Doing Non-Day-Job-But-Still-Library-Related ThingsThere is so much that librarians do outside of their regular 9-to-5 jobs that it feels like it’s time to focus on some of that groundbreaking work. Without further ado, let’s chat with Megan Emery, Chattanooga (Tenn.) Public Library’s youth services librarian, an artist, an author (Cooking Up Library Programs Teens and ’Tweens Will Love; Libraries Unlimited, 2015), and more all rolled into one big yarn ball of positive library energy.
How do you manage all of your non-day-job-but-still-library-related things? I love libraries, but at the end of the day, my mind says, “OK, let’s just sit here on the couch.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I believe I’ve become much better about “turning off” after work. I’ve started meditating, cooking more, generally being a better spouse, and spending more time with my dog and cat. Yet, I’m also creating more than ever before, and I think it’s because I’ve evolved in how I’m working off the clock.
What is your recent project, The Healing Library, all about?
My last few years personally have involved a lot of death and a lot of change. Initially, I was not dealing well with it and participated in some destructive behaviors. Through some serious personal investment, I developed healthy ways to deal with the stress and to deal with my new version of normal. This growth process was painful and embarrassing, but it left me with tools I never possessed before.
The idea for The Healing Library was born after I saw a fabulous Story Hour Kit from Curious City about the book What a Beautiful Morning by Arthur A. Levine. I wrote to Kirsten Cappy, half of the brilliant team behind Curious City, and asked if she’d be willing to work with me on an independent internship where we would create kits libraries could lend to assist families dealing with Alzheimer’s. Then we knew we needed a librarian for the project and involved David Moorhead, children’s librarian for the Lewiston Public in Maine. Kirsten also said to do this properly we should have someone with a medical background who could review the work and ensure we were creating the kit responsibly. I had met Bonnie Thomas years before and love her books, so I knew she would be my ultimate pick, and she, too, agreed to help with the project. We decided to do more than just the one kit and ultimately chose two additional topics that are common causes for trauma in the lives of children and families: the death of a pet and the death of a loved one. We knew that whatever we created would be available for free to any organization wanting to utilize it.
With our three topics in place, we created a kit for each that includes a Discussion Guide, with tips for discussing the difficult subject as a family; an Activities Guide, consisting of holistic art and play therapy activities to assist in expression, communication, and healing; and Acts of Kindness, featuring proactive activities of community support designed to empower. Our hope is that libraries and other organizations lend the kits to their communities to help families deal with trauma in healthy ways.
It is interesting that for institutions relying so heavily on people, libraries are still thought of primarily as buildings of books. But it doesn’t take much to see that while books are still a big focus for us, it’s the human element that drives everything.
Jerome Rivera gets that. As the manager of the Ranui Community Library in New Zealand, a highly successful branch of the Auckland Libraries that opened in October 2014, Rivera and his staff have homed in on the community.
Your library was recently featured in The New Zealand Herald, and what stood out to me is how much the article talked about how the library belongs to the community.
When I shared the article on Twitter, I said that it’s not the building that makes the library, but it’s the people. “People” means both the community members that use this space and the library staffers that serve them. It’s a low socioeconomic area, but there is a sense of pride in people who live in Ranui, so there is a strong sense of togetherness. We have very close relationships with the other Ranui community organizations, and we are literally all within 100 meters (about 300 feet) of each other. The physical proximity makes it easy to have conversations and share what is going on with each other and what is affecting the community. I think that Ranui Library plays a big part of residents being proud of being from here.
What are your community members doing in your library these days?
We are currently celebrating Pasifika at the library, which is a monthlong celebration of Polynesian culture. Ranui has a sizable Polynesian population, and it’s important that we highlight this and celebrate the community’s different cultures. We are also lucky to have some staffers who live in Ranui and who are also of Polynesian descent. Representation is so important, and it’s great to have library staffers who reflect the diversity of the community. During the first day of our Pasifika celebrations, one of our staff members wore traditional Tongan dress and performed a special Tongan dance for the community.
A big part of your job must be managing, leading, and inspiring your staff. What are some things that you’ve found helpful in your role?
Don’t do or expect anything from your staff that you wouldn’t do or expect from yourself. I find that while it’s good to have high expectations of your staffers, you should always be willing to really listen to them and give them support when they need it. If you notice them struggling, make sure you address it and give them meaningful feedback. Their development should be one of your priorities.
I also like to have a fun work environment, and a sense of humor is one of the things I’m known for. I don’t mind being the butt of a joke or making myself look goofy. I also love to reward our successes with food. Whether doing a bit of baking or having shared lunches, food and laughs are good conduits for camaraderie and closeness.