Lifelong Learning on the Job

onal development word cloud

A few months ago, I finished an online course on programming for children and tweens, and I  just now finished another course on readers’ advisory for children, tweens, and teens. I had to pay for these out of my own pocket; as a part-timer, I am not eligible for reimbursement at my institution. However, these courses were well worth the money I paid for each. They’ve given me new ideas and perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise have had. This leads me to a topic that is important in any career, and that is professional development.

In a field like librarianship, where technologies and trends are constantly changing, there is no rationale for staying complacent just because you have a job. I never took a class pertaining to children’s services while in library school – I was planning on being in adult services, so although the various children’s courses sounded interesting, I ran out of time to take one. Now that I am based in children’s services, I thought it would be a good idea to gain some kind of formal knowledge in the area! Sure, I’m currently getting lots of valuable practical experience while performing my duties, but these courses can only hone my skills so that I may serve my patrons even better. Already, I’m using techniques and suggestions from these classes in my everyday interactions with children. And I have ideas floating in my head that I would eventually like to try out.

Picking up new skills and knowledge through formal coursework and webinars are not the only ways to stay informed and motivated.  I try to educate myself and stay current  by reading blogs whenever I can. A lot of times, this can be more timely than reading professional journals. I have about 15 RSS feeds on my Yahoo home page from blogs related to librarianship, the archival field, and library/digital technology.  I also follow the Twitter feeds of libraries and librarians around the country. Social media is a great way to share ideas and to stay current with library news, developments, and issues outside of my own institution.

Commitment to lifelong learning will keep the professional fires burning. The winners will be yourself and, most importantly, the community who uses your library!



Tonight, I had the pleasure of doing my first ever storytime at the library! I filled in for the regular storyteller, who is on vacation, and as pajama storytime is typically a small group, it was a good time to get my feet wet. Being a newbie, I did several things to prepare. A few months ago, I had observed several storytimes at the library, but I visited the pajama one last week to familiarize myself with its particular participants and dynamics. I Googled for lists of favorite storytime books by experienced librarians. In addition, I browsed through the stacks and grabbed about eight books that looked promising based on their illustrations and subject matters. Trucks? Fairies? Sounds good to me!

ernest_the_mooseI ended up choosing a couple of books that were mentioned most often in storytime booklists – gotta have at least a couple of surefire successes at my first storytime – and to select the rest, I checked online reviews of the books I had taken from the stacks and read through them myself. One book I very reluctantly let go – the illustrations were gorgeous, but I felt the language was a bit too sophisticated for 4-7 year-olds. I don’t want to underestimate the children, so I’ll review this book with a librarian to see if she agrees. One last thing I did to prepare was to check out a few popular storytime songs on YouTube – it’s been a while! It was interesting to note that while I grew up singing “Eensy weensy spider,” out here in California it’s “Itsy bitsy spider”…

how-do-dinosaurs-say-goodnightSo tonight, I read my five stories and interspersed them with songs and poems. Some of the children piped up with suggestions of their favorites – Humpty Dumpty; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star – so we sang/chanted those as well as other popular tunes. One thing I was not prepared for was the tendency of some children to want to come up to touch the book! When I observed past storytimes, I focused mostly on content and storytelling techniques. In future observations, I will pay closer attention to children management and how each storyteller controls the level of interaction with the children.

All in all, it was a fun evening. Time sped by quicker than I expected. I hope the children found it entertaining as well!

The Art of Weeding…Paperbacks

weed verb

1 a : to clear of weeds <weed a garden>

   b (1) : to free from something hurtful or offensive (2) : to remove the less desirable portions

2 : to get rid of (something harmful or superfluous) —often used with out

For the past month, I’ve been working on weeding the juvenile paperback section of the library. Just like when I was weeding the paperbacks at my internship library last year, weeding the paperback  collection here is determined mostly by physical condition. Is the cover torn or bent in several areas? Are pages falling out or yellowed? Are there stains, crayon or pen scribblings, or other unsightly blemishes? Is the spine cracked? Books that are worn out or dirty are just plain unattractive and unlikely to be checked out by library users.

When I was weeding romance paperbacks over at my internship site, I also considered date of publication. Romances are a highly circulating category, with a quick read through, and plenty of new ones always on the way. So publication date was just another criteria to use to make more room for new items.

Just like weeding is an essential task to make a garden more attractive and enjoyable, so is weeding paperbacks – or any other format for that matter – essential for a more appealing and relevant collection that will bring users back to the library over and over again. And as a new employee, I also found weeding a terrific way to get to know the paperback collection.

The Joy of Books

Just the other day, I helped a child locate a book she couldn’t find on her own. After I handed it to her, she clutched the book to her chest and literally jumped for joy. I love seeing this sort of excitement on a child’s face over a book! The feeling is contagious and makes me love my job even more! It also got me thinking about the importance of passing on a lifelong love of reading to children by parents and those who work with children.

Reading opens up new knowledge and worlds for children to imagine and explore and share. In my case, it also shaped the person I was to become. To this day, my reading habits and preferences are part of what identifies me. What we recommend for children to read can also greatly influence their lives. My cousin Lesley is 13 years younger than me and when she was a child, I gave her lots of books to read, books that reflected my personal taste. Oz, Greek mythology, Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy books…then Narnia, Middle-Earth, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising Sequence…followed by Pern, Shannara, and David Eddings’ Belgariad and Mallorean series among many, many others in that vein that I could throw at her. All this had a trickle down effect on her younger brothers, too! Lesley is now a professor, and she remains an avid reader. We share very similar tastes in books and now ask each other for recommendations (okay, so she didn’t care for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’m still working on changing that…).

Tapping into a child’s passion for reading is immensely rewarding, but I have also learned to rein in my enthusiasm when needed. My 14-year-old niece doesn’t share the same fervor for books, so I think it important not to push too hard lest she starts finding it a chore. I can only hope as that as she gets older, she grows to enjoy “reading for fun” more!

The Relevancy of Libraries in Today’s Digital World

digital world background

Much has been said, and continues to be said, about how libraries are transforming themselves to remain relevant in today’s information-rich and technology-driven society. User-centered planning, services, and collection development; innovative library spaces; remote access to resources; and social media participation – these are only a few of the responses to the internet age that are reshaping the 21st century library.

Lately, I’ve been pondering specifically about the importance of  libraries as social and economic equalizers in today’s digital environment. A democratic society promotes equal opportunity as well as equal access. It is even more important these days for libraries to provide information  and access to those who may not otherwise have the means or circumstances to keep up with current technologies critical for functioning in many areas of today’s society. Something as basic as sending an e-mail for you and I can be a challenge for others. By providing such services as  free internet access and workshops that teach digital literacy of all sorts, libraries enable many individuals to function more successfully and competitively in our current environment, which in turn gives them more opportunities to pursue. That’s the kind of empowerment  libraries can offer.

I love having people walk into my public library with a new e-reader or tablet and saying, “I got this as a gift but I don’t know how to use it. I thought maybe the library could show me.”

And that is just one of the myriad of reasons libraries are still relevant today.

© 2016 JoAnne Chen