sacred cows

Heather from TLT may have started a revolution.

Marge (whom I assume you all know because she’s a youth services guru) recently put a call out on the Storytime Underground Facebook page (which I assume you all know about because it’s a goldmine of awesome as is the website) wondering if we need a revolution to change the SRP/SLP/SRC paradigm. She’s put together a Pinterest board of smart posts by smart people who have already ditched the multiple charts and the counting minutes and the *cough* landfill prizes and instead are focusing on repeat visits to the library or books as prizes.

SRP/SLP/SRC (we do love our acronyms, don’t we) can be the biggest most expensive most overwhelming soul sucking sacred cow.


But it’s far from the only one. From storytime handouts and crafts to how we handle reference interviews to how we conduct our meetings, sacred cows are all around us.

Sacred cows: those things we have done forever and ever the same way and could never ever possibly consider doing differently because we’ve done the things forever and ever the same way.

Step 1: Identify the sacred cow. Some people prefer to ignore them. Some people like to complain about them. Some people defend them with their lives as they can’t imagine life without them. Every single program we provide should be put through a sacred cow test. What is the value of this program? Is it eating up resources? Is the outcome worth the cost? A sacred cow could look wildly successful (SRP, anyone?), but may be too costly or lacking real value for our patrons.

Step 2: Get over the fear.  Convincing hesitant staff and administration is definitely one challenge. Overcoming fear? Fear of outcry from the community, fear of change, fear of failure…Fear is probably the biggest thing standing in our way. And yet any institution or person who makes decisions (and ignoring those sacred cows? That’s a decision!) based on fear will not succeed.

So, what do you do? How do you slay those sacred cows you’ve identified?

Consult your library’s mission statement. If you’re a manager, create a strategic plan with the help of your team for your department. If you’re flying solo, work with your director to create a strategic plan or professional goals for yourself. These steps can help you justify why you want to kill a sacred cow. Use your PLN and if you don’t have one, get one. The greatest aspect of this profession I have found thus far is the willingness of others to share their successes. Find library professionals in similarly sized communities and demographics and ask what they’re doing. Work together to find solutions. Finally, present alternative programs and procedures to replace your soon-to-be-dead cow.

But how do you make sure it’s not just another sacred cow?

We need to apply the same questions we use to identify our old sacred cows to our new programs. Why are we continuing to create active programs when passive programs reach more kids and involve less staff time? How can we make our outreach visits more dynamic and less time consuming to plan? What about those storytime handouts that take so much time to create? Is there a better way?

It’s always open season on sacred cows, y’all. Happy hunting.

failing forward

Last summer and fall, I was hot hot hot into iPads. I voraciously consumed articles about the AAP and screen time. I attended LittleeLit’s Conversation Starter “A to Zoo for Apps” at ALA in Chicago. I became obsessed with the Fred Rogers’ Center. I creeped on Lisa Mulvenna’s blog anxiously awaiting her next post about iPad storytimes at her library. I convinced my department head to purchase an iPad so I could start downloading apps and trying things out.

We applied for a local grant in the hopes of obtaining 10 more iPads so we could develop a tablet focused program for caregivers and children. We didn’t get it so I altered my plans and decided to move forward with a more traditional storytime format that was almost entirely filled with book apps, Overdrive, and various other developmentally appropriate apps that support ECRR2. I borrowed an Apple TV from our IT department, tested everything out and set 2 dates: one for a Saturday morning and one for a Monday evening a month or so later.

I had a MSUTF  (Mysteriously Still Unexplained Technology Failure) the day of the program, but I ended up with close to 20 attendees and I rolled with the punches. Lots of great conversations with caregivers after about the most important aspect of all of this technology: their interaction with the child and the tablet as they play.

I was feeling pretty confident for the next session. It was a repeat of the same program just scheduled a month later and in the evening with the hopes of reaching working families. I quadruple tested my technology. I was ready to go. And then?

No one came. Not a single person.

I decided the best course of action-given the limitations our department currently has with the number of iPads available-was to make my handout available on the service desk. And in a matter of a few days, they were gone.

Is that what failure looks like?

We’re in the process of reviewing the department goals for FY2015 and to bring a new staff member up to speed, our director attended our department meeting to go through them with everyone. In the course of discussing outcomes and resources and goals, she said something like this:  “It’s okay if you fail. You WILL fail. Just make sure you fail forward. Don’t let your failure defeat you. Don’t give up. Examine what caused the failure, learn from it and move on. Fail forward.”

Can I get an AMEN?!

I fail all the time. I sometimes find myself reading developmentally inappropriate books in storytime.  I develop pilot programs for school aged kids that end up being entirely unsustainable due to staff time or limitations on how many can participate. I occasionally feel the need to come up with a contingency plan for every possible outcome for a program thereby turning me into a straight up control freak crazy person who inevitably will miss the one thing that will actually happen to make the program a failure.

We all know when we’ve screwed up. But saying “I’m sorry” isn’t what my supervisor and director are looking for from me when that happens. They want me to look at the big picture. That want me to identify why it failed-is this a program our community is not interested in? Are the services being duplicated elsewhere? Was it a failure of something as simple as the name of the program or the time of day?

This is my journey of failing forward. I hope you’ll follow along.