Thursday, June 13, 2013

Libraries for the Young (Repost)

Exhumed an old piece for an old book project that is rising like the phoenix.

A Letter From Tita Pilar is a piece I wrote in 2005 or 2006 (?). It helps to reread an old composition. Taking a step backward to jump two steps ahead. I hope.

A Letter From Tita Pilar
By Zarah Gagatiga

My dear nephew,

So you have indeed taken the path less trodden. When I heard the news that you have graduated from university with a degree in Library Science, I was greatly surprised. I thought your mother was only humoring when she broke the news that you have in fact applied for a

job in the local public library. And she even boasted that you have great dreams of helping children and teenagers in the community.  I thought you would have shifted to engineering or computer science, which is gaining quite a popularity among newly graduated high school students,

by your sophomore year.  But, you proved me wrong. So now, allow me to be blunt.

Only a few dare venture into the world of children and young adult library services in the country. For this, I admire your bravery and courage. You must be made of some stronger stuff to be in this place where support and funding is close to nil. There must have been a divine

inspiration that prompted you to take on a role deemed by many as irrelevant or non-existent.

In the corporate library, there is glamour. In the academic library, prestige. In school and public libraries, there are still so many things to be done. That’s why I tip my hat to you for making the choice, however, enthusiasm and idealism can only take you to a certain level. The academe may have prepared you well with theory and practice for the work that is ahead, but real life experiences on the job will be the true

test of your mettle.

Am I beginning to frighten you? Don’t be.

My intent is to help you anticipate the challenges that you will eventually face as you practice the profession. Honestly, there will be roadblocks and obstacles along the way. But once you’re able to overcome, if not, to accept and to learn how to deal with them you will discover how fulfilling it is to be working for kids and teens. I will not delay any longer. You may find out that these ten tips

are far from inspirational. They are more like a survival guide, actually, particularly for the young librarian starting out.

So, here we go.

  1. You have many clients in the public library. But since you dream of serving children and young people, prioritize them. The collection, the services, the programs and the environment you provide them must be suitable to their developmental and learning needs. In the school, its vision, mission and goals, the curricular and extra-curricular offerings must all be taken in consideration when developing resources and in planning and implementing programs and activities. The same can be said in the public library however, there is the demand to continue and strengthen such services and programs to adults and senior citizens. 

  2. In library school, you were taught how to catalog; to analyze and organize the collection; to conduct readers’ services; to prepare indexes and bibliography; to manage information and facilities – the works. These are all good and very practical indeed. Then again, there are tasks to meet a bigger goal that is universal to school and public libraries. Such tasks are means to an end. Your job, as librarian, is to function as agent of life long learning. It is essential that when you facilitate library services, your young users can derive meaningful experiences from it.

  1. In the school library, you have teachers, administrators, parents and staff. In the public library, you have local officials, civic groups and community volunteers. All are members of the community, but they are your partners as well. Collaborate with them to reach your young clientele. Teachers and parents can be requested to tell stories on a weekly or monthly basis. Invite administrators and local officials to the library as resource persons to kids and teens. Civic groups may help in fund raising and book drives. Volunteers can keep technical and clerical work at bay. Running a library is a Herculean task and you need all the help you can get. Who ever said you have to do it alone?

  2. Seek support from the administration and local officials. Most of them are not fully aware of what we can do. They can be clueless on how important our contribution is to the development of literacy for children and young adults. It’s not their fault, but if you don’t act early enough, then you’re to blame. They are the stakeholders and you have to make them see that libraries are not merely buildings and books. Buildings may rise and books may come in truckloads, but without a librarian to plan, implement and manage programs for children and teens, will they come to use the building or read the books? Let them know that we matter by gaining and winning their good side. Some are actually well meaning enough to grant your request for a new room or a bigger reading area; additional computers; bigger budget; approval and support for library programs. Take the risk. It is worth it.

  3. Continue to grow in the profession and in related fields of discipline. Pursue graduate studies. Join professional organizations, not only in librarianship but also in allied fields like computers and information technology. These are buzz words that pose a challenge to the way we do things in the library. Learn it! Ours is a dynamic discipline. Changes in the profession is fast, rampant and at times, uncompromising. Equip yourself with the knowledge and skill needed to adapt to these changes. 

  4. Strengthen communication skills. And I mean all facets – speaking, listening, reading and writing. Your library users must understand you and you must understand them. You must relay to your stakeholders what your vision and goal are for the library. The message you want to impress upon parents and community members must be clear and sincere. On library work, if you look at its cycle and flow, it is really about communicating with people. What we do is a means to an end. Cataloging a book is not simply for records purpose or for posterity. Circulation work is not all about statistics and reports; nor is it utterly about charging and discharging of resources. Selection and acquisition is not merely choosing books and resources that are cute and nice. What has these functions to do with communication? That I will leave for you to answer and discover. You don’t expect me to tell you everything, do you?

  5. Avail of grants, local ones and those that are available abroad. Let me remind you of the three tenets in library management – budget, content and people who use the library. Budget is the most important among the three. Often, there is shortage of funds. If worse comes to worse, there is none at all. Then again, tenacity and resourcefulness can get you the budget that the library deserves. Patience and perseverance will aid you in raising funds and seeking grants. Tenacity. Resourcefulness. Patience. Perseverance. Such are the qualities of a leader. It is not enough to be brave. 

  6. Manage time and human resources very well. Ah yes. You will get tired. You will feel burn out. So, relax. Leave the work at the library at day’s end. Focus your energy on matters that are truly important. Classify work as urgent, ASAP, important, critical, priority. Sit down and plan a three-year development plan. Evaluate it and communicate reports to staff and administration. Strategic planning is necessary for special projects like Book Week celebrations, installing a new service like a computer area or viewing and exhibit room. Delegate the work if you have people under your wing. Make it a team effort. Involve them in the planning as well as in the implementation of projects and programs. Library staff needs training too, so it’s not only you who must grow professionally and personally.

  7. Read. Read anything. Read everything. You’re a librarian. If you cease reading, then it’s a sign to change careers.

  8. Know when to hold on and when to let go. Pick your battles. Learn to say no. Be flexible. Bend a little at times and yes, compromise. It may cause you pain, but you will live. And that is essential, because you need to last another day.

These are all I have to say to you, my dear nephew. It is a mouthful. Did I give you indigestion? Well, eat it like an elephant - piece by piece.

With love and concern,

Tita Pilar

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