Taking Action on Your Library Professional Development
In 2015, with about a year of librarianship under her belt, Trinity Lescallett applied for and received the Demco New Leaders Travel Grant. She used it to attend the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco. She found so much value in the event that she paid her own travel expenses to recently attend the Public Library Association’s Annual Conference in Denver.
Always excited to understand what drives people to become librarians, I spoke with Trinity to hear her story and get her perspective on the value attending ALA’s annual conference has brought to her role as Adult Services Manager at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library in Tiffin, OH. Read our conversation …
Tell us about your journey to becoming a librarian.
I had been a teacher and was thinking about changing career paths in the spring of 2008. I started by looking at the state jobs that were available, and I noticed Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction was looking for a librarian and a substitute teacher at a juvenile correctional facility. This just kind of clicked for me and I thought, ‘Why did it never occur to me to be a librarian before? I have this life-long love of libraries and reading and learning.’
I put a plan in motion and applied for the substitute teacher position because I knew that would give me some flexibility with my schedule while going to graduate school to get my MLS. However, after working there for a couple of months, they still had not filled the librarian position. They were able to hire me as the librarian because I was going to school and working on my degree.
Unfortunately, after only a few months, they decided to close the facility. [Laughing.] So I barely had time to get the library up and running and then they said they were closing. I was laid off for a few months when a position opened up for a GED teacher at a higher-security-level adult male prison. Having a teaching degree in English, I was qualified for that, and spent 3 years as a GED teacher. Even though I was teaching reading, writing, math, science and social studies, I made time every class to bring in aspects of literature and librarianship.
My efforts ranged from us reading plays aloud, such as “A Raisin in the Sun” and “The Miracle Worker,” to giving them short summaries. I called them Quick Lit: things they should have learned in high school. We also celebrated National Library Week. Sometimes I would share picture books with them. One was The House That Crack Built, a takeoff on “The House That Jack Built” that I learned about in one of my children’s literature classes. If you haven’t read it, it’s actually a pretty good book that shows how crack impacts people’s lives. It was about finding different ways to connect with the inmates; many of them were incarcerated for drug-related offenses.
Then a position as a librarian at another correctional institute opened up, and I was there for a year and a half before joining the staff at Tiffin-Seneca in 2014. I truly feel my different life and teaching experiences have made me a better librarian.
Why did you choose to attend the ALA Annual Conference?
I guess I’ve always heard everybody should go to ALA at least once. It was one of those things that was in the back of my mind, though I didn’t think it was realistic. My library doesn’t have the kind of budget to send people to ALA every year. We’re fortunate enough to be able to attend our statewide conference each year. It wasn’t until I saw the travel grant that this became a possibility.
I wasn’t sure who, or what kinds of librarians, would be there. Right off the bat, librarians were cheering during the keynote speech, which really caught me off guard. Even as we were walking between sessions, glancing at people’s nametags, I was struck by the diverse group of librarians that were there. To hear the different accents and the different backgrounds and see people from all over the country — it wasn’t until I was actually there and experienced it that it all became real.
I’m definitely a nerd. When the conference schedule came out, I was looking at all the sessions and which ones I should go to (‘Oh, these are at the same time, what am I going to do?’). I had my agenda planned out well in advance.
One of the areas that I have struggled with since I took this position is collection development and weeding. Unfortunately, the library did not have a weeding plan in place before I was hired. It was just, ‘OK, after several years we are going to weed, and now we’re done for a few years.’ This is something that falls under my area, as I’m in charge of adult fiction. I tried different webinars and read some online articles. I got a schedule started, but it wasn’t going well. There were two sessions at ALA that were specifically about weeding, and so I was without a doubt going to those. It wasn’t just the advice from the panelists and the speakers, but it was the attendees speaking up: ‘Oh, I had this problem. This is what I do.’ It gave me the knowledge and the confidence to go back to our library and tackle that fiction section again, and this time I was able to make more progress.
Connecting With Peers
We’re located in a rural area, so getting a chance to hear from other people about their successes and failures and commiserate with them gave me the sense that I’m not alone. Other people are dealing with this too.
Unfortunately, you can’t always get that from your colleagues who you see and work with every day, especially when some of them may have been in their jobs or in the library for years. Coming in as a new person, I had a lot of things I kind of had to tackle on my own. For me, it was really important to network and share with others.
Are there people you met at the conference with whom you’ve stayed in contact?
Yes, I was at one of the events, walking around and meeting new people, and some were from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library in Toledo, OH, which is only about an hour away from me. They’re from my own state, but I didn’t know them prior to going to ALA.
It just so happened that one of the people I met is also in charge of our statewide conference and expo this year, and she said, ‘I’d really like to hear your ideas. Are you interested in being on the committee this year?’ So I have joined the planning committee for this year’s conference.
Whenever I attend a conference, I always think I should really present or do something. Now I’m actually part of that and helping make it possible for everyone to participate in the conference, and that’s because I ran into them at ALA.
Bringing Back the Learnings
What are some additional things that you experienced at ALA and brought back to your library?
One of the sessions that I went to was the Next Chapter Book Club, which is a book club for adults with developmental disabilities. I already had this idea in my mind to try, but I didn’t know it existed and that other libraries were already doing this. Come to find out that the Next Chapter Book Club is based in Columbus, OH, which surprised me because I thought, ‘How did we not already know about this? Why haven’t we heard about this at a statewide level?’
Since then, I’ve contacted our local center for adults with disabilities, and we worked together to write a grant so that we can go through the training for staff and volunteers to facilitate a Next Chapter Book Club. We just received word we received the grant, so we will be conducting training this spring (2016). I’ve also submitted a proposal to have representatives from the Next Chapter Book Club speak at our statewide library conference this year. This proposal was accepted too.
I also attended a workshop on summer reading, and what I really liked about that was that it looked at some new ways to approach summer reading beyond the traditional, ‘This is what we do every year.’ There was input from libraries of all sizes about summer reading or summer learning programs for all ages. It got away from some of those traditional beliefs. I was able to bring ideas back and share them with the summer reading planning committee at my library. I think it is nice to hear that other libraries are doing different things; we don’t have to do the same thing, we don’t have to do it this way, let’s branch out and try some of these other approaches.
Investing in Yourself
I understand that you are self-funding your attendance at PLA. What are you hoping to accomplish there?
My library will pay for the conference registration, and I will be covering the travel and everything else.
ALA is pretty overwhelming with all the different types of libraries that are there. I’ve heard people say PLA is better because it just focuses on public libraries. I look forward to things being geared specifically to public libraries. I’ll be looking for programming ideas and ways to work with the community.
We have a good relationship with our community, but we need to look at what else we can do. Our community is growing; we’re developing new businesses and trying to attract people to our community to work and to live. There’s a lot of downtown revitalization. I think that we need to move forward, we can’t just rest on our laurels.
We know people like the library, but we need to keep moving and looking at what our library is going to be in the future and what it’s going to mean to people in the future. We want to stay relevant and be a meaningful part of our community. What we do is nice, but we have to look at what else we can do.
Taking Ownership of Your Professional Development
Many of us are lifelong learners and recognize the value of professional development, whether that’s listservs, newsletters, or, when you can, attending conferences. What frustrates me is when people say, ‘Oh, I’m not going. None of those workshops apply to me.’ I feel that we really need to know about all aspects of our profession. It’s all about ‘Well, maybe it doesn’t sound like this fits, but maybe we can adapt it. What can we do with this in our library?’ I’m really big on sharing ideas with colleagues. I just had someone contact me and say, ‘Hey, I’m a student, can I come shadow you?’ Absolutely!
We need to share with each other, especially in my area, where many libraries are smaller than mine and certainly don’t have the opportunity to attend professional development activities. I tried one this past fall and I’ll try one this spring, a ‘let’s get together some night for dinner and socializing and sharing’ event. Like I said, we have a lot of small library systems, and when you don’t have as many networking opportunities or you may be the only person doing your job at your library, you need that. I’ve tried to reach out and encourage other staff to pursue that. IFLA will be in Columbus this year. As soon as those applications for volunteers come out, apply!
Do you consider yourself to be a lifelong learner like Trinity? What’s your current curiosity, and how do stay fresh in your career as a librarian? Let us know in the comments. Read other transformational library stories, and consider sharing yours.