An Ode to Libraries*

We love libraries.

Large or small, academic or public, we are library people through and through.

My life is a series of important library relationships. As a homeschooled kid, the library was the center of my social and educational world. I vividly remember volunteering in our tiny little local library as a child and when I turned 16 I started being paid to work at the shiny new public library. As a graduate student, I worked in the enormous library system at Indiana University and almost majored in library science. Now, as a professor, I find that my relationships with campus librarians are some of the most important of my teaching career. Not to mention my relationship with a certain husband of mine who has worked in libraries for over a decade and is currently wrapping up his MLS.

Every library I have loved has its own special place in my heart. I can recall the librarians who guided me, the unique smell and sound of each library, the placement of favorite books on the shelves that I navigated by memory. I learned valuable professional lessons while working libraries, made and lost friends, and learned to come out of my shy shell while giving tours or hosting events. I know the difference between beautifully kept library archives and disgustingly water damaged old library storage facilities. I have been a part of the unique culture that works behind the scenes to make libraries operate smoothly (or not, as the case may be). I have known some of the most odd and wonderful people who are drawn to work in the quietly beautiful, methodically chaotic world of libraries.

The library is a pivotal part of our family life as well. We are the kind of people who scout out public libraries when we move to a new area and prioritize getting new library cards. Receiving the privilege of her very own library card this year was a highlight for our six year old daughter, who knows all about respecting library materials and returning them on time. Weekly trips to the library mark the beat of our family rhythm and summer reading programs are a climax to the year. We’ve been known to visit libraries and take photos as tourists. This love affair is serious.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I clicked on a recent article in The Atlantic and found the author to be one of those people who don’t frequent libraries. I just can’t imagine. The slightly disbelieving tone with which she describes the many benefits of libraries is almost as bizarre as her seeming surprise to find that libraries have not only kept up with changing times, but are innovative and cutting edge. Overlaid with a patronizingly note about how libraries serve job seekers and minorities and the article fairly made my eyes bulge. Libraries certainly do provide valuable services to vulnerable populations, but libraries exist for all people who value information, knowledge, and connectedness.

If I seem aghast, it’s because I can’t fathom a life in which visiting libraries is not a common occurrence. Do you buy every new book that might be good, only to find that you wasted $29.95 on a dud? Do you only rent movies, even the ones you don’t end up watching? Or do you buy every movie you watch, resulting in a collection of plastic boxes full of disks you’ve only watched once? Where do you go to find community information and feel engaged? Philosophically, how can you be a thoughtful member of a progressive society without spending time using and supporting the public library as you would museums, parks, and schools?

Libraries are not only good for society, they nourish the soul. Where else can you feel the mix of hush and bustle that thriving libraries share? Libraries vibrate with energy, even the ones that manage to hum along quietly. And, no book store, no matter how lovely, can achieve the library’s promise of being communal and outside of capitalism. No, the benefits of libraries are too numerous to count. So, instead of listing all the benefits that libraries provide, I will share a few favorite ways that you can contribute to the health of your local library.

Check it out! Library funding often depends on circulation figures. This means that the amount of items that libraries check out and the number of services it provides for patrons will determine its ability to thrive. So, by checking out library materials, you are helping to actually sustain the library.

Queue it up! You know how to queue up movies on your computer or television, so become an active user of your local library’s services for requesting and holding materials. By going online and requesting items for purchase, loan, or to be held at the front desk for you to pick up, your library time can be efficient. Also, you may be actively shaping librarians’ choices about which books, films, and other materials to purchase.

Join in! Libraries are hubs of activity. Join a book club, volunteer, attend events, pay your dues to the local Friends of the Library chapter. Show your support and find a community of like-minded book people. If there are little ones in your life, make weekly story times, seasonal film screenings, and summer reading programs a part of their lives. Make them active, life-long library users.

It’s that simple! Being an active library user is good for you, your family, your environment, society, and the library itself.

If you are already a library lover, what is your favorite library memory?

*Alternate title: Stating the Obvious

{ this moment }

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A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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{ this moment }

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A Friday ritual from SouleMama. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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~~ Reprogramming ~~


“It was November – the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines.”

~ L.M. Montgomery

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We call it reprogramming. The almost mystical ability for nature to wipe our full slates clean and give us a fresh start.

There are times when stress overwhelms our little family, when our individual personalities, desires, needs, and pressures are at odds with each other … when one or more of us is sleep-deprived or just having a bad day. In those moments when we feel frayed and short-tempered, we flee outside and reprogram. Daily trips to greenways and parks or holding office hours outside work as prevention, keeping those rough times from creeping in quite so frequently.

 

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My husband and I grew up climbing trees and digging in the mud, whittling bows and arrows and walking sticks, laying on beds of pine needles and gazing upwards, daydreaming. Now, we parents through nature. From the earliest days of new parenthood, a walk in the park or around the neighborhood gave us the space to breathe fresh air and release the anxieties that accumulated in the course of missed naps or teething pains. Truly being in nature, observing the time of day or change of season is at once soothing and invigorating.

 

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As our daughter grew to be an accomplished hiker by age two, our time outdoors became a vital part of her education and health. We taught her the names of things found in nature to instilling in her the skills of listening, observing, and identifying noises, seasons, flora, and fauna. Now that our family includes a second girl hiking along on chubby toddler legs, craving the space to be together while not feeling cramped drives us outdoors in almost all weather.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every walk is a dream. Toddlers get tired, knees get skinned, the sun dips lower than expected, a cold wind blows threw too-thin shirts, or rains falls. It’s still worth it. It’s still better than staying indoors.

 

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Growing bodies of research promote the importance of spending time in nature. Doctors are prescribing time outdoors and the health benefits range from the psychological to the physical. Research has shown that children benefit tremendously from being in nature, learning to be self-reliant, to focus, and of course to move their little bodies. Of course, many great thinkers have extolled the benefits of nature and most of us know the pleasures of vigorous group hikes, rousing gatherings by firelight, or solitary contemplation on a shore.

 

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We are fortunate to now live in a community of thriving parks, greenways, and beautiful hiking trails. Not everyone has this luxury and we shake our heads in amazement each time we stumble upon a new community garden or historic famers market in our new hometown. But, initiatives to green urban spaces are encouraging and worthy of support. As the child of a blue-collar family, I know well that the freedom to dream in green spaces can provide much-needed escape from difficult times. Combine time outdoors with a book from the public library? Pure magic.

 

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As we settle into this new community that we hope to raise our girls in for years to come, we want to learn the landscape, feel the seasonal shifts, settle into the wild spaces and become part of them. We want to allow this natural world to not just reprogram us for an hour or a day, but to hardwire itself into us and infuse our family with well-being.

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We experienced a veritable rainbow of nature on one walk in one park today.

Sensory stimulation and a lovely way to teach colors and seasons to little ones.

Zen and the art of knitting

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Six months and countless hours spent grading, writing, meeting, and deadline-making ago, I took some beautiful yarn and bamboo needles to my office. What I did not take was a pattern. Instead, I knitted randomly, relaxing to the rhythm of yarn wrapping around needle. I cast on and off randomly, creating small pieces that seemed unplanned and reflected my moods, though as I look at the results I see repeated sizes and textures. I envisioned the swatches I made fitting together at some point, filling in with new pieces as needed, eventually forming a sort of “crazy quilt” afghan.

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Several colleagues and students asked me what I was making as they passed through my office. I told them it was zen knitting and so it was. Little stolen moments of handwork to steady me during a semester of intense uncertainty. But, gather those moments, add a few more to fill the holes, stitch those pieces together, and it will become a soothing, peaceful whole. I’ll remember the process of release when I wrap myself and my family up in this layer of calm for years to come.

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It’s not much, but it doesn’t have to be. I quite like the idea of perhaps stitching these pieces together into a center block, with larger solid blocks surrounding it and a striped border around the outside. Or not. I think I’ll just keep making it up as I go along.

Observations from the fray

We are now, in addition to everything else we do, supposed to give up “busyness.” Well, then. I won’t claim to have been busy this summer. Let’s call it whirling.

As in, my husband and I whirl past each other has we trade paid work hours and childcare hours.

I whirl into my yoga classes just after the session begins because squeezing this zen time into our lives is necessary but challenging. I seem to wait until baby-weaning time to focus on losing baby weight. It works for me. I’m currently shedding pounds and feeling better with the above-mentioned yoga classes helping to loosen all of my nursing-related aches and pains.

My sister came for a whirlwind visit in which we managed some time in the hammock, some blueberry picking, and plenty of fun with kids.

We are in a flurry of appointments and tasks in preparation for two major moves – doctor’s visits, exit interviews, arranging for movers, finding new homes and schools.

And did I mention that I have half a book to write, two conference presentations to prep by August, and a major multi-site research project to prep? I’m sure the whirling will reach epic proportions as the deadlines fly towards me. This is what academic labor looks like, even in our summers off, but at least I am attempting to set some boundaries.

As we make major life changes and I attempt a few personal ones, I can’t help wondering on a daily basis just why (why?!) do we take on some of these challenges? All I can determine is that we have a vision of a life that we want, with a richness and vibrancy to it, that we are struggling towards. And, as we navigate our path, we are taking advantage of opportunities that come along – they complicate, but they also enrich our days.

So, we’ll try to manage the busyness and let some things slide (that floor doesn’t have to be mopped) to make space for evening walks in the park and morning impromptu soccer matches in the front yard. And if we feel like butter scraped over too much bread, we’ll try to plump ourselves back up with home cooked food, good books, and lots of snuggles.

It keeps us busy.

Facing the realities of Facebook

Note: Below is a piece I wrote over a year ago about Facebook, that evil, addictive entity. Since the company’s emotional manipulation of users is causing an uproar this week, I thought I would repost my thoughts on the social media I love to hate. I offer an updated conclusion in italics below.

I began 2013 by taking a hiatus from Facebook. To say that I quit or broke-up with Facebook would be a bit disingenuous; I did not delete my account and I found myself logging on from time to time out of necessity. But I ceased posting the steady stream of information and status updates that had been my normal, fairly heavy Facebook habit for the last several years – and that had reached a crescendo during last fall’s election frenzy. For six weeks, FB receded out of my daily life as quickly as it entered. The simultaneous distance from Facebook and the inability to quit completely (that family reunion planning thread was not going to follow me offline!) gave me some much-needed perspective on the social media corporate behemoth, my personal media habits, and my relationships.

I should admit that I began loathing Facebook as soon as it became clear that users’ private information would become the commodity upon which the company built a fortune. I, like so many others, took steps to monitor and manage my privacy settings, but soon realized that all the efforts to protect information from the prying eyes of strangers would not keep Facebook itself from amassing and profiting from my data.

It was at around the high point of my annoyance and disillusion with FB that Google+ launched. Hurray! An alternative! Not so fast. Cue the two major obstacles to switching social media outlets. One, Google is no more innocent than FB when it comes to exploiting users. As a corporation, its dealings are every bit as shady and invasive as FB, if not more so. Two, I could jump over to G+ but without a mass migration by my friends and family, I would be all alone in a new land. This dynamic of needing your entire social network to move into new territory in order for the alternative to be effective contributes to G+ failing to dethrone FB. A few futile attempts to get others to move to G+ and some largely ignored G+ posts later, I was back to regularly posting and connecting with friends via FB, where the action remained.

So, as last year wore on, I began to feel trapped – using the services of a company I resented, forfeiting my personal privacy and ideals in order to socialize online with friends in the space we had all collectively chosen years before we realized how FB would evolve. There were times when I loved it – seeing those first pictures of my friends’ new babies, sharing pictures of my own new little girl, reveling in the group of dear friends and family who post genuinely witty things, celebrate each other’s successes, and offer comfort when needed. This, no surprise, is what I missed during my hiatus. As my friend Jennifer Rauch found, during her study of unplugging, when you unplug from social media, you may just succeed in isolating yourself from some friends and family. And while I resent FB for harvesting my data, there is a tiny bit of me that feels disappointed in myself and my friends for letting FB dominate our relationships. Are our connections so weak that we will not email each other to share news or photos? Do we causally care so little for each other that we cannot pick up a phone to call and vent about our stresses? Are our relationships in fact so superficial that we cannot be bothered to make time for each other outside of the convenience of broadcasting via FB? A part of me fears these awful possibilities to be true.

And yet, if we gave up the ease of FB, perhaps all we would lose is a crutch that keeps us plugged in but not meaningfully connected. Well, friends, here we are nearing the winter break again and I am feeling that urge to unplug and focus on home. My annual News Media Fast is a topic for another post, but it goes hand-in-hand with another much-needed Facebook haitus. In the coming weeks, as I focus on family, festivities, and handmade gifts, a bit of research writing and a lot of sewing, I will be turning off the news, turning away from Facebook, and (ironically?) trying to post more substantive content here on this blog. I would like to begin the process of blogging my research, as the Ambulant Scholar, Amy Rubens does so well. And, I would like to also post more advocacy related to that research, my mothering, and my handwork. I am ambitious when a semester draws to a close and have many dreams for the winter break — none of them include Facebook.

So, it is satisfying to look back over this post and know that I have made a concerted effort to blog in this space. At the same time, I still (as so many of you will know) continue to use Facebook daily. Why? Because you all do, too! Social media is where we form our connections, for better or worse. Until we collectively find a new path, I’ll visit you on Facebook. But I will not, for a second, consider the company anything other than exploitative. I can’t yawn hard enough at the confirmation that they are manipulative – I think we all already knew that and the best we can do is use the service they provide as critically as possible.

Smells like teen spirit

According to none other than The Pew Research Institute, not only am I a millennial (WTF), but I am in the same generation as my freshmen students. HAHAHAHA. No.

There is something downright bizarre and wildly misleading about grouping together, for the purposes of research and deeper understanding, a married mother of two who is four years down the tenure track into a cohort with her freshmen students. I can’t fathom the grouping being meaningful in any way, even though journalists are trying , bless them.

In all seriousness, I remember a time pre-Internet and was at university on 9/11, but my students don’t remember a time pre-smartphone and were in kindergarten on 9/11.

Sorry, Pew (and anyone else using this weird 18-34 grouping), try again. This is not about any generation being “the best,” but I propose that we recognize the overwhelming influence of certain major culture shifts and acknowledge that there is an unmistakeable split in what has been dubbed the millennial generation. If Gen X ends in 1981 as some claim (I go with that year because then I can – and do – claim its my own), then let Gen Y be that vague group of people born from the early 80s to the early 90s who don’t fit the prototypical Gen X identity, but who were old enough to be aware of the digital revolution and a pre-9/11 world view. If you are too young to recall a world before texting and wars on terror, you can be a millennial. I’ll be sitting over here being a cynical Gen Xer, grading your papers.

Tonight In My Kitchen :: Blog Hop

I resigned myself to not picking strawberries this year. I wanted to, I planned to, I scouted out new farms near and far. But, too much happened in the last few weeks – travel, recital, work, grading, exciting and life-changing news that sent us reeling – and getting us all in the car and into the field seemed daunting. Nevermind what to do with all those berries! No time for jamming, my inner monologue chanted, no time, no time.

Then, my sister posted pictures of her kids picking strawberries and that was it – the excuses seemed so trivial and all that mattered was getting my hands on some ripe, warm berries. Off I drove with my oldest girl, leaving the baby with my husband, to a farm not too far away. We picked two gallons in the peace of each other’s company, processed them to the sound of Doo-Wop music, and by bedtime the lovely little darlings went from sun-warmed to chilling in the freezer, dreaming of smoothies.

Next week, my girl’s school holds its annual Strawberry Festival – I think grabbing some flats for a good cause and remembering that there is always time for jam is in order.

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Playing along in spirit with Heather’s “This Week In My Kitchen :: Blog Hop”

Handmade Holidays: Easter

Something about the hands-on craftiness of dying eggs always seems to set the tone of Easter for my family. Here’s a glimpse into our handmade holiday fun, starting with passing on an Easter basket style from my childhood.

My childhood Easter basket

My childhood Easter basket

My grandmother gifted wooden Easter baskets to me and my siblings sometime in the late 80s, after my baby sister was born. Each one was unique, hand painted at a local gift shop in south Mississippi, with a color scheme for each of us and our names painted on the side. Each year, we woke on Easter to find them filled with goodies and then used them for hunting eggs. They became part of our Easter traditions – as meaningful as our childhood Christmas stockings. I’ve noticed that it is not always the case that people keep baskets and stockings from year to year, but instead use disposable ones. However, because mine meant so much to me and I enjoy not only the tradition of the durable basket, but the lack of consumerism and waste associated with flimsy temporary ones, I set out a few years ago to make similar ones for my husband and first daughter.

My oldest daughter's basket.

My oldest daughter’s basket.

I am no artist, but I tried to copy the image on my basket, adjusting to make hers unique.

My husband's basket.

My husband’s basket.

For my husband, I copied the image on my brother’s basket, again making adjustments in color and other details to make it unique.

Yes, I have another daughter now – she used mine this year, but by next year I will have to drag out the paint brush again!

For the rest of our Easter decorating, we turned to a bit of paper and drawing. My five year old contributed eggs to hang around the house and I drew a little sign to tape on our dining room window.

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Egg art

Then, I made my own version of TinkerLab’s Origami Rabbits, using plain white paper and crayons to put in their baskets, one for my blue-eyed girl and one for my brown-eyed girl!

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How do you make simple, meaningful holiday traditions?