Showing posts with label my working life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label my working life. Show all posts


my first island off the island: a brief stop in sointula

This week I drove down to Port McNeill -- about 30 minutes away, and the home of one of my libraries -- and took the ferry to Malcolm Island, to visit another of my libraries, in the town of Sointula. I traveled with a co-worker who does programming and support work in our zone's libraries and communities. She's a great person and an awesome library worker, and we're doing all my first site visits together.

We stepped off the ferry and into Coho Joe, a local haunt. No sooner did we walk through the door than C was greeted warmly by name. She introduced me to two women, one a local artist, and both heavy library users -- one of whom we would see later that day.

Coho Joe is my kind of place.

An adorable menu, great food, and amazing coffee.

The library!

The small library, walking distance from the ferry, is incredibly well-loved by its community -- voracious readers whose tastes run a full gamut from esoteric nonfiction to paperback westerns. Twice a month a local textile artist leads a craft. A group of teens are working on bullet journals. C and I are planning a seniors program.

Most Sointula kids commute by ferry to school in Port McNeill, but there are also many homeschoolers. Public libraries everywhere are vital resources for homeschooling parents, and perhaps even more important in a small island community.

How you know this is a stock photo: note the blue sky and sun.

While we were there, a mom stopped in with a toddler, and C and the little girl did some building with connector straws. One of the women we met in the cafe also came by, and I worked with her on using the library's new website to access digital resources. What fun! I love doing "e-help" with motivated users, especially when we have to figure out some of the answers together.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting all my libraries, meeting in person the people who make them run, and learning how I can better support their work and strengthen library services to their communities. So much fun! Days like this, I feel like I won the lottery of great jobs.


Ever since learning its library would be part of my portfolio, I have been extremely intrigued with the town of Sointula. It began life as a utopian community, founded by striking coal miners! The name itself means "place of harmony" in the miners' native Finnish.

I've always been fascinated by utopian communities. In the 19th and early 20th century, there were several in New York and New Jersey, but you really have to dig to find any of the history. The dissident roots of Sointula are much easier to find -- in fact, it feels as though they are on display. The town is proudly eccentric and almost defiantly independent.

View of Sointula from the Port McNeil ferry.
Sointula and Malcolm Island are high on my list of local places I want to explore. There's an annual winter festival that's supposed to be amazing. In August, from a viewing platform in Bere Point Park, you can see migrating Orca rub against a beach to scape off barnacles.

A brief west-coast geography lesson

Between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland, in the Strait of Georgia (or the Salish Sea) there are more than 200 islands, collectively known as the Gulf Islands. Gabriola and Salt Spring Islands are the largest of the Gulf Islands, and also the most convenient to the population centres of Vancouver and Nanaimo.

Southern Gulf Islands
North of the Gulf Islands is the Queen Charlotte Strait -- more water between Vancouver Island and mainland BC, and home to yet more islands. These are more remote, and also closer to where we live.
Here you can see where we live relative to the islands.
Note Nanaimo on both maps. Nanaimo is a 90-minute ferry ride from the city of Vancouver.

Still farther north is Haida Gwaii, an archipelago that is the heart of the territory of the Haida nation.

Note Port Hardy, our North Island town.
There are four VIRL libraries on Haida Gwaii.

For more perspective, note Haida Gwaii relative to Alaska.

You will occasionally hear people call Haida Gwaii the Queen Charlotte Islands, or just "the Queen Charlottes". The name Haida Gwaii -- which predates the anglo name by more than 10,000 years -- was returned to official status in 2010.

There is a movement to officially change the name of the province of BC as well. As this columnist wrote in 2016, the name itself is shameful, which may partly explain why one very rarely hears the full name spoken.


week two of training and counting days to go home

It was wonderful to have Allan and Diego with me this weekend. The weather was "cold" -- cold for the island, between -2 and +3 C -- and wet, and I wasn't prepared for that, so we didn't do a lot. We went to Ideal Cafe twice, a famous local haunt with amazing breakfasts, now a must for all Campbell River outings. (I can also recommend SoCal Restaurant, in Willow Point.)

We drove down the coast, which was wild and windswept, and very beautiful. And we read, and watched a few episodes of a new series. I was so happy to see my guys! And sad to go to work, knowing they wouldn't be there when I got back.

I really want to go home and begin my new life and new position. But training continues apace. Last week was all the big-picture stuff/ This week is all the nuts and bolts, the how-to -- circulation, collection management, payroll, time-off requests, revenue reports, and so on.

In a bit of excellent timing, this week there is also an all-librarians meeting for the whole system. Unfortunately it means driving back and forth to Nanaimo, two hours each way, but I'm very happy to be going.

I'm staying in a funny little place, an old-fashioned motel, very bare-bones, but also very clean and convenient, and it's really nice to have a kitchen. I picked up supplies for breakfast and some healthy snacks to bring to work. For dinner, I'm stopping at a supermarket every night after work to pick up some prepared food. Five more sleeps.


the vancouver island report: two more days of training and on to campbell river

I've completed another two days of training and orientation. It's been pretty awesome. In the past three days, I've had a tour of the Nanaimo Harbourfront branch, which is something of a showpiece and central library, and a tour of the Nanaimo North branch, which is new and beautiful. I've met with managers of: library systems, payroll, scheduling, facilities, human resources, purchasing, health and safety, communications, finance, technical services, the Creativity Commons, and e-resources. Each one has given me an overview of their functions and talked about how I will interact with their departments. And each one has been warm, friendly, welcoming, genuine, and generous with their time. It was both overwhelming and wonderful.

I've also been watching videos for all kinds of regulatory requirements. This is pretty typical when you work with the public and/or are a supervisor -- health and safety, respectful workplace, violence prevention, emergency preparedness, among others. I don't know if all workplaces do this now. When I worked in law firms, support staff got exactly zero training on any of these. My current employer is taking the correct approach: giving a new employee time to complete all the training before starting the job. My previous employer, not so much.

I also have to learn a new "ILS," the software that links the catalog, customers, materials, circulation, and library staff. It stands for Integrated Library System. We all use it all the time, and if you don't understand it thoroughly, you end up frustrated, or screwing things up, or both.

I continue to be very impressed with the organization and efficiency of this library system, from both a customer and employee point of view.

Also today, I saw some photos of the interior of the Port Hardy library, where I'll be based. It looks like I won't have an office, just an alcove. This may prove very challenging. You can't really be visible to the public but not available to the public -- and if I'm always available to the public, I won't be able to attend to many other aspects of my job. On the other hand, there will be other staff, and the numbers of customers may be more manageable than what I'm used to. We shall see!

Early tomorrow morning I drive two hours north to Campbell River, where I'll meet my manager in person for the first time and begin more specific training and orientation with him.

I can't wait for Saturday, when Allan and Diego will join me for the weekend. I really miss them.


first day of work braindump

I've just finished my first day of training and orientation at [my new library]. I have a lot to report on! Much of this may be of interest only to library workers, especially my union buddies.

I took notes all day, and I'm getting it all down here -- in no order, with no attempt to weave it together. All questions are FAQs I've been getting since announcing my move.

1. Who had this position before you and why did they leave?

It is a newly created position; I am the first person to hold the job. The position is part of a larger strategy to bring more robust library services to the North Island, to put them on par with the rest of the Island.

2. My position, the "Customer Services Librarian II", is the equivalent of the senior librarian position I recently left. However, there are only a handful of CSLIIs in the system.

3. Will the manager be in the branch with you?

I will mostly work on my own. I will report in to a manager, but he will work out of Campbell River, 2.5 hours away. The manager is also new to the North Island and has not yet been able to visit all five branches.

4. I have the opportunity to make this position what I want as I go along. Not only am I the first CSL II in this area, there has never been a CSL at all -- meaning no librarian.

5. What are you going to do for two full weeks of training?

Today I was given a schedule for my first three days, which are taking place in Nanaimo. I spent the day at the North Nanaimo branch, a beautiful facility that opened in 2015; it previously housed only the administration and back-office functions.

Today I met with senior staff representing HR, payroll, finances, health/safety, and IT. A full hour with each. This is so amazing. For almost my entire working life, I've been accustomed to being thrown in with no or minimal training. This system is also way more efficient. I can't begin to describe how much time is wasted trying to track down the appropriate person for an issue.

I also had a tour of this branch, and I met the union steward for my union. (There are two unions.)

Tomorrow I will be at the Nanaimo Harbourfront branch, right near the hotel.

6. I was given a laptop and a cell phone. There are eight hours of online training to complete, and I can do it in bits as I find time over the next two weeks.

7. As professional staff, I am allowed to modify my hours as needed. For example, one of my branches is on a different island. If I need to adjust my work different hours because of the ferry schedule, I can do that.

8. I will be responsible for approving payroll for my branch. Many of my responsibilities are managerial responsibilities in my former library system.

9. VIRL has 39 branches -- on the Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte islands, and in two mainland locations. They have been building or renovating branches since 2010. By 2020 or thereabouts, all branches will either be renovated, rebuilt, or newly created.

10. With a few exceptions, the entire collection is floating! Customers must be adept at using the catalogue and placing holds to get what they want. There is a lot of staff instruction available for customers.

11. There is a YNF collection! I first saw a youth nonfiction collection in Vancouver Public Library and absolutely loved the idea. I developed a proposal and pitched it to the Mississauga Library. They rejected it, of course, but I love that VIRL has this.

The youth collection also includes "Playaways" -- digital audiobooks with a rechargeable battery. They are very popular.

12. How long does it take for a hold to come in? "It depends."

There are long distances between branches. Some branches get weekly deliveries, others twice weekly.

13. Books are sent by mail -- delivered by float plane -- to customers in remote locations. These are sent weekly. Loans are six weeks with no fines.

14. Next year children's materials will all be fine-free. !!!!

15. On December 12, there is an all-librarians meeting in Nanaimo -- CSLs, CSLIIs, and managers. It's perfect timing for me, as I'll still be in training.

16. Today I felt and appreciated how much I've learned in the last five and a half years as a working librarian. I was very comfortable with the information and asked a lot of good questions. I didn't feel like I was faking it. That is huge.

17. Yesterday I had a horrific getting-lost experience, and so was a bit anxious about driving to the branch and back to the hotel. Both drives went smoothly, and I even did the last bit by feel.

18. Their intranet is friggin amazing. This is a huge help for staff, and very different from what I'm accustomed to.

19. The provincial government here is often referred to as a "fragile coalition" of NDP and Green. One NDP MLA stepped down to become mayor of Nanaimo. This means a byelection could shift the balance of power. Scary!

20. There is a room in the admin offices called "hotel". Guests can park their stuff, login to a computer, and take breaks there.

21. For one of today's meetings, I was sitting next to someone who was walking me through some processes on her computer. The desk and monitor were too high for me, so my neck was straining the whole time. Her screen backgrounds were the default white, and the room had harsh flourescent lighting -- all of which give me headaches. I was becoming very uncomfortable. This made me think about accessibility for interviews and training. I repeatedly tried to adjust myself, but was unwilling to straight-up say I need help.

22. I will be coming in to my branches as the new senior supervisor -- the new boss. Typically in those situations, some people will like this and feel relieved and happy, and others will be threatened and see me as encroaching on their turf. I will enjoy the challenge.


in which i say goodbye to cupe 1989 and mississauga library

Many friends and co-workers have said they'll check this blog for updates on our drive west, our new town, my new work. Welcome and a disclaimer: when I travel, wmtc becomes a travel journal, full of details that I want to remember but are probably super boring to anyone else. You've been warned.

For the past few weeks, every night that I wasn't working, I've been out with friends. Not exactly my usual schedule! But hey, I'll have more than enough time to do nothing on the road trip. It was wonderful to see people.

I've also found that, no longer being local president, I have so much more energy for socializing. I'm realizing -- not for the first time, of course -- that the union leadership position is a lot more than the hours you put in (although there's plenty of that). It's the responsibility, the mental weight, that takes the toll. It was an amazing experience, absolutely one of the most meaningful experiences of my life -- but I'm glad it's over.

Two nights ago, we gathered at Failte, the pub near my (former) library, to celebrate and say farewell. Spectacular bad timing: it was also the first snow in our area, early for the GTA, and it hit just in time for the evening commute. A lot of people bailed on the party, and I was so disappointed that I nearly called it off, texting various people to see if they were still planning to attend. (Two years of apartment life without wmtc parties: I was out of practice! There are always a ton of last minute cancellations and "we'll try"s that turn into "no"s.)

Most of my union team was able to be there, and good friends and comrades from Toronto, and dearest friends drove down from London. Some 1989 members stopped by; I also invited a handful of managers who I respect and have enjoyed working with. The (new) (post-strike) Library Director and two senior managers came and stayed for quite a bit.

We were out late, plus the usual post-party hang out, so I was thoroughly exhausted and hung over for my last day of work. More goodbyes, a wonderful, frank, wide-ranging talk with my manager, and one last stint on-desk. Then I packed up my office, turned in my staff badge, and slipped out to the parking garage.

My most recent position in Mississauga Library has been great. I was a senior supervisor, part librarian and part administrator, responsible for keeping the department running smoothly. I loved it. I fully expected to stay in the position for at least another year, and experience it without the added time and responsibility of union leadership. Fortunately I'm moving into substantially the same position in VIRL.

For the last few weeks I've been receiving emails from members thanking me for my work with the union. The words I keep seeing are strength, dedication, and passion. That's been beautiful and incredibly gratifying. But I've also gotten thank yous from junior staff about a positive work environment -- and that is equally gratifying.

When I started my new position, the department was mired in negativity. Gossip, infighting, and backstabbing were the norm. Staff was treated completely inequitably, with a well-stroked in-group played against a dumping ground of overworked outsiders. People were burnt out and disgusted, and the ways they dealt with those feelings only created more negativity. Attitudes sucked, with good reason.

I knew that every one of my co-workers cared about the library and wanted us to succeed. I knew that potential was there, but it was buried under a huge pile of crap. My manager and I set out to turn it around. I worked hard to create a work environment where people felt supported and valued. Hearing my co-workers' reflections this week showed me I succeeded.

There was one person in particular who I was hoping to hear from. They had had a particularly rough time -- mountains of work dumped on them with no consultation -- hell, barely an acknowledgement -- and no time or space to develop the parts of their job they liked best. As a result, this person had withdrawn from the team.

I made it my mission to turn that around, gradually re-distributing workload, giving them more agency, and acknowledging their contributions -- which are considerable, both in quantity and quality. My manager and I both had a sense that this person was much happier at work now. But I did wonder. Was I interpreting this change accurately? When a person is private and doesn't disclose much, you never really know.

Before leaving for the day, this person stopped by my office. "You made a real difference here," they said. "You and [manager] made this a great place to work again."

Honestly, that meant as much to me as every union member who thanked me for my representation.


in which i achieve a career milestone

I am a Senior Librarian!

It's a position I have aspired to for quite a while. Although I love my current job as a youth librarian, I've been ready to move on for a while. I had several near-misses, but couldn't get over the top. Just as my colleagues and I were all convinced I was being discriminated against because of union activism, I placed first in a big competition, and ended up with my choice of several locations.

I chose the Children's Department of Central Library -- where I started as a Library Page and where I had my first Librarian job. During the past year, when I sometimes covered the information desk in that department, I remembered how much I enjoyed being there. I loved introducing all our newcomer families to the many resources we offer, loved finding tweens their next great read, loved being around children who are excited about books -- and the challenge of enticing children who aren't. It has its moments of insanity and frustration, of course, but what work doesn't. The great majority of the time, it's such a happy, positive place, a place that gives me energy.

All this and I get to keep my seven-minute commute.

Senior Librarian means being in charge of the day-to-day operations of a branch or department, being everyone's supervisor except the manager. My work with our union has really prepared me for the challenge.

I'm also happy to create an opening for one of our many talented members, hopefully someone who has a librarian degree but is not yet working as a librarian, someone who wants to work with youth. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm trying to get out of the way!


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #18

As I've mentioned, my current library is located in a community centre. Here's an example of why that's so great.

A customer came to the desk, an older man, speaking heavily accented English, clutching a piece of paper.

It was difficult to figure out what he wanted. He kept repeating, "They said the library would help me. I have to apply online. They said the library would help."

The paper turned out to be a Record of Employment. From my own experience, I know this is the first step in applying for Employment Insurance. Asking questions, I learned that he had worked as a machinist for 35 years and had been laid off. It sounded like the good people at Service Canada told him he could apply for Employment Insurance online. "I told them, I am not online, and they said, go to the library, they will help you." It's possible that Service Canada was just trying to get rid of him.

I asked him, "Have you been to คาสิโนออนไลน์ แจกเครดิตฟรี 2019Malton Neighbourhood Services, down the hall?" He had not. "Come with me, I'll take you down there."

We walked together to Malton Neighbourhood Services. I told the person at the desk, "I'm with the library. This gentleman needs some help applying for EI. He has his ROE." She told him to take a seat, we shook hands, and I returned to the library.

Laid off after 35 years, that must be so difficult. Maybe we made it a tiny bit easier.

Malton Neighbourhood Services had their budget cut to the bone this year. Yet another reason to not vote Conservative.


holden caulfield, ponyboy curtis, and my teen book club

"Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

Recognize it?

For me it's one of the most memorable final sentences ever written.

I just finished re-reading The Catcher in the Rye, possibly for the first time since reading it (twice) in high school. I remembered it in a theoretical way, but had forgotten the details. It's a funny, sad, perfect little book.

I'm not breaking any new ground when I call Catcher the original young-adult novel. Every John Green and Ned Vizzini and Stephen Chbosky narrator, every wise-cracking alienated youth straight through to Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars, inherits their voice from Holden. Catcher, published in 1951, is more influential now than when S. E. Hinton started to write The Outsiders only 13 years later.

I had the perfect incentive to re-read Catcher: it's this month's selection for my teen book club. The core group of members are bored with cookie-cutter youth novels. They want substance. Over the past year, we've read The Outsiders, Fahrenheit 451, The Golden Compass and Ender's Game, now Catcher, and later To Kill A Mockingbird. They know they'll read some of these titles for school, but they want to read them now, with our group.

We have quality newer titles on the list, too: M. T. Anderson's Feed, Saving Houdini, historical magic realism set in Toronto, Kelley Armstrong's Loki's Wolves, and of course, the incomparable Eleanor & Park. But I find their thirst for classics so touching and inspiring.

I won't be the youth-services librarian at Central Library forever. Whenever I do move on, I will miss this group.


in which my annual noncelebration of christmas causes my jewish cultural roots to reappear, a tiny bit

Two years ago, wmtc's annual "i hate christmas" post declared: "i hate christmas is slightly less hateful this year".

Working in the library, as opposed to an office environment, I found getting through the holiday season much less trying.

No more co-workers - at their computers, able to talk while they work - going on (and on and on and on...) about what they are buying for whom, reciting their shopping lists, a mind-numbing litany of consumption. My co-workers now are too busy, and several magnitudes less self-absorbed, to inflict that on anyone.

And it wasn't just the absence of a negative. Colleagues described holiday celebrations that had nothing to do with shopping. Traditions that are meaningful and truly joyous: what a concept!

This year several of my library colleagues, unbeknownst to them, gave me another reason to hate Christmas less: they wished me a Happy Hanukkah. And something strange happened: I felt my Jewishness a bit more.

When one co-worker first inquired about my Hanukkah (in the context of an unrelated email discussion), I said I didn't know when it started, and made a joke about being a "bad Jew". Super-sensitive soul that she is, she apologized and hoped she wished me no offense. Far from it! In fact, I was touched and impressed that she remembered that (a) I don't celebrate Christmas, and (b) I am Jewish. (I told her this, of course.)

Then another, then several, colleagues wished me a Happy Hanukkah. Some of those celebrate Christmas, others do not. I was really touched that they would remember. It's not like I talk about being Jewish, or even take time off for the High Holidays in the fall. One colleague asked me about Hanukkah, what it means, what the traditions are, just as I have done with others about Diwali and Eid.

And you know what? I played along. I accepted their Hanukkah wishes with thanks. I talked about the holiday. And... I felt Jewish.

I gave up celebrating Jewish holidays a long time ago, finding it incompatible with my atheism. Said atheism is hardcore, and in no danger of dissolution. But now I wonder if, like many secular Jews, I might enjoy some of it again.

So this year, do I hate Christmas? Let's see. Streaming-only TV and movies means no constant barrage of advertising. Library workplace means not forced listening to My Story of Pointless Consumption, plus unexpected exposure to genuine holiday cheer and goodwill. It's led to a slight re-emergence of my cultural roots. Plus I get two days off with pay. (When you're freelancing, no one pays you for holidays.)

Everything on this list still applies. But it's all a lot easier to bear.


what i do, what i miss, and what are they thinking: answers to the question, "what do you do?"

When we moved to Canada (nine years plus a few days ago), I wondered what, if anything, I would miss about the US. Who would have guessed it would be watching "Baseball Tonight"? Yup, the only thing I miss about living in that crazy country is watching a baseball-highlights show on ESPN. Not bad!

In a similar vein, what do I miss about being a writer? A strange sound that I can't quite decipher.

When people would ask that inevitable question, "What do you do?", and I would answer, "I'm a writer," invariably, I would get this reaction: "Ooooo..." Their eyes would go wide, their lips would form an O, and out would come a sing-song sound of amazement. I don't know why this was. I don't know what it meant. But it would always happen!

Except in New York. No one "Oooos" over anyone's work in New York, and certainly not over writers. Writers in New York are more common than tourists in Times Square, or rats on the subway tracks.

But everywhere else, when I said I was a writer, I would get this "Oooo..." response.

Who would have known I would miss it?

I do miss writing professionally. I miss the writing life. When Allan and I talk about his next book project, about his research and his process, I miss it. A lot.

At the same time, I'm very aware that what I'm missing had become quite rare in my life. I'm missing when it was going well: when I was working on absorbing assignments that paid decently and would be published and distributed. And if that had been a more common occurrence, I would have stayed with my original intent for library school: a job as a part-time librarian, to replace my day-job, while I continued my (part-time) writing life.

But that wasn't the case. Good writing jobs had become far too scarce, and I got excited about librarianship, and so it goes.

But who would have guessed how I would miss the sound of that "Ooooo..."! It's the silliest thing, especially since I don't even know what they were Ooooing about, what romantic misconception about writing was at work there. But it was fun. I'd say I was a writer, the other person would Oooo, and it gave me a little buzz.

So how do people react when I say I'm a librarian?

They either reply with a tight little, "Oh, that's interesting," kind of like you would say, "What's that smell?" Or else they say one of these seven things, collected (with GIFs) by Ellyssa Kroski, the iLibrarian blogger (and Director of IT at the New York Law Institute).
1) “Do people still even go to the library now that there’s Google?”

It’s amazing how many people respond this way when I tell them I’m a librarian. I assure them however, that we are somehow soldiering on in the library field, along with all of the doctors who are still attempting to stay relevant in spite of WebMD.

2) “So, are you like, a volunteer?” Usually followed up with “What? You need to have a Master’s degree to be a librarian?!!”

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has been astounded that librarians hold advanced degrees.

3) “But isn’t print dead at this point?”

Yes, this is still a thing people are saying.
Click through to read the other four. I've been working as a librarian for only 14 months and I've heard all of these multiple times.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #16: my least favourite library customers

I must preface this post with a happy disclaimer: I love library customers. I love helping them. I love giving them a good feeling about the library. I value great customer service and I love to provide it. At least 90% of our customers are polite and appreciative. Perhaps another 5% are developmentally or socially disabled, and may or may not be conventionally polite. No problem. The other five percent is not a big deal.

Another preface: I am always very patient and polite. Some of you know about an incident when I lost my temper with a customer - with good reason! a dangerously neglected baby! - but I used that experience as a learning opportunity, and I've never come close to doing that again. I've perfected the facial expression and body language that doesn't agree but doesn't challenge: the tight semi-smile, the slight shrug, the noncommittal head-tilt, the raised eyebrows. A kind of "whatever you say, you won't get a rise out of me" kind of face.

So when I tell you these are my least favourite customers, you can be sure of two things: one, they are a very minor part of my job, and two, I keep my feelings well hidden. But I do need to vent!

Least Favourite Customer #1: The Unbeliever

Unbeliever: I'm here to pick up a recreation pass for my father.

L: I'm afraid we don't have recreation passes here. What kind of pass is it, maybe I can help you find the correct place to get it.

Un: No, it is here. The email said I can pick it up at any community centre.

L: I see. This is not a community centre. There is the Recreation & Parks department across the way, but they close at 4:30. [It is now 8:45, 15 minutes before closing.] Can I get the name of the pass so I can check for you?

Un: No! It said any community centre! It said I could pick one up here!

L: I'm sorry, sir, but this is not a community centre. It's a library. We don't have recreation passes here. I'd be happy to--

Un: I am here to pick up a pass! Just give me the pass!

L: Sir, I would be happy to help you if I could. If I had the pass you need, I would certainly give it to you. Could you please tell me--

Un: This! [Pointing frantically at a printed-out email.] This! This!

L: Let me check online and see what I can find. [I Google the name of the pass, find the page immediately, and turn my monitor so Un can see it.] Here is the list of community centres where you can pick up the pass. Do you live nearby? The closest one--

Un: Right here! [Frantically stabbing the screen with his finger.] Right here, it says I can come here! Right here!

L: That's the Burnhamthorpe Recreation Centre. That's on Burnhamthorpe near Dixie.

Un: No, not that, not that! Scroll down! Scroll down!

L: These are all the community centres in Mississauga. It looks like you can pick up that pass at any of those, or at the Recreation and Parks department across the way [I show him where that is], but they do close at 4:30.

Un: [Muttering] Oh. OK. [Walks away.]

[Internal only: Don't you think if I had the pass I would freaking give it to you???]

Least Favourite Customer #2: The Ranter

I saw a Ranter just this morning, moments after we opened for the day.

L: Good morning, how may I help you?

Ranter: I don't have a question, just a general comment. Did you see the article in the paper about the decline of math scores?

L: [External facial composure, noncommittal look and slight shrug. Internal eye-rolling. I recognize a Ranter and I know my goal is to get rid of him as soon as possible. If he baits me into discussion, I'm sunk.]

Ranter: What do you think of that? What do you make of a society that doesn't teach kids the basics? I mean, we have 9, 10, 11 year old kids using calculators, punching buttons! That doesn't teach you anything! No one learns the basics anymore!

L: [Quietly] I wouldn't really know what is taught. [Internal: Why are you telling me this????]

R: Let me ask you, do you have any kids in the school system anymore? [Whole lotta assumptions going on there!]

L: [slightest shrug] I've been seeing stories about declining test scores all my life. I don't put too much stock in it.

R: Right, right. Around here, we have all the Asian families, they send their kids to Kumon, where they drill, drill, drill, and they get the high math scores.

L: [External: smile gone, replaced by slight look of inquiry and waiting] [Internal: Where are we going with this? How loud is this guy going to be, and what will he say about "the Asians"?]

R: Do you see the names of the kids who win the math and science prizes? They're all Asian. You don't see one Canadian kid on that list.

L: [slight smile] Those children are Canadian, too.

R: Yes, of course, of course they are Canadian. But you get my point, right? You know what I'm saying?

L: [tight lipped, nod] I believe I do.

R: All right then.

Ranter is not always racist. But Ranter comes to the desk only to rant, to announce, to declaim.

Should I feel sorry for him because he has no one who will listen and he must resort to Ranting to strangers? Maybe, maybe not. But really, all I think at the time is, Why are you telling me this????


in which i attain the holy grail of librarianship: the permanent, full-time job

Meet the new permanent youth librarian at the Mississauga Central Library.

I've been in this position since January, but on a temporary or contract basis. Two big things had to happen in order for this job to post as permanent, and they were completely out of my control: two other people also had to get permanent promotions. If either of those people didn't get their permanent positions, my contract would have ended. I would have gone back to being a part-time library assistant (which would have been a huge hit both financially and in terms of responsibility) and tried for another contract librarian position.

In the last few months, both those people came through with their promotions. When I congratulated them, it was also - mostly? - happiness for myself!

Finally, a few weeks ago, my position posted as permanent. "Full-time permanent," in this context, means being eligible for benefits: paid vacation, paid sick time, extended health, pension, and so on. It also means the security of knowing I won't work as a library assistant in our system again.

Only one-third of staff in our library system is full-time permanent, and that percentage is shrinking all the time. So whenever a full-time, permanent job posts, there's a lot of competition.

I interviewed last week, and I got it.

This is the final piece in my Big Life Change that began with applying for graduate school in 2009. I'm sure I'll have other librarian jobs as my career progresses, to keep things interesting. But in terms of the career and life transition: this is it.


summer, teens, the library, and me

Yesterday was my first summer program at the library. Attendance was low, but very keen. An artist and activist (who happens to be a friend of mine from the war resisters movement) led a workshop I called "Comix that Save the World". We explored the use of the comics form to express larger social concerns. It was so much fun, the teens were so into it, that I'm thinking of expanding it to an ongoing series, where kids could really develop something.

The summer at Mississauga Central Library will be packed with programs for teens - sometimes as many as three a week - and all are free. 

Mondays are special events with presenters, held in our lovely glass pavilion that faces Celebration Square. Wednesdays are DIY days, put on by yours truly with another staff member to assist. And every Friday is Game Day, where teens hang out and play board games and video games. That one is presented by our "TAG", the teen advisory group, who earn volunteer hours by planning and presenting events. 

The challenge for me and others who are involved in children's and teen programming is that our busiest time coincides with many staff vacations, so staffing is at a minimum. Just when I need maximum time not spent behind the information desk, I'm doing exactly the opposite, spending twice as much time at the desk as I normally do. 

It can be a bit stressful. And super busy. Sometimes it's exhausting. But it's also super fun. (It will be a lot more fun in a few weeks, when my colleagues are finished with their vacations.)

Here's the lineup.

Monday events:
-“Why didn’t anyone tell me that?” Peer-to-peer university prep. Chat with UTM students who recently made the transition to university.
- "What’s On Your Mind?" Improv, movement games, and self-expression with the Youth Troopers for Global Awareness.
- Green Wheels: bring your bike to the library for a summer tune up! Safe riding, basic maintenance, and more, by City of Mississauga’s Transportation and Works Department. 
- A Day at the Spa: free hand massage, manicure, and henna, with Everest College aesthetics students. 

Wednesday DIY:
- Comix That Save The World (activist comics)
- Stop-Motion Movie Making
- Upcycling: make beautiful and useful objects out of trash
- Bookmarks and Book Art 
- Create Your Own E-Book (
- Chalk It Up! Button It! Turn notebooks into chalkboards, make personalized buttons. 
- Operation Frankentoy! Toy Hacking

And Friday Game Days.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #14

One of our regular Readers' Den customers approached me with her usual long list of movies. She researches movies online, prints out lists, and comes to the desk to see what we have in our collection. Anything we have, we place on hold for her.

She's a great customer, in terms of library use. She has an intellectual disability, and sometimes helping her can be a bit of a challenge. 

This customer talks very fast, and a little too loudly. While you're searching for one item, she's rattling off the next few, so after placing each hold, you must ask her to repeat the next title. Because she's reading from a list, the effect is a constant stream of chatter, from which you must pick out the movie titles.

After we had exhausted her movie list, she asked, "Is there a way I can do this myself, put on holds, from home?"

I know she uses a computer to research movies, and I know she checks her library account online to see which holds are available. I told her, yes, definitely, she can do this from home, and I'll show her how right now. She made some self-deprecating remarks. It was apparent that the prospect of learning something new was stressful for her.

We went to one of the public catalogue computers. I asked her if she knew how to log in to her own account, and she did that with ease. I asked her to search for a movie title, and she did that. Then I showed her how to place the item on hold. We did that a few times, and then she started talking.

"Want to hear a really sad story?" she asked. On the radio, a woman was talking about her son, a teenager. "He's like me," the customer said. "He's slow." At school, instead of being in class, the boy was working in the cafeteria, and washing teachers' cars. His mother didn't know. He was afraid to tell her, fearing he would get in trouble for skipping class. None of the teachers came forward to tell the boy's parents. Another special-needs student told her parents, who told this woman. 

Her son was being used as a slave. He was being deprived of an education, and working, without pay. Pretty clear human rights violations. Teachers and school administrators allowed this to go on - later, of course, claiming ignorance.

The customer said, "I thought those days were over. When I was in school, they used to call us re-tards, they kept us in a special class, they didn't teach us anything, they thought, why bother to teach these re-tards. But I can learn. I can learn. It just takes me more time. My brother taught me to use a computer." Then she said, "I could teach this boy. I wish I knew him, I would teach him, I would show him that if I can learn, he can learn, too."

I was struggling to maintain some professional distance, to avoid tears. 

Later, I looked for the story online, but realized it was not necessarily recent. The customer might have heard this story anytime. Because she identified so strongly and felt so compassionately towards the boy in the story, the story remained fresh to her. 

I wondered, too, about her earlier self-disparaging remarks, wondered what had ingrained anxiety and fear so deeply that the mention of learning - anything - triggered that response. 

* * * *

Back at the information desk, I learned from a colleague that some staff find this customer somewhat annoying. I don't at all, and the colleague who shared this with me - who also loves movies and enjoys helping this customer - doesn't either. She reminded me that we all have our own irritations, different buttons that customers unknowingly push. 

I would like to take this more generous view of my co-workers... but I can't. Bias against people with disabilities is rampant. I feel so strongly about our library being accessible to as broad a range of people as possible, and I see how this customer needs us. Hearing that some staff dislike her raised my hackles.

I later wondered if perhaps the customer already knows how to place holds, and perhaps just wanted to extend our interaction. Or perhaps she knows how to search the catalogue but is still wary of taking another step. Either way, it's okay with me. That's what we're there for.


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #13

A boy, maybe age 8, was confused about what he needed. He said he needed "chapter books about the human body," which sounded to me like two things - books about the human body for a school project, and chapter books, meaning junior fiction that is not a picture book, not a series, and not a graphic novel. But he was convinced he needed "chapter books about the human body." He would not be helped, casting aside everything I found for him, and getting increasingly frustrated.

Following him around the library (it's a Sunday, so I'm working overtime, not at my own location), I ran into his parents and his older sister. Boy's Father said, "Is he giving you a hard time?" He said this nicely, not in a mean or menacing way.

I said, "Oh no, he's fine. I'm just trying to understand what he's looking for." I had books from two popular funny series in my hands.

Boy's Father took them from me and said, "No, this is garbage. We're not reading these."

I said, "Since he needs a chapter book, why don't we look for something better."

"What does that mean, 'chapter book'?" BF asked.

"Fiction--" I began.

"No. No fiction," BF said. "Let him read about science, or history, or let him practice his math."

I said gently, "He might need to read chapter books for his language skills. Reading fiction will improve his reading, which will help him in all subjects."

Things were getting generally messy, with Mom speaking in their first language, sister filling a cart with all the books she wanted, BF attempting to lecture boy, and boy tuning everyone out. I went back to the reference desk.

The family appeared a bit later. While the rest of the family was at check-out, BF came up to the desk. He clearly wanted to continue our conversation, which I've re-created here to the best of my ability. BF was unfailingly polite throughout, as was I. I made sure to listen closely to what he was saying, and to acknowledge that I heard him, to not rush in with my own answers too soon. I was pleased with myself for being patient, for not arguing, for not being confrontational, while still offering a different perspective. Damn, have I matured!

BF: You know, all that fiction, it's not good for them. It's a drug.

LK: Hmm, well, it could be. But compared to other drugs, it's a pretty positive thing.

BF: No, no, it's an addiction. I see it at home with my eldest. Once they start on those novels, that's all they want to do.

LK: You know, reading anything is good. We believe reading has inherent value.

BF: It's an addiction. It's like movies or video games. Once they start, where does it end.

LK: Do you know, kids who read a lot have greater reading comprehension, and that helps them in all their subjects - science, history, everything. Kids who read a lot do better in school, and that improves their life chances.

BF: Yes, I'll give you that. Reading comprehension is important. But why can't they get that from reading about history, about politics, about science, about the real world? Why do they have to read stupid novels? My eldest at home only wants to read something called Naruto.

I smiled. Manga. It is an addiction!

LK: Does he read anything else?

BF: She. A girl. Her grades are excellent. Very good grades.

LK: So maybe she wants to read Naruto for fun. Would that be OK?

BF: I am all for fun. I don't think children have to work every minute. Fun is good. But those stupid books, they are an addiction. It's what's wrong with our whole society.

LK: Hmm. If I were to pick what was wrong with our society, I don't think I'd say it was too much reading.

We both chuckle. Then:

BF: Do you have religion? Do you have a spiritual life?

Naturally this question took me by surprise. Mentally scrolling through possible answers, I discarded the obvious "That's not really relevant here," or the truthful "No, I don't," as possibly sidetracking an interesting conversation.

LK: Yes, I do. Not sure how that fits in, though.

BF: I'm surprised. I think if you have religion, you would know the answer to this. You would know that we are not helping our children by having them read this awful stuff. All through North America, we emphasize culture, and the arts, and reading, the movies, the plays, the books. Then when we need scientists we have to import them from other countries. Better to develop the science and the math, then bring the arts in later. Once you spoil your brain with arts and reading, you lose the ability to do the science.

LK: Hmm. I don't know about that. I'm a writer and a reader, but I love science.

BF: Perhaps you are exceptional. (Smiling)

LK: (Smiling back) Oh, I don't know... I'm a librarian. I think reading is beneficial for children. For everyone, but especially for children.

BF: At least he should read about the real world. Science, history.

LK: We have a lot of excellent nonfiction he could read, too. Great books on the environment, on animals, on the ancient world - whatever interests him.

BF: Yes? There is nonfiction like that for children?

LK: Absolutely.

BF: OK then, next time we're here I will ask you to help us find some.

LK: It's a deal.

BF: It's been very nice speaking with you. Thank you for your help and have a wonderful day.


whither wmtc (updated)

I feel so disconnected from this blog, and from writing in general. I hate it.

I love having this blog. I love that when I do want to write, and have the energy to do so, and have something to say, I have a place to do it. But writing occupies such a small space in my life now. 

I'm finding tremendous satisfaction from my job. Meaningful work from which I can actually earn a living! What a concept. I've also gotten very active in my union. The need to protect good jobs and the public sector has never been greater, so the timing is perfect, and I feel I have a lot to contribute.

When I'm not working and not engaged in union activities, I'm re-charging. That means movies or baseball, sometimes reading, and trying to get some exercise. I've been very pleasantly surprised at my energy level. I'm very conscious of managing my fibromyalgia, but that's second-nature to me now. I know when to say no, or to cancel plans if I have to. If I do feel a little fibro-ish, it never lasts too long or becomes too severe.

All good. 

But writing! Where is writing? I knew it was coming. I knew it was inevitable. But it makes me too sad to think of this part of myself shrinking and disappearing.

Update. Did it sound like I was pulling the plug on wmtc? Not a chance. Just musing... and wishing I could live in a few alternate realities at the same time. Perhaps you can relate.


march break for teens at our library

I've just finished my first March Break (the Canadian equivalent of Spring Break in the US) in my new position as a youth librarian. It was exhilarating and a lot of work, but not nearly as exhausting as I imagined.

March Break was great for many reasons. One, I have great support from a senior librarian and manager who appreciate my efforts. Two, I am part of an amazing team of people who pitched in so I could devote myself more fully to programming, and who encouraged me daily. Three, so many amazing people lent their time and energy and expertise to the library, presenting programs that the teens loved.

And last, but maybe first, March Break was great because I love spending time with teens. I enjoy children's libarianship, but my favourite customers are always the older kids. Teens are a natural fit for me. This is fortunate for my career, too, as enjoying working with teens is apparently pretty rare. A niche!

So here's what we did this week. I cannot take credit for this great lineup, as all but one program was in place before I was hired; I slotted in my digital storytelling program to the one available space. I made posters and flyers, did the publicity, and of course ran the actual programs.

Monday: Mad Science
Volunteers from Let's Talk Science led teens in extracting DNA from a banana, making "DNA code bracelets," and GOOP, a DIY Silly Putty. This is a graduate student- led program, and the volunteers who help out are undergraduates. The leader was amazing.

Tuesday: Create Your Own E-Book
Using Galaxy tablets that Samsung donated to our library system, teens wrote stories using Storybird. I hope to roll this into a monthly Teen Writers Club program.

Wednesday: Learn to DJ
DJs Terry and Anthony of Scotia Entertainment gave a presentation on life as a professional DJ, then teens tried their hand at beat-mixing. This was a huge hit, and almost full, despite the snowstorm raging outside.

Wednesday evening: Games Night
Our "TAG" (Teen Advisory Group) presented a cozy late-afternoon of board games, card games, and video games.

Thursday: Act with the Youth Troopers
This was the best program! Unfortunately, it was also the most difficult program to market, and consequently, our lowest attendance of the week. Volunteers from the Youth Troopers for Global Awareness led a small group in movement games and improv, using our bodies and minds to express what concerns us. The kids who participated absolutely loved it. Our problem is it's very hard to explain! I talked about this with some of the young men who participated. They suggested calling it "Fun Stuff".

Friday: Robotics
Volunteers from Theory6 Robotics instructed on the basics of robotics, the led the group in a design challenge. Three teams each had to build an arm that would lift a buckyball one foot in the air. Like the Let's Talk Science program, this was led by a grad student, but the assistants were high school students. The grad student is studying mechanical engineering, and wants to pursue a career in science education. He will be a brilliant teacher.

Friday evening: Movie Night
Free movies on a cinema-sized screen, teens only. (I was home on the couch while this was going on!)

* * * *

As I said, I didn't plan March Break, as I wasn't in this position yet, but I have planned a full lineup of programs through the spring. I had flyers and posters ready, to promote our spring programs during March Break.

Through the spring, we have: DIY bookmarks, t-shirt art, container gardening (for Earth Day), altered pages (black-out poetry and other book art), shred art (crafts with shredded magazines), zine creations (more crafts with magazines), and Saturday Teen Writers Club. And of course, this is in addition to our Teen Book Club, which meets monthly - my favourite program, of course.

* * * *

If you get the impression that I'm loving my job, you're reading me right. The only thing wrong with the job is that it's temporary, and it cannot be extended or become permanent at this time. This means I have no choice but to apply for other librarian positions that may open up, and hope to return at a later date when the position may open up again, as a permanent position.

In this context, "permanent" means benefits, including paid sick time, paid vacation, and an extended health plan, which only full-time, permanent staff qualifies for. Currently only one-third of non-management library staff is permanent full-time.

A permanent position also means your job continues, including if you take a temporary job elsewhere in the system: you can get a trial run at different position, then go back to your permanent job. My permanent position is a part-time library assistant in the department where I now work. It would mean a hefty cut in both salary and responsibility, so it's a job I hope never to see. I'm not overly worried about this, but on the other hand, when I go permanent, full-time as a librarian, Allan and I will celebrate.


i am really a librarian: in which i attend my first ola, and get paid for it, too

For the next three days, I'll be attending the Ontario Library Association's annual Superconference, always referred to simply as "OLA". As the name implies, this is a gigantic conference covering issues related to all three types of libraries - public, academic, and special. You can see a program here.

In library school, we were strongly encouraged to attend OLA. Students can volunteer to help run conference sessions in exchange for free attendance. I never did (honestly, I never even considered it), so now I attend my very first OLA, already a professional, and in place of three working days. Fun!

Here are the sessions I am hoping to attend:
- Creating an Accessible and Inclusive Library
- Young Adult Readers' Advisory: Create best practices today
- The Community-Led Library Model and How to Get Started
- The Tween Scene: A year of programming for ages 10-14
- Booktalking 3.0: Engaging and inspiring readers online
- Sub-Urban Beats: Hip-hop programming in the library (presented by two managers from Mississauga Library System, including the acting manager of my department)
- Maker Culture in Action
- Battle of the Books: It begins with co-operation and ends with competition
 - Plus a "gala luncheon" with special guest speaker Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who lived on the International Space Station for five months and tweeted from space to more than one million followers.

I'm really looking forward to all the ideas I'll be exposed to, and being part of the Ontario library community. At the same time, events like these can be challenging for me, socially and in terms of physical energy. But I'm confident it will be more fun than not. 


things i heard at the library: an occasional series: #12

I'm enjoying my new position so much! Things are going really well so far. I'm preparing for teen book club, researching display ideas, and planning some (I hope) interesting programs. I'll write about those as they happen.

So far I'm feeling well, too. I'm still adjusting to full-time work, but I'm not collapsing from it, either. Readers, you were right. Doing work that you love makes a huge difference. So does a more humane work environment. In the library, no one expects everything done yesterday, everyone understands the concept of a learning curve, and most people truly understand teamwork and support each other. And because I belong to a union (and, management would say, because the City of Mississauga is a good employer), I have a full hour dinner or lunch break, good ergonomics, and other supports. This is a tad different than working as support staff in a corporate law firm!

Today's "things I heard..." highlights two features of our library system that I love - features that illustrate the importance of libraries to the community.

Next week, secondary school students begin exam week, and we expect to see a huge influx of students needing a place to study. The library opens extra rooms to accommodate them, and offers other little supports, such as designated areas where people can eat, extra space for group study, and a "stressbuster" room so students can get away from their books and computers to refocus.

Yesterday I attended a little prep session for library staff on our exam-week policies, and how we can support students who need us. Along with a review of our policies, our manager reminded us: be kind. Be understanding.

The other program I'm seeing up-close for the first time is our homebound library service for people unable to come to the library themselves. This can be a long-term arrangement for a senior or person with disabilities, or a short-term arrangement for a customer recuperating from an illness. (Of course, plenty of people with disabilities come to the library, which is fully accessible. This service recognizes that not everyone can.)

When I'm at my desk, I overhear two staff members from my department on the phone with homebound customers. They learn how customers felt about their last delivery - which books they enjoyed, what they want more or less of - and make notes for their next delivery. Then they select four weeks' worth of materials - books, music, movies, magazines - for each customer, and that shipment is delivered to their door, sans due dates or fines.

These are the kinds of things that make me proud to be part of the larger library community.


i am a youth librarian. this is a good thing.

I am so excited about my new position! As I mentioned, I am now a librarian in the Mississauga Central Library's "Readers' Den" department. It is a full-time position, and lasts until July of this year. Right now it feels like my ideal job; I only wish it were permanent.

My main areas of responsibility involve youth services. I'll be planning and delivering youth programming during school holidays, after school, and Saturdays, and I'll facilitate the teen book club that meets monthly. I'll be responsible for the library's youth book displays, and will share responsibilities for purchasing (and weeding) youth fiction.

For the department generally, I'll be writing a newsletter to connect school librarians with the Central Library, answering (along with two other librarians) "Ask A Librarian" emails, and of course, answering questions - especially readers' advisory - at the service desk.

I'll also have a lot of freedom to try new things. The manager and senior librarian are both creative and energetic, and will be supportive of projects and ideas. (At the moment, I feel like I'll never have another new idea again. I always feel this way when I start something new, so I've learned not to pay too much attention to that particular inner voice.)

Librarianship is definitely a "the job is what you make it" kind of field. Once you have a position you like, you can stick to your well-worn niche, do it well and enjoy it, and not venture too far out of your comfort zone, if that's what you prefer. But if you seek out new challenges and opportunities, there's plenty of room to grow. I get bored easily (in the big-picture sense) and need to constantly challenge myself. That's yet another aspect of this profession that suits me.

The only professional downside is that the position is temporary. This means that if a full-time, permanent librarian position posts elsewhere in the Mississauga system - even if it's less interesting to me, even if I've barely scratched the surface of my current job - I will apply and compete for it. I have no choice, as I don't want to return to a much lower level of responsibility and pay, as well as to part-time work. Fortunately, this is no secret.

The other downside, and perhaps the greatest challenge, is the personal one. The transition from part-time, freelance, or contract work - from a life filled with a variety of paid and unpaid activities and a lot of flexibility - to full-time work is no small task. That part I'm just figuring out day by day, week by week.