Tag Archives: Libraries

Interview with Jessica Rollerson pt. 3

Happy New Year and welcome to the third and final part of my interview with Jessica Rollerson.  Today, Jessica will share her tips for dealing with challenging patrons.

Interview with Jessica Rollerson pt. 3

As a specialist in Behavior Management, do you have any tips for dealing with difficult people in the library, either staff members or problem patrons?
When I worked in larger library we had many mentally ill patrons. Many of these people did not appear to have disabilities but presented themselves in a challenging way. One woman in particular was very difficult to please. She always seemed very angry with us and we noticed she was usually using our computers to write letters of complaint to one senator or another. I offered to work with her whenever she came in and I approached her the same way I have asked people I supervised to approach their least favorite clients: love them! If you approach any person as if you absolutely love them and can’t wait to find out more about them, you start putting out fires. Allow yourself to become fascinated by them. Often, they have a story to tell and the service you provide as a librarian is thatyou hear their story. This allows you to better understand what library services they need. This woman had lost her children due to schizophrenia. She was heartbroken and did not
understand why she had lost them. She was writing letters to senators to ask for help. I offered her a word processor away from the busy first floor. This helped her feel less agitated. I then helped her find the phone numbers for some mental health services in our town. Her anger at the library dissolved and she fell in love with us! You never know what the patron needs until you can find a way to listen to them.

What do you feel is the most common behavioral problem in libraries?
Overly nervous librarians! Oh- did you mean the kids? Honestly, whenever I start seeing the behaviors from kids as “problems” I’m already in trouble. That’s my sign that I need a cup of tea and some chocolate! Behaviors from kids are directions for me. When I see kids arguing over a computer it might be a sign that I need more laptops or a better sign-up system. Kids running through the building might be telling me they need a dance party or for me to help them set up their own school where they are the teachers and the stuffed animals are the students. I always try to see behaviors as instructions for me.

What are some tricks you use when you are starting to lose your patience with a difficult young patron?
I am pretty honest with the kids. If I find myself feeling crabby, I tell the kids that. “Andy, I’m actually kind of crabby today and your yelling is really making it worse. Will you help me?” Because I have a good relationship with these kids and they care about me, they tend to try pretty hard to help me just as I help them. Another trick I use is to keep my enemies close. If a kid is having a particularly tough time, I pull them in and invite them to do something with me. Maybe they will help me shelve books, mend a stuffed animal or make a card for their mom. If a child is asking for attention, I give it to them. Finally, I schedule my day so I won’t be trying to answer emails at 2pm when the school children arrive. I know that from 2-4 in the afternoon is my time to be present with my patrons. That way, I’m having fun along with them.

Jessica, thank you so much for your insights!  It was so much fun to talk with you 🙂


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Interview with Jessica Rollerson pt. 2

Sydney. Fireworks Newyear 2006. Opera House an...

Sydney. Fireworks Newyear 2006. Opera House and Harbour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy New Year’s Eve and welcome to part 2 of my interview with Jessica Rollerson.  Yesterday, we got to know a little about Jessica and her reading preferences, and today she will share her thoughts about programming at the library.

Interview with Jessica Rollerson pt. 2

How can libraries create a “low-tech” makerspace for their young patrons?
Open the closets and ask for donations! Our kids know that they are welcome to anything in the closet. They also know (I don’t know how because I didn’t teach them this on purpose) that they have to ask me to get it. And we ask for donations. Yarn, fabric, hinges, springs; these are all things people are willing to donate and kids know how to use.

What are some of the benefits of giving kids control during programs?                                                                                                                                                    

The benefit of giving kids control of a program is that you automatically are providing each patron with the program they need. That said, I think the kids here know that I’m the boss and that I allow them a lot of freedom…on my terms. It seems chaotic down here but most of the time I know what each child is working on. If they are not engaged in a project that belongs at the library, I work with them to get them there. I’m great with busy, messy, loud and exciting. I’m not into chaos at all.

What is your take on the concept of “unprogramming”?
Unprogramming is a great approach.I read about it on, “The Show Me Librarian.”  They have a great guide to Unprogramming. http://showmelibrarian.blogspot.com/2013/07/unprogramming-part-6-collection-of.html

It’s really about letting the kids lead and moving away from telling them what’s good for them. It’s sort of akin to unschooling- an approach in which one allows her children to naturally acquire education as they naturally would as curious little creatures. It requires some faith on our part!

Thank you, Jessica!  Please join us tomorrow for the final part of the interview, when Jessica will discuss tips for dealing with challenging patrons.

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Show me the Awesome: 5 tips for program promotion


Artwork by John LeMasney, lemasney.com

Today I’m participating in Show me the Awesome:  30 Days of Self-Promotion, co-hosted by Kelly, Sophie, and Liz.  All this month, librarians are showing us what makes them awesome.  Thank you for this wonderful series–I’ve gotten a lot out of reading the posts so far.  If you are interested in seeing posts from some awesome librarians, I’ve linked to Kelly and Sophie’s intro posts above.

I work in the Youth Services Department in my library, which means interacting with babies, kids, tweens, and teens on a daily basis.  To avoid saying “babies/kids/tweens/teens” in this post, I’ve chosen the term “young patrons” which includes anyone from birth to 18.

I believe that patrons are the future of libraries.  Sure, someday we might go completely digital and the shelves will be empty, but that doesn’t mean the library will be.  Programs are one of the most exciting parts of library life because they provide the opportunity for people to get together, make connections, and learn.  So, what’s the best way to promote your awesome programs to your community? (because, after all, it might be the most awesome plan in the world, but if no one shows up, it won’t matter).

1.  Listen to their opinions and try to incorporate them as much as possible

Some of their ideas will be inspired and fantastic—ideas you never would have come up with on your own. Other ideas will be crazy (and, in most cases, not feasible for the library setting). If the ideas are doable, by all means, try to implement them! This will give your young patrons a greater sense of involvement and even a sense of ownership for the program. If the idea is way out there (reading on the roof of the library comes to mind), applaud the creativity of the idea and explain why it isn’t feasible at this time (or ever). Sometimes crazy ideas have a good idea at the center, so if you can remove the more outlandish aspects, there might be something great there. So, maybe reading on the roof is out, but reading on the front lawn might be an excellent plan.

2.  Be flexible

What do you do if you’ve planned a book club meeting and hardly anyone has actually read the book? Don’t despair! I think that it’s important to be prepared for a program, but flexible enough to throw that plan out the window and talk about a book that everyone has read, or ask everyone for one reading recommendation. It may not have taken the turn you had expected, but it’s still a great book club meeting, because the group is sharing a love of reading and discussing books. Go with it.

3.  Don’t have a specific outcome in mind at the beginning

This goes along with #2. I always try to have more activities than I need in case something doesn’t work. I bring an agenda to most programs, mostly to keep myself organized and to make sure that I don’t forget to share important announcements with the group. Lately, I’ve noticed that I usually have an activity or two left over due to a later start time or an activity early on that captures their interest (and our time) more than I expected it would. Instead of being disappointed that we didn’t get through everything on “my plan”, I take it as a compliment that the kids were so absorbed in what they were doing, we didn’t have time for everything. There will be a program in the future where you can use leftover ideas (or repeat activities that were a big hit the first time around)

4.  Give your patrons control

Young people are busy.  They have soccer practice, piano lessons, drama club, and a million other things to fill their schedules (not to mention homework).  So, why would they want to take time out of their lives to come to a library program?  They’re not going to get in trouble if they don’t go.  It’s not required.  And that’s exactly what gives a library program the advantage.  There are no requirements.

Here’s an example from my library:

When the 5th grade book club members moved up to 6th grade last year, they grew out of the age bracket for the book club (which spans grades 3-5).  They needed something different, and not necessarily an older version of book club.  So, I lobbied for an undefined middle school group that would meet once a month.  With the support of management, we had our first meeting.  The program was new and unformed, and even though I had many ideas that I would like to explore (Graphic novel club!  Short story discussions!  Read-a-thon!) I held back and asked the kids what they wanted from the group.  I tried to leave as many of the decisions as I could up to them.  What should we name the group?  What is our purpose?  What would we like to accomplish?

I found out that a couple of them wanted to read a book each month to discuss, but the majority was not interested or did not have time for this.  The group included amazing artists, filmmakers, musicians, and scientists.  All of them were avid readers.  The group was named (after much debate) The Bibliophile Read-a-force.

We are still finding our way and trying to decide where we want to go.  This month, we will be participating in a 6 hour Read-a-thon fundraiser, which will benefit the group.  When we start up meetings again in the fall, we’ll have our own budget to make movies, draw comics, or do whatever else strikes our fancy.

I still suggest ideas, but I’m careful to judge their reactions and let my idea serve as the jumping off point.  For example, the Read-a-thon idea was mine, but I thought they would want to do a 2-3 hour session.  Boy, was I wrong!  They convinced me that 6 hours was much better, and we went with their decision.

The Bibliophile Read-a-Force Logo Copyright 2013 E. Henry

The Bibliophile Read-a-Force Logo
Copyright 2013 E. Henry

It may not be realistic to completely hand over program planning to young patrons, but they will love the chance to have a say in what goes on whenever possible.  Letting them name the group, create a logo and slogan for it and give their opinions about activities is like saying “I want to hear what you think.”  Giving them a chance to participate will make them understand that the library belongs to the community.  It’s also a good way to ensure attendance.  After all, how can you miss a program that you helped create?

5.  Remind yourself of the program’s purpose:

-to have fun

-to learn (without adhering to learning results)

-to foster a sense of community

-to give patrons a chance to actively participate.

Making sure to keep all of these points in mind will ensure that:

Patrons will promote programs they enjoy

It can be challenging to promote library programs, especially when there isn’t much of a budget for it. Using the library’s website and facebook page with the occasional radio or TV ad is a good place to start, but I’ve found that patrons will promote programs they enjoy to friends and family.  Pretty soon, a small group of kids has grown to include their friends and siblings (plus others who have heard about the program through other means).  When thinking about program promotion, never underestimate the power of word of mouth.


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What’s in a name?

The mysterious literary society…The Tragic Treehouse…The Monstrous Gorilla.  What do these names have in common?  They are all possible names for the new program for middle school students at the Ellsworth Public Library.  The group met for the first time on Friday to brainstorm names and figure out how the group should be structured.

Here are a couple of pictures from our meeting:

Apples with caramel sauce was the snack of the day.

And, as you can see in the picture above, we used a library resource, Chase’s Calendar of Events, to look up random things that happened on our birthdays.  The book also lists celebrity birthdays, which were fun to look up.  If you want to give it a try, this website lists fun holidays and celebrity birthdays for today.

After talking about some upcoming program and fundraiser ideas (I see a read-a-thon in our future…) we went on a behind the scenes tour of the library that included the storage area, staff lounge and offices that are usually off-limits.

There is so much potential for this group and the members have already come up with some great ideas for projects.  Now we just have to settle on a name.

Youth Services Librarians:  do any of you have a program for middle school students?  If so, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments!

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Zombies on the loose!



No one was safe this afternoon at the Ellsworth Public Library as two zombies and one zombiologist (one who studies the undead) roamed the building, chanting “Brains…BRAINS!”

Despite their fearful appearance, the zombies seemed reasonable and did not actually attack patrons.  Instead, they attended a party to mark the end of the teen summer reading party.

Congrats to all teens who won prizes and participated in the Summer Reading Program!


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Magazine Spotlight: Mental Floss

Mental Floss is a relatively new edition to the Ellsworth Public Library’s teen magazine collection.  If you love to stun people with random (and sometimes weird) factoids, then this is the magazine for you!  Each issue has a theme (this month’s is “perfection”).

If you need a break, check out their list of “15 Spectacular Libraries in Europe

I think this one is the only one I’ve been to, but I would love to see them all!  Is anyone up for a European Library Vacation??

Which one of these libraries is at the top of your list to visit?  Please let me know in the comments!


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A Librarian’s Ten Commandments

Here is what I’ve learned so far during my time as a librarian at the Ellsworth Public Library:

A Librarian’s Ten Commandments

1.  Thou shalt not be afraid of technology (from any era)

As a digital native, I feel pretty comfortable with technology.  In fact, I feel a little uncomfortable without it.  I am by no means a tech wizard, but I have a good working knowledge of computers, and can usually intuitively figure out the solution to small glitches.  However, I was still a little apprehensive about one machine in the library: the microfilm machine.  It doesn’t act like a computer…it’s from a time before computers.  Every so often, someone will come into the library and ask for help with the microfilm machine.

The former bane of my library existence

In the past I was quick to say “oh, I’m not sure how to use the machine.  Let me find another librarian to help you with that.”  After avoiding it for a while, I decided it was time to learn the ancient art of microfilm.  Once a fellow librarian showed me how to load the machine and scan through the articles, I realized it wasn’t that hard–I had been intimidated by the loud whirring noises and the possibility that I could irreparably damage the film.  Now I can not only use the machine myself, but I can actually teach someone else how to use it.  I’ve heard that is the mark of absorbed knowledge–if you can explain it to someone else, you probably know it inside out.  Librarians must strive master all technology, from microfilm to microchips.

2.  Thou shalt read and read and read

I have always loved to read, but now I read more and for different reasons.  Yes, sometimes it’s still for pure escapism, but more often than not, I’m reading up on something that I want to learn more about (see commandment #7), or, I’m reading YA novels so I’ll have a good one to recommend to our regular teen patrons, or I’m going through a stack of picture books to pick some out for story time.  Reading has become another form of communication as well as a networking tool.  I ask “oh, have you read that, too?” many times each day and forge new connections through common reading preferences.

3.  Thou shalt be prepared to ask for help

Every day at least one question comes my way that I have no idea how to answer.  I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with asking someone for help (usually a coworker) as long as I’ve given it my best shot first.  Fortunately, I work with very helpful people who are used to my plentiful questions, and who know how to follow the next commandment:

4.  Thou shalt have patience

People can be frustrating.  Some of them don’t listen:  if they don’t hear what they want to hear, they ignore you.  I have learned that it is best just to remain calm and try to understand when dealing with an unhappy person.  After their rant is over, I try to get more information, and sometimes I can come up with another solution that helps the situation.  When the patron clearly doesn’t want to work on an alternative solution, having patience is still the best choice.  It doesn’t help either of us if I lose my temper.  I like to assume that everyone has a bad day once in a while and mentally give them a “get out of jail card.”

Image from: nowpublic.com

Some people seem to need more of those cards than others.

5.  Thou shalt not stop until thou findeth the answer

Before I became a librarian, I might google something and then move on to something else if I didn’t immediately find the answer.  Now I won’t rest until the “mystery question” has been solved.  Patrons come in with all sorts of questions (everything from “Can you freeze corn chowder?” to “Where can I find out more about Vermeer?”) and I use all means available to me to answer those questions.  In the digital age, librarians may no longer be seen as the “keeper of the keys” to knowledge, but we can still help people navigate the overwhelming wealth of information at their fingertips.

6.  Thou shalt not be partial

Yes, I have favorite patrons.  I brighten up when certain people come through the door, but I try not to treat anyone better than anyone else.  Everyone who comes through the library doors deserves to be treated equally and deserves the same level of attention and assistance.

7.  Thou shalt be inquisitive

The wide variety of reference questions I hear every day has inspired me to ask more questions (a real feat considering that I ask a lot of questions to begin with).  I find myself googling for my dad during our conversations and going out of my way to look things up for myself.  During my day, I tend to file away questions (like, “how do murmurations work?” and “did David Foster Wallace ever write an autobiography?”…the answer to that one, sadly, is “no”) to look up during a research session.

8.  Thou shalt keep an open mind

The old adage don’t judge a book by its cover is a multipurpose one in libraries.  Whether it means trying a book that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea or refraining from judging people based on first impressions, an open mind is essential.

9.  Thou shalt change with the times

This one is closely related to commandment #8.  As librarians, we must strive to go with the flow and adapt ourselves to the changing times.  For example, the popularity of ebooks suggests that it is a trend that will grow in the future.  Personally, I was raised on real books, and I still prefer them.  But, I also realize that I should try to jump on board, if not in my personal life, then at least in my professional one.  At first, it was extremely difficult for me to imagine a world without real books.  Nostalgia for the “classic reading experience” aside, what would happen to libraries?  After reading up on the subject and hearing what others in the library community have to say, I can picture libraries with plenty of sunlit rooms for studying, reading and visiting with others.  I can see the reallocation of resources to provide a wide variety of programs and other resources to our patrons.  Imagining this kind of library makes me look forward to the future. Sometimes it’s just about allowing yourself to open up to a new idea.

10.  Thou shalt remember how much we can learn from others

Sometimes the answer can’t be found in a book (or even on Google).  Sometimes the answer lies in a person, it’s just a matter of finding out who you need to talk to.  Literally, this could relate to a reference question (for example, asking someone who was around during the time of the Ellsworth Fire to see what she remembers about it).  Or, more figuratively, for me it means it’s important to look at people and really try to listen to what they have to say.  I spend all day with stories, but no matter how fantastic or believable they are, there is something static and finished about them. We can learn so much from others if we take the time to stop and really listen to the constantly evolving stories that each of us is living out each day.

I linked the example questions in this post (which are, by the way, either real questions from patrons, or myself) to their respective answers.  I couldn’t stand the thought of using a question (even just as an example) without providing the answer! 🙂


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