Cede the Floor
Ever since I chatted with Chelsea Lemburg, I haven’t been able to get the idea of “ceding the floor” to our communities—specifically our marginalized communities—out of my head. This is exactly the kind of thinking that all librarians should be doing these days. Let go of what you think a library should be and should do, and, instead, listen to the community around you, and let their words and ideas guide you.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR WORK AT THE NEBRASKA LIBRARY COMMISSION. WHAT IS A TYPICAL DAY LIKE?
I am lucky in that my work is varied and I get to travel and meet so many brilliant, driven people around the state! Our grant with IMLS affords me the opportunity to work with a team dedicated to training community members on makerspace equipment, where they are then free to create for any number of personal, artistic, and entrepreneurial reasons.
A typical day in the life at my job may be spent troubleshooting a piece of equipment, installing and training in a new host library, keeping track of inventory, and generally making sure our libraries have the resources they need to make our Innovation Studios work well for them, and in the way they had envisioned.
THE INNOVATION STUDIOS PROJECT HELPS INSTALL MAKERSPACE EQUIPMENT AND TECHNOLOGY IN RURAL COMMUNITY LIBRARIES. HOW ARE THE LIBRARIES RESPONDING?
Without a doubt, individuals in our host libraries have amazed and inspired us by what they’ve created in the 20-week cycles that our equipment stays with them. Because we provide comprehensive training and supply items like wood, textiles, 3Dprinting filament, glass for laser etching, and more, our makers are given the agency to be trained in a new skill and to put it to use however they see fit. Individuals have responded to this opportunity with fantastically creative projects where they can actively problem-solve to find what works best for them. Some communities find that their makerspace equipment gets the most use from local businesses, as was the case when an electrical company in one of our host libraries used our vinyl cutter to decal the entire body of their utility truck by hand. I imagine they saved quite a bit of money in doing that!
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIG ISSUES THAT YOU THINK PUBLIC LIBRARIES SHOULD BE TACKLING?
In the U.S., the public library is one of the last remaining spaces where people can gather, pursue knowledge, or simply exist without needing to pay to stay for any length of time. And because people from all walks of life gather at the library, community support services should have a home there. Librarians and information professionals would be greatly aided by social workers and community organizers who are trained in working with the public in a different capacity. Patrons who are physically safe, supported, and have all their needs met are in a much better position to utilize what the library has to offer.
The Lifeline to the Community
Christie Clarke, a youth services librarian in rural Gering, Neb., talks about one of my favorite topics: rural public libraries in America and just how important these spaces are to their communities. They are the lifeline that connects just about everything, and all too often, they are the organizations that are hit the hardest by shortsighted budget decisions and small-minded politics.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR ROLE AT GERING PUBLIC LIBRARY (GPL)? TELL ME ABOUT THE PROGRAMS AND EVENTS YOU OFFER.
I have been the youth services librarian for 7-and-a-half years. On a daily basis, I research, plan, and create materials for programming for youth in our community. I also curate the children and teen collections, which involves researching, ordering, and weeding items such as books, audiobooks, magazines, multimedia kits, graphic novels, and movies. I also communicate with community stakeholders about partnerships for our programming. Some of my time is spent writing grants for programming, and other times, I perform outreach activities by visiting schools and other community groups such as Head Start and the local school Foster Grandparent Program. We normally offer Toddler Story and Playtime, Preschool Move-n-Groove Storytime, Lego Club, Teen Advisory Board, LEAP (Learn. Explore. Achieve. Play), and SMILE (See Me in the Library Event), which is a first-time library card program for the Gering second graders.
HOW HAS WORKING AS A CHILDREN’S LIBRARIAN CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
Graphic novels have enjoyed a huge increase in popularity over the years, and, thankfully, the negative viewpoint toward them from parents and educators has decreased. One thing that is on my mind more often these days is copyright and permissions, but this is due to the fact that I have had to take my storytime online, and it is a game changer for the use of print, video, and music materials. Added to this is the fact that because I graduated with my M.L.S. in 2019, I am now way more aware of this issue—so I cannot just ask for forgiveness later when I know upfront the right thing to do.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT RURAL LIBRARIANS FACE?
Rural libraries will always have the challenge of smaller budgets and smaller spaces. Another challenge is that in small-town rural America, the community is sometimes behind the times in school of thought, thus the library is not always considered important. This bleeds into local politics, which in turn affects library budgets, services, and spaces. Another challenge in rural western Nebraska in particular is the fact that we are so very far away from our capital, so we unfortunately are left out of things all the time. Rarely are we included in decision making or even educational and professional opportunities. I do my part in participating as much as I can in the Nebraska Library Association annual conference by presenting and speaking up during roundtable events.