zero budget.  I have kids to look after and there are so few jobs out there paying a wage that will both meet our physical and financial needs.  The only thing I want more that a part time library job, is a nice home comfortably within my budget where I can raise my family. 

I interviewed for a position nearly two weeks ago....

I just discovered my nice rejection emailThey will keep my resume on file in case of new openings and all that.  I know that I should not feel bad as they interviewed quite a few of my well qualified colleagues, but rejection is intensified by how few and far between open positions have become.  Will I even get another chance within a year?  The more time that passes, the more shiny new graduates are also waiting with their freshly sharpened skills and advice from their professors on how to get that job.  I owe money for this education. I care about this work. I have children to think of. I have goals for myself that I have been holding on to for a long time.  How am I supposed to accept things the way they are? I can't.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shop local this Christmas!

Thanksgiving this year was, for me, the most sincere version of the holiday that has blessed my life.  Beginning in early November, I noticed some Facebook friends posting "30 Days of Thanks," where each day they would mention something they were thankful about.  I took this idea and made my own "attitude of gratitude" by discussing the concept of being thankful with my children and posting the results of some of these discussions on my favorite social networking site. When we discussed thankfulness at the table, I was proud of my two year old son who said he was thankful for his life. We all agreed that we are thankful for our own lives, and for the lives of each other.

In addition to the numerous things I listed on my Facebook this past month, I am thankful for knowledge and critical thinking.  In honor of that I am celebrating Buy Nothing Day today rather than Black Friday.  Furthermore, I am creating a list of small businesses here in Rochester that are ready and able to offer us a great variety of goods and services to gift this Christmas.  Please let me know of any places you think I should add to this list, and I will continue to update this post.

Zak's Avenue
MAG Store
RMSC Gift Shop
Craft Company No. 6
George Eastman House Shop
Comics Etc.
Bop Shop 
Needle Drop Records
Record Archive
National Museum of Play Gift Shop
The Library Store 
Beers of the World

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

When I tell Vinny I am a librarian, he assumes I'm playing let's pretend.

Maybe I am just pretending to be a librarian.  It feels like that these days.  People post on Facebook, something inspires me, and >>whoot!<< I have imaginary patrons to cater to.  Bea and Vinny are my awesome patrons, too.  I find them stuff to do, research parenting, listen to their play and think about bringing them into a better future.  It's the bringing them into a better future part that is the tall order.  It's also the reason I wanted to be a librarian in the first place.

There are so many incredible ideas out there right now.  The world is ripe for change. I think people are ready to do the work needed to make things better for everyone.  Or at least some people think it is.  Maybe we are living in a time when things can change.  Maybe I am dreaming of an unattainable utopia again.  I've had a habit of doing that for a while now.  There is so much work to be done.  Look, here is a site that lists movie titles to encourage awareness of important social, environmental, and media related issues.  900 movies are available to stream, and many others might just be available at your local library.

There are so many people out there like me: young, educated, unemployed or underemployed, perhaps parents, perhaps not, maybe single, maybe gay, maybe married, and we value the future.  Our other values may conflict, but we are connected through social networking online, and we are talking about what we experience.  This is powerful.  There is discussion to sort things out.  These are the essential roots of change, and I believe it is reasonable to have hope as I press on in exploring the depressing, frightening truth of this hellish world in which we live.  We must not deny our fear.  It must be faced to be overcome.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thinking about exercise is easier than exercising

I was always taught that it is important to eat healthy and exercise.  Dad and Vanessa instilled a deep love of nature by traveling the world on horseback.  Horseback riding and caring for horses is a very enjoyable way to stay in shape, however is beyond my financial means at this time.  One day I hope to return to my favorite sport that exists, endurance riding.  This sport changed my life when I was in high school, and I received a nice scholarship from St. Lawrence University for an essay about what I learned from the sport.  Not familiar with it?  Here is a basic primer:

My mama also promoted exercise when I was a kid by planning outdoors activities like camping, hiking, mountain climbing, cross country skiing, canoeing, canoe camping, ice skating, and working out at the Y as a family.  These activities created many interesting memories.  I think my kids are still young for all that, but I plan to share these things with them when they are old enough.

At the present time, I would like to improve my life by making exercise a priority, and also passing that value along to my children. I have always been interested in Yoga, so I created a list of yoga DVDs that I think look cool for families.  I also have heard some things about hula hooping as a great way to build core strength.  My core...  needs work....  So here is the list.  I've ***marked the DVDs I think look especially cool.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reflecting on Lisa's wake.

My husband's cousin died three days ago.  Last night I brought the kids to the wake.  They sure had a lot of questions and their behavior began to fall apart after about a half hour.  We saw her body, said hello to a select few people, and went home.  Lisa Johnson was not someone I knew well, but I remember her as a kind hearted person.  She gave me a large gift at my baby shower.  She worked in education, and based on her Facebook page she had good relationships with her colleagues.  Many high school age students were present at the wake.  That was probably the most populated wake I have ever attended, though I have admittedly not been to many.  I guess I'm just lucky in that regard.

Lots of people die in my husband's family it seems.  It is a large family and most of them live locally here in Rochester and Monroe county.  Although their perspective on life is different than my own, they have always been very supportive to me and my children so I am thankful for that.  I think of them as salt of the earth kind of people. 

I will always remember the last sentence Lisa said to me the last time I saw her.  Someone else in the family was razzing me, asking me who my kids look like.  Bugging me, asking where Bea's curly hair came from.  The Colberts, they do like to pick on people.  Mat had been warning me about family bullying for years before it finally happened the day Lisa stood up for me. Mat had even tried to keep me from family events like funerals and picnics so that I wouldn't have to suffer the wrath of the Colberts.  The last time I saw Lisa was at another funeral.  I cannot hold animosity toward the banter of the bereaved.

The last thing Lisa said to me was, "Don't worry about it.  My kids didn't look like me either."

Yeah, it hurt that it was repeatedly suggested that my kids were too beautiful to have come from my husband?  Those kids are both a perfect cross of me and Mat.  Gorgeous.  Anyone with open eyes could see that.  One person was kind enough to take my side of this family event, and that person was Lisa.

Bullying is an important issue in schools today, and Mat's aunt brought this issue up with me at the wake last night.  She told me little Gabby, in Kindergarten this year, had already had a run in with a bully. The family made it clear to the school that this is not tolerable.  I am glad for that.  It is important to stand up against that sort of thing.  I'm glad that this is a recognized issue in education today.

But what do you do when you are an adult and the bully is in a position of power over you?  When standing up to it can really damage your life? You do nothing.  You sit down. You shut up. You deal with it.  Standing up to bullies is not always an option.  If you are Johnny Depp, you get a big rock...

What do you do when the bully is your child, your older brother or your father?  Perhaps even your mother?  How can you influence them to treat others with kindness and respect?  That is a question that each individual person who lives with a bully must ask them self to rid us of this social disease.

Friday, October 26, 2012


Why do I love coffee? 

The most immediate reasons that come to mind are beyond the delicious bitterness that I have grown to enjoy over the last 15 years.  It relates back to the relationships I have developed with special people over a cuppa.  There are several.  It didn't have to be coffee.  I suppose it might have just as easily been soda or hot chocolate or tea or even water.  It just so happens that drinking coffee together with loved ones made a difference in my life.

The first boy I ever kissed drank coffee.  After school we would often walk down that great hill topped by the central campus and visit a diner known at that time as Lola's.  This is the same diner where Daddy bought me chocolate milk and orange tic-tacs when I was very young.  We often sat in the booth by the front window of the smoking section with bottomless cups of watery coffee.  I remember he tasted of coffee and cigarettes.  This taste is impossible to forget.  The day we first kissed we were together under the railroad bridge over Mud Creek.  My first kiss! This is a strong association I suppose.

Another person so dear to me used coffee, Starbucks quad tall half 'cafe nonfat cappuccino topped with cinnamon swirled into the foam to be precise, as a crutch to quit drinking alcohol.  This incredibly dear person managed to go eight years without a drink while suffering through the drastic Kodak layoff years, going back to school to get a Master's in Social Work, and providing kind support to her family while a beloved matriarch came to the end of her days at the hands of acute myloid leukemia.  My young adult self, barely old enough to drink, occasionally went to AA meetings with her to provide social support.  At least once a week we went out for Starbucks together and I told her everything going on in my life.  She told me about the tortuous environment at Kodak, the challenges of returning to school after 30 years working in a factory, and the same gossip she might have told her friends at the bar.  I needed her, and she needed me.  We shared coffee.

Maybe coffee stunted my growth to 5'4''.   Maybe bringing it to a job interview prevented me from being hired.   Maybe it led to me losing a job? Maybe it just tastes good and feels good in my hands.  Maybe it prevents me from getting caffeine withdrawal headaches.  I always thought it just woke me up, kept me ready for what is coming next.  I suppose I will to slowly switch to decaf because I have gotten feedback that I come across as wired on caffeine.  It's just that having a warm cup in my hands helps me to feel more secure in an uncertain world.  Life is scary sometimes.  There are many worse addictions I could have.  At least I managed to quit nicotine.  I suppose that makes coffee the cause of my worst vice: a lack of presence.  I think it will do me good to focus more intensely on listening.

Thank you for letting me know that this is holding me back.

A dying profession?

This Forbes article kinda reminded me watching the Obama Romney domestic policy debate.  It was just painful because of the blatant deception.  Now granted, the state of libraries is not in the most secure position at the present time, but they are certainly not so far gone that it is time to discuss their impending doom.  Budgets remain extremely tight, Internet usage has led some to believe that we don't need books anymore, and eBooks provide yet another format for information.  The public continues to need guidance in the effective use and consumption of information.

Libraries are an essential tool to remedy the economic situation that is status quo.  For example, on Wednesday October 3rd, the Business and Social Sciences Division of Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County held a small business planning workshop in which small business owners were able to receive expert guidance from a certified business adviser regarding effective small business planning.  An other essential service libraries provide is educating the public on basic computer usage, such as Internet searching, using email, and completing online forms and job applications.  Services such as these are essential to moving society up and out of this stagnation we've termed the great recession and resolving issues relating to the digital divide.  Many individuals uncomfortable with computers mostly need social support while navigating learning a new skill set, and the library is the most logical place to seek out support.

On another front, there are the less educated, non-critical thinking people with money enough to enjoy high speed internet connection, perhaps even on a highly portable device.  Poor information literacy skills among this group is among the greatest challenges currently facing American culture.  This problem is especially exacerbated by the inadequate funding and staffing of school libraries.  Whenever I hear someone complain about libraries based on the idea that "everything" is online, I worry that all their imaginary Facebook and Twitter friends have been chattering away too much about what people think they do as compared to what they really do and offering TMI about the prior nights alcohol induced exploits.  Sometimes you don't realize that you need to know something until after you know it.  Sometimes it is easy to forget what quality information looks like if you haven't seen it in a while.  Are Facebook friendships a suitable replacement for equal time of interactive face to face communication?  You decide. Which makes you happier? I think I hear Pavlov ringing a bell... or maybe that's my cell phone.  Facebook notification.  BRB...

Libraries adequately staffed by qualified librarians are perhaps the most efficient format for improving the overall intellectual health of a community.  The absence or presence of a particular format (i.e. print vs electronic resources) will not change this simple fact.  When there is a physical space available for individuals to visit independently or in groups that is stocked with carefully selected, high quality materials specifically geared to meet the informational needs of the community of users it exists to serve, and qualified professional staff are present to assist users in quickly finding specifically what they need to know to meet their goals, I do not understand how anyone can argue against the value of libraries.  Healthy libraries are essential to a healthy capitalistic democratic society. 

Librarians are trained to promote understanding regarding what information is needed.  We cannot assume that this is obvious.  Google overuse has led some individuals to falsely believe that it if isn't online it isn't worth knowing, or it isn't available anywhere.  It is the responsibility of every educated person in society to remind others that the resources readily available for free on the Internet are not exhaustive and they are not always of adequate quality.  Look deeper.  Ask a professional.  For example, I remember one patron I helped was using to try and find a science project for a 6th grade science fair. She spent about 45 minutes without success.  She was nearly finished with her allotted Internet time when she came to ask me for help. In about five minutes I located a book owned by the library (Arnett branch) that had clear specific instructions for the precise science fair project she had in mind.  I will never forget the smile on her face when she said, "I should have asked you first! I've wasted so much time.  Now I can go to the hardware store and get started."

Librarians are skilled at evaluating materials.  The present age in which we live is marked by an overabundance of information.  So can one tell which resource to use?  Which author is the most trustworthy?  How does one go about narrowing and organizing the vast ideas available so that the specific information needed is easy to use?  These are some of the questions librarians have in mind as they carefully select materials to suggest and display to patrons visiting the physical library.  These principles are even more important when seeking electronic resources because electronic resources are not always edited or professionally examined before they are published.  Anyone can post on the Internet.  Anyone can publish an eBook....  When in doubt, ask a professional.

Physical libraries are also important in that they provide collaborative space for group study.  Knowledge cannot exist in a vacuum. It is collectively defined.  What better place to meet than one filled with informational resources to meet the collective needs of the group?  It's almost like the Internet... only physical.  Imagine that! Perhaps one day it will even be possible to borrow an ebook pre-loaded on a digital reader....  Does the Internet make everything easier?  I'm not so sure the answer is as obvious as we might first think.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On Facebook

Wow, so it appears to me that Facebook is extremely important in the world of libraries these days.  The changes that Facebook has brought upon society in the past few years are far reaching, yet while endlessly scrolling down through brief snip-its of ideas posted by everyone you've ever known and perhaps even by some you've never even met, it is all too easy to forget that basically nothing that's real has changed.  Facebook has created an alternate reality in which we are able to access the ideas of our friends, enemies, acquaintances, and economic interests at will.  It can sometimes feel as though you know someone well when you've only rarely met them face to face.  It can create the perception that you can read the minds of the collective masses.  It can make you feel closer to friends and family with whom you haven't spoken with in years.  It can wordlessly reconcile differences, and it has been know to create social rifts as well.  It is a powerful social tool, especially when combined with the ability to carry access to the Internet in your pocket, known as Web 3.0.

At this time, I'm not convinced that Facebook is important to libraries because hoards of library patrons are befriending their favorite libraries and acting on the posts they see.  Perhaps that may be true in some very well funded libraries with adequate professional time available to greet educated patrons at their point of need.  Rather I see the value of Facebook in public libraries as an essential communication tool that bridges gaps in communication between library professionals.  When public librarians are able to view the work of their colleagues in a social networking setting, they can discretely observe and learn from successes in our profession as well as collectively find ways to improve upon less successful aspects of library work.  This daily interaction has the potential to be revolutionary in our field.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Duplo Legos facilitating joint imaginative play

My son had his second birthday, and he was given Duplo Lego blocks as a gift.  These blocks changed the play environment of our home. Beatrice (3 1/2) loves them just as much as Vinny, and quickly adopted them as a vehicle for her imaginative play.  Rather than using toys that appear to be what they represent to her (i.e. a stuffed bird is a real bird) she has made the jump to using blocks to represent the bird she imagines she needs.  This has really opened up the possibilities for play beyond the confines of the toys she owns.  She continues to feel very possessive over the objects she believes she is using.  Vincent has noticed how his sister is deeply absorbed in the blocks and continues to seek out ways to enhance her play with his own ideas.  He offers blocks to serve specific functions, for example adding a ladder to a house so the toy can climb up to the roof.  (Can you tell he loves to climb?)  Bea has been receptive to his ideas, and they are becoming a more effective imaginative team.  She has not yet opened herself to adding much on to his ideas, but she uses the concepts he presents in her own train of thought.

I like how the blocks came with suggestions for things to build with simple wordless instructions on how to build the items.  We enjoyed building an elaborate three story rainbow house with a balcony and flower garden together as a family.  The kids used this home built toy as a jumping off point for further imaginative play.  I was so happy to see those two kids expanding their spatial awareness, problem solving skills, ability to understand directions, and creative team work for an entire day with these blocks.  I am so pleased to have brought such an outstanding early childhood learning toy into our home, even if it does hurt like a xxxxxx if you step on them.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Benefits of mistakenly leaving your homework in the library

I was tidying up and found some forgotten chemistry papers on a table at Teen Central today.  I asked Mr. Jay, our Safe To Be Smart guy, if he knew the name and he did not.  The young man happened to be present and heard his name, so he identified himself and asked why I was talking about him.  I returned his chemistry papers, commenting on his good grades.  I asked the young man his age and if he works.  He is 18 and is unemployed.  I told him with an understanding of Chemistry like he exhibited in these assignments; he could probably find a job in manufacturing and start a career.  My advice for pursuing the manufacturing industry is based on this article I recently read in the D & C regarding job outlook for the manufacturing industry.  It saddens me to know that young people believe that they will be unable to find work and therefore do not put a strong effort forward to pursue employment.  They need to know that there are more options available to them than Tim Horton’s, Dunkin Donuts, or other fast food chains.  I encouraged him to go up to the Business Division and ask for advice on how to apply for manufacturing jobs.  He did not ask me for more time on the computer, and he is gone from Teen Central for the day, so I can only home and assume that he took my advice.  I hope so.  He should be proud of grades like those in chemistry.  I told him if those were my assignments I would have hung them up on the refrigerator. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Implications of Web 2.0/ Web 3.0 on Libraries

I don't really need to remind you that web 2.0 and web 3.0 are drastically changing our collective cultural and intellectual experience, but I'm typing it anyway because it is on this premise that I wish to begin this blog entry.  I am prepared to cite a few resources I have recently encountered that have brought this fact to the forefront of my mind.  I refuse to allow my psychology to be swept away by this tsunami of cultural change, though I remain clinging to a rock or twig often times while striving to stay current. 

Resource #1: Permanent Adolescence: Why Boys Don't Grow Up. Joe Carmichiel, MSEd.

I read this book based on the reccomendation of an awesome PsyD I know.  In a nutshell, it duscussed various ways that the media has influenced child rearing, especially among males.  The author offers in depth hypotheses on the connection between the violence problem here in Rochester and a careless overreliance on television on the part of parents.  This connection is intermediated by biological gender differences and language skills.  He notes that there appears to be an acute problem among young children who are learning incorrect emotional meanings of words and situations.  There is not enough interpersonal interaction including appropriate emotional responses between adults and very young children.  This book has virtually no reviews to back it up, though it cites numerous scholarly studies.  At the present time it is not owned by MCLS.  I would be highly interested in a book discussion/ community critique focusing on this book including educated, experienced, critical thinking members of this urban community.

Resource #2:

I first got my hands on this article while waiting in line at Wegmans.  Please read this article in its entirity.  It starts out overly sensational, but I believe this was a journalistic technique used to suck readers in.  There is at least some truth to the problem of Internet overuse, and we those of us who wish to happily survive this era of information overabundance MUST consider the effects of heavy technology use on the mind.  There are biological studies to back these claims.  Thank you Newsweek for attempting to inform Americans about what is really occuring not just in America, but in the world right now.  Like it will do any good....

Resource #3: The Power of Now. Eckhart Tolle.

This would have to be on my personal list of the best books of all time.  At the present time I am re-reading it slowly, allowing the concepts to settle deeply into my mind.  I want to know this book forward and backward.  I find it incredibly healing in contrast to the previous two resources listed here. 

My reaction to these concepts has several levels of experience, and my personal beliefs are still evolving.  As a parent, I am constantly pushing back against the media as a protective measure for my two young children.  They want to use TV and Internet resources all the time.  Naturally, this worries me.  My son, who is nearly two years, old finds escape from the pull of media more challenging than my daughter appears to find it.  When he was an infant I struggled with my own Internet addiction, especially facebook.  I nursed him with my laptop on my right, which I deeply regret.  When he was a little older I often used a tablet while the kids were playing on the floor.  This is in stark contrast to my daughter who I spent significantly more time playing with directly.  I protected her from the television based on the recomendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics: avoid all TV under the age of two.  Her language skills were phenomenal.  My son also has excellent language skills, and I do spend significant time working with his language, especially emotional meaning behind words.  He is sensitive, strong, and assertive.  I am confident he will grow into an exceptional man, even if he does enjoy the TV, Internet, and whatever else slides down the technology pike.  I just hope he doesn't turn into one of those gamers.  Enough about parental guilt.  There's more to my thoughts on this than that.

As a librarian I fully recognise the American Library Association's stance on violence in media.  It is an essential principle of librariesthat individuals have a right to freedom of speech, and libraries are bound to uphold those rights.  However, libraries also exist to ensure there is access to balanced information.  We are a cornerstone of democratic society, because democracy must be rooted in educated decision making.  I feel personally obligated to help spread the word to library patrons about the effects of media, web 2.0, and web 3.0 on the mind, while also providing access to a variety of quality resources on numerous interest levels.  This is a fine line to walk, and professional librarians must maintain current training to remain qualified to make judement calls in these regards.  We must also keep our footing solidly grounded in the interests of our patrons, building intellectually supportive relationships in a non-judgemental, balanced, learning environment.  This is no small task.  So who said something about libraries becoming irrelevant? 

We need to also follow the model of meeting patrons at their point of need.  In other words, we find where their intellectual interests begin, and draw out support from there.  The definition of the "location" of intellectual interests has changed as we now have virtual locations such as Facebook, Twitter, public computers within the library in addition to location within Dewey, genre, etc.  Professionally we must guard ourselves against the harmful effects of media overuse while catering to individuals who may be incapable of existing beyond those capacities.  Don't forget to promote reading good old fashioned paper books.  It can be quite grounding. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

We Need Legos!

My kids and I recently had the wonderful opportunity to share a few days with my friend's son.  Their family had relocated to the city of Rochester from a rural home in the southern tier, and Hadley was adjusting to a major lifestyle change.  I brought him and my children to the Central library for an outing as Hadley needed a library card and we love visiting "the big echoy library" as my kids call it.  This turned out to be such a cool outing!  The children's room was full of kids excited to be enjoying one of the first days of summer vacation.  Hadley signed up for his card and found an awesome comic book about Greek myths.  Come to find out, there was also a really great jazz concert happening in the reading garden at the library.  Hadley loved it so much, he begged me to borrow money to buy a CD.  Vinny danced in circles until he fell down, and Beatrice just stared at the musicians as if in a trance. 

I thought the library might be a great place for Hadley to meet some new friends with similar interests as his own, so we also visited the Monroe branch in his new neighborhood.  Sadly, that library does not open until noon, so we were unable to go inside the morning we stopped by.  Hadley was excited about the Monroe branch because they also have a Lego club, and he seriously loves Legos.  Monroe is the only branch in Rochester Public Library with the small Lego blocks for club members to use.  The club meets four times during the summer and once a month during the school year and I have heard it is a popular program. 

Via Facebook I learned about an amazing grant opportunity/contest to get $5,000 for legos and books to support literacy in libraries.  Maybe we can win!  Please go online to vote for Rochester Public Library here in Rochester, NY so that maybe we can get some Legos sor kids like Hadley and his potential new friends have plenty of materials to support their learning. 

There is also a very nice activity guide available here: that parents and early childhood professionals may use to support Lego use.  With this guide I think you will find it very easy to share hours of fun learning with young children.  It includes activities to share with kids under age six.  enjoy! 

Don't forget to vote for us!! 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Bea attends a new school and befriends the biggest social outcast.  Together they develop a close platonic friendship because they both feel so different from everybody else. 

How to Say Goodbye in Robot has a satisfying, quirky plot that keeps readers interested.  Plot elements such as loyal listening to a late night radio show, agonizing over decisions regarding a close family member with severe  disabilities, intentionally befriending social outcasts, and attending bizarre theme parties full of strangers were appealing in unexpected ways.  Pink pages at the beginning of each chapter contributed to the freshness of this novel.  One theme of the book is "understanding what to do if one's emotional responses to situations are not socially appropriate."

What Comes After by Steve Watkins

What Comes After is the story of a young lady who's life takes her down a sad, tragic road.  Forced to live with an abusive aunt and cousin, she was transplanted far from the home she's always known while her best friendship dissapated and her support network is removed.  The best thing she has going for her is a herd of goats whom her aunt compels her to care for, milk twice daily, and make cheese to sell.  As her situation continues to deteriorate Iris must find her way out tragedy into a better life, while maintaining loyalty to those who have been there for her in her times of need. 

This story was heart wrenching, and the details of the plot stayed vivid in my memory.  It was easy to feel the paralysis the abuse and its aftermath explained very realistically within the story.  Iris, the main character is easy to love even as she makes less than ideal choices and decides loyalties.  Her strength is beyond admirable.  It would be interesting to hold a book discussion about key decisions Iris makes that includes teens, social workers, and abuse survivors.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

Ever since a traumatic event years ago, London Lane life experiences life differently than the rest of us...  Instead of remembering days gone by, as most people do, she only remembers today and days in the future.  Each night, before bed she writes herself reminder notes to read in the morning so as to appear normal to everyone who doesn't know her unique secret.  Things get complicated when she starts to fall in love.

Cat Patrick did an outstanding job of making this bizarre premise believable and highly engaging.  I found myself sucked into the plot, feeling as though I belonged in London's outsider world as she went to great lengths to successfully navigate typical teenage experiences through an atypical lens.  The characters are highly believable and it is easy as a reader to believe one's self in going to great lengths to hide a strange secret, as London must do.  This novel illustrates inner conflict beween social acceptance and maintaining personal integrity.  After reading this novel, which is Cat Patrick's first book, I was anxious to get my hands on more by this outstanding emerging author.


Books I enjoyed include:
Patrick, Cat. Forgotten.
McBride, James.  The Color of Water.
Pena, Matt de la.  I Will Save You.
Debeurme, Ludovic.  Lucille.


 Lessons learned:

Don't talk to others about my personal life at work.  Remember to focus on my own tasks.  Understand the most important aspects of public library work and focus on upholding those ideals.

It is important not to step on other people's toes when trying to carve my own niche.  My enthusiasm to encourage high standards and excellent service can easily be misinterpreted as threatening to my peers also striving to carve niches.  I have been warned that if I step on the wrong toes I might suffer consequences that I may not have anticipated.  At the same time I have administration offering to meet with me and collect my observations regarding branches or branch staff whenever I am interested in doing so.  I am not interested in stepping on other people to claw my way into a position.  I would rather be offered work based on my merits, interests and needs.  Now is not an appropriate time for my unsolicited critiques. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Ban Facebook?!?

So many teens today come and spend their time in the library to enjoy the services that has to offer.  It is perfectly understandable, really.  Facebook offers teens a chance to interact with their peers in a semi-structured environment. They create their identity based on their interests and public social interactions.  They are free from adult monitoring over behavior and interests.  They can publicly display their intelligence by posting articles or commenting on the behaviors of others.

I am outraged to report that teens intellectual freedom is in danger of compromise by a recent challenge to the beloved communication channel commonly known as Facebook.  The grape vine has informed me that the challenge is based on subject matters a few individuals have chosen to discuss using this Internet resource.  I have heard that bullying is a problem, and that teens are using it to organize gang communication.  I am strongly of the opinion that our library system must manage this challenge in the same way that we would respond to a book challenge.  We have no control over how individuals choose to respond to a resource.  It is our social responsibility to offer alternatives to unsafe behavior and well rounded information regarding controversial topics such as social networking.  I firmly believe that preventing teens who are legally of age to be members of Facebook from accessing the site is a disservice to their intellectual development.

Our appropriate response would be to invite those challenging the resource to utilize the proper procedure for electing to remove an item from the collection.  Typically there is a form to fill out and a series of meetings in which the merits and shortcomings of the resource will be formally discussed.   I would predict that we will discover the issue at hand is not precisely Facebook as a resource.  It seems that the real issue is rather teen behavior, specifically and the manner in which they behave toward each other.  Welcome to Rochester, where one of the many symptoms of our poverty problem is black on black crime.  What do we need to do?  Teach kids to be kind to each other always.  This is no small task, and the only way such a major cultural change could occur is if the movement comes from within.  >>sigh<<

And that brings me back to the basic truth that is the foundation of quality library work.  Relationship building is the foundation through which quality information can be successfully communicated.  Small ideas can be communicated gently through routine interactions as the information becomes relevant.  RPL is in a unique situation to help promote this sort of cultural change, if we are up to the challenge.  We can't even begin to do it without adequate funding.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

21st century library websites and a rant about the state of this City

After asking a few people some questions, I've learned that no one wants to take on the responsibility of drastically improving the MCLS library website.  Why?  Probably because all the librarians employed here are already overworked, and part time employees don't have enough hours in the day as well.  The tech people in particular, I am told, have far to many responsibilities to do an outstanding job at anything.  Besides, the website was just revamped last year! Yet it looks so 2003!

The general appearance of the website does not provide me with a feeling of social and cultural relevance.  It does not give me the impression that I am connecting with a 21st Century institution.  It seems old.  It seems like history is overemphasized.  It seems like current technology and popular trends are beyond our capacity or perhaps even (uh-oh) our ability.  THE LIBRARIES ARE UNDERSTAFFED!   Hey Rochester, did you realize that we could meet your needs much better if you provided the funds to employ the number of people that require the amount of work that needs to be done?  Any citizen following the budget deliberations is aware of the city's financial problems.  But what can anyone do about it?  Let us all just throw up our arms and say NOTTA-THING NOTTA-THING while the world goes to hell in a hand basket.  Thank you, Mayor Richards for your realistic depiction of what Rochester is all about in your recent state of the city address.  This city as I see it is so similar to the city as you see it.

I need to make one thing clear:  The poverty problem in this city is not unsolvable.  Not all the kids are spiraling downward into a state of uneducated drug withdrawal madness.  Yes, there are many serious problems.  When I meet highly educated, "landed" property owners in this city who are also parents, I have noticed an important trend:  They send their kids to private school.  So it's likely that they are on the wealthier end of the spectrum than the Brightonites who just send their kids to public suburban schools.  If these parents all agreed to send their kids to public schools and demand the quality of education that today's children deserve, the drop out rate certainly would not be hovering just under 50%.  The kids from poorer neighborhoods would have access to better schools, and might even be less likely to drop out with peers who value education and come from more affluent socioeconomic roots. If we create a culture in the city that places an emphasis quality education and rewards those who achieve above and beyond their peers, we can slowly ditch the poverty problem.  As a teen librarian, I would be working with a population at the highest risk of experiencing black on black crime.  This population is key to unraveling the poverty problem.  Yes, there are problems in the elementary schools, but it seems that people are afraid of black teenagers and don't want to offer them the benefit of the doubt or the opportunity to prove themselves capable of handling responsibility.  Can't we trust each individual until they give us a reason not to?

Don't forget that libraries are an important aspect of community education.  There aren't the organizational problems in Rochester Public Library that exist within the Rochester City School District.  Individuals come to the library not because they are being compelled to do so by the law or the threat of a less enjoyable future, but rather because they are interested in using library materials and services to improve their minds, entertain themselves, and experience intellectual and popular culture.

30.4% of the people are below the poverty line.  That means that about 70% is above it (myself not included.)  Housing values are relatively stable, some homes even increasing in value.  I wonder how many people actually have high speed Internet connections in their homes?  I think that most educated people probably do.  Anyway, the visual and organizational appearance Rochester Public Library presents to our online customers not only gives them a snap judgement about our ability to meet their informational needs, but it also offers the rest of the world an impression about the quality of life in this city.  Why does our website look so "retro" in comparison to or  Is it because we simply don't have the staff or the funding to correct the problem?  What if we had the opportunity to change this problem?  Are there any grants available to remove these barriers?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Comics in Education Conference Review

It was with pleasure that I volunteered to assist at the first annual (hopefully) Comics in Education Conference at Rochester Public Library.  Eighty-five librarians and educators registered and paid a very small fee to attend.  The discussions I attended included "From Script to Publisher: How Comics are Made," by Mark Siegal, a leading editor and founder of the prominent graphic novel publishing imprint First Second.   The second was "Reading the World Through Imagetexts: Helping All Readers Learn New Literacies" by a panel of educational researchers from Nazareth College.  After assisting with distributing really great boxed lunches, I attended Mark Siegal's second talk "Comics in Culture: History and Relevance."  Lastly I was present at a panel discussion titled "Evaluating Comics."  The day was completed with an opportunity to purchase select few graphic novels from the library book store accompanied by an autographing session.

I approached the event from the perspective of a fairly recent library school graduate who subs at many of the branches of Rochester Public Library and also at Teen Central within the Central Branch.  I enjoy reading graphic novels for teens and I often recommend many titles with which I am familiar to teen patrons at various branches.  I personally have broken down the stigma barrier that comics are not quality literature, but I recognize that more traditional patrons may hold that belief.  However during the conference I came to realize that I did hold a pre-conceived notion that comic readers are reluctant readers in the traditional sense.  I learned that this is not necessarily true.  In selecting comics individuals hold these resources to literary standards in the same way that any other resource is analyzed for interest and quality.  Selected resources vary widely across these measures and comic exist addressing nearly any given topic.

I also learned that the scholarly study of the comic format is taken very seriously by many colleges and universities.  These teacher training and artistic centers of culture will continue to promote the format into the next century and the use of this visual and textual combination of information is certainly likely to increase in its proliferance as scholars continue to more deeply understand its cultural relevance.  The combination of the visual and textual is certainly increasingly relevant as the information age progresses and the use of computers and the Internet influences the way young minds develop and process information.  A perhaps unintentional theme of the day I noticed was that quality comics seem to experience the gestalt effect, in which the sum of the information is greater than the sum of its parts.  In other words, comics are more than just words with pictures within cells. The complete meaning of the resource is derived from the combination of and relationship between artistically created visual images, carefully selected words placed artistically within the images, and also the cell as a unit of information that relates visually to other cells within the page.  In addition, it's important as a librarian to consider the function of the format within the rest of the collection and the placement of the physical resources in comparison to the rest of the collection.  Most librarians agreed that fiction graphic novels and comics ought to be shelved separately from the rest of the collection based on perceived user behavior.  Perhaps it would be useful to include non-fiction graphic novels interfiled with the rest of the non-fiction collection.  There was controversy over the appropriate placement of non-fiction graphic novels within public libraries.  Some librarians thought they should be filed by subject, some thought they should be housed in the art section.  Others thought they should be housed in a special collection specific to the age of the intended audience.  I found this particular discussion especially fascinating.

While much of the conference was highly informative and perhaps may have even helped to shape collective understanding of the format, I did however discover one significant aspect of the conference that may be improved in the future.  Numerous times prior to the conference I tried to find the wordpress document online so that I might share the existence of the event with interested individuals.  I was unable to find it via Google and other search engines.  The publicity of the conference was lacking.  I believe that publicity is actually extremely important to an event like this because it is relevant to the future of libraries and the use of information.  In my opinion it would have been useful for an internet publicity campaign, and also the local media should have been notified.  The conference could have easily tripled in attendance with little effort and library public relations could have been boosted by media coverage.  This would not only benefit the library but also the entire community.  If library conferences are well attended and attract many individuals from out of town, the local economy is certain to benefit in numerous ways.  I believe that Rochester Public Library is an outstanding organization with an approach to the field of information that could certainly help to shape the future of libraries and their role within the community, especially if we continue to create rich educational learning opportunities such as this event. 

Two other suggestions I would make to conference creators would be to offer print evaluation forms for each session and the conference in general.   Also, I would have liked print outs or handouts from conference presenters to assist my memory for each session.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Put me in a library.

So I have some ideas about how to make teen services better for the Rochester Public Library branches.  I'm not an experienced librarian, but I'm working on growing as best I can.  My colleagues comment on my commitment to customer service, my passion and enthusiasm, and my personality.  I need more experience, mostly.  There's only one way to get that - by getting hired.  They seem to like me around here, but budgetary constraints seem to be the biggest barrier to employment.  I drafted a plan about what I'd like to do to make things better. It's about five pages long and justifies staff funding for teens and suggests a three fold solution.  I haven't done anything with these recorded thoughts other than show them to a few people.  I worry if I'm doing the right thing.

Some people say it's a bad idea to create waves as a young inexperienced employee.  I do not want to hurt anyone or cause political damage.  I'm not in it for power or for selfish reasons.  I just want a job where I can work hard to achieve quality results.  I'm afraid to turn in my proposal and justification.  I just think that if they actually put me in the position where it is my responsibility to fulfill these ideas I might not be able to live up to what I set out to do.  I need more experience first.  Put me in a library.  Introduce me to a community.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My response to RPL 2012 Staff Day

Upon attending the 2012 RPL Staff Day, I found myself re-examining my personal commitment to customer service and also the vision I have developed for the role of customer service in meeting the needs of communities through public libraries.  It is essential that the needs of all patron groups are examined when considering customer service in the library.  We are only given so many chances to make errors in our service before a patron elects to avoid a certain library or perhaps loses interest in reading for the purpose of intellectual stimulation all together.

Providing the best service to all patrons is highly important.  Adult patrons are the voting tax payers and library advocates that protect library funding and frequently use the library.  Children and young adult services are also extremely important because these are the patrons who will shape future library usage and may provide some of the strongest advocacy because they need libraries more than any other group for the purpose of fulfilling their education.

Whether adults like it or not young people are constantly learning from every aspect of their environment.  The library service (and resources) we are able to offer youth then instills the value of quality information and professional library service only to the extent to which society is willing to invest in these and promote intellectual growth among future generations.  It is our role as librarians to provide youth with the basic resources through which they may grow and learn to shape their future for the better. Youth services, addressing juvenile, tween, teenagers, and perhaps even the transition of young adults into their twenties are uniquely positioned to support a community struggling to overcome some of the social challenges associated with poverty. 

Here at Rochester Public Library there is an outstanding program intended to enhance youth services through relationship building between staff and young patrons in the library. Children's services are enhanced by literacy aids who offer homework assistance and programming.  Teens enjoy the Safe to Be Smart Program in which social workers  in designated teen areas enhance library services to build relationships, promote literacy activities, offer programming, and assist with behavioral issues.  Through these positions, youth in Rochester are met at their point of need at a time when budgetary issues do not allow full professional staffing. The present budget is entirely unacceptable if in fact the quality of life in this city is to improve.  We must work to reduce crime, provide our citizens with jobs that pay living sustainable wages, and maintain property values in this beautiful city already steeped with so much professional and creative talent. Youth programs within Rochester Public Library are in a position to help shape future generations for the better.  We must continually find ways to meet this challenge better than we have in prior days.  
It is essential to acknowledge that literacy aids and social workers are not a suitable replacement for professional librarians.  In the latest round of budgetary cuts, teen library programs have been reduced severely as this was a coping mechanism for many branches of Rochester Public Library.  As long as the Safe to Be Smart program is present in teen centers then behavior problems are managed and programs are provided.  This level of service for our teens is enough to keep complaining individuals quiet, but is entirely  inadequate in a community seeking to promote social justice, combat the problems associated with poverty and increase the standard of living for all citizens.  We must empower the youth in our community to create a better future for themselves by taking education into their own hands through the use of the public library.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Teens don't exist on Sundays

According to the US Census Bureau, there are about 32,537 people living in Rochester, NY who are between the ages of 10 and 19.  They represent a significant 15.4 % of the population plus or minus 0.4 percentage points.  They are not to be ignored.  Their participation in society is valuable not only because of their numbers, but also because of their age.  They have the power to shape society in the future.  They will be the productive members of society owning their businesses for better or worse.  Many of them already are parents or will be parents within a reasonable amount of time.  Their contributions help to shape this city regardless of whether or not they choose to get a high school diploma, attend college, study for the GED or sell crack cocaine to each other.  They help define the morals and values of life on the streets and those children grow to accept as normal.  This is a portion of the population that is worth investing as much time, money, and resources as our fair city is able to offer if we wish to grow away from crippling poverty and toward a vision of sustainable living that this city has the potential to achieve.

When considering the youth, it is absolutely essential to remember that they don't need resources such as love, positive role models, and an enriching environment to in which to learn and grow older.  They grow and develop without any help at all.  The trouble is that when they are offered the minimum, they begin to believe that they are not worth the effort.  They make the social problems in this city worse instead of better.