Category: libraries

The End of an Era: Stepping Down from the Maine Library Association Presidency

I had my last meeting as part of the Maine Library Association presidency today. It’s hard to believe it’s been six years that I’ve been doing this. Six years! So much has changed in that time. I remember first getting the phone call from the incoming president, asking if I’d be interested and willing to serve in the presidency (as Vice President for two years, President for two years, and then Past President for two years). It was a big commitment, especially for someone who had just been in the Maine library world for less than six years.

In the time since then, I’ve had five different bosses. I’ve changed jobs two or three jobs (at the same institution). It’s been a huge learning curve for me, and I can point to so many things that I’ve gotten better at through the opportunity to assume that leadership role in the state. A stark example would be conference planning. When I came on as VP, I suddenly found out it was up to me to set up the annual conference. That first year was very rocky (for a number of reasons), but when I contrast it with the conference I set up yesterday for Maine Academic Libraries Day, the difference is night and day. People kept coming up to me to thank me for setting it up so well, and I just didn’t feel like the thanks were that necessary. I found some presenters, arranged for food and rooms, emailed to promote it, had multiple meetings to coordinate it, negotiated some vendor sponsorship . . .

When I rattle off the things I did, it suddenly does sound significant, which is just a sign to me of how much I’ve learned being part of the presidency.

The organization itself has changed a ton as well. When I came on, we had around 300 members. Now we’re over 600. Six years ago, we were losing money, with our sole reliable “income stream” being membership dues. Now, we have multiple successful conferences that pay for themselves and bring in funds to help cover other important initiatives. We’re taking on new responsibilities and tackling new projects, like revising the public library standards for the state.

Through my time on MLA, I’ve gotten to know so many more awesome librarians across the state, to the point that I almost always feel like there’s someone close by I could reach out to for help, should I be anywhere in Maine. I know what libraries are struggling with, and where they’re excelling. I know about the challenges we face locally, across the state, and nationally.

It’s all come with a cost, of course. Weekly teleconferences. Board meetings every other month. Committee work across the gauntlet. When I first came on, we began weekly presidency meetings. For the first two years, it was just me and the president. Then we added a new VP for the next two years, and then I shifted to the past president role for the last two. It’s to the point now that those meetings are a permanent fixture (at least, that’s how it feels to me). We found a new Executive Director, revised the bylaws, and I learned much more about Roberts Rules of Order than I ever wanted to.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m grateful for the chance I had to make an impact, and happy the impact appears to have been a positive one. I still plan on being involved with MLA however I can help. Its mission is near to my heart for multiple reasons.

To all those who’ve helped me over the past six years, a huge thank you. It’s very much a group effort. I’d call you out by name, but I’ll hold back. For one thing, not everyone’s comfortable being name dropped on a blog without permission, and for another, I would inevitably forget someone hugely important. But I really am thankful for all the help I’ve gotten these six years, and the awesome things we’ve come together to achieve. I’m sure there’s even more awesomeness to come.

Go Maine Libraries!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

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Good Intentions Don’t Make a Bad Law Better

A few months ago, a Maine lawmaker’s 12th grade son was assigned to read a graphic novel in school: Kafka on the Shore. It’s not an obscure book. It won the World Fantasy Award in 2006, appeared on the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2005, and has received a fair bit of acclaim.

It also contains explicit depictions of sex and rape.

The lawmaker was shocked by the assigned reading, and so she decided to do something about it, proposing LD 94, a bill which would make it illegal to provide obscene material to children in school. (Which has since been amended to make it so educators must alert parents that materials have objectionable content, and parents have to opt in to let their children access it.) Educators who fail to do so can be charged with a Class C felony, which carries a sentence of up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

A few comments. First, I have not read the book in question. Frankly, I don’t think the specific book in question should enter into the discussion, since this isn’t a proposed law to declare Kafka on the Shore an obscene work. Rather, we need to look at what this law would do and what its implications would be.

I get very uncomfortable the moment laws start bandying around words like “obscene.” Maine already has a law prohibiting the dissemination of obscene materials to minors. (It has an exception for materials that are provided for educational purposes, so it exempts libraries, public school, universities, etc. from that law. This amendment looks to take “public school” off the list of educational exemptions, which is ironic.) In the law, “obscene” is defined as material which:

(1) To the average individual, applying contemporary community standards, with respect to what is suitable material for minors, considered as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
(2) Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive manner, ultimate sexual acts, excretory functions, masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals; and
(3) Considered as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

(And never mind that Kafka on the Shore wouldn’t qualify as obscene under this guideline, because as I said, this isn’t about the book in question. It’s about the greater implications of the law.)

This definition is hard to meet, making it really only applicable in blatant cases of obscenity. That’s just fine by me, because I have seen far too many examples of times when someone else’s definition of “obscene” was far different than my own. (True story: when I worked at Orem Public Library, there were numerous times people came to the desk wondering why we didn’t put ratings on the books. “Just like with movies.” They wanted some restricted so that certain ages couldn’t check them out. Pro tip: asking a librarian to start censoring the collection or limiting it in anyway is a good way to get ignored. We’re kind of all about freedom of information.)

In the end, this bill is unnecessary and a huge overreach. It’s using a bazooka to solve a simple problem. There are already mechanisms in place for individual schools to have books challenged and decided on at a local level. There’s no need to blow up the entire system of how things work in public schools just because one parent didn’t like the way that system worked. The Maine Library Association spoke out strongly against this bill, and I’m 100% in agreement with them.

I have nothing against people deciding what sort of things they do and do not want their family to read, watch, or listen to. I was assigned a book my senior year of high school (Rabbit, Run, by John Updike). As I read it, I was uncomfortable with its depictions of sex. I went to my teacher and asked for an alternative assignment. She gave me Quentin Durward, instead. It was great. No big fuss needed. No big hullabaloo made. When it comes to my approach as a parent, I keep an eye on what my kids read and watch. I have conversations with them about things they’re consuming. I’m an active part in it. These days, my experience leads me to believe parents should be far more worried about what their kids can see online than what they’re getting in school. But if there is something that comes up that makes a family or student uncomfortable, there’s a system to challenge it.

Here’s hoping this bill comes to a quick and painless end.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

A Report on MLA Annual

Sorry for the lack of posts the last few days. I was off at the annual Maine Library Association conference at Sunday River. This year we had a pre-conference as well, so it’s been a very busy weekend. Thankfully, it’s also been relatively stress-free, since we’ve got such a great conference committee running things. If you would have asked me six years ago, when I was just getting involved with MLA, if the time would ever come when running a conference for 185 people over three days wouldn’t have felt like that big of a deal, I would have said you were crazy. It was something entirely out of my realm of experience. And yet here we are, at the end of another very successful conference, and I’m now to the point where I’ve actually been going around volunteering to help organize other conferences.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me.

(Although really, it’s not that big of a deal when you break down what you need to do. Find a venue. Figure out how much it’ll cost to rent the rooms and pay for the food. Divide that cost among the number of people you expect will come. Be pessimistic. Figure out programming and keynotes. Promote it to death. No big deal, right?)

As I’ve done in the past, here’s a brief rundown on some of the things I did at this year’s conference:

  • Presented (to one extent or another) on four different panels. I was on one focused on library technology trends, one discussing the New Commons Project, one for Maine authors (as Bryce Moore), and then helped with one about Maine Academic Libraries. All of them went quite well. Good attendance, good exchange of information.
  • Competed in my first ever Battledecks challenge. If you haven’t heard of this before (I hadn’t), it’s essentially free-style powerpoint, done for humor. Someone makes up powerpoint presentations ahead of time (8 slides each), and then you get up and give a presentation around those slides, sight unseen. It ended up being hilarious and a ton of fun. 6 people competed, and they all did a fantastic job. (And apparently my finely honed ability to talk my way through and out of anything came in handy, as I took first place.)
  • Ate far too much food. Apple smoothies, oreo brownies, gourmet donuts, fancy pizza, french toast, pulled pork sandwiches, fruit, ginger carrot soup. The list goes on. As much as I say the event isn’t stressful, my weight says different. (But I’m going back on a diet for the rest of October. Not kidding!)
  • Saw a slew of friends. I’ve been active in the library community of Maine now for long enough that I forget just how many people I know. I really don’t think of myself as an extrovert, but when I know people already, I’m very comfortable going up and talking to them. And actually, as I thought over how the conference went and what all I did at it, I began to wonder if shoehorning myself into “Introvert” category isn’t really valid anymore. Don’t get me wrong. I still came home and wanted to just be by myself someplace quiet for the whole evening, but I can also excel in social situations, and it’s time I start acknowledging it.
  • Rarely breathed outside air. Conferences can also be pretty stifling. I think I got outside for all of . . . ten minutes over the three days? It was great to have a bit of a walk outside as I came into work today.
  • Heard some great keynotes. The first was on the way the press can navigate today’s “Fake News” minefield, and the second was on just how fast the world is changing these days. (If you’re trying to make long term plans based on how life was five or ten years ago, you’re setting yourself up for failure.)

Of course, when I come home from an event like that, I’ve missed a bunch of work by being away, and I’m also exhausted, so coming back into the grind is doubly difficult. But for this, it’s very much worth it. It’s a conference I’ve begun to look forward to more and more each year, and I’m very happy to see so many people feel the same way. (This year was our best attended since I’ve been involved in them!)

In any case, thanks to all who contributed, participated, and showed up. It was a great time, and I’m already excited for next year.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

 

A Report on National Library Legislative Day

I’m sitting at the airport waiting for my now delayed plane to arrive (of course), so why not take a bit of time to tell you lovely people how things went yesterday. As a refresher, I’ve been in DC to meet with Maine’s Senators and Representatives in hopes of getting them to support libraries as strongly as possible. It’s part of the American Library Association’s National Library Legislative Day.

Really, they have it down to an art form. We had a big conference on Monday to go over the main talking points they wanted everyone to push when they met their representatives. Last year it was a laundry list of about 8 or 9 points. This year, they had boiled it down to just three: Reauthorize the Institute of Museum and Library Services, support an open internet with greater reach of broadband, and come out and visit a library the next time they’re back home.

These visits usually only last about fifteen minutes, and some of that is eaten up with introductions, etc, so it was great to be able to keep things focused. Last year, I’d left feeling like we’d had a fine set of meetings, but not necessarily that we’d accomplished anything groundbreaking. This year, it felt different. We met in person with Senators King and Collins and Representatives Poliquin and Pingree. All of them were attentive and eager to support libraries. True, it’s an election year, so the cynic in me says they’d all be more likely to be receptive no matter what, but it didn’t feel like that.

I was particularly impressed with the depth of knowledge Senator Collins had for funding libraries, and how well versed Senator King was with the issues around broadband. Everyone we met with was respectful and gushing about how much they loved libraries, and they all said they’d support our requests.

Representative Poliquin took us over to the House, where we got to go inside and watch the floor debate. (Side note: they did a vote by voice while we were there. It was just like the voice vote for the school budget, right down to each side yelling as loudly as possible to make themselves sound more numerous than the opposition. I found that amusing.)

In any case, it was a good trip. I really do feel like we accomplished something, and I’m very pleased I had the chance to come down. At times it’s too easy to assume laws are passed by people who don’t care and just listen to the loudest lobbyists. This year, meeting with everyone in person, I didn’t feel like that. It felt like they all cared about the issues and wanted to know as much as possible about them. That was encouraging.

We had a great delegation of people down with us from Maine (five in all), and I had a very good time. A special shout out goes to our State Librarian, Jamie Ritter, who coordinated the whole show and did a fantastic job guiding each conversation. I was very impressed with his poise and tact, regardless of whom we were meeting with. A huge chunk of the reason for our success is due to his efforts.

Thanks for reading!

Legislating It Up

I’m back down in DC for the next few days, attending National Library Legislative Day once again. If you forgot from last time, that means I’m down with a contingent from Maine, learning about the issues the American Library Association wants to push on with Congress. That’s on today’s slate: the learning. Tomorrow, I’ll be meeting with Senators King and Collins and Representative Pingree (no word on whether Poliquin is making time for us yet) to do the actual pushing.

On the one hand, it sounds far more Important than it feels like in real life, speaking from some experience now. We’ll sit down with their aides mostly, going over our talking points. And we’ll meet with the Congresspeople themselves for ten minutes or so, most likely. On the other hand, this is how things get done. You meet with people and say what’s important to you, and you remind them that there are a lot of other people who think the same way you do.

It’s pretty cool to see it all play out. To see all those librarians from across the country (each state sends its own delegates) gather together one day to get On Message, and then to see them all scurrying around Capitol Hill the next, spreading that message far and wide. It’s a well oiled machine, and all I have to really do is step in and not screw things up.

So anyway, if I’m less present on social media or whatever until Wednesday, now you know why. Thanks for reading!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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