Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's What We Do!

I was recently invited to be a "guest speaker" at my grandson's daycare during Community Helpers week. An honor! I packed an assortment of hats that we use on the Morning Show and went to the day care to present as a Librarian and describe the many hats we wear. It was nice to know that my skills could be utilized beyond my school and library.o

So I'd put a different hat on, and then read a story, telling how that hat related to what I do as a Librarian. One of the best books that I use, related to my job overall, is "Buy My Hats" by Dave Horowitz. At the end of it all, the teachers were amazed at how attentive the children were.
 "They usually won't sit still for more than 2 stories and you had them wanting more after 5 stories! Amazing!" I just smiled and said, "Well, it's what I do!" Keeping a group of kids captivated with a story, adding some silly costumes, being a big ham, engaging kids with some cool stories. Yes, it's what I do! A small part of my job as a school librarian, but it's what I do.
Maybe I don't get to do it as much as I'd like anymore, without a pre-test, questioning, post-assessment, exit tickets, etc. for storytime, but it's still a skill I have in my bag of library tricks! As Liam Neeson said in "Taken", "... what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career." 

As our jobs and libraries change, we  maintain and acquire more and more skills which are unique to our profession. Don't lose heart that you can't use them all the time or even at all for the time being. You never know when they'll come in handy! Don't feel as if your skills are obsolete or not appreciated. Hone them, improve on them, add to them and have them ready when there might be a need. Sometimes we equate not having our skills used or asked for as not being appreciated. But what are we doing to let people know that we have them? Or how are we modifying them to suit the current needs of our schools?

Are we bemoaning the fact that we can't tell stories anymore, or are we seeing how to work those skills into being a 21st Century Librarian? Are you blaming the "system" and efforts to evaluate your performance for not being the good old-fashioned librarian that you got into the business for, or are you trying to change into the librarian who people can count on to be the professional who seeks not your own agenda, but what's best for the children and the school.

My school has had 3 different Principals in 3 years. Their leadership styles have all been very different, along with how they viewed my role, the place of the media center and my participation in the school's leadership team. With each administration I had I had to sit back at first, reflect on why I was there, and ramp up my efforts to promote what the library has for them and the students. To paraphrase "The Godfather", "It was business, not personal."

So as I said to the day care teachers, "It's what I do". This week, you'll be faced with situations that challenge your feelings or security, but remind yourself of the bigger picture and what you know you offer to the students. It will help you stay grounded.  Come on, folks, it's what we do!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Flea Market Finds!

Ahh October! Crisp weather, changing leaves, apples and cider, pumpkins and pumpkin spice latte...wait, I'm in Florida....how about 80 degrees in the afternoon and wearing orange t-shirts and flipflops? Oh well, as a former resident Yankee, I still remember the beauty of this time of year. And I'm adding pumpkin pie spice to my morning coffee...yum! But the cooler temperatures mean something else in the Penvose house: let's go to the Flea Market! Yes, the weather is bearable enough to go early on the weekend and check out the fleas. My husband LOVES the Flea Market, so our trips are more to make him a happy camper and I muster up my best supportive wife mojo and go along. However, this past weekend was more fruitful for me as we  ventured to our nearby market. I found a very cool plant, Pink Powder Puff, that I'm hoping I do justice to, and 3 great books at a used book stall...and even got a teacher discount...I'm a fan!

Like the Flea Market, I like to promote promote my Media Center as having "something for everyone". And when I get there I wonder why I shop anywhere else (well, almost!). Books? Produce? Clothes? Plants? Sunglasses? Antiques? E-cigarettes (seem to be the  popular item at  the moment)? Eye-glass cleaner? Fishing equipment? Ad infinitum... So while I'm thinking, can I compare to such a broad offering for my customers, I'm also looking at how my Media Center merchandise, I mean books and computers and such, are featured and priced. On that front, my Media Center is ahead of the flea market. Nothing is more frustrating when shopping for stuff than not knowing the price, looking over tons of stuff on shelves that haven't been "weeded" since I was there 2 years ago, or not having the booth owner available for questions. And so as I make my way through the mess of all of the things that I know I need, I'm frustrated at not finding it very easily.

So is your Media Center from the Flea Market style of marketing, or is it well marked, up to date, and is the "owner" available if the customers have questions? It's something I think we need to be continually evaluating and reviewing. We may get our customers in the doors of our "markets" with our rich and appealing collections and activities, but how many can find their ways around, find Biscuit or Magic Tree House books on their own, know what computers to use, etc. Take a look around your space this week and see what you can do to make it more user friendly. We want our customers to leave happy with something they really want, not just "fleas".

I hope you have a great week, in whatever part of the country you are! Send me your feedback at spenvose@msn.com.  Have some Pumpkin Spice coffee and Stay Grounded, friends!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Storytellers or Story-Listeners?

As  Media Specialists and Librarians, we are in the business of meeting needs. Needs of our students, needs of the teachers and administrators, needs of parents, community and others in our districts. It's what we do. We're good at it. We can find a book, resource, troubleshooting tip, or reading reward better than anyone else. Kind of like the old "Name That Tune"..."Yes, Billy, I can find that baseball book with the orange cover and the kids on the front with the scribbling inside in 10 minutes!". Sometimes we are so focused on meeting the needs that we lose sight of the people we are working with and why we're there. We aren't evaluated on how many distressed students we lead to the right book or magazine, we can't measure the frustrated teachers who we miraculously locate 20 copies of the same book for; there isn't data for "Number of parents who you took the time to lead to a just right book for their child when they feel lost in a sea of too much information". Yet, it's just this human factor that is so vital today.

I've been reading a life-changing book, "The Insanity of God" by Nik Ripken; one of a few on my summer reading list that somehow didn't get finished in the summer. However, it is not one to hurry through. It's the true story of a man who has extensively researched the persecuted church in nearly 60 countries. In one heart-rending story after another he tells the story of how faith survives and even flourished in places that are overcome with the darkness of sin, despair and hopelessness. One particular account cut me to the quick. He was with a relief group in Somaliland trying to help people who were living in incredibly horrible conditions. His focus was on what basic needs they lacked. One day, he approached a bent-over, shriveled-up woman with the usual list of questions: "Do you need food? Is your baby sick? Do your children need clothes? Do you have shelter? Do you need a burial cloth?" All of the items needed to meet her physical needs could be provided. She replied by sharing a story with him about her background, how she came to be in the desperate situation he found her in. It began as any of our stories might: normal family, working father, good marriage and children...but then turned to events that we only see on the nightly news: The war came, the militia came through the village stealing, slaughtering beating and destroying what they could. She was able to escape, but a drought came, her children died or were stolen. She was now in the city, knowing no one, and having nothing. Ripken slowed down long enough to find out what she needed most. He realized that what these devastated people needed was for someone to sit for awhile, or stand with them and let them share their stories. He was amazed to see the power of human presence. In his pride, he thought he knew exactly what these people needed, but he would never have thought to put "Conversation" or "Human connection" on his list.

How about you? Is "Conversation" or "Human connection" on your list this year? Will you have or make time to learn more about your students than the fact that they have 3 overdue books from 3 different schools? There has to be a reason...don't assume you know it! Will you be able to lead a new teacher, obviously overwhelmed,  through a one-on-one lesson in how to locate a book in your library...or just hand them a brochure because you're too busy to give them the attention? As I was meeting with our Intermediate classes last week for their Orientations, I had a few letters with overdue notices attached, for books from both out media center or others in the district. I had the usual assortment of reactions: they had the book in their bookbag, they returned it at their old school, they lost it and wouldn't pay for it...you can supply some more, I'm sure. But the majority were pretty blasé about the notices. However, as the classes were dismissed to go browse for books and checkout, one new student, Shyann, sat quietly looking at the paper. An unwanted tear started forming in one eye, which she tried to dismiss. This outwardly tough and tall fifth grade girl was reacting to more than receiving an overdue book letter. As her table emptied, I approached her with my usual response to crying students, I had to fight back the tears myself! I sat with her and asked if she wanted to tell me anything. With a little coaxing, she opened up and I, like Nik Ripken, was humbled to make a human connection with this girl  in the midst of a busy and hectic class. We both wiped our eyes and I led her to the shelves where she was able to select a book to checkout. "Conversation"? Check. "Human Connection"? Check.

As Nik Ripken said, there was much more to the suffering Somalis than their overwhelming physical needs. Their stories convinced him that it would never be enough merely to feed and shelter them. We do that much for animals. Can we find time to meet some of the deeper needs: conversation, a few minutes of listening, some human connection...that will enrich not only their lives, but also ours?
Without that, we're missing something valuable.

I hope your year is starting off with some meaningful human connections. In our busy, jam-packed days that don't seem to get any easier, it's something worth taking time for. It helps keep me stay grounded. It will do the same for you, friends!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

To Market, To Market!

This summer I was able to return to a couple things that have been sadly neglected: my house and my physical condition. Both have suffered from being on the back burner for too long. The gym workouts will be the topic of another blog post, but in reacquainting myself with cleaning my house and the appropriate cleaning products (is there an expiration date for those?), I was quite surprised by an ad on the Swiffer pads. Now I'm not saying it's been awhile since I used them, but did you know that Mike Myers is coming out with a "Cat in the Hat Movie"? Don't have high hopes for that one.

This summer I also was able to take a workshop in our district entitled "Marketing Your Media Center". It's a topic I'm very interested in and hoped to come away with some practicial, doable things that would help me promote my library and show others how great it is and market the many things we have to offer. I was not disappointed. Our trainer, a master teacher and trainer, had done his homework for what we need as Media Specialists, and explained it all in ways that were easy for any of us to understand. While we want to think that our "customers"already know what we do, we can never assume that. Just because it's important to you, it might not be important to others until you tell them that. Tell them, tell them why they need to know it, and how it will help them. This isn't Algebra (when are we ever going to use this?), it's addition and subtraction! What we have to offer to their lives is enrichment and excitement! Not using what we have to offer will diminish their effectiveness and learning, whether a teacher, student, administrator, or  community member.

Friends, we can never express that we're tired of telling what we do. We can never stop promoting and marketing our services. Consider your Media Center a business that needs customers to stay afloat. And you're a business owner who wants to stay relevant and necessary. And employed! You  are already doing fabulous things, just let others know about it. As our trainer said, it's not necessarily a loud "Look at ME!" but more a "Fluffing the Pillow"... and who doesn't like that?

I was recently sitting with some women at a conference discussing children, hair, diets, etc. and I said that in a few years I wanted to go with the Judi Dench look. No one knew who she was. I was kind of  surprised; I thought these were  women who would know that gifted actress. We were all close to the same age, and I figured we all knew the same cultural figures. Apparently not! So I described the look...all the while thinking what else did I assume they knew in the course of our conversation? Folks,  don't assume! So it is when we describe things, programs, even books in our Media Centers. Don't use some lingo that is exclusive to the world of Media...especially in technology. Know your audience and do your marketing and promotion at that level.

In my district we'll be back to work August 11, although many of my media colleagues have gone in earlier. It's time to start thinking about our advertising campaigns. How are you going to market your library brand? What do people need to know that you do (yes, I know...everything!!!!). Do you have something new to market/show off/explain? Whatever it is, be enthusiastic, aggressive, persistent and consistent about it. Not just a one shot thing at a Faculty Orientation. Be that Energizer Bunny and keep going and going and going to get the word about about all your valuable offerings.

Hope you get off to great start, yet maintain the peace and relaxation you attained this summer to stay grounded!

Sandy Penvose

Monday, June 30, 2014

Join This Clean Plate Club!

I don't know how many of you grew up during the era when children were starving in _______________ (fill in the blank), but I was always encouraged to clean my plate so that my mom wouldn't have to slip the meatloaf and lima beans in an envelope and send it far away to someone who would appreciate it. Unfortunately, I held on to that creed into my adult years, thinking I was a good responsible human being if I just "cleaned my plate". Even more unfortunately, it led to me "cleaning my wallet" as I participated in an amazing number of attempts to lose the consequences of cleaning those endless plates of food. I could probably solve a small country's hunger problems with what I forked out (or was that forked in?). But I digress...

There is another aspect of cleaning your plate that has more positive results. Now that we are on our summer break, it's a good time to reflect on how we can best "clean our plates" in our media centers and libraries. Clean them both literally and figuratively. I know that as I prepare to exit for the year, determined to leave when everyone else does (ha!) I usually resort to a massive toss of papers, etc. into my desk drawers and any other available storage space, to be tackled "when we come back". However this year, I had to prepare for a major carpet replacement, due to being flooded a few years ago. Yeah! Carpet! So starting early with packing books, moving computers, and putting any movable item that the media secretary or I could carry out of the way, my cleaning mojo got to work overtime. So much so, that I started getting rid of items that just took up space, unused furniture (atlas table, anyone?), or just didn't reflect my 21st Century library! A friend even e-mailed me to inquire if I was okay, you know, dividing up the spoils before permanently checking out? I assured her that I was better than ever. There's something about clearing your space, or plate, that energizes you to see your media center in a whole new light. Oh, the possibilities for next year!

Then there's the figurative "cleaning your plate" that is equally energizing and motivating. Another media friend confided that she might leave the media world to be a regular classroom teacher (as opposed to us "irregulars"). When asked why, she said it was all just too much. Like what, I pressed. And she proceeded to list at least 10 things that really have nothing to do with general media duties, or even moving our children ahead academically or motivationally in reading. You know, the kind of stuff that we big-hearted media folks take on, because no one else will, or we happen to be at the meeting where this stuff is doled out. I told her I don't do any of those things, and we are both in very large elementary schools, with only slightly different demographics. Just say no, I told her...or in other words, "Clean your plate"! If we use the excuse that "no one else will do it" then maybe it's not important since no one else will do it! If they (those evil they's) think you can do it because you seem to have the time, well you'd better be using your time better, my friend, in the programs and classes that will move your students ahead, not count or collect money that anyone else could do. (wait, check those new guidelines on handling money....just don't do it for the whole school!). You know what I'm getting at.

 Take time this summer to reflect on what really needs to be cleaned off of your plate at school. Whether it's a room arrangement that inhibits student movement or encourages misbehavior, materials that belong in Beaver Cleaver's classroom, activities that aren't in your overloaded job description, or other things, how can you return to school in August refreshed and recharged and ready for action? Starting with a clean plate, or slate, can do wonders for your personally and professionally. You'll get there, just begin with a small change at a time. It's easy once you get started.

It'll give you that priceless peace of mind that will help you to Stay Grounded!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Remembering My Brother

My brother passed away April 17, bringing my family together for the second time in 2 1/2 months to mourn a beloved family member. While my Dad's death Feb. 1 wasn't completely unexpected, John's passing was a complete shock. Only 54 years old, he had undergone surgery and was in recovery when   complications set in. He was gone before we could get out heads and hearts around it.

He was one of those wonderful people who blessed everyone he encountered and they were richer for it.  He was so beloved in their town as a favorite teacher at the high school, owner of a small downtown cafe, and  devoted family man. As a testament to how much they loved their "Mr. T", hundreds of students, teachers, parents, and other townsfolk...even school board members...came to the viewing and the funeral. The local newspaper did a wonderful front page story about him that came out the day of the funeral. Click on the following link (or copy and paste the link) to learn more about my wonderful brother, John Tiffany.


Today, may you be surrounded by the love and joy of those who keep you grounded!

Sandy Penvose

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Seinfeld, Insurance and Library Policy

Seinfeld, Insurance, and Library Policy

I'm a big fan of the "Seinfeld" show. So much so that, to borrow a popular phrase, "(Almost) everything I quote I learned from Seinfeld". I recently used a favorite scene in reference to dealing with my insurance company. Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where he rented a car, but they didn't have the model he requested? Here it is, briefly, to refresh you memory:

Jerry: I made a reservation for a mid-size, and she’s a small. I’m kidding around, of course.
Agent: I’m sorry, we have no mid-size available at the moment.
Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?
Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.
Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the reservation.
Agent: I know why we have reservations.
Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.
("The Alternate Side", Dec. 4, 1991)

So when I was billed recently for a visit to a Walk-in Clinic, I put it on the shelf, thinking they'd just bat it back and forth with my insurance company and settle it. No such luck. So I finally called to see what the issue was. Well, even though it was an emergency procedure, I still was supposed to get prior authorization. How's that work when you're writhing in pain? And your insurance company requires a week's notice to get that? As Jerry Seinfeld might say, " You know how to offer me insurance coverage, I just can't use the insurance coverage" or "I'm covered for emergency treatment, I just can't get it in case of an emergency".

So how does this apply to the Library? I've done a great deal of reflection this year on how I offer  library services to our students and teachers. In the past, before this enlightenment, there have been times that my students could use the above comparisons: Hey, Mrs. Penvose, you can open the library for services, you just can't offer them to us! Like using the computers, having access to all of the shelves, adhering more to my procedures than making the books available whenever I hung out the "Open" sign. I've realized that I want to have my space and services reflect that I value students and their access to books and technology. I want to show that I hope to impact student learning by what happens in our library. I want to show that, to whoever crosses the threshold of our school library, that we still need the library! Thanks to Jennifer LaGarde at Librarygirl.net for these great reminders that will help me reflect that what what happens in OUR library matters. (her Feb. 12, 2014 posting).

So will your space and procedures reflect that you can both open up for library services, along with generously sharing them with all stakeholders? I hope so. Without the relationships and stuff we offer, it's kind of pointless to say you're a librarian. So I'm hoping to continue to stay grounded in a foundation that's not about me, but by helping others be the best they can be for now and the future.

Remembering My Dad

My dad passed away Feb 1 and suddenly everything that seemed timely or urgent is on the back burner and not as significant as it was before.  He was an incredible person; 87 and relatively healthy, though living in a nursing home because he was limited to a wheelchair and my 86 year old mother couldn't care for him at home.  Within a week he developed congestive heart failure, then pneumonia, then was found to have cancer that had spread from his lungs and throughout his body. I got the call that he was going into hospice care, so I booked a flight home and within a couple hours he was gone. Peacefully and painlessly.

So when I was home, my family thought I should be the one to share "family remembrances" at the funeral. Sure, I thought. I never met a crowd or microphone I didn't like, so I prayed to God for wisdom and words to rise to the challenge. How do I narrow down 87 ( well, more like 58 years) that I had with him on earth? I focused on the fun and wild vacations we took almost yearly: 5 kids, my mom, a camper,  loaf of bread and pb &j (Tiffany's fast food, before there was fast food) and 2 weeks of FUN exploring the USA. I knew it would generate laughs from my family and add some levity to the somber day. Which it did and by the grace of God I got through it with a minimum of tears. Those came later.
Actually, the viewing and funeral had to be delayed a day because northwest Ohio was in the throes of one of their countless blizzards and sub zero temperatures. They had different alerts and this was an "ain't nobody driving, no way no how" situation. Another confirmation for why I live in a Florida.

So thank you for allowing this rambling reminiscence of my wonderful piano playing, hilarious, tender, kind, strong, life of the party dad. He will be missed and was a reason why I am now, and continue to be, grounded.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

If You Take a Selfie With Andrew Carnegie...

I was running my usual Saturday errands yesterday; you know...a stop at a neighborhood farmer's market, bank, Walmart, groceries, and ended up at the public library for a book I had reserved. When I first started as a Media Specialist several years ago, after being a classroom teacher for 20-some years,  my husband couldn't quite understand why, having spent about 8-10 hours a day in a library,  I had to go to another library after work or even on the weekend. Or even a bookstore. I tried to tell him that a.) It's in my DNA, b.) I'm usually looking for a book for me, c.) I've been doing it for over 50 years and old habits die hard, d.) The books are in order and I don't have to be responsible for any of it, e.) well, we rarely got to an "e" since he knew I just love all things books!

So I picked up the copy of  Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life that I had reserved (I also love all things Julia), and as I was leaving noticed a large cardboard stand-up of Andrew Carnegie. Well, maybe "large" might be an exaggeration, because he was only 5 ft. 3 inches, but of course in the library world he was a giant...which is what I felt like when I stood next to him. Our county's public library system is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, with one of the libraries being one of the first ten libraries in Florida originally funded through grants by Andrew Carnegie. So our public libraries have these 5'3" stand-ups of Mr. Carnegie in them as part of a year-long celebration. So being the library groupie that I am, I grabbed the nearest librarian and asked her to take my picture with him. "I'm a librarian" I explained, as if I needed to! She smiled, took a picture on my phone, and went on with her work. After snapping a few more pictures, I cropped one to just be our heads...well more like my upper torso and his head, and sent it to  my best friend with the line "If you take a selfie with a picture of Andrew Carnegie in the Public Library...you just might be a Librarian". I knew she'd get a kick out of it, but I underestimated the impact.

She was my inspiration to become a Media Specialist in my middle ages and is in a system that eliminated their Media Specialists this year. Her response was heart-warming, yet heart-breaking. She is now a secondary social studies teacher and related that she misses the library terribly, how challenging it is to learn the curriculum and keep on top of the daily lessons and was totally exhausted by winter break. She dreaded going back for a new semester because the new classes were  co-teaching...another challenge. She only has one or two years left, but I thought how unfortunate to not be totally in love with what you do every day.

It really reminded me of  how thankful I am that I AM totally (well, 99.9%) in love with what I get to do every day. Actually, her current description of teaching duties sounds like mine, but at least I get to do it in the library! Kids, books, projects, contests, teaching, leadership opportunities, book clubs, incredibly supportive media colleagues...I could go on and on! Despite new challenges of an evaluation system that demands more of me, and other changes too numerous to mention here, I am still doing what I love...just calling it different things. Think of it as making lemonade out of lemons!

So whatever challenge, problem, stress or lemon you encounter today, fellow Media Specialists/Librarians/Teacher Librarians (ooh, how I wish we settled on one name!), you still bear that wonderful job title! Remember that and Stay Grounded!

Sandy Penvose