Tuesday, November 21, 2017

JSTOR Daily: How Librarians Can Be Digital Mentors for Teens

How Librarians Can Be Digital Mentors for Teens
Alexandra Samuel
November 14, 2017

What is the role of librarians, archivists, media trainers, and other information professionals in fostering a healthy digital world for the next generation?
That’s the question I want to tackle this week, in response to a delightful letter I recently received. This letter addressed my recent JSTOR Daily column, “Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying A Generation, But Not Of Kids.”
In her biweekly column “The Digital Voyage,” Alexandra Samuel investigates the key psychological, social, and practical challenges of migrating to an online world.
The letter came from a group of five graduate students in the Masters of Information Science program at the University of Texas at Austin. The students are taking Professor Amelia Acker’s course on Information in Social and Cultural Context, which included a unit about how screens are affecting the reading habits of young people. My earlier article, which addressed the recurring alarm over kids and screen time, talked about the importance of parents guiding kids’ screen habits as digital mentors. Here’s what Prof. Acker’s students still want to know:
[W]e were left wondering how to best serve as digital mentors in our role as information professionals. How can we practically bring these values into institutional spaces such as archives, libraries, community organizations, and cultural centers? Furthermore, do you believe these attitudes on parenting could, or will, change based on technological innovations? Many articles on parenting and technology focus on age differences. How do you think other cultural and identify factors such as race, gender, class and disability inform parents’ relationships and attitudes towards technology?
It’s a complex set of questions, so let me start by saying I feel a tiny bit more hopeful about the future of our species if today’s information science students are thinking about how they can work to foster profound digital literacy across difference. Maybe we’re not doomed, after all!

Why Parents Aren’t Always the Best Digital Mentors

The letter I received from the five Masters of Information Science students—oh, I have to call them the MI-5—highlights a huge obstacle to cultivating a healthy digital experience and culture among the young people who are now growing up online. Many of the principles and practices that make for effective offline engagement are based on wisdom and habits that have been passed down from generation to generation. But the mentorship that young people require online calls for a new type of wisdom: a wisdom that can be informed by knowledge of the pre-digital world, but which also needs to draw on digital experience and expertise.
And the truth is, not all parents are in the same position to provide that kind of mentorship.  In part, that’s because parents have enormous discrepancies in their level of tech expertise and comfort—though mentorship truly is less about tech expertise than about actually engaging in conversation with kids about what they’re doing online, and why.
But there is a whole other type of digital divide, beyond the simple divide in who has access to devices and connectivity, created by the very differences the MI-5 allude to in their letter. Class differences mean some kids have parents who have money to enroll them in tech camps and the time to talk with them about their online activities, while others have parents working a second shift and hoping their kids stay out of trouble on Snapchat.
Disability—either the parent or the child’s—can make technology even more essential for learning, socialization, and daily life, but it can also make the work of digital mentorship far more demanding (as you’ll gather if you read anything about the screen struggles I’ve had with my autistic son.) Gender and race differences mean some kids face much higher risks online—like being bullied or targeted based on their gender or color. That raises the stakes for digital mentorship, because we’re now asking parents to help their kids navigate terrain that big tech providers like Facebook and Twitter struggle to address.

Librarians and Information Professionals as Role Models

It’s crucial that the work of mentorship take place beyond the imperfect and unequal world of private families, and extend into the spaces that can level the playing field: the libraries, community organizations, and cultural centers referenced by the MI-5. (I kind of want to pack my 14-year-old into a suitcase right now, and send them off to Austin to see what the 5 can do for their digital smarts.)
But that’s tricky, because a lot of what effective mentor parents do (establishing screen agreements, modelling appropriate tech usage, observing the impact of different kinds of online activities) is outside the purview of your friendly neighborhood librarian, community media trainer, or cultural programmer. Libraries and community organizations can provide training and guidance for parents who want to become digital mentors—in fact, a number of library groups have had me deliver just that kind of workshop—but at the end of the day, that particular sort of mentorship work needs to get done in the sustained context of parent-child, teacher, or counselling relationships.
Librarians and others can help shift kids from being passive technology consumers and towards being active technology maker-creators.
That still leaves a whole lot on the table for the MI-5 and other future-minded information professionals. The obvious starting point: Digital learning and literacy. Libraries, community centers, and media centers already offer lots of digital skills training; these programs are crucial resources for helping young people develop the hard skills they need to function effectively in the digital world.
But information professionals can go well beyond the basics of software training by offering programming and activities that help shift kids from being passive technology consumers and towards being active technology maker-creators. That work is going to have even greater impact if it’s not constrained to the physical space of a few publicly funded institutions, as Linda W. Braun points out in her thoughtful article about virtual outreach. I love this hypothetical example from her article:
Ask tweens and teens to create Vine videos as part of a STEM moviemaking program. You provide the program information virtually and allow youth to participate without setting foot in the library. While they are taking part in the program, you communicate with them using Twitter, Facebook, Google apps and other web-based tools—of course, providing digital literacy and technology tips along the way.
What I love about this example is that it also shows how information professionals can use digital literacy training to become digital mentors in a more robust sense. By delivering programming online, you end up interacting with young patrons through the very digital channels that they need to use responsibly. (And ok, Vine is no longer among them, but just substitute Instagram if you’re getting hung up on that detail.)
Once you’re engaging with patrons online, as well as face-to-face, you have the opportunity to model responsible online interaction, and offer your young patrons a window on what it means to live well online. Too many young people from all walks of life only see the online behavior of their peers, and class or cultural barriers may further narrow youth exposure to engaging examples of meaningful online participation. As a parent, I would love my tween and teen to model their social media engagement on my Facebook usage (well, maybe not my usage—I’m a bit compulsive), but even I have to admit that a young, tech-savvy librarian or media trainer is a much more appealing model than boring old Mom.
Role modelling works at both the individual and institutional level. I would love to see kids friending and imprinting on hip young media activists and librarians—please, someone launch a Have You Friended a Librarian Today? campaign! But not every information professional wants to connect with a bunch of teens on social media, and even if they did, there aren’t enough of them to go around.

Digital Mentoring at the Institutional Level

This is why it’s so crucial to see that modelling operate at an institutional level. Make sure that all the online interactions your institution has with its patrons —and especially, those patrons under 18—encourage the kinds of habits people should practice in all their online activities. It can be tempting to think that since we’re on the side of the angels, community institutions can play a little fast and loose with personal information. But a library is actually the last institution that should be sending out spammy bulk emails, or aggregating user data based on borrowing habits:  that’s just cuing patrons (including your youngest patrons) that we don’t regard personal information as sacrosanct. If we’re trying to mentor young tech users, we need to teach them to respect their own privacy, and to be suspicious of any institution that doesn’t take that privacy very seriously indeed.
Engagement with young patrons must ultimately be guided more by e pluribus unum than by in loco parentis.
A more tricky issue for role modelling concerns the role of libraries in limiting or moderating what young people access. Many libraries use internet filtering software to prevent patrons from accessing inappropriate content through their facilities. And at first, this might seem like an extension of the mentoring role: after all, many parents (myself included) use internet filters to manage their kids’ internet access. But Junichi P. Semitsu’s thoughtful article, “Burning Cyberbooks in Public Libraries: Internet Filtering Software vs. The First Amendment,” establishes a useful distinction between the kind of guidance a parent can provide, and what a library (or other public institution) can undertake:
A library’s policy should continue to reflect the idea that the fundamental responsibility to protect minors from harmful materials should rest with parents, not local librarians. Just as parents have been responsible for ensuring that their children do not look at sex education books in the adult section, parents must also be responsible for ensuring that children do not learn their sex education from www.hardcoresex.com. Libraries should assist parents by offering self-enforcing tools like optional filters. However, they should maintain their tradition of staying out of the business of censorship.
Semitsu’s distinction speaks to the tricky line information professionals need to walk when they take on the mantle of digital mentorship. On the one hand, young people benefit from mentoring that includes limit-setting as well as tech empowerment—that’s exactly why mentor parents often dole out screen time limits along with tech lessons. On the other, young people who encounter mentors at their local library or media centre are also experiencing their first points of contact with public institutions and media; in this respect, information professionals have a unique role in teaching young people what they can and should expect as online citizens. That means their engagement with young patrons must ultimately be guided more by e pluribus unum than by in loco parentis.
If information professionals play a profound role in transmitting what young digital citizens should expect, as well as in teaching them how they can participate and contribute, that mentorship role need not be limited to online interactions or digital trainings. It’s important to note that information professionals transmit cultural norms around information access and privacy—both essential issues for young tech users—in their offline activities, too. In their article on the privacy implications of libraries shifting to self-service holds, Stevens et al. note that:
When books are kept on self-service hold shelves in such a way that anyone who chooses to peruse the hold shelves (including someone who may simply be looking for a requested item) can match the title of the book with the name of the person who requested the book, there is a disclosure of private information relating to a patron. It is the equivalent of leaving copies of patrons’ circulation records in the open where anyone can view them.
This case beautifully demonstrates both the power and the peril of taking on the role of digital mentorship as an information professional. Everything a librarian, archivist, or community media trainer does is part of what they are teaching to the young people who tap into their lessons or services. That means that information professionals need to be exceptionally aware of what they are modelling, not only when they are thinking actively about mentorship, but when they are going about very aspect of their jobs (or even their after-hours online lives, if they’re connecting to young patrons).
And yet, that broad reach also makes them uniquely suited to the job of digital mentorship. As Glynda A. Hull notes in “At Last: Youth Culture and Digital Media: New Literacies for New Times,”
Given the pressure to teach to state-mandated content standards and to test students’ academic achievement defined as meeting those standards, and given the way in which such activities are tied to federal and state funding, teachers and schools are now very hard pressed to find space and time to think expansively about the interface of literacy, youth culture, multi-media, and identity.
That’s exactly why we need information professionals to take on the work of digital mentorship when teachers or parents are unable—or unwilling—to do it. The institutional roles, digital skills, and community mandate of information professionals mean they’re often the ideal people to fill in the gaps between what kids are learning from their schools and parents, and what they’re teaching one another. Thanks to the MI-5, I have high hopes that the next generation of information professionals will step up to do just that.

Source: JSTOR Daily

Monday, November 20, 2017

CBC News: Autism Library Helps Children Experience Public Places

Autism library helps children experience public places
Wanita Ryan and her daughter Cloe attend the library to be with kids and families who share their experience
By Christine Coulter
November 14, 2017

Wanita Ryan is thankful she has a place to bring her ten year old daughter Cloe to experience public spaces in a place where there are other children with autism.

Autism B.C. Lending Library in Richmond has been open for about a month and Ryan and her daughter have been attending ever since.

"It's great for her to interact with children that are like her and other parents who understand," Ryan said.

"Everybody is friendly and on the same playing field."

In addition to being autistic, Cloe also has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ryan says it can be hard for Cloe to be around other children in public places.

"When you get the staring looks and other kids not understanding why your child behaves that way. They just think your kid's odd or something," she said.

Stigma-free zone

Every aspect of the library and the building was designed with autistic people in mind according to librarian, Sabrina Gurniak.

"This is a space that's specifically for people who might have more barriers to entry in regular public spaces."

The lights are slightly less fluorescent to help those who may suffer from sensory processing issues and there are tools to help children who may not communicate verbally.

"Even something as simple as a bunch of people in a room chattering can be too much for someone on the spectrum," Gurniak said.

If a child does want to escape a situation that may be loud or uncomfortable for them there are special chairs that fold up and give them privacy to calm down.

"We call the building and the library a stigma-free zone. So it's the kind of thing if someone's having a hard time and upset at something … you're not going to get stares, you're not going to get people asking if everything is ok because we know that it happens"

With files from The Early Edition and Vivian Luk

Source: CBC.ca

Saturday, November 18, 2017

American Libraries: New Findings for Every Child Ready to Read in Public Libraries

An interview with lead researcher Susan B. Neuman about the initiative and evaluation

By Terra Dankowski
November 17, 2017

 Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood education and literacy development at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University.

How is the second iteration of the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) initiative being applied and approached in public libraries? What role do library staffers have in modeling and communicating early-literacy best practices to parents and caregivers? Answers to these questions, among other findings, were released November 17 in a report, Bringing Literacy Home: An Evaluation of the Every Child Ready to Read Program.

The report is a joint effort of the Association for Library Service to Children and the Public Library Association, and was compiled by lead researcher Susan B. Neuman, professor of childhood education and literacy development at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University, along with coauthors Naomi Moland, professorial lecturer at American University in Washington, D.C., and Donna Celano, assistant professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia.

American Libraries spoke to Neuman about the roles and challenges of librarians and caregivers in making sure every child is ready to read.

This research on the ECRR initiative in public libraries has been three years in the making. What are some of the key findings?

We’re finding that there is a transition among many libraries, moving from just focusing on children and storytimes to a broader view of parent engagement. We see that there are many opportunities for parents to actively engage with children instead of just standing back and watching.

There are also what we call “asides” during story-hour activities, where librarians are giving parents tips on how to interact with their child at home, or some developmental strategies so they can better understand the emergence of literacy and what they can do to support it.

What was your sample? What did you focus on for this evaluation?

The first year, we were trying to understand more broadly what the initiative might look like. We examined 10 library systems [using ECRR] across the United States; within that, we looked at three libraries within each system. We were trying to find: “What are the various aspects of the Every Child Ready to Read initiative? How does it affect programming? How does it affect what the librarian is likely to do? How does it affect the spaces and places that libraries set up to enable children and families to stay and almost see it as a destination place?”

The second and third years, we broadened our reach to a total of 60 libraries, some of which had adopted the ECRR initiative, many others which were in contiguous areas nearby but had not officially adopted the initiative. What we were looking for were similarities and differences across those settings. What we found is, in many [ECRR] libraries, spaces have changed. They’re almost like social playgrounds for literacy development. There are play objects that the children can engage with while learning. There are computers so parents can sit side by side with their children and encourage coparticipation around the technology. Parents and children can enjoy educational media and then find a book related to that media. The definition of literacy has broadened to include other media as well, and [the library] has become more of a place where you enjoy time together.

Does your research have examples of what libraries or caregivers are doing when there may be barriers to early literacy, such as access, inequality, or English-language issues?

It’s always a struggle, but many libraries are reaching out in vital ways. It’s not only what they do in the library, it’s what they do outside the libraries, and the critical connections they’ve made. Take a high-poverty area where people are reluctant to go to a library or go out, period. They feel, “Oh my goodness, I have library fines,” or something like that. Many librarians go to outreach centers and work in communities themselves, to make these [places] much more resource-available.

What are some of the early-literacy programs and behaviors that libraries and librarians are modeling besides storytimes?

If you go to [an ECRR] library you’re likely to see many, many programs. Some for parents who cannot get their kids into kindergarten, for various reasons. [Programs] for homeschooling or English-language learners. There are so many programs that are connecting children and their families to literacy, it’s incredible. All of those are often organized by one or two people.

We’re seeing that [libraries are] providing community centers for parents to talk to one another, which is important in high-poverty areas where they often feel isolated. We’re also seeing that many of our libraries are getting involved in state-related activities and early-literacy councils, so they’re becoming critical partners working on early-literacy activities.

Public librarians are taking on greater roles as educators and early-childhood specialists. What kind of resources or professional development are they getting to act as these conduits and practitioners?

There’s a whole host of professional development models that our libraries are using. Some [staffers] have gone to workshops, where they learn about the different aspects of early-literacy development. Or there’s a train-the-trainer model, where someone trains one person and then they train a bunch of other people. We see a lot of different configurations [that lead to] parent involvement.

How do you anticipate libraries and stakeholders using the research and the information in this report? Do you expect it to guide other libraries in their early-literacy initiatives?

I imagine that their efforts are only going to grow and develop. I think that one of the things they will need to be careful of is how much they can do with existing resources. They might become stretched in so many areas in the community, which is great, but at what cost eventually?

Just to give you an idea, many of [the ECRR libraries] serve lunch and dinner during the summer and at various times. This is all coming out of the librarian’s job. You look at that, in addition to the homework help and all the other stuff that they’re doing in these communities, and you say, “When are people going to realize that we need to put more resources into our libraries if we have such high expectations for them?” The community loves the libraries, but they need more resources to get the job done.

TERRA DANKOWSKI is an associate editor for American Libraries.

 Source: American Libraries

Friday, November 17, 2017

Toronto Star: Toronto library’s popular free Museum and Arts Pass program loses funding

At the end of 2018, Sun Life Financial will cut off funding for the program, which provides access to otherwise expensive museums and attractions.

Nov. 16, 2017

The Toronto Public Library's Museum and Arts Pass offers free admission to museums and attractions like the ROM. The library program's sponsor, Sun Life Financial, says it'll pull funding after 2018.  (Rick Madonik / Toronto Star file photo)  

Sun Life Financial has pulled funding for a popular Toronto Public Library program that offers free passes for museums and attractions like the ROM, Toronto Zoo and Ontario Science Centre, leaving its future uncertain.

The 10-year-old Museum and Arts Pass (MAP) initiative gives people with library cards access to passes for up to two adults and five kids that can be borrowed at any of the library branches.
Sun Life provided about $200,000 a year but decided to cancel that money because the program didn’t align with its re-evaluated priorities, said Paul Joliat, assistant vice-president of philanthropy and sponsorships.

“While the MAP program is a fantastic initiative, it doesn’t quite fit our refined criteria,” Joliat said. “These dollars are going to be reinvested within the arts and culture community across this country.”
The contract for funding is up at the end of the year, but Joliat said the company will continue providing it through the end of 2018 so the library is not left “high and dry.” He added that Sun Life will continue to fund the Toronto Public Library’s musical instrument lending program.
Despite losing the funding, Toronto Public Library spokesperson Ana-Maria Critchley remains optimistic.

“It’s a really successful program,” she said, noting that more than 1.5 million people have visited 17 cultural institutions they might not otherwise be able to afford.

“We’re very confident that we’re going to able to find another sponsor.”

Source: Toronto Star 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Twistedsifter.com: Incredible ‘Ocean of Books’ Library Opens in China with Space for 1.2m Titles

Nov 13, 2017
Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

Incredible ‘Ocean of Books’ Library Opens in China with Space for 1.2m Titles
MVRDV in collaboration with local architects TUPDI has completed the Tianjin Binhai Library, a 33,700m2 (362,744 sq ft) cultural centre featuring a luminous spherical auditorium around which floor-to-ceiling bookcases cascade. The undulating bookshelf is the building’s main spatial device, and is used both to frame the space and to create stairs, seating, the layered ceiling and even louvres on the fa├žade. Tianjin Binhai Library was designed and built in a record-breaking time of only three years due to a tight schedule imposed by the local municipality. Next to many media rooms it offers space for 1.2 million books. [source]

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

The library was commissioned by Tianjin Binhai Municipality and is located in the cultural centre of Binhai district in Tianjin, a coastal metropolis outside Beijing, China. The library, located adjacent to a park, is one of a cluster of five cultural buildings designed by an international cadre of architects including Bernard Tschumi Architects, Bing Thom Architects, HH Design and MVRDV. All buildings are connected by a public corridor underneath a glass canopy designed by GMP. Within the GMP masterplan MVRDV was given a strict volume within which all design was concentrated. [source]

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

The building’s mass extrudes upwards from the site and is ‘punctured’ by a spherical auditorium in the centre. Bookshelves are arrayed on either side of the sphere and act as everything from stairs to seating, even continuing along the ceiling to create an illuminated topography. These contours also continue along the two full glass facades that connect the library to the park outside and the public corridor inside, serving as louvres to protect the interior against excessive sunlight whilst also creating a bright and evenly lit interior. [source]

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

“The Tianjin Binhai Library interior is almost cave-like, a continuous bookshelf. Not being able to touch the building’s volume we ‘rolled’ the ball shaped auditorium demanded by the brief into the building and the building simply made space for it, as a ‘hug’ between media and knowledge” says Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV. “We opened the building by creating a beautiful public space inside; a new urban living room is its centre. The bookshelves are great spaces to sit and at the same time allow for access to the upper floors. The angles and curves are meant to stimulate different uses of the space, such as reading, walking, meeting and discussing. Together they form the ‘eye’ of the building: to see and be seen.” [source]

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

The five level building also contains extensive educational facilities, arrayed along the edges of the interior and accessible through the main atrium space. Public program is supported by subterranean service spaces, book storage, and a large archive. From the ground floor visitors can easily access reading areas for children and the elderly, the auditorium, the main entrance, terraced access to the floors above and connection to the cultural complex.

The first and second floors consist primarily of reading rooms, books and lounge areas whilst the upper floors also include meeting rooms, offices, computer and audio rooms and two roof top patios. [source]

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

The library is MVRDV’s most rapid fast track project to date. It took just three years from the first sketch to the opening. Due to the given completion date site excavation immediately followed the design phase. The tight construction schedule forced one essential part of the concept to be dropped: access to the upper bookshelves from rooms placed behind the atrium. This change was made locally and against MVRDV’s advice and rendered access to the upper shelves currently impossible. The full vision for the library may be realised in the future, but until then perforated aluminium plates printed to represent books on the upper shelves. Cleaning is done via ropes and movable scaffolding. [source]

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

Tianjin Binhai Library was built according to the Chinese Green Star energy efficiency label and has achieved two star status. MVRDV collaborated with Tianjin Urban Planning and Design Institute (TUPDI), structural engineers Sanjiang Steel Structure Design, TADI interior architects and Huayi Jianyuan lighting design. It is the second realised MVRDV project in Tianjin following TEDA Urban Fabric, completed in 2009. [source]

 Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

Design by MVRDV
Photograph © Ossip van Duivenbode

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Themillions.com: What’s a Library to Do? On Homelessness and Public Spaces

By Ryan Krull
October 16, 2017

The Central Library building in downtown St. Louis

Russell had a long beard that at least one librarian likened to Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s. Every day he showed up to the Central Library building in downtown St. Louis, and because he always wore the same clothes, bearing the logo of the city’s former NFL team, the staff privately nicknamed him “Rams Jacket.” It was increasingly becoming a problem that hundreds of people like Russell, who spent their nights at the homeless shelter across the street, would spend their days in the library. But Russell was, according to one librarian who worked at Central at the time, “the most regular of the regulars.”

He always sat in the exact same room, at the same table, in the same chair. He usually read quietly, and when not reading, he napped sitting with the book propped up in front of him. He was in many ways the ideal library patron. However, Russell slept at a shelter where a different person used every bed each night, the linens changed only once a week. He became afflicted with bed bugs. He suffered from painful, suppurating sores.

Homeless people spending time in and around public libraries are nothing unusual in metropolitan areas. It has been written about before, widely. But at this central library in St. Louis, the city system’s crown jewel, a conundrum that exists all over the country was heightened to a rare degree. A library is supposed to be a place for all people. But how does the library keep its doors open to all?

The New Life Evangelistic Center, where Russell slept, was a controversial homeless shelter. Run by a reverend and sometimes-third party mayoral candidate named Larry Rice, the shelter took in as many as 300 people every night, and every morning at six, these people were told to leave for the day. No one denied Rice provided people in need a place to sleep, but critics say he offered very little else in terms of rehabilitation, mental health, or employment counseling. A cross emblazoned on the side of the NLEC is so large it spans nearly two of the building’s five stories.

The New Life Evangelistic Center.

Across the street, however, the Central Library where Russell spent his days had undergone a $70 million renovation. Its floors perfectly reflect the sunlight shining in through massive stained glass windows. Frescoes adorn the high ceilings. Footsteps and low voices echo in exactly the right hallowed way. The building itself is more than a century old, designed by the architect of the Woolworth building in Manhattan with construction funded by Andrew Carnegie. Canonical names are etched around the rim of its granite exterior: Goethe, Milton, Racine.

Between the Central Library and the NLEC sits tiny Lucas Gardens Park, where many people who slept the previous night in the shelter waited out the days. If you’d visited the area as recently as this spring you would have noticed the crowd congregated there, people who seemed to have everything they own clutched in their hand or stored in bags at their feet. At times there were so many people in the park that it looked as if an event were about to begin.

Unable to use the NLEC’s facilities during the day, many of its residents used the library’s bathrooms, water fountains, and air conditioning, which meant that, according to one former librarian, the Central Library was a “de facto day shelter with hundreds of people.”

A series of Board of Public Service hearings were held to determine if the NLEC was a detriment to its neighborhood, and at these hearings representatives from Central testified that it was common in the library’s Great Hall for every chair to be occupied by someone experiencing homelessness. This deterred research, fewer people checked out books, and parents were hesitant to bring their children. The library’s executive director testified that Central Library was more and more, “used not as a public library but as a shelter, a place to keep warm, a place to keep cool, a place to sit, a place to meet.” Due to the volume of people outside, some library staff were escorted to and from their cars at the beginning and end of their shifts. Representatives from the library stated that Central employed a full-time custodian whose entire job was to, “constantly walk the perimeter of the building, cleaning up large amounts of blankets, clothing, food containers and trash, as well as urine, feces, vomit, and drug paraphernalia.” This custodian removed human feces “virtually every day.”

Yet in February of this year, the NLEC organized a press conference at which half a dozen people who used NLEC services spoke out against the Central Library. From the local CBS affiliate’s coverage of the press conference:
“I go in there to do job searches. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Well, all of our computers is booked up for now. Come back later,’” Brian Foster says. “So when I come back later, it’s always ‘Come back, come back.’”
Others claim they have been asked to leave because they smell or look homeless.
“If you smell or you look like you haven’t changed your clothes and you truly are homeless on the street, they will not let you in,” Megan Ferguson says. “The police will put you out. There’s actual police in there that will put you out.”
Eric Lundgren, a former librarian at Central who told me about Russell, said that while he was at the library he felt having a social worker on staff would have been a big step in the right direction. In theory, a social worker could not only have worked with library patrons, but also trained library staff in how to best help those patrons in distress or in need of social service-type assistance. When I asked a librarian working behind the front desk if he and his coworkers received any such training, he referred me to the library’s PR representative. When I put the question to them, they never replied.

Lundgren himself had eventually spoken with Russell and asked if he had somewhere he could go for medical and hygiene help. During the interaction, Russell was coherent, non-confrontational, and cool. The next time he came into the library his head was shaved, he was clean, wearing a new white T-shirt and red sweat pants.

But soon after that, Russell stopped showing up. Another regular from the NLEC said that one night Russell arrived at the shelter for the evening check in and was “completely terrified.” He’d urinated on himself. He was turned away that night, and no one there had seen him since.

Lundgren told me that for him Russell’s story epitomized his feelings about both his own (former) employer and the shelter next door. “There was a big $70 million investment in the renovation,” he said. “And certainly some of the library’s leadership felt that NLEC folks were discouraging other patrons from visiting, bringing their kids downtown. This is a real concern. Central Library is a stunning building, a shared asset that everyone should be able to enjoy safely. It’s an extremely difficult and complex problem, balancing the safety of the library on the one hand with the acknowledgment on the other that the homeless and marginalized are real patrons, too.”

As for the shelter next door, he added: “The NLEC seemed that they were willing to provide beds and shelter for a lot of people. They imposed a surface religiosity on them, but when it came to the deeper, more difficult problem of actually caring for them and helping them out of their predicament, they really fell short.”

The NLEC didn’t have a social worker on staff. They provided little if anything by way of job training and had no system in place to connect people to long-term housing A person in need of a place to sleep could stay for only fourteen nights, and, according to a St. Louis Magazine profile of Rice, the shelter allowed people to exchange labor for room and board beyond those two weeks. Those who opted for these extended stays and who were receiving government benefits were asked to forfeit a portion of that money to the NLEC. The story described people who stayed at the NLEC later testifying against it, saying they had possessions stolen while there, that they witnessed drug dealing within the building. The library’s executive director testified alongside them, saying the shelter was a detriment to the neighborhood. These hearings happened in 2013, and the shelter’s hotel license wasn’t revoked until 2015. At that time, according to a St. Louis City press release, the NLEC began operating, “without any permit of any kind to occupy the property.”

It wasn’t until April of this year that the NLEC’s hotel license was revoked for the final time, effectively ending its shelter services. Four years between the 2013 hearing and the shelter’s closing, and in that time hundreds of people were going from the shelter to the library and back again every day. A $70 million library. A converted, five story YWCA with 300 beds. For those dividing their time between the two, the library and the NLEC must have seemed in many ways considerably less than the sum of their parts.

Faye Abram, a social work professor recently retired from St. Louis University, says that it helps to bear in mind that even though homeless people don’t have a home, they still have a home base. In this particular case, she says, the Central Library didn’t attract the homeless so much as it was located within the community of the homeless. The NLEC was next door, and about five blocks north is a Catholic Charity-run center offering support for people experiencing homelessness. Resources for utility assistance and pro bono legal services are also within a few blocks. “The library was part of their community,” Abram said. “And the library because of its generally open policies and liberal hours was like a safe space.”

Abram, who was asked to testify at the hearings related to the NLEC, says she never perceived the Central Library as an institution asking itself what it should do to be more responsive to the needs of homeless people in the area. But, she said, she isn’t sure that is a fair burden to put on the library. It’s asking the library to do more than what libraries are typically asked to do.

“The library had some legitimate concerns,” Abram said. “There was undo pressure on it with the overflow that was coming from the NLEC. But the only thing that’s going to relieve that pressure and allow homeless patrons to use the library as it should be used is to allow them to be able to have other spaces where they can shower and sleep and change clothes. It doesn’t help to close down a place like the NLEC; if anything it puts more pressure on the library.”

In general, Abram says, closing a shelter is only going to relocate the problem rather than mend it. St. Louis’s total homeless population numbers near 1,800, and shutting down the NLEC as a shelter only shifts the hundreds of people who slept there to different communities elsewhere. Absent a systemic remedy, Abram said, “You can take care of the problem in one place, but it’s just going to crop up somewhere else.”

On a recent summer morning the Lucas Gardens Park was nearly empty. On the front steps of Central, a public safety officer who works the library beat told me that the area has gotten a little “better” after the NLEC’s closure. Still he said he sees more “craziness” in one day than other people in his line of work see in a 40-hour week. People offer each other drugs in the library bathroom. Another morning, I spoke to a young man about a block away who said he stayed in the area. I asked him if he ever used the library. “You got an ID?” he asked. I nodded. “Then they’ll let you use a computer,” he said. “They’re cool.”

So what is a library to do?

According to Nicole Cooke, author of Information Services to Diverse Populations: Developing Culturally Competent Library Professionals, more and more libraries, particularly ones in large well-funded systems, are adding social workers to their staff. Cooke, who teaches future librarians as a professor in the University of Illinois library science program, says that social work and librarianship are both very public facing and service-oriented professions. However there are fundamental differences between the two, and communities can't assign to librarians all that social workers are tasked to do.

But the key, Cooke said, is to figure out how make that a little more institutionalized, to make it the rule rather than the exception.
Cooke pointed to libraries in San Francisco that have coordinated with a mobile shower facility that parks outside various branch locations, which provide the necessary water hook up. Abram mentioned that some libraries allow people moving into areas to use the local branch address as their home address until they are settled. At a library in Philadelphia, librarians have been trained to administer Narcan in the case that someone in or near the library overdoses on opioids. In a recent article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a reporter chronicled the story of one librarian who helped save the lives of three overdose victims in as many shifts.

But my students and I talk a lot about being ready, willing, and able to serve all patrons in librarianship, Cooke said. A library at any given time could have multiple diverse marginalized populations, including homeless patrons, and it becomes challenging to prioritize and really adequately serve all of them.
In St. Louis, before the NLEC closed, it may have seemed like that shelter and the Central Library were in opposition. Rice organized a press conference against the library. Library representatives testified at a city hearing that the shelter was a detriment to the neighborhood. But framing the story as an institutional squabble misses the bigger picture in which, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, nearly one out of every 100 Americans will spend a night out on the streets this year. Both the library and the NLEC helped the homeless in their own "sometimes highly flawed" ways. It's easy to ask why they fell short, but why was it left to them in the first place?

Photos courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Library Journal: Stigma-Free Reading for Adults | Collections

How Nashville Public Library rebooted its hi-lo offerings into the Fresh Reads collection

By Megan Godbey & Laurie Handshu
November 6, 2017

Nashville Public Library (NPL), the 2017 Gale/LJ Library of the Year, launched the Fresh Reads collection to adult new readers (ANR) in 2017 to offer stigma-free reading to promote literacy and learning. One in eight Nashvillians reads below a sixth-grade level, making tasks such as paying bills, helping a child with homework, or filling out a job application challenging and sometimes impossible. Helping them also helps the next generation: the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “children of parents with low literacy skills have a 72 percent chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.” We need to leverage all our resources to build a literate community.

LOSE THE LABELS NPL’s former system of labeling adult new reader books was somewhat evocative of The Scarlet Letter. Fresh Reads displays are recognizable, distinct, nonstigmatizing, and consistent across locations. Megan Godbey, NPL adult literacy coordinator (and coauthor of this article), helping an adult learner from Nashville Adult Literacy Council


NPL has experimented with books targeted to ANR patrons in the past, but its previous collections were plagued by issues including confusing locations, uninspired displays, outdated materials, and the stigma attached to books written on lower reading levels. Books were shelved inconsistently, and they were often in a lonely, dark corner. Some of the titles were for adults but had been adapted for new readers; some were actually children’s books; many had covers dated enough to make them embarrassing to check out.

Few patrons, regardless of reading level, would have sought out these works. Our local literacy council described the problem this way: “We found it extremely difficult to find material that was appropriate for our learners. Materials of interest to adults were written at a level that was too advanced, and content at the right level was geared to a much younger audience.” Eventually, these collections were pulled from the shelves owing to disuse, and we took a step back to reevaluate our approach.

Today, the library’s Adult Literacy program, funded in part by the NPL Foundation, has become a robust force in our city. We provide free classroom space and professional development opportunities to groups such as the Nashville Adult Literacy Council (NALC), Workforce Essentials, Nashville International Center for Empowerment, and other adult education partners. We wanted to revamp our ANR collection better to serve this population. To do so, we turned to the Memphis Public Library, Literacy MidSouth, and the San Francisco Public Library as useful references and to NALC as a thoughtful collaborator in creating a personalized solution for Nashville.


We approached this project intent on offering highly visible, welcoming titles to our ANR audience. Our goal was to provide ANR patrons access to the same types of titles and materials offered to established readers, including books by popular authors that just happened to be on a lower Lexile level. We asked tutors at NALC what their students’ most requested books were in each genre and took those requests into account, as well.

We began by investigating traditional ANR publishers such as Rapid Reads, GEMMA/Open Day, Orca, and New Readers Press. While the reading levels were vetted, the material lacked the dynamics we hoped to infuse into the Fresh Reads collection, and the packaging was lackluster. The final selections included four titles from Rapid Reads and three from the Orca catalog.

About this time, James Patterson’s BookShots were ­released. These are 150-page, easily digestible stories meant for an adult audience. This series offered us a great opportunity to introduce a best-selling, recognized author to the ANR collection. We were especially thrilled to provide a way for the new reader to join their family in reading titles by a popular author. The final collection included 12 BookShot title sets (the book packaged with the audio CD), and we used the cover art to make sure each pack was fresh and attractive.

To round out the fiction selections, we sought out titles with broad, recognizable appeal, including Stephen King’s The Shining, Andy Weir’s The Martian, and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. We wanted new readers to feel savvy and smart about their choices, whether the title recognition came from the film adaptation or the author’s name.

We chose graphic novel adaptations to represent classics in literature. As anyone assigned to read one of the classics knows, the task can be daunting, so a new take seemed appropriate. We also wanted to include biographies and were able to locate a few contemporary adult titles within our reading range. We balanced out the collection with seven general nonfiction titles on subjects ranging from sewing to the Civil War. We looked for organized informational layouts heavy with photographic illustrations, such as works by DK.


We employed basic collection-building parameters like recommendations and reviews, subject matter, and the balance of fiction and nonfiction. Titles were selected with Lexile levels ranging from 540 to 860. We used our vendor sites to gather titles and then customized those carts based on readability measures, publication dates, and availability of formats. Balancing the works to create a well-rounded collection became our next goal. Ultimately, we curated 40 titles.

Our top circulating titles for the first quarter were ­Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala (biography) and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (fiction). Next up in circulation was John Lewis’s graphic novel March, Volume 1. This was our Nashville Reads (citywide read) title for 2016, so interest in this timely and uniquely Nashville-based book was heightened. The next two titles were tied for circulation, Jen McLaughlin’s The McCullagh Inn in Maine (a BookShot Flame romance title) and Amy Newmark’s Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America. The most interesting finding for the first-quarter circulation numbers was the popularity of seven BookShot Flame (romance) titles. These titles accounted for 21 percent of circulation. Five other BookShot titles accounted for 16 percent of total circulation.

Once the collection was set, we simply replicated it in each of our nine Fresh Reads locations. These nine library sites were selected out of our 21 locations because they were the most frequent meeting spots for adult learners and tutors.


Next, we tackled the challenge of how to market the titles. We wanted to learn from our past experiences and ensure that patrons using the collection would be able to locate ANR titles easily across the system. The question remained, how could we display these titles prominently and appealingly without making new readers embarrassed to seek them out? We wanted to address this issue with consistent branding and prominent placement. It was vitally important that the shelving units and signage be cohesive and recognizable. We also wanted to place the collection in high-traffic areas near front entrances, public computers, or service desks to ensure high visibility while avoiding stigmatizing locations such as children’s areas. In the end, we opted to purchase freestanding display units that are easily identifiable in each of the nine locations. We also needed a new name for the collection, with an clearly recognizable logo.

We met with local partner NALC to garner feedback about names that have the most appeal for adult learners. “Fresh Reads” was the winner for several reasons: it’s easy to remember, free of any reference to illiteracy, and piques general interest. After several rounds of graphic design, we opted for the leaf design. The leaf and book stand out since they are a different color scheme from our traditional branding (blue, orange, and yellow), and the leaf is distinct from any other program branding to avoid confusion.


With a name like Fresh Reads, how do adult learners find the collection? We leveraged our strongest asset for marketing: the tutors themselves. The library’s adult literacy team created bookmarks with the Fresh Reads logo. These are given to each new adult learner at orientation when they are matched with their tutor, often in library locations. When adult learners look for a new book, they can simply show the library staff their Fresh Reads bookmark, and staffers direct them to the display. (No awkward conversations required!) In addition, NALC staff have been trained about the collection and understand how to filter the online catalog by Lexile level. They serve as resources and trainers for new tutors.

This partnership has yielded positive results for everyone involved. Kim Karesh, CEO of NALC, remarks, “The Nashville Public Library collaborated with us to meet this unique need. It is only through their commitment to adult learners that we are able to offer Fresh Reads to further the learning progress of our students.”


Looking forward, we’d like to challenge publishers to offer more material for this audience. There are a limited number of titles available for adults learning to read, and many of the leveled books are merely reprints of texts from the 1970s. In addition, publishers may gain a new audience with these books. The general public is looking for shorter reads, as evidenced by the popularity of BookShots. While designed to meet the needs of ANRs, Fresh Reads is for all readers who love to experience great stories—for the first time or the 100th time.

Refresh Your Own Reads

Librarians are important gatekeepers for adults learning to read. Every service desk, regardless of size or system, can take these small steps.

1. Keep it simple! Don’t overcomplicate explanations; it’s not necessary to teach each adult learner the Dewey Decimal system and how to search the card catalog. Simply show them to the area of the library that has a topic of interest.

2. Make learning relevant. Adult learners are driven by personal learning goals. Ask targeted questions about what they’d like to learn, and find out which topics pique their interest.

3. Listen for what is unsaid. Adult learners often will not begin the conversation by stating directly that they are learning to read. They may offer up other information as a way of asking for help. For example, an adult learner may say, “I forgot my glasses today. Can you read this form to me?”

4. Speak with their advocate. Adult learners may also be too ashamed to approach a librarian to ask for help directly. Many learners get connected to services and learning tools through the help of an advocate. This may take the form of a friend, neighbor, or relative with whom they feel more comfortable sharing this private information.

5. Offer smart referrals. Adult learners may require other types of assistance, such as support for job skills, digital skills, and family literacy support. Connect to local service providers who can help, or create an online request form for services. (See our example at nashvillehelps.com.)

6. Don’t make assumptions. The background of an adult learner is not necessarily obvious; they may hold college degrees, own businesses, or hold public office. In the same vein, honor their strengths; they have gifts and talents that have allowed them to succeed in other areas of life. Adult learners make wonderful library volunteers and often want to give back to their community after achieving their learning goals.

Megan Godbey is Adult Literacy Coordinator and Laurie Handshu is Acquisitions Librarian, Nashville Public Library

Source: Library Journal