My Life as a Jailbrarian: Prologue

After talking recently about my time as a jail librarian I have decided to do an occasional post with some stories about my life in jail. This prologue is not a jail story. It is the story of how I ended up in jail in the first place.

I was living in Cincinnati, working at a market research firm and had just finished going to school at night to complete my MLS(Master of Library Science) degree when we got the official word that my wife would be transferred to Washington DC.   We knew it was coming. I didn’t think it would happen that fast.  As the move got closer, I started applying for jobs in the DC area. I had one really good phone interview while still in Cincy that, unfortunately, did not result in a job. A few days before the scheduled move I got a call to schedule an interview with DC Public Library so I headed east a few days ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, this meant being extremely tired and possibly ill from eating bad road food when I arrived at the interview. My boss at my old job said that the DC people broke the rules and asked her about my health. I looked that bad. Needless to say, I did not get that job.

Once we were officially residents of the DC area I started sending resumes to every local library I could find. I hit the road and personally visited the HR departments of both public and academic libraries.  One public library system actually sent my resume back to me stamped rejected and accompanied by a letter saying they do not accept unsolicited resumes. This system will appear again in later posts. That was fun. I rode the Metro around DC to the colleges there. I was on my way to Howard University one day. I got off the Metro and asked a woman who was headed to work at the hospital for directions. Along with the directions, she also gave me advice for walking through the neighborhood: walk quickly, don’t make eye contact and run if you hear gunshots. I never made it to Howard. As soon as we parted company I went right back to the Metro station and went back home.

I eventually signed on with a temp agency that works with librarians. I worked for a week at a fancy law firm near the White House. I enjoyed eating my lunch in the park with a view of the White House. I worked for a week at the World Bank. I have no memory of anything I did there. I remember being bored. I was also still applying for every job opening I saw. I eventually was called in for an interview with the state of Maryland. It was at the Department of Education working with Correctional Education as a technical librarian. I was offered the job. It was only a contract position, but it was better than temping, so I accepted. The same week I received a call from the temp agency. They had a job for me that could turn in to a permanent position.  I turned it down because I felt a guaranteed position was better than a possible permanent position. I have no idea where the other job was. I made the decision to go with the job with the state without details on the possible other job. This decision led to my 20 year jail sentence. Sometimes I regret making that decision.

Next installment:  A Visit to the Big House

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The Elusive Generation

One thing I have found working with young people in both libraries and churches is that it is very hard to reach the college/young singles groups. A lot of time is spent at libraries trying to devise programs to bring in this  elusive age group. I’ve seen churches dealing with the same thing. Trying to answer the question of how to draw in this demographic. I think part of this problem can be solved by trying to figure out how we lost them in the first place.

Most of us attend church or go to the library for the first time as children and are brought by our parents. I think most libraries and churches do a very good job of providing what families with young children are looking for. For the most part, the kids enjoy the experience and even if they didn’t, they are a captive audience. They have to go where their parents take them. I have rarely seen a church or library devoid of children. The beginning middle school age is similar. They still mostly arrive with parents(unless the library is within walking distance) and still enjoy attending library classes and church events. Sports and school are starting to get busier, but not at the same level as high school. After this, though, is when things start to get harder.

In high school, kids have more school work, a more active social life, more activities and more freedom. They no longer have to go when the parents go. The parents can be at church or the library without dragging the kids along. The kids are busy with school and friends and won’t just show up at the library or at church just because it’s there. There has to be a very compelling reason for them to show up.  They won’t attend library classes or youth groups that are mostly geared toward younger kids. They won’t attend scheduled events and classes just because they are there. It takes more work to hold the interest of the older teens. Unfortunately, this means in many cases the older teens drift away and we focus our attention on the younger kids who show up.

After drifting away, the teens then go to college. This takes them even further away from the home church/library, gives them more freedom and much busier lives. They might go to the library on campus to study, but they aren’t flocking to the public library on break to pick up books or attend events. They might fall out of the habit of attending church while away and balk at attending with the family while they are home. Eventually, they graduate and start their independent lives. If we are lucky, once they have kids they will remember how much they loved church or the library when they were younger and come back with their kids, but until then they typically are hard to reach.

So, what does this all mean? I think that it would be better to take a look at the high school and college years to determine how to keep them from drifting away rather than how to get them back once they are gone. We need to look for classes and events that will keep the older teens and college students interested. Churches need to have separate classes for middle school, high school and college students. Grouping them all in to one class does them all a disservice and usually results in the material being too young for the older teens. Libraries need to hold events and classes geared toward older teens and keep at it until you find the right ones. Don’t give up and focus on the younger kids because it’s easy. Libraries should try to hold events in the summer to attract the college kids home for the summer. If we can figure this out, we won’t have to worry about bringing them back. They will never leave.

My Brilliant Ideas

TV Ideas:

Justin Bieber stars in a TV show about a suburban family – Leave it to Bieber

A Partridge Family update starring a variety of Disney kids with Billy Ray Cyrus in the Shirley Jones role.

Forget Ashton Kutcher. Hire Corey Feldman to replace Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men.

Paris Hilton/Nicole Ritchie showdown and Celebrity Survivor.

Library Display Ideas:

Band Books Week – Display all the rock star bios that have been released recently

You Could Learn A Lot From a Dummy – Dummies books displayed with a crash test dummy doll.

Valentine’s Day – couple love books with divorce books and stalker movies to show both sides of love.

National Enquirer and Libraries

Someone shared this link on FriendFeed today: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/national_enquirer_more_believable_than_new_york_times/

If the National Enquirer continues to scoop the mainstream media on stories like the John Edwards affair does it deserve a move from the supermarket aisles to the regular newspaper location. Do libraries need to consider stocking the paper along with the local paper and The New York Times? Is it just as legitimate a use of library funds as a subscription to People Magazine? Do any libraries already carry the paper? Personally, I am leaning toward the idea that it is proving itself as a legitimate “celebrity” news source and needs to be in the material discussion for a public library.

The Young and Unreachable?

I recently started getting a little more involved in planning book clubs and other activities for adults at the library. Howard County Library has a great children’s department and our classes are filled easily the day registration begins. We also do a very good job of reaching teens. Our adult classes, book clubs, etc do a very good job of attracting people as well. I have noticed, however, that we do not get many adults in the college to early 30’s range attending these activities. We’ve tried broadening our book club audience by having three different people with different styles and taste in books alternate months leading the discussion and choosing the book. Even my oddball taste in books has not lead to diversity in the group. I am trying a pubquiz night for September in an attempt to draw in a younger crowd. I am wondering if it is just the demographic make-up of our area or if this demographic is just not interested or able to attend library events.

Video games, literacy and the library

There was some discussion recently regarding video games, literacy and libraries.   Do video games increase, decrease or have a negligible effect on literacy?  If they do not make us more literate why do we have video game programs at the library? Do they really fit the mission of the library? Does it matter?

I have always considered programs like video game tournaments, DDR nights and the like as gateway programs.  They may not fit the actual mission of the library, but they may get teens who otherwise would not enter the library unless forced by a parent.  Once the teens are there, you can show them other items and services the library provides with displays of CDs, DVDs, graphic novels and, yes, books.  You can have information on any online homework help and databases that can help them wth school work available.  You might only get a few of the kids interested in these other library services, but that will be more than you had without the video game programs.

I don’t know if video games in and of themselves have an effect on literacy.  I do know video game programs can have an effect on the teen population of a library.