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ALA Denigrates Iconic American Children’s Author

Hopefully, most of you have heard by now that the Board of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. WHY? If you’re like me you’re asking yourself “Why would ALA denigrate and affectively denounce Laura Ingalls Wilder after over 60 years of hailing her as an icon of American children’s literature?” Aren’t they now saying that their predecessors were wrong to ever have named an award in her honor?

Well, as usual, they are claiming that is not what they are doing, but rather; “ALSC works within the context of our society as a whole, where the conversations taking place inform our work and help us articulate our core values and support of diverse populations.” which, in our opinion, equates to blatant internal politics that smack of political correctness. Core values are just that CORE! They don’t change with the tide of public opinion.

How does this kind of drastic change happen? In our decades of experience with organizations, boards, and people in general, it starts by some malcontent activist who thinks they have a right and obligation to right wrongs – as THEY perceive them – regardless of good judgement or common sense. Then they use shame and guilt on their colleagues to advance their argument until they get their agenda past the majority. Did anyone hear about Native American, or people of color groups of protesters picketing ALA conference, or publishing protests about how they were being maligned by Laura Ingalls Wilder? NO!

ALSC/ALA decided on their own opinion that “Her works reflect dated cultural attitudes toward Indigenous people and people of color that contradict modern acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities.” Using that rationale, why not destroy the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. because Jefferson was a slave owner, and even had extra-marital affairs with his female slaves and produced children from those sexual affairs. Does his personal behavior fit with today’s “…acceptance, celebration, and understanding of diverse communities”? I hope not, but maybe we’re wrong. Since so many of the founding fathers owned slaves, maybe we should tear up the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, even though they contain principles and ideals that built a new democracy that has lasted 242 years, and provided freedom to over 300M people from many “diverse communities”. It sounds like if ALSC/ALA had its way a lot of American institutions and history would be voted out by one of their committees.

While Laura Ingalls Wilder’s views may be inconsistent with the current culture, SHE is not. Isn’t it HER as an author and a person of fortitude that caused ALA to name this award after her? How did that change? It cannot! Speaking of her as a person, ESPECIALLY in the current era of female empowerment, she was a young girl who grew up in a family unit that struggled and repeatedly moved to carve out a living and a life. In 1870 they were forced to abandon a home and life they were building in Kansas because their home was on Osage Tribe reservation land and they would be evicted if they did not leave. Certainly this experience shaped her perspective of Native Americans, but it was HER life and HER reality nearly 150 years ago. We are not mindless to the concept that attitudes shift and change, BUT attitudes about who she WAS should not! She was a young girl who began teaching before she was 16 to help support her family. She never graduated from high school. She married and lost a baby before it was 1 year old, working alongside her husband to survive and ultimately thrive. Without any formal education or training, she became a contributor and editor for the Missouri Ruralist. She raised a successful daughter who was also an author and who encouraged Laura to write her novels. Laura Ingalls Wilder is the definition of a strong female who, through sheer determination of will, improved her life and made immense contributions to the literary world and the lives of countless children. How could any organization that professes to support, encourage and promote children’s literature justify a decision that she is now unfit for recognition because she accurately portrayed her experience and the cultural norms of her time? That is the very definition of censorship and female denigration.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association website has a very respectful response to ALSC/ALA’s decision, which despite ALSC’s response to the contrary, it seems impossible that they could have considered seriously and still made the decision to remove Wilder’s name from the award. “We stand by our board’s consensus position that the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, though encumbered with the perspectives of racism that were representative of her time and place, also includes overwhelmingly positive contributions to children’s literature that have touched generations past and will reach into the future. We believe it is not beneficial to the body of literature to sweep away her name as though the perspectives in her books never existed. Those perspectives are teaching moments to show generations to come how the past was and how we, as a society, must move forward with a more inclusive and diverse perspective.”

History is history and CANNOT BE RE-WRITTEN, no matter how badly certain elements of society today want to change or deny things happened. Certain elements of American society today would love nothing more than to overthrow everything and become Socialist, or Communist, or Anarchist. Is that where ALSC and ALA are headed? Is that where the librarian profession is headed?

ALSC/ALA loves to bemoan the terrible tragedy of banned books, but effectively what they have done through their action is to include Laura Ingalls Wilder’s works to that list. Their attempt to deny that they are denigrating her works is simply hypocritical, and embarrassing. Anyone in this profession would respect them more if they had just come out and said; “We think it’s time to update all of our awards criteria, policies, practices, and names.” and changed them all. Why are Randolph Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, John Newbery and Michael Printz any more representative of ALSC/ALA values than Wilder? Aren’t Newbery’s perspectives on orphaned children grossly out dated by today’s standards? What distinguished Michael Printz, a high school librarian in the 1970s and 80s, apart from any other person, to have a teen literature award named in his honor? NO not just awards – MEDALS!

It is all politics plain and simple, and now politics has turned against Laura Ingalls Wilder. The only excuse they could find was her perspective on her life on the American plains in the 1800s.

The message ALSC/ALA is sending to every author is “Don’t make the mistake of writing about your personal perspective of society in your times. We only want literature that is politically correct according to our definition, or you’ll never be awarded any of our MEDALS.” SAD! Really sad! ALSC and ALA have just cheapened all of their awards, and recognition of any recipient in the future will be suspect for ever more.


Stephen A. Matthews
Kimberly D. Matthews


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Race for Relevancy- Keeping Our Eyes on Where we are Going

Many years ago…in another lifetime, I dabbled in auto racing (specifically rally and autocross for those fellow enthusiasts). While there are many skills you learn in racing, arguably the most important is where to look.

THE RULE: You look where you want to go.

It is deceptively simple advice. Why?  Because we are trained to drive using certain tools and methods to keep us safe. When you drive competitively you must employ different techniques designed to get you where you are headed faster, more effectively and, ideally, before the other guy. The downside (there always is one you know)- there are risks.

Relying on traditional driving tools and methods, novice racers can be distracted by the cars beside and behind them observing their progress.  While others focus on their instruments- checking RPM and speed- instead of feeling their car’s performance and response to the road for a faster response time. Some look only a few paces in front of their car. Unfortunately, when they do this they only see what really, in essence, is already done.  There is no time for course correction.  Looking a few paces in front is to look at the result of decisions already made.  All these traditional practices of driving, slow you down and shift your focus from where you are going.   When racing you look up and ahead.  What is coming? Where do you need to position your wheels to take that next curve? The really experienced drivers have studied the track in advance and know the curve after the next one.  They not only know how to set up for the coming curve but how to exit in preparation for the one they can’t even see.

Libraries have been talking about the future for decades.  SO why are we still having the same conversations? Why aren’t we making more headway? Because we are relying on our traditional tools for our decision making and thus ending up with traditional results.

These outmoded methods include:

  1. Look for Trends: Much like the driver who monitors the cars around them, we become distracted by those around us.  While yes we can learn from one another, too often we become distracted by the ‘innovations’ of other libraries and simply replicate.  We allow ourselves to become followers instead of leaders.  Look outward and forward.  What is the NEXT thing? What is happening in other disciplines that will influence libraries?  Simply put- by the time you read it in Library Journal it is old news.  Someone has been there and done it.  Does that mean you should not incorporate the idea? No! Go for it.  But do not stop there.  Use that innovation as a stepping stone to your next.
  2. Ask your Community What it wants: Oh now this one will get me in trouble…but hear me out.  When I was on faculty at a Washington State University, we took a student poll asking what services students would like to see in the library.  “Beer” was the #1 response.  Yes, I know that in some countries they do serve beer in academic libraries -but that is a topic for another blog.  The point here being, your patrons do not always know what they want!  And they most certainly do not know the possibilities of what you could give them.  Still not convinced? How many times has someone said “I wish the library carried eBooks” or “I wish the library did…(fill in one of a thousand other examples of something you already do)”.  We all bemoan that patrons do not know what the library offers.  So why do we think they have the magic answer to our future?  Librarians have debated “What is a 21st Century Library?” for decades…WE have to find the answer.  The response will let us know we got it right.
  3. Using Statistics for our decisions and direction: Just as with the driver focused on the space in front of him instead of the coming road, by the time we see these, they are behind us.  If we are being honest, the majority of our data is at least a year old by the time we can use it for serious analysis.  In addition, most of us would also agree that much of what we measure we do only for state requirements or our boards; not because we truly believe it reflects the interest and usage in our libraries.  This leaves us always responding never instigating.  WE will never be able to set ourselves up for the curve if we are busy responding to old information. Am I saying that statistics are useless? Of course not, but they aren’t going to get us to the future.  They are a gauge that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the decisions we have made.  But to make the truly innovative and edgy decisions there are rarely stats to lean on.  This is where instinct and experience come into play.

You are the expert. You know your profession.  You know what is needed.  Be bold, Trust yourself and move forward decisively even when those around you tell you all the reasons you will fail or should not try.   As John Locke told us, new ideas are always suspect for no other reason than that they are new.

If we are to find our future, we must stop using outdated tools and methods.  Instead we must look to the future.  See what is coming and head towards it. Without excuse or apology.  Look where you want to go and MOVE.  So why is something that sounds so easy one of the toughest skills to master?  Simple. Keeping your eyes on the future and driving straight at it is hard because it forces you to trust your instincts and abandon the tools we traditionally use to keep ourselves safe and on course.

All those who stay on the edge or try what no one else has take risks.  Sometimes you fail. As with racing, the goal is, at best, to succeed and, at worst, survive the failure.

For those who may read this and say “But its not a race!” Really? Tell that to the folks in Douglas County, OR


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Youth Violence Prevention and the Public Library’s Role

Many of our communities are dealing with the issues of youth violence and establishing robust youth violence prevention programs. As librarians who spend our days serving our community, we know that many of these youth come through our doors.  It is no longer enough for Public Libraries to say “Well, I offer programs or we have video games to bring them in or I partner with a group that offers tutoring…” as our contribution.  We know the immense power of libraries to change lives and we know the impact they can have on the problems of youth violence. To not act proactively is to be negligent.

It is imperative that we find where these conversations are happening within our community and get a seat at the table so that we are in the best position to offer our services, skills and facilities to aid the effort.  I won’t dwell on “finding the conversation” as we are all librarians and therefore good at our research and knowing our community partners.  The trickiest part here is “getting a seat at the table”.  Why is it that others are invited to the table and we are not? We regularly offer “We want to help.” Or “Let us know if there is anything we can do or that you need”.  Well guess what? EVERYONE is doing that.  You would be hard pressed to find any caring individual who does not believe that youth violence is a serious problem that must be addressed.  When you simply make your blanket offer of ‘help’, you join a cacophony of other voices.
In addition, we have learned that much of the general public simply does not know what a 21st Century library has to offer (a topic for many more posts).  Those individuals serving in the effort to reduce youth violence are no different! So in addition to their effort to address one of the most complex social issues of our time, the last thing they want to add to their plate is to try to figure out how the library can assist them.  YOU have to bring that to the conversation.  When the library’s value to finding a solution is clearly presented, you will be offered a seat at the table.

So how do you make the library’s value apparent?  By presenting your own cohesively planned Youth Violence Prevention Program at your library.  When you can say to potential partners such as local law enforcement, community organizations and other social services: “The Library recognizes the serious issue of Youth Violence in our community and this is what we are doing.  How can we work together with your efforts?” NOW that potential partner has something to consider. NOW they understand the potential you bring to the table because they can clearly see what you are doing.

I can almost hear your next question.  “Okay. That sounds great! But how do I develop a comprehensive program to address such an overwhelming issue that so many are trying to solve?”  First you must understand it to the best of your ability.

From the Center for Disease Control (CDC) 2015 Fact sheet on Youth Violence :

What is Youth Violence?

Youth violence refers to harmful behaviors that can start early and continue into young adulthood. The young person can be a victim, an offender, or a witness to the violence.
Youth violence includes various behaviors. Some violent acts—such as bullying, slapping, or hitting—can cause more emotional harm than physical harm. Others, such as robbery and assault (with or without weapons), can lead to serious injury or even death.

As Librarians we know the importance of data:

Youth violence is widespread in the United States (U.S.). It is the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
•In 2012, 4,787 young people aged 10 to 24 years were victims of homicide—an average of 13   each day.
•Over 599,000 young people aged 10 to 24 years had physical assault injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments—an average of 1642 each day.
•In a 2013 nationwide survey, about 24.7% of high school students reported being in a physical fight in the 12 months before the survey.
•About 17.9% of high school students in 2013 reported taking a weapon to school in the 30 days before the survey.
•In 2013, 19.6% of high school students reported being bullied on school property and 14.8% reported being bullied electronically.
•Each year, youth homicides and assault-related injuries result in an estimated $16 billion in combined medical and work loss costs.

Who is Most at Risk? What are the most common risk factors?

• Prior history of violence
• Drug, alcohol, or tobacco use
• Association with delinquent peers
• Poor family functioning
• Poor grades in school
• Poverty in the community

Prevention is the ultimate goal  and the following prevention strategies have been identified:

• Parent- and family-based programs improve family relations. Parents receive training on child development. They also learn skills for talking with their kids and solving problems in nonviolent ways.
• Social-development strategies teach children how to handle tough social situations. They learn how to resolve problems without using violence.
• Mentoring programs pair an adult with a young person. The adult serves as a positive role model and helps guide the young person’s behavior.
• Changes can be made to the physical and social environment. These changes address the social and economic causes of violence.

Obviously a problem like youth violence is far more complex than can be summed up in the previous paragraphs, and I would encourage everyone to do much more extensive research on the topic as it relates to your community.  However, this overview does provide us with a solid foundation to discuss the process for creating your library’s Youth Violence Prevention Program.

You are likely already doing wonderful things in your library to support teens.  By their very nature, those initiatives form the foundation of your fully realized Youth Violence Prevention Program.  The goal now is to build upon these loose ideas to create a cohesive plan that will guide future decisions to ensure a strategic programming direction and that you will be able to present to other individuals and organizations.

Start by making a list of all the programs and initiatives you have currently.  Look back at the previous CDC information. Where do your efforts fit within their identified prevention strategies? Where are the holes or unmet needs?  Your plan could include initiatives such as:

  • Host and partner with high-risk youth mentor/apprentice programs
  • Provide support for outreach workers serving in neighborhoods with high incidents of violence
  • Work with locally established programs on school truancy review, discuss and dissect your library’s policy on youth truancy.
  • Host gang intervention programs provided by local law enforcement and Juvenile Justice partners
  • Provide and host job readiness/life skills/employment programs
  • Provide and host financial literacy programs
  • Support and provide services specifically to the underserved, at-risk populations such as LGBTQ youth, immigrant or undocumented youth, and homeless or unaccompanied youth
  • Host peer education initiatives
  • Offer programs which develop self-esteem and self-worth
  • Create programs that build leadership and teamwork

IMPORTANT ASIDE: Remember that when we talk about Youth Violence we are generally discussing a population between the ages of 10-24.  This is a much different range than we typical target in any of our children or teen programming.  Keep that in mind as you look at your planned approach.

Then, look back at the risk factors listed in the CDC Fact Sheet.  Identify those areas of the community you feel share these challenges.  Next, detail your outreach and marketing plan to targeted each of the areas of your community you have identified. Finally, just as you would with any strategic plan, set goals and milestones for your work. Keep in mind that goals must be reasonable.  Yes “Eradicate all youth violence” may be the ultimate goal; but realistically that is an overreach for any single plan.  Perhaps your  goals could include the number of programs you hope to offer this year, number of participants, number of partners, etc.

Now that you have a solid plan…implement it. Straight away! No delays! In this effort, there is not a moment to lose. And as soon as you get that ball rolling, start those conversations with your community partners including local law enforcement, various social services, the schools, and community organizations.  You are now beginning those conversations with a clear position and a cohesive plan that demonstrates the value your library brings to the effort to prevent and ultimately end Youth Violence; and your library will be able to sit down at the table as a true and equal partner.

Youth Violence is a problem that will only be solved when we all work together. We know public libraries can and must play a vital role in saving our youth.

Take your seat at the table …its time to get to work.

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Replacing School Libraries with Makers Spaces – a worrisome tale

I want to preface this post with a disclaimer: Though I spent 2 years in charge of a school library in the early days of my career, I make no claim to any special expertise in children’s services or school media centers beyond the general knowledge I have gleaned during my time in the library profession.  In addition I do like to ‘stay in my lane’ and, as a result, have rarely if ever weighed in on issues specific to school libraries. When I began reading about the Makers Movement in school libraries, I left the issue alone as it was outside my wheelhouse. However, as this picks up momentum nation-wide it will come to affect us all in time, not just as public libraries but also as a society looking to an educational system to develop our next generation.

I have previously mentioned that I was slow to embrace the Makers Movement shift in public libraries.  It simply didn’t speak to me right away; so I was a bit of a hard sell. I believe libraries, while we continue to innovate, must make decisions based on the ‘long-haul’ from a position that respects public trust and our over-arching missions that withstand the tests of time.  It is human nature to jump on the new exciting thing. However, I have been completely convinced that these programmatic spaces and innovative offerings in public libraries are an exciting component of lifelong learning and essential to bridging the digital divide just as books were in the early 20th century.

So as much as I am a proponent of Makers Spaces in public libraries, this same movement in school libraries is worrisome.  Is the school library really the appropriate home for a ‘makers space’ (3D Printer, sound studios, sewing machines, etc)?  I may be working from an old model- let’s admit- it’s been awhile since I was in elementary or high school.  But wouldn’t the 3D printer be more logical placed in the computer science department or the Technology/Computer Lab?  And the sound studio in the Music Department? And the sewing machine….what happened to Home Economics?

If you do agree that the school library should embrace the ‘movement’, then comes the question of “To what degree?”.  Where is balance in a school library setting between reader advisory, digital literacy, bibliographic instruction, etc and the cutting edge technology we are seeing in Makers Spaces in public libraries?  In at least one school district in Kansas it appears the scales are far from balanced and it has many worried:

School libraries shift toward innovation areas, but librarians fear for what’s lost,

by Rick Montgomery of the Kansas City Star June 24, 2016

(Edited for brevity- follow link for complete article)

Librarians in the Shawnee Mission School District are making way for “the maker movement,” and some worry where that story is going… at least four Shawnee Mission grade schools have hired “innovation specialists” to run their libraries when fall classes open.

That’s the language of the maker movement, which seeks to convert once-quiet school spaces — usually in the libraries — into hands-on laboratories of creation and computer-assisted innovation….In fact, the word “librarian” didn’t come up in the job description for an innovation specialist at Merriam Park Elementary. “Stories” wasn’t there, either. No mention of “books,” “literature” nor “shelves.”

[Jan] Bombeck [of Ray Marsh Elementary] said. “It’s like they’re avoiding people with library certification.”

District administrators say that’s not the case. They do acknowledge, however, that grade schools haven’t much need any more for the libraries of 20 years ago — when they stocked books, gave research help, suggested age-appropriate literature and provided a cozy corner in which kids could turn pages.

Wow…Really? That is quite a statement “haven’t much need any more for the libraries of 20 years ago”…so no middle ground? School libraries must either be an arcane model  or makers space?

 Today all Shawnee Mission pupils are issued an electronic tablet or MacBook, providing them many times the information once squeezed on library shelves.“Now that they have those digital resources in hand, no longer do I have to get up and walk my class to the library,” said Michelle Hubbard, assistant superintendent of leadership and learning.

It is excellent to hear that these technologies are being made available to students on this scale.  It is equally distressing to hear a school administrator diminish decades of school library efforts to this degree of irrelevance.

 This past weekend at Union Station, hundreds of area kids demonstrated what it’s about at the sixth annual Maker Faire: They programmed 3-D printers to craft sculptures. They used laptops to help Lego robots complete assigned tasks. They showed off sewing, gardening, electrical wizardry and consumer products of their own making.

In this worrisome movement I see a computer lab, tech center, science innovation, music education enhancements and home ec (with even a little bit of ‘shop class’ thrown in).  What I don’t see is a library.  If we need these innovations in our schools- and I would ABSOLUTELY argue that we do- let’s place them in the appropriate department.  If we need sewing machines and we wish to teach this skill, bring back those amazing Home Ec & Shop teachers who taught us how to make great pillows, bird houses, balance a check book and even cook! But don’t use them to replace Librarians. These are two different things and both are necessary!

 …Leslie Preddy, president of the American Association of School Librarians….“To call yourself a librarian, you need to have that training and to be certified,” said Preddy, who works in a school district near Indianapolis. “If you replace a certified librarian with someone who’s just an expert in technology, you’re losing half of the role that school libraries are supposed to be serving.

“You still need someone who is a champion of reading.” She cited the research of Keith Curry Lance (much of it funded by librarian groups) that shows higher student scores in reading, and in some cases even math, at schools where certified librarians are present.

The shift has many worried and they are speaking out.  Hoping to encourage the school district to seek a balance between library and makers space.

…Bombeck…took a stand. At the May 23 meeting of the Shawnee Mission school board, the librarian stepped up to an open mic …“Several elementary principals have expressed a desire to turn the library into only a makers space without any library curriculum,” Bombeck said. “I have never ‘just read stories’ and checked out books. I have taught digital citizenship, copyright law and internet safety. I have taught research skills and database use.”

Ellie Seemann, who just finished her final year as the Merriam Park librarian, said that offering maker spaces and traditional library services shouldn’t be viewed as an either-or proposition. “I hate to hear it talked about as one or the other,” she said. ….

But, unfortunately there may be more at stake than the library-advocates can rail against…

District officials say part of a $233 million bond referendum that voters passed in 2015 directed funds toward remaking school libraries. They say the innovation goals were well-communicated at the time.

As for staffing, assistant superintendent Hubbard said: “It’s really more about the skills that an individual brings to lift kids to that level than it is about certification.”

Whether or not educators have completed a master’s program in library science, which is one route to certification, Hubbard said that “all great teachers can teach kids to read and teach them research skills.” She said she would expect those skills to be highly considered whenever maker-minded teachers are hired to replace retiring librarians….

$233 MILLION! Towards ‘remaking’ libraries.  As I lay in bed in the dark of night and ponder these shifts perhaps I am becoming more cynical with age, but I do wonder: In an educational system that has spent the past decade downsizing and marginalizing school media centers and the role of Librarians, is this shift to makers spaces simply another step to further that agenda but with a more palatable flavor? From the success of the bond referendum and the resulting organizational changes to district libraries and hiring practices, one could certainly draw that conclusion.

They say “you can’t fight city hall” and I think the same sentiment could be applied to school districts.  But I do hope that the professionals, the public, the parents, and groups like ALA and AASL will continue to fight the good fight and raise issues with the worrisome path school districts are choosing.  I certainly believe a balance between library and makers space can and should be found that will provide the most educational   opportunities for students.

If not, in 20 years when our “libraries” are full of sewing machines and 3D printers, we may find ourselves reading articles about a revival movement to add “Reading Spaces” to schools…where will those go…the band room?






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ALA 2016 Bound

As Librarians across the country begin the annual pilgrimage, I am joining the ranks!


I will admit it has been a number of years since I have attended ALA Annual Conference.  However, I say that will my head held high. Why?  For the last 8 years, as the Director of the Trenton Free Public Library we survived a number of devastating budget cuts that resulted in layoffs and service reductions.  In a climate continually fraught with budget woes, it would not have been appropriate to spend operational funds to travel to the conference.  Instead, I continued my professional development in other ways.

That said, nothing replaces the opportunity to network with your colleagues, wander the exhibits looking at the latest technology, meeting and talk with vendors who shape the next great offering to our services, and learning about the latest trends in our profession.  I am thrilled to be on my way to do just that!

In addition, I will be participating in a panel discussion on Sunday June 26 at 10:30-11:30am in the Orange County Convention Center, Room W101B

A Library App: Driving a Better Customer Experience & the Metrics That Matter

Specifically, I will be presenting a brief talk on “Discontinuous Change through Mobile Service” discussing how mobile services can change our service model to reach non-users, why it hasn’t happened sooner, and what we need to do to manage the process.

Here’s to a great conference! Safe travels everyone.


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21st Century Library Headed for Bangkok Speaking Engagement

As I mentioned in my 2015 Blog in Review post, one of the 175 countries that view this Blog has invited me to speak at their annual seminar to promote “living libraries.” I will be speaking in Bangkok Thailand at the TK Park Forum 2016 organized by The Knowledge Park on Thursday March 31, 2016. I depart soon for the 24 hour trip to SE Asia and a wonderful adventure and opportunity speaking in such a fantastic venue.

The Queen Sirikit National Convention CenterThe Queen Sirikit National Convention Center-site of the TK Park Forum 2016

I was invited by the Thai Office of Knowledge Management and Development to make a presentation based on my Post from July 2015 “Managing Innovative Personalities for Successful Library Innovation“. Conference papers and presentation graphics will be available online from their Conference Program link. I’m looking forward to an amazing experience, wonderful people and innovative new ideas. Look for a recap along with pictures of the event, my visit to the TK Park, and other adventures!

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Are We Creating an Innovation Divide?

Tis the season for grant and award applications or at least it feels that way from the sheer number of notices rolling into my email inbox and pervading the professional literature. As I scan these various grants and awards seeking ever increasingly innovative projects, I started to ponder an idea. As we’ve discussed previously in this blog: I believe Innovation is a matter of perspective. If you’re driving a car an airplane would be an innovation but if you’re riding a bicycle then a car would be an innovation. Simply put- what is innovative at one Library might be last years news at another. Innovation is about your own unique environment and starting point.

So if each Library’s level of innovation is in a different place based on their starting point and environment…but the awards and grants continually seek to raise the bar and set higher and higher levels for innovation…Doesn’t it stand to reason that at some point some libraries will simply be left behind? Example: Anytown Library has come to a place where they have the staff know-how and community support to add a Makers Space, they begin to apply for various awards or grants to assist in funding the project. However, to their dismay, they are repeatedly turned down with the explanation that the idea is simply no longer ‘innovative enough’ to receive grant/award funding. When you find yourself applying for an award to pursue an innovative project or idea for your library (such as a maker space) only to find that the award goes to someone who already had a maker space and is now taking the next step, where does this leave you looking for funding? Do you regularly notice the list of libraries receiving innovation funding through grants or awards seems to have the same names popping up year after year?

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about innovation grants and awards. She mentioned her participation as a judge on a panel for a state-wide innovation grant. She served on this panel for several years and she detailed their pursuit of ever increasing levels of innovation. I asked how they balanced those libraries just beginning to innovative with libraries further along the path. She seemed puzzled at my question. I explained by saying “If an applicant starts from a place of less innovation-how were they able to compete for the funding?” She relied “They really couldn’t compete effectively. We were looking for the MOST innovative ideas. ” I queried “But without the funding of their project to raise them to that next level, how were they ever expected to reach a common ground with other libraries in the state so that they could compete for those funds?” Her response “Well, I guess they couldn’t.” I simply stated “Interesting. It sounds like a cycle that inevitably leaves some libraries behind with no chance to catch up…”

So what happens if you’re a library that is trying to continue to grow but find yourself outpaced by those libraries who seem further along on their journey of innovation? As they win funding grants and awards to implement Innovation one year, they then build on that program the next year to have an even better and grander program that they put forward for innovative funding. As funders look for the most innovative projects available to them to fund, are we creating an entire classification of libraries that are simply…left behind?

Hopefully, as Foundations, awarding organizations and other funding sources look at distributing monies to innovative projects in public libraries, they will continue to balance the importance of funding innovation that moves the entire profession and bar for innovation forward as well as those projects that may only move one library forward in their innovation journey. As a profession committed to providing equal services across communities, net neutrality, open access, we must apply that same approach to innovation. Every community and library deserves to have an opportunity to compete for support, awards, and funding for innovation as they perceive it. At the end of the day, we must ensure that we do not leave an entire subset of libraries behind in our relentless pursuit for that next great innovation idea.

Let us not leave behind those who have started from a bicycle while those who ride in the car get an airplane and fly away.


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