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Monday, March 28, 2022

PLA 2022: Friday Report

Editor's Note: RA for All is on vacation and there may be typos here. I will fix them later. It was key to get this published though 

Friday began with Amy Schneider, Jeopardy! champion in conversation with a staff member for PLA [who did a fantastic job, by the way]. Amy began talking about her historic run, becoming the most winning woman in the show's history and the first openly transgender contestant to make the Tournament of Champions. 

She was charming. She was honest about how she prepared and spent a few minutes talking about how she stayed in the moment. This was excellent advice for all. She also discussed her own anxiety and how she worked to figure out how to keep it at bay for each 30 minute taping. Her focusing techniques and pre-show playlists helped.

As she began winning, she realized that everyone was coming for her-- and her future house [LOL]. She told them to herself, "I know this is your dream too, but sorry."

She lost only 3 games before her shows would have aired. She was living this double life, going to LA Monday, Tuesday and taping 10 shows in 2 days, then going back to Oakland and working. She was exhausted, but she could not tell anyone. Thank goodness she was working remote so no one realized how much work she was actually missing. And, she was frank, she was not doing a great job at her day job during that time.

Her self awareness and ability to deal with fame was discussed. It was weird knowing one of the best things to ever happen to her, a life changing event, was about to happen in a few weeks but she could not share it with the people in her life. Also, knowing she would soon be recognized on the street-- she is still dealing with that and her comfort there.

But as a trans woman, who didn't transition until adulthood, who spent a life time hiding her true self, hiding something so important was hard. "I hid so much for so long," but in this case she knew it would end. 

Watching herself on TV was hard, she is still getting used to herself, her voice, and her thinning hair. But it was also enlightening because as the run went on, she realized she was the only one who really cared about how sushi looked.

She was asked: What has your viability represented to the trans world? Reply: It is hard for me to see because I am in that world. She has friends at the Trans Lifeline [which she said helped her many times] and they told her that she helped a lot of people. Many were calling because they saw her on TV. But she is mostly proud that her appearance, on a show that skews older, has allowed parents and grandparents to understand trans people and have conversations with the trans people in their own lives. That people so graciously and happily let her into their living rooms day after day and accepted her, even rooted for her, made her proud.

She said she didn't even understand what "trans" was until she was 30. The world has branded us as freaks for so long and here I am, a trans person who is normal and relatable on TV, in your living rooms. 

She did feel a responsibility to the trans community saying, I did not present and idealized version of myself. I did not want to give other trans people who saw me something hard to reach. I am not perfect, but this is me and I am loved and accepted for the woman I am.

In summation-- she was funny and charming and self aware. It was a wonderful way to start the final day.

Next up, Horrible, Evil Library Books: Normalizing Intellectual Freedom Standards in Customer Service.

First, here are the slides and handouts. Please look at them to supplement this recap.

This was a report from 2 librarians from Mid-Continent Library System in Missouri, well one now works in FL, but they developed this program together. It is Intellectual Freedom training for front line staff, all over the state of Missouri, so that they can have conversations with people at the public desks. 
This training is meant to be given to every employee, from the Director to the custodian, so that all library staff can talk about topics like censorship anywhere, from the branch to a family gathering. 
Record scratch in the recap here-- I have some commentary before I get back to the content
Then they said this-- we put Intellectual Freedom in our strategic Plan and performance evaluations. It is a part of our values. And this is where I had trouble continuing to listen. Why? Because this is the library where Intellectual Freedom is so important to them and yet, this happened there just a few weeks ago. Their Director had to resign after a board member claimed that these values were equivalent to "white genocide." Look I know this is not the presenters fault, but all I could think about was that she was purposely not mentioning this HUGE fact.
Obviously, the training isn't working if you trustees aren't getting the message. After the presentation I went up to the front privately and told them I thought this was fascinating, but that they did themselves a disservice by not mentioning this HUGE issue. She walked away in a huff. Look, it is not like I went up to the mic to mention it during Q&A. I waited to share my thoughts.
Back to the recap.
As the slides show, the training has 3 sections: Privacy, Access, Inclusion. The slides are good, but I will tell you that while this training did not embrace the myth of neutrality-- as you look at the situations that they give the groups [and gave us] and the included discussion points that they want you to take away-- it toes the line at times.
I will say when faced with a racist patrons, they do train staff to take it very seriously and chastize the patron, even write up an incident report. 
Seriously look at the handouts because they go through the training very well and if you want to have access to the full training, they will share it with you. 

I did want to end with the final LEARN acronym [also spelled out better on slides] 
Listen, Empathize, Advocate, Redirect [I was not a fan of this one, I would rather engage them], Notify [your manager for support and the prepare for further complaints].
They really stressed the "advocate" part. They want staff to tell our values  at  t he front desk. If we had focused on this earlier, we might not be in the trouble we are now. However, I wrote an argument to  this in my notes: the problem is even bigger now because the enemy knows our values and are using them against us.
 The last program I attended might have been one of the best I ever went to at a conference and I want to take my time with it. Beyond Late Fees: Eliminating Access Barriers For All Community Members, presented by Carrie, Valdes, Director of the Grand County Public Library is Moab, UT.
Click here for the slides.  The slides are good, but it was Valdes and her honesty about her journey that were amazing. And I will also say that one of the reasons I loved this program is because Valdes is clearly the same kind of leader I am- someone who asks the big questions and refuses to settle for the "but that's how we have always done it" argument. She is carefully and logically dismantling entire entrenched systems in a very conservative community because she is putting the patron experience first.
Okay, enough preamble. Let's begin. Valdess began by telling her story at Grand County PL.  She explained how entrenched not only fines were, but punitive action against people with overdue books. The country required they be served papers and have to go to court after a time punitive.
She shared a few very key transition points for herself. One was a family who came in for a library card. It was a stepmother and her 2 small kids. Their mother was in jail and had racked up fines. Because of this the kids could not get cards. She really wanted to waive the fines for the kids due to extenuating circumstances, but she was told they have to apply all rules to all people equally or else the exception become the rule.
Then she went to PLA in Philly in 2018 and heard Steve Pemberton's Big Ideas talk. He talked about how the library literally saved his life. He was able to go to the library for hours to escape his problem home, loose himself in books. On school holidays he would go as soon as she finished his chores and spend the entire day there. 
BUT, that night, she tossed and turned because while Pemberton's story inspired her, she realized that at her library, his story would be impossible because of numerous barriers:
  • They had a tight unattended minors policy and he came in alone. HE would have been stopped at the door at her library [Becky note: this is a huge inclusion issue and a very easy policy to nix quickly. At my library we removed this policy a few years ago for this reason.]
  • He spent school holidays at the library. They were closed every school holiday as well [Also something we removed a bunch of years ago. And the staff loved it because we replaced former school holiday closed days with days off they could use anytime instead. The parents could take off on school holidays and the non parents any other day they wanted.]
  • Pemberton got a library card through his school. She could not give a minor a card alone. He would need a state issue ID. Not only that, because of their punitive model for fines, she would also need the signature of a guaranteer. They county required there was someone to vouch for him to get items back "on time and inn perfect condition."
Valdes was turning these disturbing issues in her head as she went to the next day's big ideas where she saw Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert asked the group: "What are you willing to give up to  have the life  you  say you want." Which Valdes immediately turning into this question for herself, the Director  of her library: "What are you willing to give up to have the library you keep pretending you want?"

Becky aside: This is the quesstion we should all be asking ourselves. Stop making excuses. Start acting

Back to Valdes.

One more wake up call story. After she went back to work, still turning this big question in her head, there was an incident at the library and the police were called. The young police officer looked so familiar and then after they were done he said, "You people at the new library [it  was a newer building] are so much nicer than the old people. My mom hated the library. She wouldn't give us cards when we were little." And you guessed it, that police officer was  the boy from the story at the start. And she was that mean lady. She was devastated. That was the straw that broke the camel's back and she began acting.

The rest of the program was Valdes going over how they dismantled their barrier, but she was clear, it was a messy process. She did  all of the hard work as the Director. And she was honest, not every staff member came along with her on this journey. There has been turnover. But she  began with identifying the list of the things that the library was willing to give up:
  • Teaching responsibility: our job is not this, our job is to provide access to information. 
  • Protecting "our" collections: this is a Becky mantra as well, the collection belong to the community, why are we protecting their books from them?
  • Preventing Cheaters: who cares if someone worked the system to  get a car they do not deserve? Who is it hurting? Really no one. 
  • Seeking legal or other remedy for fines or unreturned items
  • Easily identifiable revenue systems
Ultimately it came down to Fairness vs Equality. The big questions: is treating everyone exactly the same fair? NO! These are big conversations for small town Utah.

She then went through each thing the library was willing to give-up. The Guiding Principles slide talked about privilege. They heard people say they could not afford to use  the library-- and this was not okay.

She had a county fee ordinance and there is a slide about  their old fee structure. Valdes made the goal of having the register say "$0" when she balanced it each night. She systematically attacked her fee and over time removed them from the list. Now note, she has to pass the county auditor. Here ish how she did them:
  • ILL fee for return postage: she sought a 1 year grant to cover postage. That removed it from the list for a year. The next year, she didn't put it back on the budget. Auditor only looks back 1 year, so..... you guessed it, they didn't ask where it went. [This is a total Becky move. I have done things exactly like this as well.]
  • They charge $1 for a card, to cover the plastic card. The state required everyone go to a standard barcode numbering system for cards. So they gave her library 10,000 cards to get started replacing. Because everyone HAD to get a new card, she argued for removing the $1 fee from the county ordinance list since they had 10,000. And you guessed it, she never put the fee back.
  • Fine free was a process. She started with just kids and slowly expanded it to all. This is a common practice. She also told the group -- you all went fine free for COVID, you know you can do it. 
  • The tough one-- seeking legal remedy. This was a bad practice. They would file charges when someone had too many books overdue. She told a  story which I will very quickly summarize: a home school mom who had too many books still out  was also a lawyer. Usually because got a court order and admitted they had the books or lost them and the court made them pay a fine. But this lady, asked for a bench trial. She claimed she returned the books and the library never checked them in and lost them [it was a bit more complicated but that's the main point] and after the trial, the judge said the library could not prove control of the books from the moment they were checked in until they would have been shelved. After this experience, Valdes did a cost benefit analysis-- interview police and country lawyer, etc,,, and she argued that the tax payers were better served if when things went long overdue they simply replaced the titles that they still wanted in the collection and deleted the others. Later she went into a longer discussion of how they handle this process in the catalog, with reports and card stops. When someone comes in to restart their card, they remove the hold.
Re this last bullet she said, and I bold: Fine free is fine but replacement costs have the same negative impact. The consequences of letting go-- one of our books is out in the community. That's it. Let it go. Later someone asked about people taking advantage and so far only one person has been suspended for doing it 3 times.

They also moved  to a giving a card without proof  of residency model [Becky: we did this at the library I worked at back int eh early 2000s. Our card was for 1 month and then the proof of  residency is if we mailed them a card and they got it. Once they got it in mail it was a full service card. We also went to every school and gave each kid a card because if in that school, they had already proved residency and parents could use it as well. Many of our residents were not legal citizens and even though we were very clear that we did not care, they were  still nervous. This was  they got access too.]

Valdes' card was for only 1 year. She simply asked people the vague question: Do you live here? If they said yes, sh gave them a card that was valid for 1 year, with a 5 book limit at a time. Could be renewed for free annually.

Big question: If someone wants to use your library, why would you tell them no! Becky: this question I love. This question I live as a member of the Universal Services committee for my system. We are using this model of chipping away. In IL our committee has helped to get a free card for every kid in an unnerved library area  who is also on free lunch a library card. We are about to get this for every single person under 18 and the next stop is every single person. So anyone reading this who thinks this can't happen. You are wrong. Yes, I am IL, but she is super rural Utah-- 2 hours to a Walmart rural [her words].

She made these changes by staying just under the radar and putting the patron first. Her next steps are their checkout limits which are only 10 at a time. Becky comment: I took out 20 picture books at a time minimum. And institutional Barries like Dewey. 

And finally she said that she realizes that she has to be willing to accept the risk. She warns her #2  every time she is going to try a new thing that she better be ready to be the Director if Valdes gets fired. 

Valdes told many more stories to support her work. She was a wonderful speaker and an inspiration of a woman. I have been in her position and pushed back not he rules [as a supervisor] and was called out by the administration. When chastised, I told them, "okay, so fire me." They never did because I was right and was putting the patrons first. Yes it is a privilege to be this bold, and risk your job, but look, why are you doing this public library work. It is not for the paycheck because there are a million other jobs right now. Make a decision for yourself. Are you going to uphold systemic oppression or fight it. Clearly, I have made my choice, and also clearly, I am not alone.

I went to Kal Penn after this program for the closing session, and he was very good ass well, but Valdes' presentation was the one that will stay with me as the capping moment of my conference. I literally will never forget her. After the program, she was mobbed with people talking to her. I found her staff, who were sitting in the front to support her,  and told them how inspiring they were and what a wonderful, clear, and replicable approach Values provided. I gave them my card and said I was interested in talking to her more after conference. I really am. I am going to hook her up with my book editor at ALA Editions. This is a model that can finally allow the average, conservative, tiny library to stop hiding behind barriers and finally live up to the true inclusive mission of the public library.


wife2abadge said...

I love it! We have no fines, let people claim they returned books without charge (unless it gets to be ridiculously excessive), give people cards without residency proof (we mail them a post card too), give minors no-cosigner cards, and have free printing. We've been doing it several years and we're still thriving!

Anonymous said...

I read your emails and posts pretty much every day and greatly appreciate your work, and learn a lot from them. In today’s post, you provide a link to an article in the Kansas City Star about the resignation of Mid-Continent Library System Director Steven Potter. That article is behind a paywall. I wanted to know the story, so I searched for an article that is not behind a paywall, and found one here: http://www.gladstonedispatch.com/library-director-retiring-after-conflict-with-board/article_41befc53-1ee8-57ae-80de-a7cc040469a6.html. I know you are busy, but if you have a minute, it would be great if you replaced the link so that people can learn the details of this important story. Respectfully,
Charlie, Adult Services Librarian, Pima County Public Library

Becky said...

Thank you Charlie. Back at the time of the event it was still available for free. I GREATLY appreciate you doing this for me. I have replaced the link above.