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Erica Gamble Management of Libraries & Information Centers Summer I June 23, 2011
"I am telling young people that if you're dissatisfied with the way things are...get out there and occupy these positions in government and make the decisions." Barbara Jordan
(Oak Park Public Library, Children's Room, west wall and stairwell)1
Oak Park was founded on the edge of Chicago in the early 19th century. Many of the first Oak Park residents lived and worked in Chicago, but wanted to move their families away from rowdy saloons, rugged swamp lands, and rampant government corruption. Since then, the Village of Oak Park has endured a legacy as “a special community where new standards were set for other communities to follow.”2 Historically, Oak Park is an inclusive community; particularly in the 1960s when residents from Chicago's segregated black neighborhoods began to migrate to the village. Rather than isolate the black population from the white, initiatives from both government and private collectives inspired blacks to move to all areas of the village. Established residents were encouraged to be friendly and diversity integration was a success!3 Nearly a century after its founding, the Village of Oak Park persists as a symbol of acceptance, diversity, and democracy in mid-west America. Oak Park Public Library
"Isn't it strange That however I change, I still keep on being me?" Eve Merriam, "Me, Myself and I" from Rainbow Writing
(OPPL, Children's Room, west wall)4
The Oak Park Public Library (OPPL) was built in 1888 as a gift to the village from James Wilmarth Scoville.5 A few years after the library was built, Oak Park residents decided to use tax dollars to fund the library, then known as the Scoville Institute. Decades later, some Oak Park residents realized that the space in the library was too crowded and potentially unsafe. It took many years and great effort from concerned citizens to pass the referendum to rebuild the library; the plan was finally embraced by the community in 1961. The 1.5 story library building was
reopened in 1964 providing Oak Park library patrons with a much larger and safer place to study, read for pleasure, and meet with friends and neighbors. Of course OPPL librarians continued to provide excellent service, especially in their responsiveness to the evolving information needs of patrons. In addition to incorporating audiovisual materials, resources for the visually impaired, and computers into the library, a children's department was added! Again, OPPL facilities became too crowded; library staff had to move their offices from the second floor to the basement. In 1999, another referendum needed to be approved by a majority of the Village's 52,000 taxpayers6 to expand the main library building once more. By this time in Oak Park's history, residents were fully aware of the positive community impact of the library. OPPL anticipated citizens' concerns and articulated the many benefits of expanding the footprint of the main library building as well as accelerating the construction of the Maze branch on the library website.7 In March 2000, local news sources endorsed the expansion of the library. Later in March, the referendum was passed.8 On October 1, 2003, the Main branch of OPPL was reopened to the public.9 OPPL's commitment to excellent public service was reenergized alongside its modern, refurbished facilities. With three library branches (Main, Maze, and Dole) in the four-and-a-half square mile radius of Oak Park, residents are always within walking distance of one of these distinguished libraries.10 The Oak Park Public Library Children's Department
"In the fall of 1905, Ernest and I entered the first grade at the old Lowell School on Lake Street... Our rented house stood right next to the public library, called the Scoville Institute, and by Christmas-time, we were both able to read books in the children's room of the library. When school was over, we would sit at the low tables in our small chairs devouring the simple stories available to us until the librarian sent us home at suppertime." Marcelline Hemingway Sandford, from At the Hemingways
(Children's Room, west wall and stairwell)11
Walk through the doors of OPPL's Main branch, pass the stairwell, and make a right. At
once, the kaleidoscopically enchanting Children's Department invites both children and adults to enter. Families and children from birth through fifth grade12 can explore a learning “playground” among the child-sized bookshelves, vibrant and flexible furniture, activity and computer stations, and quiet study rooms. Summertime is upon us; this means children are on summer vacation and OPPL's Summer Reading Program (SRP) is in full bloom! The children's SRP theme this year is One World, Many Stories. Inflatable globes, maps, vintage travel posters, multicultural artifacts, and cardboard likenesses of famous world landmarks have transformed the children's library into a portal to humanity's cultural pluralism. How does a children's library implement such an elaborate program that serves between two- and three-thousand children annually? To answer this question, I have observed and interrogated two of the dynamic and experienced children's librarian's at OPPL. Heather McCammond-Watts: Head of Children's Services
"I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can't accept not trying." Michael Jordan, from I Can't Accept Not Trying
(Children's Room, west wall and stairwell)13
Heather McCammond-Watts received her Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She began working as a children's librarian at OPPL seven years ago and was selected to be the Head of Children's Services three years ago to manage Children's Department operations at Main, Maze, and Dole.14 Heather was compassionate enough to pencil me into her busy summer schedule and answer my questions about children's librarianship, library management, and the cooperative culture of OPPL and the Children's Department. Philosophy of Children's Librarianship Oak Park's vision of setting model standards resonates strongly within Heather's
Gamble philosophy of children's librarianship. In honor of Oak Park residents' continuous support of the library, Heather's primary goal is to support Children's Department staff with the resources they need to provide the most excellent service to children and families. Heather knows that when children come into the library, they want to walk out with something that they are excited about be it a book, magazine, CD, DVD, or a memorable experience. According to Heather, mediocre books have no place in a budget/space limited Children's Department: “I take selection very seriously... I want to make sure that every single book in that fiction section is a winner... I want it to be an embarrassment of riches over there... I want it to be like a candy store!”15 Children have a more difficult time articulating their expectations of library materials and services, so Heather endeavors to delight and engage children by facilitating play, learning, and discovery and noting which materials and strategies are most effective.16 Cross-Departmental Communication In order to successfully coordinate excellent service to children, Heather is responsible for communicating and collaborating with library administration from other OPPL departments. Annually, Heather submits the budget needs of the Children's Department to Director Deirdre Brennan and the Senior Management team. When a final budget – presented by Deirdre to
OPPL's library board members – is approved, Heather meets with the Collections Coordinator on the second floor of the Main branch. After it is decided how much money will be distributed among the Adult Department, the AV Department, OPPL's branch locations, and Children's, Heather receives a dollar amount representing the budget for the Children's Department that year. She is ultimately responsible for managing that budget within the various areas of the Children's Department (i.e. collections, programming, outreach, and technology).17 Currently, Heather is working on a library-wide project to reassess staffing needs. She
Gamble evaluates staff needs in the Children's Department by measuring time-on-task in terms of
percentages: “I come up with sort of a matrix of desk time... programming time... outreach time... combined with collection time... so I have to figure out how... much time each staff member spends on those things.”18 To attain staff levels closer to her ideal, Heather must advocate for her department's need for staff by articulating this documented necessity to other library administrators. The library administration is aware of the need for extended hours of service; however, this requires more staffing – a difficult balance in this unstable economic climate. Working With Library Staff Heather carefully treads another delicate balance – the fine line of daily staffing and scheduling. Before Heather came to OPPL, the Children's Department did not offer weekend or evening storytimes. After many patron requests, weekend and evening storytimes as well as storytimes for babies were added to the schedule of programs as a reflection of the diverse families in Oak Park and our changing society.19 This response to patron's comments and needs aligns with Bern Bird's 21st century standards for children's librarianship. “Children's librarianship should be relevant in everything it offers and should 'meet the wants and needs of children' including recreational, research, study, literacy, and cultural needs.”20 Of course Heather turned to her staff members to assist in implementing these schedule changes. Due to the continuously fluctuating nature of children, Heather hires adaptable children's librarians who were able to manage these schedule changes with relative ease.21 When Heather hires a new team member, the decision is not made in isolation. Heather begins with a large pool of potential candidates and interviews individuals with one or two staff members (often Assistant Children's Manager, Rory) at her side. She seeks individuals who: are comfortable and experienced in working with children; have a working knowledge of children's
Gamble literature; possess a strong customer service ethic; are flexible, hard-working, and selfmotivated; and, possibly above all, are enthusiastic about libraries and literacy.22 All of these
factors are considered in choosing a new hire that will work well with the existing librarian team. Heather has compiled an orientation checklist for new hires to ensure that they meet expectations for their knowledge-base. To develop mentoring skills, practice supervising, and giving directions, Heather will often partner full-time children's librarians with paraprofessionals and young volunteers.23 Paraprofessionals benefit from this arrangement because they learn a great deal from professional librarians and sharpen their library skills. “Magic happens when you pair people together like that – it is very inspiring... That is my ideal for every shift.”24 Heather's team of full-time librarians is entrusted with many responsibilities. Professional librarians coordinate and evaluate focus areas of OPPL's children's services. Specifically, Heather knows that programs in the Children's Department are planned effectively because the team includes a Programming Coordinator, Andy Leinbach, who also happens to be this year's Summer Reading Program Coordinator. Children's SRP Coordinator position rotates every two years among full-time staff.25 The SRP Coordinator is not responsible for doing all the work, rather he must manage the responsibilities of other staff members, answer questions about SRP, and retain a holistic vision of the service.26 “We all implement it... but the coordinator is the person who has the big vision. They're the person who can... see from that perspective of what's working and what's not and see where the gaps are... because you gotta have someone's eye on the ball.”27 Coordinators are not required to use the formal evaluation forms to report, but Heather needs staff to be able to report to her (either orally, or in-writing) about how a program or outreach visit was received by patrons (i.e. How many people came? Were the children engaged and learning?).28 After the completion of the 2010 SRP – Paws, Claws, Scales & Tales –
Gamble a nine-page final report was compiled by SRP Coordinator Andy. In the report, Andy discusses the purpose of the Summer Reading Program, the theme and game, publicity, library décor, inhouse activities and programs, statistics, and prizes.29 He makes note of what the OPPL Children's Department team has learned from previous years to enforce SRP best practices for OPPL's “collective institutional memory.”30 Heather's High Expectations
Heather has set high, yet attainable, expectations for all staff members. High expectations keep staff motivated and allow them to feel empowered to make intelligent decisions independently. Furthermore, Heather requests that staff members take the initiative to find a task if they are not sure what to do next.31 She is very proactive in investigating new ideas proposed by staff members that would contribute to or enhance children's services: Change is inevitable so let's embrace it... have fun with it... and make it work for us and for our patrons so that it is a discovery process, rather than something scary. Part of that is creating an environment where people feel like they can experiment and they can make mistakes... I expect them to make mistakes... because if you're not making mistakes you're not taking risks and you're not trying new things.32 Because staff are not afraid to make mistakes, everyone can stay on a healthy path of optimism, daily discovery, and continuous progress to set new standards in the field of children's librarianship. In the essence of progression, Oak Park Public Library is redesigning the current website using the content management system (CMS) Drupal. Heather thinks that the Children's Department will have their own new Drupal website as well. Drupal has a relatively steep learning curve, but the Technology Coordinator in Children's, Librarian Shelley, is familiar with Drupal. Shelley will be responsible for uploading old and new content to the Kids' Drupal website as well as maintaining the Children's Department's web presence. Heather's brain is
Gamble already bubbling with ideas to entice new patrons through the library's door, without compromising services to her core users, or Superusers. For instance, it would be relatively simple to upload photos and videos of rhymes in storytime,33 or create a video teaser for the Summer Reading Program that gives patrons a taste of the carefully-crafted services that the Children's Department makes accessible for families and young children. Conclusion
"A child sees everything sharp and radiant; each object with its shadow beside it. Happiness is more truly happiness than it will ever be again, and is caused by such little things."
Elizabeth Enright, from Newbery Medal Acceptance Speech, June 20, 193934
Oak Park has retained its reputation as a community that sets the standards for excellence in education. A thriving community of readers resides in Oak Park. Heather McCammond-Watts is determined to reimburse Oak Park library patrons and Superusers for their continuous support by providing children with the best resources, programs, and librarians.35 With at least six fulltime children's librarians selecting and weeding specific materials in the collection, not one section of the Children's Department's collection is neglected. Heather's duties as Head of Children's Services are labors of love. The dedication she commits to her job, and her high expectations of all staff members, culminates into getting the right books into kids' hands. Ideally, Heather would like to fill all of the gaps in the Children's collection, so that every time a child reveals something they are curious about or interested in a librarian can say, “Oh! Let's go to the section with books about...”
Gamble NOTES All URLs accessed June 23, 2010. 1. Oak Park Public Library, “Quotations at the Main Library,” under “Main Library,” http://www.oppl.org/main/quotes.htm 2. Ibid, “Oak Park History,” under “Research,” http://www.oppl.org/research/ophistory.htm 3. Ibid, “Oak Park History.” 4. Ibid, “Quotations at the Main Library.” 5. Ibid, “History of the Main Library,” under “Main Library,” http://www.oppl.org/main/history.htm
6. Village of Oak Park, “About Our Village – Village Profile,” under “Village Background,” http://www.oak-park.us/village_background/Village_Profile.html 7. Oak Park Public Library, “January 2000 Events in the Main Library Project,” under “Main Library,” select “Construction,” under “Timeline,” http://www.oppl.org/construction/main/historyjan00.htm 8. Ibid, “March 2000 Events in the Main Library Project,” http://www.oppl.org/construction/main/historymar00.htm 9. Ibid, “October 2003 Events in the Main Library Project.” http://www.oppl.org/construction/main/historyoct03.htm 10. Heather McCammond-Watts, interview by author, Oak Park, IL, June 15, 2011. 11. Oak Park Public Library, “Quotations at the Main Library.” 12. Ibid, “About Children's Services,” under “Kids,” select “Ask,” http://www.oppl.org/kids/ask.htm 13. Ibid, “Quotations at the Main Library.” 14. Heather McCammond-Watts, interview. 15. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 17. Ibid.
Gamble 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid. 20. Bern Bird, “Solving the Mystery: Children's Librarianship and How To Nurture It,” Austrailasian Public Libraries and Information Services 15, no. 1 (March 2002): 15. 21. Heather McCammond-Watts, interview. 22. Ibid. 23. Ibid. 24. Ibid. 25. Andy Leinbach, interview by author, Oak Park, IL, June 17, 2011. 26. Heather McCammond-Watts, interview. 27. Ibid. 28. Ibid. 29. Andy Leinbach, “Summer Reading Program – Final Report,” September 20, 2010. 30. Andy Leinbach, interview. 31. Heather McCammond-Watts, interview. 32. Ibid. 33. Ibid. 34. Oak Park Public Library, “Quotations at the Maze Branch Library,” http://www.oppl.org/maze/quotes.htm 35. Heather McCammond-Watts, interview.
Gamble BIBLIOGRAPHY All URLs accessed June 23, 2010.
Bird, Bern. "Solving the Mystery: Children's Librarianship and How To Nurture It." Austrailasian Public Libraries and Information Services 15, no. 1 (March 2002): 14-23. Leinbach, Andy. 2011. Interview by author. Oak Park, IL. June 17. – – –. “Summer Reading Program – Final Report.” September 20, 2010. McCammond-Watts, Heather. 2011. Interview by author. Oak Park, IL. June 15. Oak Park Public Library. 2011. http://www.oppl.org/ – – –. “About Children's Services.” http://www.oppl.org/kids/ask.htm – – –. “History of the Main Library.” http://www.oppl.org/main/history.htm – – –. “January 2000 Events in the Main Library Project.” http://www.oppl.org/construction/main/historyjan00.htm – – –. “March 2000 Events in the Main Library Project.” http://www.oppl.org/construction/main/historymar00.htm – – –. “Oak Park History.” http://www.oppl.org/research/ophistory.htm – – –. “October 2003 Events in the Main Library Project.” http://www.oppl.org/construction/main/historyoct03.htm – – –. “Quotations at the Main Library.” http://www.oppl.org/main/quotes.htm – – –. “Quotations at the Maze Branch Library.” http://www.oppl.org/maze/quotes.htm Village of Oak Park. 2001. “About Our Village – Village Profile.” http://www.oakpark.us/village_background/Village_Profile.html
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